Last week I started the monumental task of learning American Football by playing Madden ’15. As an Englishman with not even a fleeting interest in sports as the proposition was somewhat unusual. For perspective at my starting point I’d never watched or played Footbal, nor did I even know the first rule. When I started the challenge I knew I’d set the target high, turns out the learning curve was more difficult than anticipated. Confronted by foreign concepts like lines of scrimmage, Madden had be baffled. By the close of last week I’d only managed to battle through the tutorials and only began to fathom how an actual game works. I never set out to write two of these features in a row about the same subject, but it’s clear I still hadn’t got to understand Madden properly in one. So, I set myself the target of playing a few matches, with the ultimate goal of understanding how the game works in practice.
Firstly I needed to figure out where I was going to play my rounds. I wrote off playing exhibition games as that wouldn’t help me come to terms with progression in Madden ’15. My options were playing a season, or experiencing the Ultimate Team mode. Initially I thought Ultimate Team would be the best idea. In this mode players are able to play through a series of challenges, matches and training exercises with their own dream team built from collectible cards. Enthusiasts can construct their absolute ideal team, provided they can collect all of their favourite players from the NFL. With my total knowledge of American Football rosters equating to exactly zero I was out of my depth; unable to distinguish the most iconic player from the worst high school team player.
Learning how Football works in practice was one thing, but if I decided to learn of the rosters then I’d have to write hundreds of these before I really knew that I was talking about. With a little deliberation I decided to opt for the more traditional ‘road to the Super Bowl’ mode. Essentially the objective here it to guide a team to victory in a traditional season. Here I’d get the most matches in the shortest period of time allowing me to grow my understanding more quickly, and possible cultivate an attachment to my chosen team. That was the theory.
Before I could guide a team to victory (or perpetual disappointment) I had to decide which franchise to inflict myself upon. When I first started Madden asked who my favourite team was, with no understanding of Football at all I’d picked via the rock solid method of who had the best logo. Then I’d picked the Baltimore Ravens, and it felt only right to continue my blind loyalty. Next up I needed to decided who’d manage them: their current NFL coach, another NFL coach or a coach of my own design. Not trusting any of these professionally trained proven coaches I settled on creating my own. With the aid of Madden ’15’s rudimentary coach creation suite I haphazardly created a bald angry looking chap, thus Ross Kemp’s NFL coaching career began.
Finally before I could start Madden threw a cavalcade of options at me. Quarter lengths, coaching tips, game speed, ball hawk, heat seeker assist (which sounds like a missile) and even more options which I had zero point of reference for. It transpired even my self perceived easier route would be difficult, setting everything to default I jumped in. It shows how long it’s been since I played a sports game, I expected to be thrown right into my first game and simply play one round after another from there. Not the case. Before I could start I needed to do pre-game prep. Thankfully Madden helped me out by slinging audio definitions of everything I could do pre-game in one drawn out lesson, I decided all this would work itself out; so I skipped it. Madden strongly suggested I spend all my pre-game training points so I obliged, I picked at random which players to train with no understanding of what their positions translated to on the field.
Pre-game prep done, and feeling foolishly confident I started my first ever match. The Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers. I’d passed all the tutorials and figured this would be easy. It turned out that all my tutorial experience equated to nothing more than an understanding the controls, I’d not really figured out how to use that knowledge to form a strategy. On the attack I moved up the feild with little issue. Within the first quarter I’d managed to score a touchdown. Now I was to take a field goal; cockily I thought I’d get more points if I made a run, so I did. That tactic didn’t work well, I was tackled and my attack was over. The 49ers began their offence. My defence was appalling, the 49ers marched up the pitch unimpeded – they scored a touchdown, and then the field goal. The 49ers were winning 7-6. Mid second quarter it was my turn to attack. It was tough but I made it to their 10 yard line (that’s close to a touchdown) when half time was called.
I might have been losing, but I was confident when play resumed I’d continue from the 10 yard line and make the score. Also I’d take the field goal for 1 more easy point. American Football rules decided that wasn’t happening. Turns out after calling half time the teams swap possession. The 49ers were on the offence again. This time they started from way down the field. I held them off until the fourth quarter when then finally broke through and scored again. 14-6 to them now. I had about 2/3 of the quarter to snatch a more respectable loss. It all went well, until I learnt what an interception was. Making a throw the 49ers caught the ball instead of my intended team-mate. This is interception, now the 49ers could attack again. They ran it all the way down the field to score again. I didn’t care now, this game was a write off; I accepted my fate.
Figuring out where I went wrong I was confident the next game would be better. The Dallas Cowboys proceeded to whoop me too. ‘Okay, 2 losses this is just introductory pains’ I reassured myself. The third match was against the Washington Red Skins. And I won. I was ecstatic I’d pulled out all the stops, put together what I’d learnt and managed to produce a victory. On the second attempt. Yes, first match they scored two times in the last quarter and I couldn’t take it. Madden ’15 made me rage quit for the first time in years. After quitting and starting over I beat them 20 something to 7. I can’t remember exactly I was too busy cheering. I even jumped out my seat and screamed ‘hell yes!’ when my player received a touchdown catch by doing a bodyguard style ‘noooooo’ leap through the air as two opponents scarcely missed their individual tackles.
With a win under my belt, and an actual understanding of how I’d done it I considered this adventure’s goal complete. Although scrimmage is still something that sounds made up. Thing is I really enjoyed doing this. As a man with no sporting interest or knowledge of American Football, I really loved the experience. Going somewhere so alien and getting involved felt great. I urge anyone to give something like this a try. English folk, grab Madden and I’ll play with you. Americans? Go buy Fifa. Do something you really don’t understand. My adventure may be over, but my time with Madden isn’t. Not until the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl again.