‘Madden NFL 22’ Gameplay Producer Clint Oldenburg Wants This Year’s Game To Feel Authentic

There is an inherent flaw with the Madden franchise that exists in most every sports video game: Trying to make gigantic, sweeping changes to various elements of an annual game can come at the expense of the little things that can actually make it better. For every one bit of praise about a flashy new game mode that takes hours and hours work on the back end, seemingly thousands of gamers will issue up complaints about the game itself not being particularly fun, or repetitive, or some other thing that indicates the basic goal of studios — make a game that people like playing — came up short.

Clint Oldenburg, the Gameplay Producer for the Madden franchise, was keenly aware of this. Sure, the upcoming Madden game, which hits consoles on August 22, has some major changes, but at the end of the day, Oldenburg says, there was a focus on making this year’s version of the game fun.

“In the past years or maybe even other games, when you have a giant, big, epic new feature like Dynamic Gameday, there’s usually not much time to do anything else,” Oldenburg told Uproxx, alluding to a new feature that looks to make gameday in Madden NFL 22 more authentic in a myriad of ways. “We were able to get that stuff done, and I think it has made a significant change to the way that the game feels and looks, and I certainly hope that our players see that and feel that to the level that we think that they will.”

After getting a look at some of the changes coming to Madden NFL 22, we caught up with Oldenburg to discuss new features, changes to this year’s game, and more.

What was the single biggest bit of feedback that you got on Madden 21 that you wanted to focus on for Madden 22, both from gamers and internally?

I’m going to give you two. The first, as we look at Dynamic Gameday … there’s two different players. The first is from players who are considered new or returning players. They told us that they wanted to feel an emotional connection to their favorite teams, favorite stadiums, favorite fan bases, and that’s what they craved out of Madden that wasn’t there. And then number two, if you look at players who play Madden every year, they said that they wanted more responsiveness, more control, more visual quality in gameplay. And so those are the two biggest pieces of feedback from a high level.

Given everything that went into making the last version of the game — the pandemic, the rise of next gen consoles, all that extra stuff that’s not normally there — how much smoother did you guys find the process of making this one?

It was a little smoother. It couldn’t help but be, because we had to learn so much on the fly during the first one. I still wouldn’t say it was as optimal as you would have hoped for, but we certainly got a lot better at it.

One of the big things that I remember from the next gen version of last year’s game was the addition of Next Gen Stats and how that informed how you played the game, how the characters in the game play the game. What was the biggest thing you learned from having it in last year’s game that you were able to apply to this one?

Yeah, that’s a really good question. So, we have a continued investment with Next Gen Stats, we loved the authenticity it brings to our game. This is year two of that, it’s going to continue in year three and four. What we did in year one was really put in the data to make sure our players … primarily padding data, speed and acceleration rates, things like that to make sure that our game was moving at the right speed, and that players were moving at the speed that they move in the real world. What we were missing and what we’re doing in year two is now we’re bridging the gap between the speed and the look.

The biggest piece of feedback we got from gen five last year was, okay, everyone’s moving a little bit slower, it’s more authentic, (I) have more time to make my decisions. But it doesn’t really look the part, I don’t look as explosive, I don’t feel as responsive. So that’s where we concentrated with our Next Gen Stats stuffing poor gameplay. The best example of this is with ball carriers and defenders. When they were running at top speed last year, people said it felt and looked like they were just cruising, they weren’t getting a lot of effort, even though they’re running 21 miles an hour.

So we went and got a whole host of new animations to pay off the fact that he is running at top speed, and even though his speed is the exact same this year as it was last year, you’re going to feel and see that he’s actually moving, you’re gonna think he’s moving faster, but he’s not, it just looks the part. And so you take that treatment and take it across all the core gameplay features in the game and mechanics, that’s kind of the idea.

It seems to me like the most drastic changes come to the general gameday experience, and how many different different elements that’s going to encompass in this year’s game. Why was making gameday a little bit different, a little bit more broad, a little bit more authentic, such a big focus for you guys?

In addition to the feedback about our players telling us they wanted that connection with their favorite fandoms, one overarching theme that you’ll notice this year, and even last year, is we’re trying to make every game feel unique and tell its own story. And one of the criticisms over the years of Madden is after you’ve played for about a week, all the games feel the same. How do we keep players surprised and delighted through those first couple of days so that they always feel like they’re getting a new experience? So in that vein, that’s where our feature set came from, specifically Dynamic Gameday. All of these modifiers through game experience are going to change so much that hopefully you don’t feel like you’re having the same experience over and over and over.

So when you say every game, you mean like every individual game you play in Madden.

Exactly that. So, with the gameday conditions and the M-Factors, those are all going through a formula. When you boot into a game that looks at, like, “What’s the weather? What’s the turf look like? What’s the temperature? Is this a rivalry game?” All these different criteria to come up with what we’re actually going to populate in the game. And so you should be able to play for quite a while before you see the same combination of those things twice. Those things should always be changing and we’re going to continue adding those in post-launch, and that’s just one way we’re trying to make everything feel a little bit different.

I remember there were three prongs that go into that dynamic gameplay, can you walk me through those?

Yeah, so Dynamic Gameday is made up of Gameday Momentum, that’s the momentum mechanic where the factors are unlocked via your on-field performance. Then there is Next Gen Stats Star-Driven AI, that’s where we’re using the Next Gen Stats available to us to make our players and teams behave more appropriately to the real world counterpart to make offline games and solo games feel just as deep as playing against another user. And there’s Gameday Atmosphere, which is the presentation environment elements bringing those things to life through louder crowds, different presentation packages, Super Bowl presentation, things like that.

I was fascinated by the attempts to make homefield advantage really matter in this year’s game, it reminded me a bit of when I would play NCAA 2005 — you get the squiggly lines, the letters over receivers go away, that sort of thing. As someone who played in the league a bit, was that something that you in particular were passionate about trying to implement?

Yeah, that’s a good question, it’s a question I got a lot from my teammates on the dev team. There’s a lot of, “Is this really real? It seems kind of made up.” And so I always alluded to a story I have from when I was playing. I played a preseason game in Seattle — this wasn’t a postseason game, it wasn’t even a regular season game, it was a preseason game. The crowd in Seattle was so loud that I couldn’t hear anything for three quarters of the game other than the crowd. And so usually, as an offensive lineman ,you’re trying to look, “Where’s the safeties? Where’s my guy who I’m supposed to block?”All those things you’re trying to take in before the snap.

In Seattle, the only thing I could pay attention to was if the ball was going to be snapped. I’m playing right tackle and I’m looking over my left shoulder, looking at nothing but the ball, because I couldn’t hear anything. And so that was a story I told my teammates and that’s the type of thing we’re trying to create. Now, we’re not trying to make homefield advantages so powerful that you feel like you have to have it to win. For lack of a better term, what these are is throwing little logs in your path to make it a little bit more difficult to play on the road, but not something as powerful as X-Factors.

Right, so it’s not something like you’re the road team in Kansas City, you’re going to false start once every five snaps or anything.

Yeah, we don’t want to do anything that makes you feel like you’re getting cheated in terms of outcomes. These are more visual treatments or slight stat boosts that are just additional things to overcome as you play through the game.

One thing that I liked was that it mentioned that the game experience could be a bit different based on the opponent — the example used was if you’re playing the Ravens, a very run-heavy team, that’s going to be quite different playing the Bills, a very pass-happy team. Can you explain the general ways in which you get differences based on what the other team is trying to do and how you have to respond to that?

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We’re taking all that data from Next Gen Stats, we’re looking at play call tendencies — things like run-pass ratio — and then breaking that down further. When you pass, are you more likely to throw it deep, throw it short, run play action? When you run, are you an outside run team, inside run team, or quarterback run team? Those are the main ones.

And then that’s being surfaced to you via the new tendency gameplan feature, which is where you can make, in Play Now and Online, you can make a gameplan pregame when you jump into the game, and then you can change it at halftime. And in Franchise, it’s the process you go through during your weekly practice as you prep for your opponent. So we’re going to show you what that team’s tendencies are and then let you make informed decisions about how you want to react. So let’s say you’re playing the Ravens and we say these guys run outside zone 60 percent of the time, that’s number one in league. You can say, “Okay, either I’m gonna do outside zone counter defense, which is I’m gonna take this thing away, or I feel like, hey, I’m pretty good at that on my own, maybe I’ll focus on the QB scramble and take that thing away instead.”

I’m glad you mentioned Franchise mode because when I played Madden, I exclusively play Franchise mode. It seemed like there were a whole bunch of upgrades to that, particularly in week-to-week and mid-game, you have to adjust on the fly. Why was changing Franchise Mode such a big focus?

As you know, fix Madden Franchise was a real thing last year. Our players told us they wanted more in Franchise, and in the same vein of, “we want a deeper experience and one that feels more dynamic, so you never feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over,” we wanted your weekly experience in Franchise to be the same thing. We want you making critical decisions for your team, whether that be via staff management, or the season engine/scenarios, whether that be via a gameplan. We always want you feeling like there’s a new puzzle to solve each and every week, so that you want to continue to play deeper and deeper and get more involved into your league.

Now I’m going to sound like someone who’s hyper-cynical. How do you find the balance of “it’s a new challenge every week, it’s going to be interesting,” but at the same time, it’s not super overbearing, you’re not focusing on the minutiae of a football game?

I don’t have an overly scientific answer for you other than playing a bunch. As we go through production, we have to play the game so much and that’s across everything — we got to play through Franchise a bunch, we got to play through game play a bunch, we got to play Ultimate Team. We got to play it a bunch and make sure that we experience everything our players are going to experience and just dial it in.

What’s your favorite thing about this version?

The easy answer is Dynamic Gameday, but I’m not going to go there. My favorite thing is all the core gameplay improvements that we made to catching, tackling, blocking, player movements, because those are things that our players said were really important to them. And in the past years or maybe even other games, when you have a giant, big, epic new feature like Dynamic Gameday, there’s usually not much time to do anything else. We were able to get that stuff done, and I think it has made a significant change to the way that the game feels and looks, and I certainly hope that our players see that and feel that to the level that we think that they will.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.