CheatCC Exclusive Interview: Madden 19 Producer Ben Haumiller
Madden 19

CheatCC was recently able to attend the 2018 EA Sports Showcase, which featured the likes of Madden 19, NBA Live 19, NHL 19, and FIFA 19. In addition to sitting down and playing these titles for several hours, I was able to talk with Madden 19 producer Ben Haumiller and ask him a few questions about this year’s game. Longshot 2 was the big reveal for the event, but we also spoke about accessibility, the new physics systems, and more.

CheatCC: My first question is: when you guys sit down to follow up with a new Madden game, what are your considerations? The Madden 18 goal was getting more people in, so what's after that?

Haumiller: Yeah, where do you go from there, right? So I think, for us, it’s really about all of our different segments of consumers, right? You’ve got [to start] trying to entice more people to come in and play. 

I think, for a long time, we were living in a world where the people who were playing Madden were the ones who were buying it every single year, and they were keeping up with all the changes every year. And you reach a point where there’s a whole crop of people coming that haven’t haven’t been playing every year, and they’re like, “Wait, I’m still trying to get caught up on the last ten years. Now you’re adding more?” And it’s a very complex game for sure.

So you’re kind of managing. How do you handle a more casual and open experience for everyone who’s coming in for the first time? A simulation experience for those who are playing Franchise for example, and want that core, authentic NFL feel? And then you’ve got your competitive side, which is also a new group that is coming through. They don’t want things like dice rolls to dictate outcomes of plays. They throw a pass to a receiver. They made the right read. They want that catch to happen every time, because they’ve got money on the line.

For us, it’s really trying to figure out how we develop a game that fits those different aspects. And so you’ve got features like the Skills Trainer, which we update every year, to teach new mechanics and to get people to understand a little bit about how to play the game. But we still have a long way to go, because we’re trying to teach the sport. I think that’s an area where we have a lot of room to go. Trying to conceptually teach, you know, that it’s third down and five on your own 30. What are the right set of plays to call here? Or defensively, what stops certain plays? I think there’s a lot of teaching we still need to learn how to do.

That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For a sim guy who’s playing Franchise, it can be fun and rewarding to chase after a Free Agent and not sign him for one reason or another. Whereas somebody else is like, "I just want the players I want. Why make this so hard?" So I think it’s a constant balance we’re trying to do, to figure out how do you satisfy all three audiences. It’s a difficult one. 

CheatCC: Building off of that, I’m noticing with Longshot 2, that you used the word “onboarding” in the presentation and it seemed like there was a lot more actually playing football and some tutorial stuff I don’t recall being in Madden 18's Longshot.

Haumiller: Mike Young, who was creative director and co-writer, with Adrian Todd Zuniga were really inspired by [games from] Telltale and different mechanics that they learned and things they learned from playing those games. We knew we were the last ones to come to a story mode, in the world of AAA sports titles. We wanted to take a different approach and not just do the old, tried and true, Curt Warner thing, where you’re a guy who comes out of nowhere and leads your team to the Super Bowl in year one and has this career, right? We wanted to do something different and tell something people didn’t really know, a story about a guy who’s trying to just make a team, trying to even just get drafted. 

The thought there was that fans who maybe were intimidated by Madden would come in and play this sports story, this kind of playable movie in a way, and along the way, maybe [learn] some pieces about Madden that would make them better before they go out in the wild and start playing the whole thing. What we found were that our hardcore fans were like, "Hey, where’s the game? We’re kind of missing a lot of the game aspect of this." And for our super casuals, that we thought we might bring in, still it was a bridge too far of “Eh, I’m still just not that interested.”

The overall consensus of anyone who did try [Longshot] was, “This was great. I liked it, but I still felt like I wasn’t playing enough.” Okay, let’s get them into playing more games so you can satisfy those guys who really just wanted the gameplay side of it. But also, how can we leverage things to help players onboard and get us to teach the game better?

It was a pillar from the first game that I don’t think we actually hit on the right way. It was a little more osmosis than trying to teach you. Whereas [Longshot 2] is now much more in your face, going through [it]. Here are all the different routes, and here’s how you throw each different route. Or, if you’re playing the Colt side of things, here’s how you go through as a receiver for each one of those. [We are] trying to teach more than just tell.

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CheatCC: I noticed there were a lot more situations where you actually hit a fail state. Is that part of it? You’re not trying to have the player interested in the story feeling like they’re failing too much and not getting the ending they want?

Haumiller: Yeah, and that’s the [problem] you see in a lot of games. As that difficulty curve ramps up, people’s ability to complete it ramps down. There are certain key beats in the story where you have to succeed to beat [it] and move on, but for the most part, there are a lot of them [where] it’s the second pre-season game, you’re gonna go out there for a drive, you’re supposed to do well, but there’s a chance you might not. Do we want people to just sit there? The story’s going to continue, regardless of how you do in that. It’ll have some impact to it, but it’s not going to make or break your success in the mode. 

So we give you a couple of chances to get through it, but then give you the option to move on if you want. I think that’s another piece we learned along the way. Give you the option to fail forward and not just feel like, "Well, I’m no good at this game. I’ll never be good at this game. This is just another way of them telling me I’m not good."

CheatCC: Fair enough! Can you speak to the decision to directly continue the story, as opposed to doing something different?

Haumiller: I think we invested a lot of time and effort into the characters of Devin and Colt. The success that we saw with Longshot [showed] people really enjoyed these characters and wanted to know what happened next. We left off at a very interesting part of the first year, which was draft day. They never actually played in the NFL in their year one. So it was important to us to tell that story: the culmination of making it to the NFL and what can happen there. At the end of this year, in Longshot 2, you have the choice with Devin to continue on his career in Franchise mode, if you want to. So you can play a full 15-year career as a quarterback in Franchise mode with Devon, to finish your own version of whatever that story is.

CheatCC: So it seems like, across the board, you guys are really pushing the Real Player Motion (RPM) thing. I’m curious about what sort of research goes into that. You’re always talking about physics and improvements, but there’s a solid label for it now.

Haumiller: It’s one of those nice things where it doesn’t require us all to be on Frostbite to take advantage of it, but being on Frostbite does allow a lot more shared tech between games. From there, it’s determining what is the best fit for each title. Real Player Motion in NHL for example, when you’re on skates, is going to be real different than it is in FIFA. And we’re going to be close, on the Madden side, to FIFA. So you can kind of partner up with that side to learn, "Okay, how did you guys implement this? What can we learn from you guys?"

Then, how does that modify itself to be more for a NFL game versus a soccer game? because you’re dealing with bigger ranges and sizes of human beings in the NFL, than you are in soccer. A big, plodding offensive tackle sprinting and changing direction has to feel a lot different than a small wide receiver who can make a quick cut a lot faster. It's the same thing with a big running back or a power back versus an elusive back. You work through everybody and kind of figure out what’s the best implementation and how you can do it, then start building it, You’re working with them to help troubleshoot some things you run into.

But that’s the nice part, it’s much more of a collective group, as far as EA goes, than it has been in any of my 18 years at the company. When I first started, we would go to E3 and Tiburon would be at one side of the bar, EA Canada would be at the other side of the bar, and we didn’t really know each other. You know, that’s on the other side of the country from each other. Now we know everybody, we’re a much more tight community and much more open to sharing everything with each other on the tech side, on the creative side. I think when you look at Real Player Motion and you hear everyone talking about it, it’s fundamentally the same tech, but we’re all applying it separately. That way, it makes the most sense for our own games.

CheatCC: So when you’re figuring out what that means in terms of physics, are you researching via systems? Are you bringing in people or input from outside? 

Haumiller: It’s kinda funny. A lot of it starts with the visuals of things, with physics. You know, we’ve all seen the ragdoll blooper videos of physics gone wrong. Those are the things where your animation director’s like, "You cannot have these things happen." You put your constraints around that as best as you can.

For the player movement, there’s a lot of tape you can go watch [showing] how players move. You can get a lot of timing too. At things like the NFL Combine, where they’re doing three cone drills, you can see how these players are decelerating, stopping, and making their turns. Things like tackles; yeah you’re working on [insert jokes about physic equations here]. You take into [account] the size of the player, their momentum coming into the tackle, the angle they’re coming into the tackle, and then what looks natural for that. We talked about momentum-based tackling this year.

So you’ve got a defensive back who’s kind of at a standstill, just waiting, and a running back charging at him full speed. What you used to see in the past was, you could do a hit stick with that defense tackle and bring the ball carrier back. It was completely unrealistic compared to what would actually happen. Now what you’re seeing is momentum dragging that ball carrier down. You put a lot of work into what looks natural, because ultimately, the math might be right under the hood. 

But if it doesn’t look right, it’s just not right. You factor in trying to build it the right way, and then just visually, did this hit? Do we have the right animations to cover that bank? In football, a defender can come from any possible angle, so how do you have that reaction that looks organic and natural from any possible combination of angles? You have multiple players tackling and going on. You have players falling and getting hit from a different angle. How does he respond to that? You’re always working to try and get those to feel authentic.

Madden 19

CheatCC: Can you speak to how that reconciles with the playstyle settings, whether you’re choosing arcade or one of the others?

Haumiller: The best way to look at that, is, on the arcade side, it’s about forgiveness when making mistakes. For the simulation side, ratings will help dictate how forgiving it can be. And then on the competitive side, there’s no forgiveness. 

If you throw the ball right to a quarterback, who is wide, alone, and by himself in arcade, there’s a good chance he might drop it. On the simulation side, it’s going to look at his ratings and say, what are his catch ratings, all these other factors, roll the dice, and comes up with an interception, great. On the competitive side, I threw that bad pass, that guy was right there, the other guy is controlling that defender, he goes to play for an interception, and he’ll get the interception. 

CheatCC: I noticed in the options menu, there’s a choice labeled Accessibility.  Can you speak to that choice of language?

Haumiller: We have a new accessibility menu altogether, with settings next to that. Settings has things like your depth chart and your actual game settings like what difficulty, that sort of thing. Accessibility has things like our color blindness mode. You can turn on a setting so that there will be audio that will tell you what [menu options] you’ve highlighted. So if you’re vision-impaired, you’re able to find Franchise, even if it’s not always the third box. 

In Madden 19, for the first time ever, we have a one-handed player: Shaquem Griffin on the Seahawks. We’ve modeled his left hand to be accurate to what it looks like in real life. We had the opportunity to go to Seattle a few weeks ago and show him himself in the game for the first time. And he loved seeing himself. He said, “This is amazing. You guys are awesome. iI’s a dream come true.” It’s funny, he went to UCF in our backyard in Orlando, but we waited until he went all the way to Seattle before we ever did an interview with him.

It was amazing, because Griffin is a lifelong Madden player. He and his brother, who also plays for the Seahawks, played against each other. And it’s really interesting to see what he used to do with a controller. He would use his left hand to control the left stick, but he’d use his knee on the trigger. But now he can use that Xbox accessibility controller and use the foot pedals, and link up the foot pedals to be the left trigger and left bumper, so that he can just use the stick and use his feet to control that side. It’s really interesting to see how he’s adapted to play the game, a very complex game that uses every single button combination possible.

You know, there have been great stories of people who have been blind, but who have been able to play Madden and score touchdowns. That makes you feel good as a developer, when everyone can enjoy your game.

Madden 19 will come to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on August 10, 2018. 

Lucas White
Lucas White
@HokutoNoRucas

Writing Team Lead
Date: 07/24/2018

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