It’s that time of year again. A new Madden is about to grace our consoles, and football is on the horizon. We’re now a few years into this hardware generation, so EA is blowing up the old and building the new. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are out, NCAA play-by-play man Brandin Gaudin and FOX’s Charles Davis are in. And with them comes a brand-new commentary system for this year’s edition of the best-selling football game.
We spoke to the new announcers, as well as producer Christian McLeod, about the changes and what to expect from Madden NFL 17.
I believe the last time Madden made the change as far as commentary is concerned was after 2012 when you transitioned from Gus Johnson. What brought about the change for the announcers this time?
Christian McLeod (Producer): The first was that as we moved into this generation of consoles, we had brought the framework of our commentary along with us. So as you saw when the PS4 and the Xbox One came out, we had made significant jumps in gameplay, in graphics systems, in franchise mode systems, and really the commentary framework was a holdover from that previous generation. It was certainly limiting to us, it wasn’t allowing us to really dive into the inner workings of football the way we wanted to for current gen consoles that we have today. So we approached commentary for Madden 17 by blowing up (for lack of a better term) the commentary system that we had before and rebuilding from scratch. A brand new framework – we’re building a brand-new house. From there we were looking at the depth and the breadth of the system we had built, and we realized that we really needed to go after a commentary team that was going to provide us with wide availability. We were looking for a team that was going to give us the availability and also the chemistry to really pay off the new commentary logic that we were going to put in the game. It got us Brandon and Charles, and I think that was really the key driving factor there, a new commentary framework with the right voices for our new commentary framework.
The previous generation lasted for 10 years, and there were changes but not huge leaps in the commentary system. Was there still legacy PS2 tech even last year that you’re ditching now?
McLeod: So the system that we had was set up for, there were pieces of it that came from the PS2 days, a little and a lot from the 360 days, but there had been set ups in evolution every single year and we never really had that huge, big push to take advantage of just how amazing today’s consoles are compared to the previous generation.
So you were just kind of adding new floors to the house over the last few years rather than tearing it down and building it anew.
McLeod: Yeah, I think maybe we put in some new granite countertops and redid a bathroom here or there like you said. But yeah, this was a whole new building project from scratch. So as opposed to doing one of the, like, the renovation shows out there and trying to kind of polish it up and really renovate, it was time to build a new home from scratch, really take advantage of the brand-new tech we had available to us.
When the veteran Madden player boots up the game, do you think they’re going to be able to tell the difference?
McLeod: The level of depth and breadth that we have in the game, it’s light years beyond what we’ve ever had in the past. A really good analogy to throw out there: We were able to record in a few weeks’ time what we’ve been able to record, in terms of concepts, over the course of a year. Having that ability has allowed these guys to tell such deeper stories and such deeper analysis of what’s happening in the game.
Brandon Gaudin (Play-By-Play): Right now there are 60 hours of commentary from the last couple of weeks that Charles and I have done that aren’t even in the game. In previous years, 40 hours of total commentary were in the game. The goal that Charles and I have been trying to parlay here is to make this feel as much like a real game broadcast to the gamer as humanly possible. That goes in a number of different areas, that goes, from a play-by-play standpoint, to saying the names of Andrew Luck and Tom Brady rather than just record that, calling out the wide receivers when they catch the ball as opposed to just saying “The wide receiver…” or “A pass is intercepted…” you’re going to hear the player’s name that actually intercepted it. So you’ve got player names, you’ve got a lot more unique lines, there are lines in there that are like if a kicker hits the ball off the right upright in overtime in a Super Bowl to go into a second overtime, there’s going to be a unique line that actually calls out the right upright and says “Can you believe we’re going into a second overtime in the Super Bowl?” There’s just a lot more awareness of the game from a play-by-play standpoint.
Those small moments are what make the game special, but it’s the opening anecdotes that seem to get tiresome to the fans and that’s where you hear the most flak coming for the game. Are we going to hear the same thing over and over as Andrew Luck steps onto the field?
McLeod: First off, having the ability to branch off and go deeper than ever before means that there’s less repetition just inherently from that. But another one of our core pillars this year was that we really wanted to shake up the ground of commentary across the industry as a whole. This year we got the capability to update assets as the season goes forward. So to your point right there, yeah we begin the game initially before the NFL season begins you may be hearing a couple anecdotes about Andrew Luck’s father or some storyline there, but what we’ve been doing is having the capability to go through now and, say Andrew Luck comes in and throws for 6 touchdowns in the previous week, we’re going to be actually talking about what he did in the actual NFL season.
How difficult is it to update commentary on players in Franchise Mode when you’re in the year 2023 and you can’t actually pull from the new season to gain commentary?
McLeod: Right, so definitely this year we’ve focused on Franchise Mode also for the play now experience, the online experience, across all of our modes in the game. Again, Brandon and Charles will be recording with us throughout the course of the regular NFL season, we do have the ability not to just talk about what happened last week, but also to add concept throughout the entire year to different modes. That’s something we want to continue, plugging concepts away into Madden, in a post-launch support role and add as much as possible. Yes, for those users that are super hardcore, that get into those deep-deep years in Franchise Mode, we can give them some payoff on that there.
Were there any new recording techniques you used with this newfangled commentary system, and what was the bottleneck from the last generation to this generation in techniques for commentary?
McLeod: I think first and foremost was the availability piece. Charles is local here to us in Orlando, we’re lucky to have him here, Brandon is in Atlanta and he’s down every single week. So we’re able to get these guys in the booth multiple days every single week. We’re recording them together to really hammer home that chemistry between the two guys. I think that what has been so great is that in the past we haven’t had that accessibility and we also hadn’t had the ability to record with our talent together. We recorded one person on one side of the country, one on the other side of the country, and we had to make that work and scientifically mesh those two together. We’ve never had that real, authentic back-and-forth between our talent.
Charles Davis (Analyst): I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to audition and in one of the auditions I did it with Brandon. And I remember walking out, I wanted the job, I remember walking out thinking “That’s a guy I can work with.” I wasn’t just thinking about Madden, I was thinking about our regular day-to-day jobs. For both of us, we’re very used to having different partners because we came up that way. Now when you get to a certain place in your broadcasting career, you tend to have the same partners. If you’re calling a football game, you have that partner and you guys stick together for a while to call baseball, basketball, et cetera. Brandon is a play-by-play guy, he’s used to having different guys always sitting next to him. But I think everyone who broadcasts wants to have a person that they’re with a lot so that you can get to learn each other a little bit, that chemistry word that just keeps coming up, you can fake it. I guarantee that there are a number of broadcast teams out there that don’t necessarily pal around, get along, whatever you want to call it. But when you’re able to do that as well as get along, pal around, have some fun, I think it hones it to a better edge and I think we’re on our way towards doing that. I don’t think we can fake it very easily.
When you’re in the booth, are you recording for specific gameplay moments or are you watching a whole game? How do you gain that organic commentary?
Davis: We’ve actually done both. And it’s just rare that a perfect thing ever happens in any type of broadcasting. You want to enunciate perfectly, every word is crisp and sharp, and you want to hit it all just right, and rarely does that happen. So what Christian and the crew did one day is they brought in and used the actual game and let it play and let us call the game just off of what we saw on-screen. I think that was a huge help because all of a sudden it locked us into that and it kept that pace. We have scenarios, we have great writers that write stuff out for us, but you don’t want to read it verbatim because it sounds very read. What you want is here’s the situation — it’s third and one and the ball’s on the 32 going in, team’s up 14 points, go. That sort of a thing, and allows us to loosen ourselves up and in our mind know what the moment is and what the game is, the situation, the team that’s playing, and try and broadcast it from there.
How do you mentally prepare for the booth versus a real commentary booth for a real game? What are the differences, are there any differences, how is your preparation?
Davis: The best way I think I can answer that is mentally I go in the same for both, meaning I’m excited about the opportunity and the challenge, can’t wait to do it, and understanding that it’s always going to be different, there’s always going to be things, you can’t go in knowing how a game is going to turn out if it’s a live game. The same is true here because each time Brandon and I walk into a booth we may not know what we’re going to need to talk about that day. It’s not necessarily like you walk out with a homework assignment, here it is guys, learn this for tomorrow. I think they deliberately kept a lot of that from us because they like the spontaneity of it. Here it is, let’s see what you guys have for it. So it’s not the same, but it’s the same mentally, it terms of the approach.
Is there any specific hardware aspect or just being connected online that has allowed you to make this leap forward in the commentary system?
McLeod: It’s twofold. For updates, we’re going to be handling that very much like a roster update where you would need to have online connectivity. You’ll be prompted to take it, if you’re connected online you’ll have to take it. But really outside of that, no. It was really just what the new consoles were providing for us in this current generation and it was really time to build that house up from scratch, tear those old walls down, tear up that old foundation out and just rebuild.