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Madden 25 lets you control everything, including contract negotiations

The cover art for Madden NFL 25.
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

Releasing an annual sports game like Madden NFL is a double-edged sword. Sure, there’s a lot of benefit to knowing there’s a dedicated audience hungry for the latest and greatest entry in the long-running sports franchise. But it requires walking a developmental tightrope, balancing the need to be ambitious and innovate with an expectation of stability and reliability. Trouble is just a misstep away.

Digital Trends visited the Madden studio at EA Orlando, and sat down with Clint Oldenburg, American Football Production director at EA Sports, to find out how the studio is walking that tightrope with Madden NFL 25. Our conversation and hands-on time gave us a glimpse into the studio’s answer. It involves a multiyear evolution of running and blocking, hundreds of new animations, and an all-new approach to laying the boom. It starts with control.

In control

“When you think of the word control, you probably think of more things to do on the controller,” Oldenburg tells Digital Trends. “But that’s not the only thing that creates control. Let’s start with boom tech, our key innovation this year. Boom tech is using physics to inform our animation branching.”

Boom tech continues a multiyear push toward more physics-based contact and tackles, rather than animation-based. Things like player strength, momentum, and angle of contact all factor heavily into it. This, combined with a new timing-based hit stick, puts a premium on good tackling. The effect was particularly evident during the slice of the game I saw regarding glancing blows, which gave runners a chance to regain their footing and keep moving forward. A safety may not want to try and blow up Nick Chubb most of the time, but if Chubb is in a compromised position, then coming off a hit, a safety has a chance to fly in at full sprint, just like they would in the NFL.

That is a very easy example of what players mean when they say pre-scripted.

Translating what fans are asking for into actionable game development is a skill that takes time to develop, something that adds to the challenge of satisfying fans and detractors alike. One example that Oldenburg gave is when players talk about being “sucked” into plays.

“When people say, ‘Why does it feel like I’m getting sucked into an interaction,’ that’s what they are talking about, matching animations,” Oldenburg says. “You may have approached here, but we’re going to warp into that match, because that’s the matching threshold. That is a very easy example of what players mean when they say pre-scripted, pre-canned, stuff like that. Physics-based tackling in that space, one-on-one tackle interactions allows us to give you control through that entire interaction.”

— Madden NFL 25 (@EAMaddenNFL) June 14, 2024

The battles in the trenches have had their own makeover. As a former NFL offensive lineman, Oldenburg tells us he was very particular about blocking, especially when it came to footwork, logic, and the point of attack. His team now employs Kenneth Boatright, another NFL alum, but this time a former pass rusher, and he’s been given the keys to the line of scrimmage.

“His perspective is completely different,” Oldenburg says. “He wants moves, countermoves, and jab steps and quick spins and all these defensive-centered things to get around blocks. So we work really well together because we have the same passion for the quality of the entire space, where we’re attacking it from two different areas.”

Another new key  defensive feature is coverage shells. This idea is simple: Players can choose to position their defensive backs in any of various pass coverage alignments, even if the actual defensive play call is something different. That means a defense can do things like line up for cover 2, with two defenders staying back to cover deep zones, but actually play cover 4, with four players ready to defend and intercept deep passes. Disguising coverage is a key tactic at the NFL level, and this bit of trickery gives the defense an important tool in the on the field chess match, but it comes with it’s own risk.

“Let’s say one of your corners who’s supposed to play deep third is lined up on the line of scrimmage like he’s playing a flat,” Oldenburg says. “If I’m running a corner up there and that guy is not fast enough, he’s not going to get back there. So there’s a risk of putting your guys out of position when you use those coverage shells, just like football.”

Run the ball

This year the cover athlete is Christian McCaffery, running back for the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. It’s an appropriate choice; not only did McCaffery have an excellent individual season, but many of the updates deal with ball carriers.

Gameplay from Madden NFL 25.

“He’s the antithesis of the hit stick,” Oldenburg says. “Outside of maybe one other guy, Alvin Kamara, he has the best balance in the league. He’s very hard to tackle. He’s very hard to bring down. He’s not the biggest guy. He’s just got really good feet and really good control of his weight. So he’s a great representative of the ball carrier balance and stumble recovery system.”

The moves that we’re putting in now feel athletic, explosive, weighted …

From a gameplay standpoint, running is evolving quite a bit. Jukes, spins, and hesitation moves are being revamped. The individual moves seem smaller, as you can’t as easily just juke around every open-field tackler like in Madden 24. However ,now they can chain together. In one sequence ,we saw Lamar Jackson juke one way, spin back the other, then freeze a defender with a slow kick-step before accelerating to open grass, all in one smooth sequence.

“When you index heavily on a defensive feature, usually you’ve got to balance it out on offense,” Oldenburg says. “We want to give players more control, and the thing that players do most is carry the football. Some of the new stuff that’s going to allow players to have that control is this setup state. You’ll hit a modifier and you’ll be able to easily branch through a lot of different moves, you can combo moves together. The moves that we’re putting in now feel athletic, explosive, weighted, and I think that they are more visceral.”

There’s a visual component, like the more realistic ways players brace for an anticipate contact, or angle their pads to get skinny and fit through tight holes. Players with more distinct run tyles like McCaffery or Saquon Barkley have their signature motion. It’s easy to watch a game and pick out someone like Isiah Pacheco of the Chiefs on the field. No one else puts their head down and runs angry enough that you wonder if the ground insulted his mother like Pacheco does.

Off the field

As much as things are changing on the field, so too are the off the field aspects of Madden evolving. Many of the biggest updates are focused on Franchise mode, where would-be general managers run their team how they see fit.

The team builder is going online. A web portal will allow for much more flexibility when it comes to designing things like logos, which can then be imported into the game. That includes fully customized rosters, which can be shared and distributed. Custom coaches now include female coaches too, aligning Madden with the real-life league where the number of women at various coaching levels is in the double-digits. Christian Mccaffrey flexes his armed under a Madden NFL 25 logo in a football stadium.

The scenarios that pop up occasionally throughout a season are also being overhauled. Seventy brand new stories aim to incorporate more true-to-life interactions with players. One example given is intense contract negotiations, where a star player at the end of their deal plays hard ball and it is up to you to make correct dialogue choices to talk them into signing a deal. Or you could sit a highly touted rookie quarterback for a season behind a veteran, à la Patrick Mahomes studying under Alex Smith.

One long overdue upgrade is to the draft process. An updated draft board makes it much easier to compare potential draft prospects, thanks largely to the ability to sort via attributes. Draft day itself is finally seeing an overhaul, with first rounders rubbing shoulders with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and later round prospects getting the all0important call from their new team’s GM at home.

Another major change is the addition of not one, but two announcing teams joining Mark Davis and Brandon Gaudin on commentary. Mike Tirico and Greg Olson form one pair, while Kate Scott and Brock Huard make up the other. Each group has thousands of lines, an element the team at EA Sports expects will help with feelings of “I heard it before” that can crop up after playing many games.

It’s an ambitious agenda for a perennial football franchise, a fact that the team at EA seems to embrace. But, like the NFL itself, evolution is a necessity for the Madden series if it wants to stay on top. As always, the difference between winning and losing is execution.

We’ll find out if Madden NFL 25 can put it all together on the field when it releases on August 16 for PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Justin Koreis
Justin is a freelance writer with a lifelong love of video games and technology. He loves writing about games, especially…
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