American football, for a multitude of reasons, just hasn't really translated well onto the iPhone. Football mini-games like Backbreaker Football work fine for the most part, but I (and I assume we) want a real football game, with all the same positions and plays that we could use on the real field. I also want this full game to not be hampered by a joystick or funny hand placement on the screen or odd animations.
The problem that I've found is that developers are completely stuck on the tried and true console simulation. EA, with its successful Madden franchise, just has no reason to change their formula because it sells. I wonder to myself though why? Why does Madden on the iPhone sell? It's priced in the realm of the premium games, and I have a real hard time believing that many people put more than a couple of hours into the game before they set it down for good. The game just isn't right for the iPhone, there's just no other way to put it.
Identifying what the exact problems are might be the first step to created a better iPhone football game, so let's run through them:
The virtual joystick (I'm going to list virtual joystick sub-problems as (VJ)) isn't accurate enough to make precise player movements.
The screen isn't large enough for all the controls, including the now common receiver bubbles that you have to hit to throw the ball.
Current football games tend to sacrifice game play, and game speed, for unnecessary animations
(VJ) The running game seems like total luck because it's impossible to make precise movements.
(VJ) Playing defense seems like total luck because it's impossible to make skill plays. Timing a pick like you would on a console is totally impossible.
(VJ) Because of your hopeless lack of control, picking defensive plays seems like a total wash altogether, leaving me to rely on gimmicks like "Gameflow" that take away any real understanding of how the defense works.
The games take so long to play that there is no good way to have a multiplayer mode. It just wouldn't work.
The other issue that developers have completely ignored is that fact that the thing that would work the best on the iPhone, the dynasty mode and the draft (even if all the games were simulated). I know that I'm not the only one that could sit there playing dynasty mode without ever playing a single game. People love stats, they love picking players... they just love tinkering with their team. How do you think fantasy football got so big!
So what I've gathered here is that our new, better football game should:
Ditch the virtual joystick altogether
Concentrate more on the coaching rather than the playing. Play calling is really what makes the console version of Madden magic. Sure, womping on someone by juking up and down the field is fun, but if your opponent is on your level, there's nothing like throwing a cover 2 zone at a guy that throws slants all day.
Add a GM mode to capture all of the fantasy football players out there. I've heard that there are around 30 million of them out there.
Find a way to implement a multiplayer mode, and don't settle for anything less than the sports multiplayer greatness that is Homerun Battle 3D.
With that said, here's my idea for the next (which would be the first) great football game, NFL RPG. If EA used the idea, it could be called Madden RPG. Tell me that you wouldn't buy that.
The game, with its emphasis on a dynasty mode and player movement, wouldn't necessarily even need an NFLPA license because your crop of players would likely change after a bit of playing. It would be nice though, so someone needs to figure that part out. Let's take a dive into what the game would do.
Game Mode 1: Season/Dynasty
The season/dynasty mode should be the main game mode. The whole concept of a dynasty mode would have to be overhauled though, because even the console versions are becoming a bit much to deal with. Keeping things simple is the key.
The mode would start with either a draft, consisting of all the league players, or the choosing of which pre-built team you want to play with. Some people don't like the tediousness of a draft, so you can't make them do it. The draft though wouldn't just be like a normal fantasy draft though, it would have to be like a $500-$1000 fantasy auction draft, where each player costs a certain amount of money, has a certain NFL lifespan (let's say 10 years), and you have a set pool of money to deal with. This will make the drafts a bit more intelligent and make monetary transactions later much more interesting. The cost of each player should correlate with their overall skill level, so when a player needs to be re-signed, he should be a set cost per skill rating rather than demand contract negotiations because his player rating became higher.
The GM overview of everything would get rid of all the stadium upgrades and the contract bonuses and stipulations that make things so rough on the console. The biggest thing that we need to deal with in an RPG is player upgrades, so that is the thing that most need to be addressed. Taking a page from Homerun Battle 3D, you should be able to purchase stats for players based on their actions in games. Raising the stats of each player would be a nightmare though, so players have to be upgraded in groups, with groups being the positions. For example, if Randy Moss catches an 80 yard touchdown, the whole WR crew would get X amount of points to divvy out between the players. You could then give them all to Randy Moss, or you could throw a few at Wes Welker (maybe raise his injury rating) and Torry Holt.
Throughout the season, some players will get much better, and some will probably be neglected. That's just the nature of a point system. When a players contract is up though, it will be impossible to keep dynasty squads because the players prices will change, making many too expensive to keep. Players will have to make use of trades and dumping off medial players if they want to keep their studs, just like real NFL teams do.
In the quest to make things simple, it's also very important to keep players stats simple. Give each one of them five or six stat categories, and that's it. For example, a QB should have, arm strength, arm accuracy, pocket awareness, scrambling ability, and leadership. What would these stats do though... we'll have to step into the game itself.
This is where things usually fall apart in typical football simulations, so I'm going to turn it a bit on its head.
First off, the view needs to be changed to a much more top down view. The player needs to be able to see every player on the field at once, at all times. On deep passing plays, the view needs to dynamically change to a view that can follow the streaking player.
The offense will set up, per the play call (more on that later), and with a tap you will hike the ball. Players will then run their routes as they normally would (except the receivers would only run their routes as well as their ratings say they will) and the quarterback will automatically drop back into his normal drop back position.
On passing plays, I'll keep the Madden circle for receiver system that goes from green to red, depending on openness. If your line breaks down, you can make your quarter back scramble, but running will be an automatic process based on the QB's scrambling skill. Same with the running plays. Since there is no tactile feedback on the iPhone, having the player control the running back is just silly. Make the process automatic and the players should be rewarded for good playcalling, not mad juking that no player on Earth could pull off.
In the backgound, everything that is happening would be based on an average system. A pass would be a calculation of QB throwing speed and accuracy + WR catching ability - DB covering ability/interception ability. Calculations would need to be made for each position battle in the game, as well as every event. Battles would include such things as OL vs. DL, WR vs. DB, RB vs. whoever tries to tackle him, WR vs. whoever tries to tackle him, and QB vs... yeah, you get it. In a way, each action battle, which would be automated and in the background, would be like a combat scene in a typical RPG.
Like RPG's, there would also be bonus scores for smart things that you do. For example, WR's would get an extra % chance of catching the ball if you throw it to them when they are open. These bonus scores would be very apparent on the defensive side of the ball, which will be all about coaching.
Since there will be no virtual joystick, there will be no controlling of the defense. Your skill will come in your ability to call a good play. It's a fact that certain defensive plays work against certain offenses, so it will be up to you to figure it out. At the beginning of your defensive play, you will see what formation the offense is in, and you will be able to pick a play based on what you see. Different plays will give your players different bonuses during play, or minuses if you pick the wrong play.
For example, playing dime defense against an obvious running play would result in negative stats, while goal line D on the goal line would give you bonuses.
Now that the game's worked out, all that's left is the multiplayer.
As you progress through your seasons, you will piece together all sorts of player combinations, all that will emphasize different play types. If you tend to run the ball a lot, your RB will get better and better, same with the passing game, or on the flip side, your defensive cover game or your ability to blitz. With your master team customized over time to your playing style, you can take them online to play against other opponents.
Like Homerun Battle 3D, it's necessary that online sessions are seamless and fast. Instead of playing a full game though, you'll play an NFL Playoff overtime. For more on what the playoff overtime means, read this article from ESPN.
This will allow for quick games, with the occasional surprising outcome. If possible, there could definitely even be leagues and tournaments organized to make things a bit more interactive. I'm not sure how feasible this is, or how it would work, so that would be up to the developer.
It's Over Folks
Whew, well I guess that's the extent of Football RPG. I really feel that the game that I have laid out would work extremely well and would generate a ton of buzz if implemented correctly. So hurry up developers, I want to play my game!