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Gameplay Deep Dive Part I: Superstar X-Factors

Learn about the Superstar X-Factor feature with Senior Gameplay Designer Clint Oldenburg.

Madden NFL 20

Hey Madden Fans,

Clint Oldenburg here, Senior Gameplay Designer from the Madden NFL development team. The team is extremely excited to announce everything we’ve been working on for Madden NFL 20. We’ve taken a fresh approach to the development of this game and have focused on modernizing gameplay and presentation.

For Madden NFL 20, we had a very clear focus by targeting three primary creative pillars, all driven by player feedback:

  • Make NFL Stars feel like Stars
  • Build Unique Playbooks and New NFL Strategy
  • Create more Immersive Moments and Deliver a Polished experience

Every in-game feature built for Madden NFL 20 is aligned with one of these pillars, while still being committed to delivering the most authentic, and the most fun Madden NFL experience that we possibly can.

In Part I of our Gameplay Deep Dive series we’ll discuss how we’re Making Stars Feel Like Stars with our brand-new Superstar X-Factor feature. We’re going beyond Ratings in our design to separate the elite players from the rest of the pack.

So, let’s get to it!

Superstar X-Factors

The NFL is a star-driven league and we tune in every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday to see how these unique athletes’ stories will unfold as they take to the field.

The story for each game in Madden NFL 20 will be told by 50 of the NFL’s most elite athletes, who will be featured in game as X-Factors. These players frequently take their teams to elite levels by raising their game when it matters the most, especially when they get in what athletes know as THE ZONE. When these superstars are in the zone, they become X-Factors that have the biggest impact on each game, and the entire season. We are encapsulating what makes these players so rare and so powerful with Superstar X-Factor abilities.

Each of the 50 players will have a loadout of powerful abilities, including one Zone ability that can be unlocked during gameplay by completing an in-game objective tailored to that player. When the objective is achieved, they will enter the “zone” and have access to use their special ability until their opponent knocks them out of the zone with an objective of their own. These players also have several Superstar abilities equipped which will be active at all times during gameplay to truly emphasize their unique skill sets and make them powerful and hard to stop, just like their real-life counterparts.

For both the Zone abilities and Superstar abilities, what sets them apart is that they are NOT ratings boosts or modifications. These are behaviors, characteristics, and situational outcomes, aspects of football, and it will be very clear to our players what impact they are having on the game by complimenting the player ratings, not modifying them.

Below is an example of a Superstar X-Factor ability loadout.

Patrick Mahomes – QB, Chiefs

Zone Ability

  • Bazooka – When in the zone, increase maximum pass distance
    • Objective: Complete a TBD-number of passes over 30-yards
    • Knock-Out: Interception or sack

Superstar Abilities

  • No Look Deadeye – Perfect passing accuracy on cross-body throws
  • Escape Artist – Elite speed and agility when scrambling on passing plays
  • Dashing Deadeye – Perfect passing accuracy when throwing on the run
  • Red Zone Deadeye – Perfect passing accuracy when throwing inside the red zone

There’s also a group of additional players we’re calling Superstars. These players will be equipped with Superstar abilities just like the X-Factors, but they will NOT have a special Zone ability to unlock.

Here’s a look at Patriots WR Julian Edelman’s Superstar ability.

Julian Edelman – WR, Patriots

Superstar Ability

  • Slot-O-Matic – Excels at route running and contested catches when running routes from a Slot receiver position

Here are a few more examples of Superstar abilities:

  • Pass Lead Elite – Extended precision passing on all throws except for High and Low throw
  • Pocket Deadeye – Perfect passing accuracy when passing with the QB’s feet set from inside the pocket
  • Match-Up Nightmare – Gets open and wins contested catches when covered by a single linebacker or defensive lineman
  • Edge Rush Elite – Frequently uses dominant pass-rush moves when rushing from a defensive edge position

While our goal is to make these players feel unique and powerful, game balance is a critical piece.

Every ability in the game will have a counter: all abilities can be countered by user-skill mechanics and/or counter-abilities. So when Julian Edelman is using his Slot-O-Matic ability that allows him to hang on to catches in traffic, if the defender covering him has either the Zoned Out or Man Up catch knock-out ability, then the outcome will be decided by a 50/50 flip, knowing that both players are so elite, that either player has an equal chance of success when directly matched-up; or, it can be countered if the user on defense clicks on to the defender and makes an interception.

The list of players we’ve chosen to be Superstar X-Factors is an elite and exclusive list that will evolve with the NFL Season. The Superstar X-Factor players will be changing throughout the year based on players’ performances in the real-life NFL; specific to the X-Factor players, we are going to limit the number of X-Factor players in the game at any one time to 50, so we are pretty excited to see the debates throughout the season around which NFL stars are most deserving to be an X-Factor.

Franchise and Ultimate Team will benefit from the addition of Superstar abilities, creating another layer of strategy in these modes. They’ve been designed in a way that allows them to be used in unique ways for player progression and team-building.

Superstar X-Factors in Franchise Mode

In Franchise mode, abilities have been tied to players’ Development Traits – in order to be able to have access to ability loadouts, players will need the Development Traits to unlock them. As such, the Development Traits have been updated to reflect that potential:

  • Superstar X-Factor
    • Zone and Superstar abilities
  • Superstar
    • Superstar abilities
  • Star and Normal
    • No abilities

At the end of each season, top performers can increase their Development Trait to unlock abilities; even more exciting is drafting a rookie with the Superstar Potential Development Trait, meaning that once you’ve played with them enough, they will reveal either a Superstar X-Factor or Superstar Development Trait and gain access to abilities.

Superstar X-Factors in Ultimate Team

In Ultimate Team, Chemistry abilities are being replaced by the Superstar abilities, which will bring you more customization tools for your team. While more tools will be available in the toolbox for your players, there will be specific tradeoffs and choices that you’ll have to make strategically.

If you are a player who relies heavily on pre-play adjustments and hot routes, you’ll probably want to grab some pre-play abilities, whereas if you’re more into scrambling with your QB, you’ll be interested in equipping some mobile QB abilities – in most cases, you won’t be able to get them all on the same player.

We’re excited to see how players will use these abilities to make interesting choices that will lead to more diverse gameplay strategies. Look for more details in an upcoming MUT blog.

Superstar Animations

To make stars feel like stars, we didn’t just stop with the abilities. We are delivering signature and custom animations and presentation for the Superstar X-Factors, too. 

Throwing Animations

A handful of the top NFL QBs will have their signature throwing animations in the game, and we plan to continue to add more signature animations in the future. We’ve also standardized the timing of all throwing animations in the game so that not only does the QB matter, but also the length of the pass – short passes for all QBs will be quicker than deep passes.

Passing Animations

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will have the fastest release in the game, followed closely by Browns QB Baker Mayfield and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. The timing from the start to the end of the passing animations for all QBs will scale down from the fastest passers based on their real-world performance. Short passes will always be faster than deep passes for all QBs, but deep passes for the elite players are still significantly faster than deep passes by lower-rated players.

While standardizing our pass animations, we tuned passing speeds and trajectory to get a little bit more air under the ball for all throw types. An important note here: in order to get a higher passing trajectory, the velocity of the passes had to decrease; this is a more authentic approach to passing trajectory in order to get the ball over “lurking” linebackers and allow you to fit the ball in between zones at a higher frequency. The 99 rating for Throw Power (THP) now equates to a throw speed of 55 MPH for bullet passes, which is down from 62 MPH in Madden NFL 19.

Once you’re able to play with the new trajectories and velocities, let us know your feedback – we will continue to fine tune after launch based on feedback from our players.

Pump-Fake Mechanics

While on the topic of passing, we’ve reworked how our pump-fake mechanic functions for Madden NFL 20.

You can now double tap a receiver icon to pump-fake to a specific receiver; or, use this as a throw-cancelling mechanic if you want to pull the ball down late if you change your mind. A well-timed pump-fake will be able to impact defensive players by forcing them to react, especially when equipped with the Sleight of Hand pump-fake Superstar ability on players like Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. As a result, the Medium Pass mechanic has been returned to the “press and release” mechanic that was there prior to Madden NFL 16.

Signature Animations and Special Moves

We’ve updated the First Down and Sack celebrations throughout the game, too, with a focus on signature celebrations.

For running backs, you’ll notice that Superstar players have their own set of special moves that only Superstars have access to, including Juke, Spin, Hurdle, Truck, and Stiff Arm, and even branching broken tackles out of the special moves. We’ve even scratched the surface with signature running styles on a few players: Cam Newton, Julian Edelman, Alvin Kamara, and Richard Sherman, and we hope to expand this in the future. Superstar pass rushers will have powerful and unique pass rush animations that will have a heavy impact on offensive game-planning due to the QB pressure these animations deliver.

On the Presentation side, we have special pre-game and during-game “signature” cut scenes for the Superstar athletes to really connect players with their favorite NFL stars.

Immersion and Quality Polish

Heading into Madden NFL 20, we have made a team-wide commitment to drive the core quality of the game, with a goal of significantly reducing the number of immersion breakers our fans experience. To back that up, we did something different during our production cycle for Madden NFL 20 – instead of waiting until we hit alpha to polish the game, we started doing “polish” weeks after every three weeks of production, or, in other words, had mini-alphas all year long. We also took a deep dive into finding places in our game where we could deliver more fun to the user per minute by reducing down-time where the player is just watching rather than playing. Below are some of the improvements that have come from our push for deeper immersion.

Streamlined Pre-Play, Post-Play, and No Huddle Experiences

We’ve significantly shortened the amount of time spent showing gameplay before and after the play. What’s important to note here is both the game clock and play clock will naturally be accelerated regardless of your accelerated clock settings to account for the time that would normally tick off while players are getting aligned. When using Hurry-Up or No-Huddle, the accelerated clock will tick off the amount of time it would take for the player the furthest away to run and get aligned in his pre-play formation position. These changes have created a faster experience and more time spent on the sticks in each game session.

Pass Rush

In today’s NFL, the pass rush has changed how the game is being played and is the direct counter to deep routes and great quarterback play. We are bringing a more balanced and powerful pass rush to our game globally to limit the amount of time allowed in the pocket, and it will be even more intense when playing against Superstar pass rushers. This is a significant creative change to the balance of the game and on average, this will force the offense to get the ball out quicker on passing plays without consistently having the time to wait for the second and third passing windows to open up.

In-Game Feedback System

The in-game feedback was streamlined to be more cohesive and informative, especially around notifications for X-Factor Abilities and user mechanics.

Re-Factor of Under Pressure QB Penalties

Putting pressure on the QB will be more impactful in Madden NFL 20, especially based on the ratings and Superstar abilities of the pass rusher and QB. You’ll see great pass rushers have a greater impact on QB passing accuracy when applying pressure, and you’ll see QBs who are great at throwing under pressure be more accurate. All of this information will be surfaced to the player via detailed in-game passing feedback text.

Gang Sacks

Multiple defenders can now seamlessly add onto tackle animations when sacking the QB.

Rushed Get-Up Animations

If players get knocked to the ground while the play is still live, they will now hurry to get up off the field and be more aware of the game situation.

Limits Placed on Lurking LBs

In addition to the throw-trajectory tuning mentioned previously, we have also made some changes with jumping interceptions over the middle vs. passing plays. Primarily, only defensive backs will be able to execute the athletic, jumping INTs in Madden NFL 20, while linebackers and defensive linemen will not be able to make acrobatic catches over the middle. If a user tries to intercept a pass with a one of these bigger defenders that he can’t reach, the player will trigger a catch animation, but he won’t reach the ball. However, we have picked out the best “ball-in-air” LBs and equipped them with a Superstar ability to allow them to get up in the air and make spectacular catches when applicable.

Animation Polish on Blocking, Catching, and Tackling

We’ve put a significant amount of work in towards improving the transitions into and out of interactions, with a focus on making them more seamless, while also making the mechanics more responsive and user-friendly.

More Quality Tweaks

We removed Auto-Strafe from the game completely, both the functionality and the setting.

We removed different Game Speeds from the game, mainly due to the amount of very specific bugs it caused for our animation systems.

Ball Hawk is now defaulted to ON for all skill levels. While it can still be toggled off via settings, having it off can lead to a number of frustration points for our users, so we decided it was not a good default option.

 

So now that you know what Superstar X-Factors are all about in Madden 20, which player will you choose to be your X-Factor?

Keep an eye out for Part II of our Madden 20 Gameplay Deep Dive series coming on May 23. We’ll break down details on unique playbooks, NFL schemes and strategies, and the addition of run-pass options (RPOs) in Madden 20.

— Clint Oldenburg (Follow Clint on Twitter @ClintOldenburg)


Madden NFL 20 is out worldwide on August 2. Pre-order the Superstar Edition and play 3 days early. Stay in the conversation by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and EA Forums. Sign up for the Newsletter today to receive updates on Madden, and other EA news, products, and events, all season long.

 

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