SPORTSBALL, WEEK 5: Only Play the Games You Can WinS

Lots of people play Madden, but not many people tell you what it's like to be completely new at it. I've been doing it for five weeks, and I'm still pretty bad. If you're new, get caught up here. All set? Great. Roll film!

So far, the coolest thing about being a guy who’s not very into sports and giving Madden a go is the countless people who are into sports and Madden and are really eager to talk about it with me. Some do it because they welcome the kind of perspective I bring—I won’t go so far as to say that liking sports is a genetic predisposition, but it’s an easy leap to make. Others find it amusing. I have a little brother that falls into this camp, and he always wants me to play when he’s around because he finds it funny as hell. And then there are people like Sylverfyst that are just plain helpful, quietly following along and dropping tips where appropriate.

It’s been a fun experience so far, like joining a super cool club but without the hazing. I appreciate everyone who’s willing to talk about it and answer my dumb questions—it makes exploring this incredibly complex and fascinating world that much more fun. I have a friend who’s just getting into comic books (something I know a bit about) and I found myself wondering what his experience was like. Thanks to this little experiment, I kind of know now—and it’s pretty pleasant.

Even when I’m throwing tantrums about losing games like I did last week. Losing for reasons both legitimate and cheap are just as part of the Madden/Football experience as they are the Dark Souls experience, and they’re both equally rewarding.

Like this week.

I began like I did last week, taking some time to practice and get a better feel for running plays and controlling things. I guess what’s been bugging me about the controls all along is how imprecise it all feels. There’s the slightest delay to everything you do, as if the game’s priority is to make every player look the way they’re supposed to as opposed to making it feel like you are the reason they look the way they do. Does that make sense? It’s not terrible, but it’s the biggest adjustment coming from most mainstream games in other genres where twitchy controls and hair trigger responses are par for the course. Madden feels less like Diablo and more like Dragon Age, so to speak.

I’m discovering that my biggest problem is that I play with some serious tunnel vision. Like Sylverfyst said, reading the other team’s defensive formation is critical, and I’m still learning what all that means. Also, when I’m playing defense, I focus almost exclusively on the player I’m controlling and don’t pay much attention to what’s going on elsewhere. The particulars of the team AI aren’t very clear, and I don’t know the sort of things that are accounted for and that I need to keep an eye out on. This problem in particular is extra troublesome, since from what I understand, it’s all part of the array of changes that are made from year to year with each game’s release. I also have Madden 08 hiding among my things somewhere. Maybe I’ll pull it out and see how much of a different animal it can be.

Also, this week is the Trade Deadline. I really don’t know enough about training to take advantage of it, so I ignore it. I imagine that this sort of thing can be detrimental to my performance in the long run—I’m not tweaking my roster at all. I feel like I should. Even if I can’t trade, should I be messing with my lineup? Warming guys up? I don’t know.

On to this week’s game, for which I’ve arranged with my friends over at YouTube a totally convenient way for you to listen to this sweet RJD2 track that really sets the mood for how it went down.

I was up against the Indianapolis Colts (they had a 2-3 record) for this one, and I was kind of embarrassed by how quickly they were able to work all the way across the field

I get my act together when they make 1st and Goal, and force them to kick for the field goal to take the lead 3-0. It wasn’t the greatest start, but it could be worse. Last week’s disaster was very fresh in my mind.

My first possession doesn’t go much better. My running back fumbles, the Colts take the ball, and I get a foul called on my team. I then notice I have the option to challenge it—and hell yes I’d like to challenge that, Ref. I don’t understand what you called or why you called it or what actually happened, if I can get you to change your mind maybe something good will happen.

And it did! The play was to be done over, I had the ball back, and blew all four downs. That penalty kerfuffle would’ve been for nothing…except I caught an interception and scored.

The rest of the game was a disaster for the Colts. They throw four interceptions, two of which result in touchdowns for me. They fumble, only to have one of my defensive players scoop it up and score in one fell swoop—something that the commentators say is Very Hard, I’ll have you know. At this point, the game is like Tetris when everything is neatly stacked and then you have that straight line piece you were waiting for slide in and clear everything out. It was very satisfying.

They Colts do score once more before the game is over. I don’t care very much, since I had them sussed at that point, but I suppose I should have cared more—I know from last week that points that I allow to be scored against me are part of what determines my standing in the league.

But just like that, I’ve got my mojo back. What bites is that next week is my BYE week—a friend of mine explained this to me as my team’s week off. It’s a quirk of the NFL’s scheduling. So I won’t have an actual game to play next week. I’ll try and compensate with something interesting outside of my usual Franchise hijinks. There’s still plenty of Madden to explore.