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'Madden': The next generation

EA Sports Senior Producer Jeremy Strauser discusses efforts to make the venerable football franchise storm the Xbox 360.

There's no bigger name in the world of sports games--or heck, in video games in general--than Electronic Arts' Madden.

Microsoft must be pretty pleased, then, that EA Sports will deliver its 800-pound gorilla of a football franchise right alongside the launch of the Xbox 360 next month. But how will this next-generation version of Madden NFL 06 stand apart from the game that's already available on current-generation consoles?

Madden senior producer Jeremy Strauser recently visited GameSpot to deliver the answers.

GameSpot: What are you hoping to accomplish with your first next-generation football game? Madden 06 will use an entirely new graphics engine to make use of the Xbox 360's hardware features.
Strauser: We are hoping to deliver the core Madden experience in a next-gen way. We wanted to use the new hardware to deliver a next-gen feel in every aspect of the game: visuals, features and game play. At the same time, we wanted to set up systems that will allow us to expand upon this platform of Madden in the coming years.

How much of Madden for the Xbox 360 is new, from the ground up? What aspects have you rebuilt, and how can we expect those areas of the game to be improved?
Strauser: The Xbox 360 version is a whole new engine. We have a new graphics engine that drives the amazing visuals everyone will notice right away. We have a new animation engine that drives player movement and game play--and many other new systems in user interface, play calling and control.

People know this is next-gen the second they see it.

We have tried to share data from previous versions in some places that made sense, such as player ratings and playbooks, but even those areas were added to. With so many new systems, it wasn't as simple as just porting and improving code in many places.

How do you compare developing for the 360 to developing for the original Xbox?
Strauser: I would rate this time more challenging, but maybe because it is fresh in my mind. Microsoft has been a great partner and very supportive. But any time you develop for new hardware with a new game engine, it is very tough. With the first Xbox, we had a base engine to start with, but this time, we had two constantly evolving systems, the Xbox 360 and our own engine.

How will Madden for the Xbox 360 take advantage of the new online features in Xbox Live for the 360? Will you be able to play online against the current-gen Madden?
Strauser: Madden for the Xbox 360 has been built with online gaming in mind. We are fully supporting Xbox Live from the very start. From the time you start up Madden, you can be always online, receiving game invites and messages in offline game modes. We support the Xbox Live matchmaking systems and have kept our community-favorite lobbies. We have full leader boards, stats and search methods as well.

Any time you develop for new hardware with a new game engine, it is very tough.

This will be a very seamless online experience for those who enjoy the online game. The Xbox 360 game is entirely different from current gen, so, no, you can't play the two different platforms against each other.

If you could point to one specific feature of Madden 06 as truly indicative of next-generation consoles, which feature would it be, and why?
Strauser: The obvious one is the visual quality. The players, the environments, the uniforms. Everything is reproduced at an amazing level of detail, much further beyond anything we have ever been able to do before. People know this is next-gen the second they see it. One thing that is also very indicative is the detail in how our UI (user interface) team designed the interface to be usable, accessible and expandable. Those who like franchise mode will notice a difference immediately.

How did you decide what features to keep and which to cut from the current-gen versions of Madden 06?
Strauser: It wasn't so much deciding what to keep as it was deciding what to redo first. We wanted to deliver a new engine throughout, nothing just ported over. We approached design plans from defining the core Madden experience. To us, that experience starts with great game play and carries into franchise mode, which is our most popular game mode.

The team is aiming to offer as seamless an online experience as possible on the 360.

Is there a graphical feature in the game--lighting, frame rate, textures, etc.--that you are particularly proud of that might not be as obvious to players?
Strauser: How about all of the above? If I have to focus on one area, it would be the lighting. The time of day updates after every play, and the lighting is closely tied to that and weather conditions. Shadows will slowly move over the field, player shadows lengthen, and the overall ambient lighting changes. Related to this are the real-time quad shadows from night and dome lighting. These are very cool.

Has the 360 version of Madden allowed you to address issues consumers had with this year's current-gen Madden game?
Strauser: Overall consumer and press reaction to Madden NFL 06 for current gen has been positive. That game really delivered a lot of innovation in the passing game and in other great features, like superstar. When something as core as passing is changed, there will be strong opinions. So in that respect, yes, we took that into account.