Define your legacy in Madden NFL 21

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I got my love of football from my mother.

Our family was never the sort to make big public displays of this affection – bumper stickers, porch banners, or Bowl parties – but the weekend double-header was a ritual in our house.

A lifelong Giants fan, she’d knit while the athletes collided on the field and homemade pizza cooked in the kitchen; young-me was happy stuff my face and watch whoever was playing on any given Sunday.

I carried on this tradition (minus the yarn) after I moved away for university and work, and we continued it when I moved back to start this company and take care of her following her second cancer diagnosis.

Always encouraging, she was just as thrilled as I was when the call came from EA Tiburon to visit Orlando and contribute to this year’s Face of the Franchise career story mode, Rise to Fame.

Following the player’s cinematic journey through high school and college, their custom-made character will be drafted by an NFL team and begin a series of branching, choice- and performance-based narrative scenarios that will take them from rookie year up to potential induction into the Hall of Fame.

I worked alongside a team of unbelievably talented, driven, and funny directors, producers, designers, tech programmers, and writers as we brainstormed, prototyped, and tested what felt more like an adventure game than a football sim.

But that’s the thing: football is ripe for drama. It’s fertile ground for stories about rises, rivalries, and redemptions that can span anywhere from a single game to multiple seasons, a player’s career, or even decades of a team’s history. Before every snap is a reservoir of potential energy – a mix of positions, practice, and personalities, of in-the-moment on-field tactics and carefully-planned off-field strategies – just waiting for its brief, explosive transformation into movement and contact.

There are championships to claim and records to break. There may not be any dragons to slay, but stat-wise football can go head-to-head with any high-fantasy RPG… and in this case the characters are real-life super-humans. Of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, and body types.

And alignments. Because, c’mon, when was the last time you saw a knight trash-talk their vanquished opponent at a post-siege press conference?

Madden’s annual release schedule meant a tight production timeline. Creating a quality game in a few years is an amazing feat; doing it in mere months is a miracle. We relied on fast iteration and frequent reviews; flexibility was essential, since we were writing and designing while the systems and assets were still in development.

Then the pandemic hit.

It threw a new challenge into the development as a massive, multi-hundred-person effort pivoted from tight collaboration in an enormous office to working from home in a matter of weeks. The team rose to meet it.

Mom’s health deteriorated.

It was a struggle to deliver while also providing the necessary care. I could not be more grateful to my colleagues for their support and understanding.

I wrapped on the project at the end of March.

She died at the beginning of April.

This has been a hard post to write without crying (and I have… a lot). It’s about the game’s release, sure, but it’s difficult not to also remember the past few months, recount everything that’s happened, and relive the stratospheric joys and abyssal sorrows.

I don’t know what the future holds.

I don’t know what my life will be like now that both of my parents are gone.

I don’t know what shape the upcoming NFL season (if there is one) will take.

I don’t even know how the game ultimately turned out; it’s installing now, but I’ve only previously played it as spreadsheet scripts and UX flowcharts.

But I believe in the power of these stories. I believe in the necessity of storytelling in difficult times.

This may be the only opportunity fans and players get to hear the crash of the pads and the roar of the crowds for the next year or more. I’m incredibly proud of what we made. I hope she would be, too.

This one’s for you, Mom.

Madden NFL 21 is out today for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. It will be available for next-gen consoles when the hardware is launched later this year; those who purchase it on current systems are entitled to a free upgrade. For more info, check out the official site – https://www.ea.com/games/madden-nfl/madden-nfl-21 – and watch the trailer below.

 

Burn some rubber in NFS Heat

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The open road is a call to adventure, one I am always happy to answer.

My daily drive, a 2005 Jeep Wrangler Sport, isn’t a highly-tuned street racer, but its six-speed manual transmission and lack of sound insulation turn every journey into a mechanical waltz — a full-body dance of stepping on the clutch and rowing through the gears set to the music of the engine revving and the wind whipping past. Beyond casual errands, I’ve been fortunate to road trip through some phenomenal locations around the U.S., rides that have taken me over rolling mountains, across starkly beautiful deserts, along perilous cliffs, and around tropical islands.

While driving games lack some of the sensory stimulation of a real-world excursion, they offer many benefits: a greatly decreased carbon footprint, garages full of outrageously expensive and highly customizable sports cars, colorfully rendered versions of far-off locations, and the ability to simply reload after a high speed crash into a highway divider. (Note: we encourage you to always drive safely and responsibly.)

I’ve enjoyed Need for Speed since the first, with a lot of time spent on 1998’s NFS III: Hot Pursuit in particular. So when Ghost Games reached out about contributing to NFS Heat, it was an opportunity to give back to the series and hopefully entertain others in the process.

I worked alongside the audio team on the dynamic dialogue system that powers Palm City’s new night cops; we defined their corrupt tone — a sharp contrast to the strictly professional attitude of the daytime troopers — built personalities for each officer and wrote them thousands of lines based on their pursuit of the player.

Getting it right required a lot of research — films, TV, news articles, and hours spent listening to actual police band radio — but I’m very pleased with the results. Once the sun goes down and the streets light up like a neon fever dream, racers will face off against a downright dirty, occasionally comical, police force that will stop at nothing to take their cash and strip them of their rep.

The roads of Palm City are calling.

NFS Heat is out today for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Learn more at the official website — https://www.ea.com/games/need-for-speed/need-for-speed-heat/ — or watch the official launch trailer below.

P.S. While Palm City is a fictional place, it was heavily inspired by the culture and climate of Miami, according to the developers. And in addition to the street art, stylish clothes, and changing weather, the team has also managed to capture the utter insanity of trying to drive in South Florida.

NBA Live 19 goes live

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I grew up in Chicago in the late 80s/early 90s, during the golden age of the Bulls. I wasn’t a die-hard fan, but I remember I pasted the front page of the Tribune on my bedroom wall after they won their first champsionship 3-peat. It was a singular era, and it seemed like those players had the power to electrify not just the nation but the world with their super-human athletic prowess.

The world of professional sports is full of compelling stories and over the past few years EA Sports has been integrating more narrative into their games. Individuals who rise from obscurity, train hard to become the best they can be, and build a personal brand that potentially benefits the community at large. Players and teams form friendships and rivalries. There are obvious financial elements as well, with fortunes to be won and lost, and fierce competition for top-tier sponsorships. At their core, sports can glorify the same values as an epic or saga; they can transcend nationality, ethnicity, class, and gender; they can inspire an entire generation.

So when the opportunity arose to contribute to NBA Live 19 — developed by EA Tiburon — I jumped at it.

I was fortunate to collaborate with Ross Berger (Senior Narrative Designer) and Anne Toole, as well as the rest of the dev team, on “The One,” a story that follows the journey of a player-created basketballer as they strive to become a legend. Together, we wrote interactive branching text conversations, broadcasts for both professional and enthusiast commentators, social media posts, and introductions for various Pro-Am venues (my favorite part).

Over the course of “The One” players will match up against current and former superstars of the WNBA and NBA, and take a tour around the world’s most vibrant street courts. They’ll be drafted into the League proper. They’ll interact with mentors, journalists, agents, fans, and their fellow players.

They’ll play. They’ll rise. They’ll become The One.

The game is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For more information, check out the official website — https://www.easports.com/nba-live — or watch the trailer below.