Now that the dust has settled and a new National Champion has been crowned, college football fans now face a harsh truth: We must endure the long, prosaic, football-less interim until the 2009 season kicks off in August.
For many of us, the culmination of the real-life NCAA football season signals the demise of the annual love affair with EA Sports’ NCAA Football, and shifts the focus to the future. While the introduction of the Online Dynasty mode will likely give NCAA 09 some added momentum this year, many gamers -- if they have not already -- will begin to discuss the new features and improvements the 2010 version will bring to the table.
There is already a lengthy NCAA Football 10 wish-list thread here on OS, but I felt it was time to begin the consolidation process.
On the Field: Broken Tackles
The fast-paced, anything-can-happen gameplay of NCAA 09 made it, in my mind, one of the better football games to date -- at least post-patches. The (usually) fluid controls allowed for some pretty shifty open-field moves that often left defenders searching for their jock straps.
Only one month later, however, Madden NFL 09 upped the ante, implementing a tackle-breaking system. The Madden system is inherently different from NCAA since much of the tackle breaking occurs after contact, rather than prior to contact. This led me to think, why not have both? Nifty, elusive moves and broken arm-tackles are both prevalent in the college game, so why not include both systems? Surely the two are not mutually exclusive.
First on my on-field wish list, keep the wide-open style of gameplay, but implement Madden 09's power-out-of-tackles system. The current system tends to favor the speedy, nimble ball carriers, while the slower, more powerful backs go down too easily. It would be nice to at least see a version of Madden’s tackle-breaking system (likely dictated by players’ strength and break tackle ratings) injected into next year’s game. This implementation would give us the best of both worlds, and more importantly, a more realistic game.
On the Field: Passing Offense
One of the major complaints about NCAA 09 is the offensive bias in the passing game. Completing passes is too easy, defending them, too hard. Of course, sliders can remedy most on-field balance issues, but it was still irksome that the game’s default settings -– regardless of difficulty -- did not emulate the real product.
On the offensive side, there are a few things that can be done to correct these shortcomings. First and foremost, the throwing accuracy ratings need to be more evident on the field. As asinine as it sounds, I want to see more incomplete passes because of poor throws. While this does happen occasionally in the game, instances of over/under-thrown balls are too few and far between, even with slider adjustment. In real life, not all QBs can consistently thread the needle, and it would be nice to see this reflected in the game.
At the same time, I want to see a system where pressure and throwing on the run -- or off the back foot -- have more adverse effects on throws. These factors already have some influence on throwing accuracy in the game, but I have seen far too many bull's-eye throws in unlikely situations. Perhaps a new rating for quarterbacks may be in order, something like Throwing Accuracy Under Durress (TAD) or Throwing Composure (THC). Such a rating could further differentiate the great quarterbacks from the average-to-mediocre field generals, while again bringing the passing game back down to earth.
You may ask, am I insane? Why would I possibly hope for devices to discourage my passing attack? Many gamers, myself included, would feel a strong urge to fire a controller off the drywall if a QB randomly missed a wide-open receiver. However, these little in-game adjustments would make the gameplay much more true to life. Thus, it would force gamers to adjust their games appropriately. Sub-par QB? Focus on the running game, and look for short passes; or recruit a better QB if a top-tier passing attack is what your heart desires. While the frustrations would be imminent, I would happily sacrifice a few passing stats for more realism.
On the Field: Passing Defense
Simply put, the pass rush needs to make a comeback of epic proportions. In general, quarterbacks have far too long to throw the ball in NCAA 09. Blitz packages help a bit, but there needs to be a better showing from the defensive line, especially in situations when the defensive lineman is much more skilled than his corresponding offensive lineman.
Balance is key when making such an adjustment in gameplay because there are a limited number of line audibles at the offense’s disposal. As most of you know, while on offense, you can only call slide-protection line audibles. These allow you to pick up a blitz or more effectively shield a roll out, but would do very little to address a dominant defensive lineman who is eating your left tackle’s lunch. Without the ability to call in-depth line audibles like double teams or down blocks (another wish), a new and improved pass-rush system would have to be very balanced, but still reflect line mismatches. Perhaps I cannot have it both ways. I would not know, I am not a developer. But the lack of a realistic pass rush does need to be addressed.
The pass defense in the secondary could also use a bit of work. Overall, the awareness of DBs and linebackers needs a slight boost. I am tired of watching linebackers sit in the center of an assigned zone while a receiver saunters into a wide-open hole just a few yards away. The defense’s reaction to receivers and the ability to maintain man coverage needs to improve.
I am also still pushing for more pass break-up animations. These animations could take the place of some of the game’s interceptions, which are still overly abundant. NCAA 09 still feels a bit too pick-happy; though, it is better than the ridiculousness in the '08 version. Substitute some of these INTs with some pretty knockdown animations, and I would be a happy camper.
On the Field: Fumble Pileups
This idea stems from my hatred for NCAA 09’s fumble animations. While the scoop-and-score animations that occur in space are satisfactory, fumbles that occur in a crowd result in some real nonsense. Essentially, none of the animations that occur after the fumble look realistic within the context of the situation. Next year, I hope there is a system that allows for fumble "pileups." Such a system would be applicable when the pigskin comes loose somewhere within a sea of humanity.
In theory, this is a great idea, but it does raise a question. When a pileup does occur, what decides who comes up with the ball? Would it just be a cool animation, and the first player to dive on the ball wins? Or would there be some sort of button-mashing mini-game to determine the outcome? It is an interesting debate. Personally, I would want a system weighted towards the first diver, with an outside chance that another player could rip it away. I picture it working something like the current onside-kick system. This improvement would not only add another degree of realism to the game, but would also throw some more excitement into head-to-head contests.
In-Game: Better Presentation
Although NCAA 09 was a big step back in the right direction in terms of atmosphere, there still seems to be loads of potential for next-gen consoles.
There are of course, the little-yet-not-so-little items like correct uniforms, alternate uniforms and updated stadiums. At this point, these go without saying and should always be a main goal of EA’s developers. But in addition to these obvious exclusions, the overall game atmosphere still feels somewhat lacking.
For starters, the Gameday broadcast should be put back in. As cheesy and repetitive as it was -- and as much as I loathe Lee Corso -- it gave the game some flair and authenticity. Actual team entrances and possibly some team-specific entrances should also find their way back from the last generation of NCAA games. In addition, is it too much to ask to see the captains meet at the 50-yard line for the coin toss?
Within the game, I would like to see improved stadium sounds. Yes, the custom stadium sounds do help a bit, but I would like for there to be more anthem-type songs played during the games. For example, I want to hear the "Imperial March" from the band at Memorial Stadium when the Illini force a punt. I also want to hear the Penn State student section belt out "Seven Nation Army" when the Nittany Lions get a first down. There is a lot that could be, and should be done to make the atmosphere feel more authentic.
One final note to this rant: Is it really too much to ask to have team-specific end zone art in the bowl games? I think not.
Dynasty: Expand (But Do Not Reinvent) Recruiting
I love the "new" recruiting system. Not to say I hated the old one, but the older I got and the more I learned about actual college recruiting, the more the old system of point assigning seemed ridiculous.
I absolutely love the way the current system allows you to slowly sell your school over the course of a season, which nudges recruits to re-prioritize based upon your school's strengths. It is certainly not perfect, but it is a great deal of fun, especially when recruiting against human users in online dynasties.
As much as I like this system, there is room for improvement, and I would like to see it move forward come mid-July. I am still clinging to my "special pitches" idea from last year, where certain schools have special pitches that can serve as trump cards in certain recruiting situations. Things like "historical program," "up-and-coming program" or "gateway to the pros" would be certain things that might play a powerful role in landing top recruits. The game already focuses on these areas via some of the available pitches, but these pitches do not quite play the pivotal role that they should when it comes to the recruiting landscape.
Online Dynasty: Spectator Mode
Have I mentioned that I really, really, really, really enjoy the Online Dynasty mode?
If gamers were allowed to watch other human vs. human games online, it would be a nice improvement. It is simply not enough to read the box score and watch canned uploaded highlights on EASportsWorld.com. I want to see the entire game unfold, and hear the banter between the competitors. It is part of the fun of Dynasty mode.
Since online-dynasty gamers sometimes experience lag when they play their games on weekends or any weekday after 5 p.m. EST, I think this wish can be placed in the not-bloody-likely category. However, that does not mean a guy cannot dream.
I have attempted to get the ball rolling, so why not get this consolidation process going. What things MUST happen in NCAA Football 2010?