It's fitting that my first ever trip to E3 began with a Madden NFL 19 demo, as the series has long been very important to me. I may not even be here in Los Angeles if it weren't for Madden. Before my demo, I was able to get the attention of Madden's lead gameplay designer, Clint Oldenburg, to chat about the marquee features of this year's simulation.
Standing 6' 5", you'd likely expect Oldenburg to be a football player, not a game designer. That's because he was. After being drafted by the New England Patriots in 2007, he spent time with various teams in the NFL and CFL for five years, before accepting a job as an intern with EA building Madden, He now leads the gameplay design team. How's that for a post-football career?
I asked Oldenburg what the tentpole features were in this year's game and he told me Madden 19 is all about player control. The team wants users to have more influence on every aspect of the game, which starts on the field with new Real Player Motion. When I went hands-on moments later, the difference was obvious. Players now move more like their real-life counterparts than ever before. That might sound like something you hear every year with sports games, but honestly, it did feel like a greater leap forward than usual this time.
It's nuanced but I think longtime players, especially those in the competitive circuit, will appreciate these changes. There's more control when running the ball through the trenches and a new Push the Pile mechanic is implemented like the hit stick but designed for times when you need to stay right behind your lead blocker, letting him plow ahead while you stay on his heels. Some decry the annual schedule for sports games, but as I believe has long been the case, the subtle improvements are a bigger deal to those who are passionate about the sport and the video game series. On that note, it feels like this year's physics improvements aren't as subtle as they've been in the past which is a win for everyone when it's done well.
Greater locomotive control means players like Dion Lewis will be even deadlier in the right hands.
I was worried when Madden 19 was first revealed a few weeks ago that EA Tiburon had done away with the game's Longshot story mode after just one try. Mention of Longshot was nowhere to be seen on the game's official site. Oldenburg assured me they're just previewing the game in one-per-week deep dives and soon more will be revealed for those who appreciated the story. Once again, players will control Devin Wade as he tries to kickstart his NFL career. Early story spoilers: Oldenburg mentioned that something happens in Longshot season two which gets Wade onto the Houston Texans roster. Meanwhile, his best friend Colt Cruise, whom players may recall was not as beloved by scouts, has to weigh his career options between pushing for the NFL roster spot that eludes him or finding a new path.
For those who liked the Madden story mode in theory more than in practice due to its reliance on mini-games, Oldenburg told me this year's story will involve more traditional, on-field gameplay than last year's inaugural season. He didn't say the mini-games are completely absent, but they'll be built around more frequent moments that play the way Madden is known for. As a huge proponent of story modes in games, this was really the highlight of our chat. I was worried only Alex Hunter's journey in FIFA was getting the story mode love from EA Sports this fall, but I was happily wrong.
There's a lot more to see in Madden 19. The venue was loud and busy so I couldn't easily judge the broadcast-style presentation in my gameplay session. That's always been a crucial part of the experience for me. I'm curious how this tenet of player control has affected my favorite game mode, Franchise, as well as the more modern centerpiece, Ultimate Team. I look forward to seeing more of the football sim ahead of its August 10th release on Xbox One, PS4, and, for the first time in a long time, PC.
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