SPORTSBALL, WEEK 3: About What I Said Last Week...

Welcome to week 3 of Sportsball, where I play through the NFL Season in Madden 2012's Franchise Mode. Except I've never played Madden before. Read about my first week here, and last week's entry is here.

I know I mentioned this during my first week with the game, but every time I sit down to play Madden I am continually amazed at how much it explains to you. Which, I should remind you, is jack shit.

I’m aware that there’s an in-game manual, but what’s confusing is that it only seems to be available from the pause menu of an actual football game, and this week, all of my questions came about in the stuff before the football game. I wanted to start delving into the franchise part of Franchise mode, to look at stats and scout players and such. The game has a wide array of excellent, useful information (I think) but it’s very poor in telling you how to use it. There’s plenty—maybe too much—to look at and almost zero indication of how one should interact with it.

Like scouting players, for example. I have no idea how to do it, and Madden doesn’t seem to care. There’s a huge list of unscouted players and a blank list of scouted ones. This means, by definition, that one should be able to somehow move players from the unscouted list to the scouted one, right? But if there is, I have no damn clue about how to do it.

That sounds a bit more upsetting than it actually is to me. I really don’t know a thing about stats—I can figure out what they mean, sure, but I don’t know what is necessarily good or bad. I can’t even pretend to be Jonah Hill in Moneyball and pick dudes who just “get on base” because I’m not sure what the football equivalent would be. Catching the ball? Really, the only stat that matters to me at this juncture is the Overall one.

This doesn’t change the fact that I would, eventually, like to know what all this stuff means. I feel like a freaking detective, working out that depth charts are the order players are brought onto the field based on the fact that the charts are ordered by position and that I had the option to change the order of the players listed, as well as noting that they seemed to go from best to worst. Navigating franchise menus is like a LucasArts adventure game, with really inscrutable puzzles that you have to figure out just by pressing everything.

Again, at the moment, this doesn’t really matter much. I’m still learning the basics of the game, so it’s probably best that those features remained locked until I gain the XP necessary to use them effectively, in a manner of speaking. But it’s still dumb.

While we’re talking about experience, I should mention that because I only play this game once a week, to write this column, I forget a lot about how to play this game. I mean, I never really do anything other than pass the ball and run, but every time sit down I remember that I can juke and spin and stiff arm but I have no idea how to do any of those things, so I look them up every time I play. I should practice before going to game day. There’s allegedly a practice mode. The loading screen tells me so. I haven’t found it yet, because like most useful things in Madden, they’re probably there, but extremely removed from whatever context you might actually need them in.

Because of this, I usually suck straight through the first set of downs. However, this week, in my game against the Bills, I suck spectacularly, and they score a touchdown on the first play of the game. This is kind of embarrassing, because it’s a home game. Is player morale a factor in Madden? That would be kind of cool. Maybe.

That first touchdown did not bode well, for me, let me tell you. Their defense was good. Run plays, my silver bullet, rarely worked, and I had to rely on huge, risky, field spanning passes to make any sort of progress. It also probably didn’t help that I started calling my own plays. I mean, I still used Ask Madden, mostly. I was just sick of using the quick menu and being totally surprised by the patterns my dudes were running.

They score again, and I quit calling plays.

Instead of talking about how bad I am playing right now, I want to take this opportunity to distract you with cheerleaders. Have you seen the cheerleaders in this game? They’re terrifying. I wish I had a screenshot to show you, a quick Google search doesn’t really turn up much. They’re like the Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with trim figures and washboard abs.

SPORTSBALL, WEEK 3: About What I Said Last Week...

But we were talking about how miserable my performance was this game. Except, in the second half, IT ISN’T. I score once in the third quarter, and then again at the beginning of the fourth. The score is 17-14. And it’s at this point where a really bad habit of mine gets the better of me.

See, I kind of pooh-pooh field goals. I don’t like ‘em. It’s completely irrational, I know, but I’d rather just go for it on fourth down if I’m close enough for a field goal attempt. Unless I’ve lost yards on my third down play, I tend to be overly bullish on fourth down. I would’ve won if I had taken a FG attempt or two. It also doesn’t help that my receivers completely sucked, throwing away two touchdowns for no explicable reason. If I knew how to trade players, I’d trade their asses so hard right now.

So there goes my first loss of the season. I want to be alone and listen to Explosions in the Sky, which is what you’re supposed to do when you lose a football game.

Clear eyes, full hearts.