Sports Mogul is scheduled to release the latest version of the much-maligned Football Mogul series at the end of this week, and we here at Operation Sports bring you the first detailed look of the game on the Internet. The new feature list for FM09 is small, since the team is more worried about fixing existing issues; and having seen some of the prior versions, that's likely a good thing. Here’s the feature set, according to the Sports Mogul Web site. The bolded features at the bottom are listed as “new features.”
- Ratings for over 2,200 players
- Updated career stats for every player
- Includes rookies from the 2008 draft
- NFL schedule for the 2008-2009 season
- Play-by-play describes each play as it happens
- Realistic player development and aging
- Play up to 100 seasons into the future
- Create your own 'Football Mogul Encyclopedia'
- Detailed playbook editor
- Improved roster AI
- Improved playcalling AI
- 60 percent faster simulation
It’s my intention in this preview (and all of my future text-sim previews) to cover how things work, not necessarily how well they work. The preview is based on a beta copy received a week before release. Based on past experiences with lead developer Clay Dreslough, and my familiarity with other text-sim beta processes, I would expect multiple additional builds with various tweaks and fixes prior to Friday’s release. I will say that in the few hours I spent with the game, I did not run across any show-stopping bugs, and only saw one crash -- and that’s when the user attempts to do one specific thing in the game. The crash issue has been reported to Sports Mogul and I anticipate it will be fixed prior to release.
The 2008 NFL rosters are included. It’s not on the feature list, but there are at least some current college players included for the 2009 draft class. I was quite surprised the first time I was on the clock in 2009 and there was Knowshown as one of my options.
The user sets the spending for scouting and the team medical staff. It’s a typical resource management situation: spend more on either staff, and it’s more effective. Spend too much, and you don’t have enough to spend elsewhere.
Free agency is very simple: if a team can’t afford a player’s asking price under the salary cap, he becomes a free agent. There’s no bidding system against other teams: if you like a guy and have the cap room and cash on hand to pay his bonus, you can sign him to a deal near his asking price. I haven’t played it enough to know for sure, but it appears that at the highest difficulty level, players’ asking prices are such that building a team purely through free agency is next to impossible, due to the salary cap -- drafting well is going to be the key. Decent starter-quality free agents tend to ask for contracts with a cap impact of $3M to $6M; good players are in the $7M-$9M range; stars are over $10M. The default cap is $116M and there's no restricted free agency or franchise tag.
The user also sets ticket and concession prices, and as mentioned earlier, sets the budget for medical staff and scouting. Cash on hand is used for paying bonuses to free agents and draftees, so spending on staff and scouting have to be balanced against ticket and concession revenues in order to bring in good new talent.
There are two options for setting a game plan in Football Mogul, and the level of micromanagement between the two couldn’t be further apart. The GM-type player who simulates games will use very basic settings for offense and defense. For offense, it’s a “run/pass balance” slider-type control that ranges from “all run” to “balanced” to “all pass.” On defense, the GM player only determines whether the team uses a 4-3 or 3-4 set. The game’s AI handles everything else during the simulation.
The “Head Coach” type player who calls all of his own plays has a vast amount of detail available to him. There’s a relatively easy interface to deal with when creating individual plays and saving them in a playbook. (The game comes with default playbooks for those who don’t want to do that much.) The interface makes designing plays easy. For passes, each WR and TE can be assigned one of 24 different routes to run, and each back has 42 different options -- the user can also choose a primary receiver. Running plays can go into any of the 10 standard holes, and can be set up as standard, toss, sweep, draw, trap, or end around plays. Defense is even more robust. Each of the 11 players on the field can be assigned one of 18 different responsibilities: pass rush, outside rush, inside rush, corner blitz (CBs only), strong side stunt, weak side stunt, plug the gap, rush contain, deep zone, short zone, inside zone, outside zone, bump and run, man to man, outside man, inside man, behind man, underneath man, and double team.
However, there is no “in-between” option for a coach. It’s either very minimal control or call every play. There’s no “recommend” button when calling plays, either. It’s all up to the gamer, for better or worse.
The in-game playcalling interface shows an updated box score and gives one-click access to a full play-by-play log.
There’s no preseason in Football Mogul.
The draft is straightforward: seven rounds. In my limited playing time, I found that some solid players can be found in rounds 3 and 4 by cranking up spending on scouting. The gamer is presented with a current rating, a projected peak, college stats, and a basic written scouting report.
The player editor allows all players to be edited. Logos and helmets can also be added. Team names, league sizes, cities, and stadiums are fully editable as well. I didn’t try it, but theoretically, it should be very easy to set up, say, a 16-team fictional universe if that’s your cup of tea.
It’s the typical Sports Mogul interface -- very intuitive and easy to use.
Player cards have very basic statistics for players. One significant oversight is that RBs and WRs who return kicks do not have their PR/KR stats recorded. There’s also a Football Mogul Encyclopedia HTML export. Like the in-game stats, it includes a relatively small number of stats. If you’re used to the statistical detail of other text sims such as OOTP, FOF, or even Baseball Mogul, the amount given here is a significant step down. That being said, the basics are there.
As far as believability goes, I didn’t run across any of the crazy stats that have been observed in previous versions of Mogul. In a 50-year sim, the single-season records were:
PASSING YARDS: 4,548
PASSING TDs: 41
RUSHING YARDS: 1,810
RUSHING TDs: 20
RECEIVING YARDS: 1,803
RECEIVING TDs: 19
QB RATING: 118.3
INTERCEPTIONS (defense): 12
INTERCEPTIONS THROWN: 24
In the time given to prepare a preview, it’s hard to get a real handle on the nuances of player development. Using the editor to take a peek, though, I can discern that each player has the following hidden ratings that influence development:
- Peak Start (age at which the player is expected to reach the top of his ratings)
- Peak End (age at which the player will begin to decline)
- Maturity (how far developed the player is now)
- Longevity (the higher the number, the more slowly the player’s ratings decline once he reaches his peak end age.
Just by looking at a draft class in the editor, it’s clear that there’s a good bit of variety given to players during their development curves.
The game moves from stage to stage as follows:
- Regular Season
- Post Season
- Renew Contracts (choose whether to extend players on your team whose contracts have run out)
- Free Agents
- College Draft
After the college draft is over, the game moves directly to the next regular season.
This version does not appear to be the embarrassment that the previous versions I’ve played have been. That being said, its appeal is likely to be limited to two audiences:
1. Those who enjoy creating and calling plays.
2. Those who are satisfied with acting as a "GM" and having very little control over play calls.
The lack of detailed stats will also be a liability for some. On the positive side, it's possible that this game could work for those who want to fire up the 2008 season with their favorite team and sim, draft, and sign a few free agents without being concerned about the details of game planning and delving too deeply into statistics.