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Madden NFL 23’s development was somber and self-aware

While EA’s Madden football games often top sales charts every year, those sales haven’t reflected quality. The critical consensus on the series has been on the decline in recent years, and Madden NFL 22 was riddled with bugs that hampered the experience. Thankfully, the developers are aware of Madden’s flaws and trying to improve its signature gameplay with Madden NFL 23.

Madden 23 Official Reveal Trailer

Speaking to Digital Trends, Executive Producer of Gameplay Aaron McHardy painted a picture of a more somber and reflective development of Madden NFL 23 as EA Tiburon mourned rthe passing of series namesake John Madden and tried to make up for the franchise’s past failures. While Digital Trends hasn’t gone hands-on with the game yet, McHardy highlights that Madden NFL 23 will address many issues fans have thanks to a plethora of bug fixes and a new suite of features called FieldSENSE that touches every part of the experience.

“The investment in FieldSENSE, bug fixes, and gameplay was so big because we know FieldSENSE hits whether you’re playing Franchise, Ultimate Team, The Yard, or a quick match with a friend on your couch,” McHardy tells Digital Trends. “It’s exciting because it hits every part of the game, every mode you’re playing. We feel like anyone who plays Madden NFL 23 can really feel something new and different in the game this year.”

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Exterminating bugs

Before the team could make Madden NFL 23’s gameplay better, they had to fix what was broken already. The past few Madden titles have all been riddled with bugs, and the situation got worse than ever with Madden NFL 22. The annual release schedule and pandemic had finally caught up to EA Tiburon’s game quality. McHardy outlined the steps the developers are taking to ensure it (hopefully) doesn’t happen again.

“We looked at how we developed the game and scoured the internet, and actually got our QA department to, within our dev tools, log every complaint that we could find to track them,” McHardy explains. “Where possible, we’d go in and analyze that to figure out what the actual issue was that was causing someone to complain. If there was a video, we put it in our database, and if it was a general complaint about an area of our game, we’d gather them all together and figure out what all the issues are.”

“We are hyperfocused on making the most polished game that we can.”

This process was thorough, as the developers ended up with a list of “hundreds” of bugs and issues that EA Tiburon could improve. The team then fixed some issues as part of Madden NFL 22‘s live-service updates and took anything they couldn’t fix into account when planning Madden NFL 23’s development.

“In the way that we plan new features every year, we were also planning fixes for all of those bugs to make sure that we fixed them and also have time left to catch new ones we are creating,” he said. “Polish was a big thing for us on the team this year, so while there are still some bugs because we aren’t finished, we feel like the game is already in a better position this year than it was at this time last year. We are hyperfocused on making the most polished game that we can.”

We won’t know for sure whether or not this will all really pan out until the game is in our hands this August, but it seems like EA knows where it messed up and wants to do better.

Sensible changes

Joe Burrow gets tackled by Chargers players in Madden NFL 23.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

That desire to improve seems like it’ll be applied to gameplay as well. Core modes are getting improvements, and franchise mode will feature deeper drafting, scouting, and free agency options. Meanwhile, the narrative-driven Face of the Franchise mode now follows a player on a new team five years into his career and allows players to be a linebacker.

While many of the game’s modes are seeing updates, Madden NFL 23’s most significant changes this year aren’t mode-specific. Instead, they have to do with gameplay and animations. One complaint that some of Madden’s biggest detractors constantly bring up is that the game has “animation-based” gameplay. Basically, some players hate how Madden overrelies on set animations over fluid physics, meaning some throws and catches don’t play out naturally or realistically.

“We’re about to break out of those canned animations this year.”

Although Madden NFL 23’s gameplay is still technically animation-based, the developers considered this feedback when designing FieldSENSE , the moniker given to Madden NFL 23’s gameplay improvements. Defensive players are now more involved because they can interrupt animations, ball carriers can make 360-degree cuts more efficiently, and quarterbacks have more control around aiming and adding power to their throws.

While FieldSENSE is an odd name for these upgrades, McHardy believes that it brings some fundamental, meaningful changes to throwing, passing, and defending that will win over fans displeased with the direction Madden has been heading in for the past several years.

“We wanted to fix that feeling people get when it feels like they’re stuck in canned animations, and it feels like the outcome is predetermined,” McHardy says. “What they’re saying to us is that there’s a loss of control. With FieldSENSE’s branching animation technology, we’re about to break out of those canned animations this year. That gives us unpredictability and variety in the game that we’ve not had because it’s not all predetermined.”

A pivotal year 

EA always calls new Madden games the most “authentic” experience yet, but McHardy seemed keen to deliver on that promise this year. Madden has been slowly declining in review scores and losing support from hardcore fans for years, and it finally seems like EA has become aware of that decline with Madden NFL 23 and made changes that impact every part of the game.

A Seahawks player performs a mid-air hit in Madden NFL 23.
This midair hit is an example of one of Madden NFL 23’s new disruptive FieldSense animations. Image used with permission by copyright holder

As mentioned, Digital Trends has not gone hands-on with Madden NFL 23 just yet and the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game won’t include FieldSENSE, so we aren’t sure if this investment by EA will fully pay off this year. Still, the developer’s efforts to fix bugs and improve gameplay show that EA is at least orienting the Madden series in the right direction. And going forward, McHardy seems keen on only increasing the amount of playing agency in Madden.

“We’re going to continue investing in FieldSENSE in the coming years to find more ways to bring more consistency, player agency, and emergent behaviors to the game because I think that’s where the fun is with sports games,” he says. “Let’s figure out how we can evolve and invest in gameplay to take it to the next level.”

Madden NFL 23 launches for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC on August 19.

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Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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