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Madden NFL 21 overhauls gameplay with real-life data, but only on PS5 and Xbox

For the past five years, every NFL player has had an RFID chip in his jersey, recording his whereabouts and movements on the field for every play of every game. You may have seen halftime ads showing how the league’s corporate partners use this data to form advanced analyses and eye-popping prediction models.

Well, now these numbers are going into the league’s video game. Madden NFL 21, launching Dec. 4 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, will incorporate this tracking of player movement, acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction to deliver what developers vow is a more lifelike game of American football, noticeable on the first snap.

“You’re going to see it day one, first game,” executive producer Seann Graddy told Polygon. “There’s no doubt in my mind. It just feels different.

“On defense, it’s more fun,” Graddy added, “but I think even, like, running the ball, it feels like there’s half a second more to read the hole and align your running back to hit that hole.”

Madden over the years has been continually bothered by movement and AI that can seem preternaturally aware (linebackers in pass coverage, for example), stupefyingly oblivious (blockers downfield), or superhumanly quick (a running back changing direction, or a receiver on a streak route). Next Gen Stats, as the NFL and Amazon Web Services call this data set, would seem to provide a solution to it all, by supporting the game’s animations and player AI with real-life patterns of behavior.

Connor Dougan, the game’s creative director, helped lead a roundtable with games media on Monday, and he used Kansas City receiver Tyreek Hill, carrying the ball on a sweep, as an all-purpose example. “[Ball carriers’] acceleration rates, speeds, and turn rates are now driven by next-gen stats data, with all-new animations,” Dougan said. “You can see [in the PS4/Xbox One version] the way Tyreek Hill inhumanly changes direction and swivels, with no lean or momentum, as he runs. [On the new consoles] there’s proper lean and momentum as he turns upfield.”

As a receiver, Hill can be expected to run routes with more realistic acceleration and deceleration. His cuts will be slower, and the depth he runs before cutting won’t be as uniform, meaning quarterbacks will have to pay greater attention to where he and other receivers are in their routes before throwing. And Hill and other receivers will trail off the end of a route more naturally, coming back to the play if they finish their route with the play still live, rather than stopping where they are.

“Since we updated the player movement of every player on the field, that obviously impacts our blockers,” said producer Clint Oldenburg (himself an offensive lineman in college and the NFL). “We did some work to our lead blocking logic to make that improved, to allow them to have awareness.”

Graddy, to Polygon, said that overall the real-movement effect slows Madden NFL 21 down, but in such a way that players have more time to make decisions, such as in finding a hole in the line with a running back. Oldenburg said it works on defense, too. “The pacing of the passing game is going to allow user defenders a little more time to land their pass rush moves and get home to the quarterback,” he said.

The use of all this player data means EA Sports is making a stout claim that a flagship title is going to play a lot better on new consoles, not just look better. Graddy said EA Tiburon developers had been working with the NFL’s data for about two years, figuring that an overhaul this technical would need the additional processing heft of a new generation of machines to put it into practice….

Read More:Madden NFL 21 overhauls gameplay with real-life data, but only on PS5 and Xbox

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