ESPN.com’s John Robinson interviewed Madden creative director Ian Cummings about the upcoming edition of America’s most popular video game.
Jon Robinson: Of all the new features you guys are kicking around, why did you announce surprise onside kicks as the first thing gamers can expect for “Madden NFL 12”?
Ian Cummings: We discussed for quite a long time what we would lead with. There was a lot of debate, but I really wanted to lead with this because of the discussion it would cause. It’s not a huge feature. It’s not something that took a ton of time. But it’s something that’s been a hot-button issue in the community. Some people have made a really big deal over us not having this in the game, and it’s something we always wanted to do, we just needed to balance it right. So we figured we’d lead with it and we’ll get people talking about how it will be an exploit, or on the flip side, how it needs to be in the game. But we knew it was something that would get people talking about “Madden 12.” If we lead with something huge, then it’s tough to continue that momentum. So we decided to lead with something controversial to get people talking about the game.
Jon Robinson: What’s the success rate of these surprise onside kicks in real life?
Ian Cummings: I went through the NFL playbook tool that we have and it’s a little over 55 percent of the time that they get the ball successfully when they do a surprise onside kick. We can’t tune it like that, unfortunately. I wish that we could, but then everyone would do it all the time. So it’s yet to be determined where we put it at. Right now, it’s an organic thing. You can’t make it something where 50 percent of the time you recover because once you kick it, the ball bounces in different directions and the player AI reacts in different ways. Right now, we’re trying to dial in that number because it’s actually way too hard to recover. The very first build where I had it, you could recover just about every time, but with the current build you can recover maybe 1 out of 100, so it’s way too low. We’ll continue to tune it as we go along.
Jon Robinson: Is there a limit to how many times players will be able to attempt this throughout the game?
Ian Cummings: Yeah, this is something that has brought up a lot of discussion, and as of today we’re limiting this to one per team per game. At the beginning of the week I had it at two per team per game, but there was an overwhelming response that we shouldn’t do that. The thing is, this is in the tuner set values, so we can push this pretty easily if we want to go up or down. I don’t want people to think that this is an exploit and that we’re capping it because it’s an exploit, but the idea is that once a team does one, there’s no way that the other team would fall for it again. They’re going to be set up for it and they’re going to prepare for it. So I don’t want to make this unlimited where some guy spends six days straight in practice mode and finds a way to recover every time and ruins online play for everyone. That’s why we’re limiting this to just one or two or maybe three. We’ll see how it works out closer to ship.
Jon Robinson: How does the mechanic actually work in the game?
Ian Cummings: It’s one of my favorite mechanics. The original thought was that you’d call a surprise onside kick play, but I just thought that was kind of lame, especially if the guy you’re playing against is watching your plays. So how we do it is you start your kick meter like you normally would by pressing the A button on the 360 or the X button on the PS3, but then on your last button press, when you’re stopping the meter for your accuracy, you choose the B button or the circle button and that ends up switching things up to the surprise onside kick. He’ll line up and look like he’s about to kick normally, but then the animation switches up at the last second. It does use the aim of the kick arrow, but it doesn’t go all the way to the sidelines. We’re trying to keep it more toward the middle of the field so we can tune this so there aren’t too many variables that enable someone to recover the ball every time. It also takes the power into account a little bit, but the majority of the power will come from the tuner sets so that if we find someone has an exploit, we can update that more quickly and make it more random, adjusting things after ship.
Jon Robinson: How often can fans expect you to blog about new features in the game? Is there another blog coming soon, or is this it for a while since “Madden 12” doesn’t even ship until August?
Ian Cummings: I had planned on doing podcasts every other week from here until ship, but we have to plan it out first. We don’t know all of our features, and we also need to align with “NCAA” to make sure we’re talking about any shared features at the right time. I don’t know if we’ll have one in the coming weeks, but I want to keep the regular communication going, it might just not happen for another month or so. I like to keep people in the loop, especially when we’re doing features early that still have time for feedback and we can make them better. That’s what’s great about this feature. Although it’s small, we can see the reaction from everyone, we can quell the concerns of the community and make changes. If I didn’t tell anyone a single thing about this feature and it just showed up on day one and it was an exploit, everyone would hate it. But now everyone feels like they’re a little more involved in the process and that always makes for a better game.
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So you’ve seen our Michael Vick Cover, here’s another option:
Or in case of a lockout maybe the “Replacement Version” ft. JP LOSMAN!
(Or maybe even RB “He Hate Me” of XFL fame)
In all seriousness, who SHOULD be on the cover next year?