I'm sitting down inside EA's Tiburon studio getting my first look at "NCAA Football 11." Only thing is, what I'm watching isn't a game, it's a 100 yard race. That's right, a race.
On one side, you have a guy who burns the field with 99 speed and 90 acceleration. On the other side, you have a guy with 99 acceleration, but only 90 speed.
If this was any previous football game, you'd take the guy with 99 speed to smoke the guy with 99 acceleration, even out of the gates where the 99 acceleration guy should've been at his best, but never was.
This all changes with "NCAA Football 11." For the first time, that acceleration rating isn't just something to note, it's something to live by as EA Sports' new locomotion system favors the guys with quick bursts, not just long-range speed.
"In past years, speed has been the big thing everyone has always focused on, but it doesn't really let you model players who can make big plays over shorter distances," explains "NCAA Football 11's" lead gameplay designer, Ryan Burnsides. "Those quick linebackers or the pass rushing defensive ends, in some cases, over 10-15 yards, those guys are just as fast as receivers, but then they taper off the farther they run. We can finally model that now.
"We made some pretty dramatic changes this year," he continues. "Last year's game was really twitchy and people ran upright the whole time, so on long running plays, everything just looked real robotic. It just didn't look like a person running naturally."
To fix this, the designers at EA Sports focused on things like momentum and acceleration, variation in strides, and leaning. "Now you can lean forward into turns and lean forward when accelerating," adds Burnsides.
But that's not all as in "NCAA Football 11" you'll finally see linebackers with high acceleration and agility breaking through into the backfield to more regularly disrupt the offense. You'll see safeties able to impact more plays in the passing game by making a quick move to hit receivers stretching out for the ball. And you'll see players use their agility to cut around corners quicker than somebody who might have higher overall speed, but lacks the agility to turn on a dime. You'll even see ball carriers who react more naturally to threats like a running back who pulls the ball up tight to his chest when a defender approaches him from the side.
"Runners will put their hand on the back of a blocker in front of them, he can swipe at a defender trying to tackle him, and the whole time he's doing this, you're in complete control," says Burnsides. "We call this locomotion, but it's really running, cutting, turning ... anything that's not a block, tackle, pass, or catch. You not only have more control over each player now, it just looks better."
In terms of control, that means learning the timing of things like the lean. Lean forward to build up momentum for the truck, but lean forward too long and instead of trucking over a defender, you will end up falling on your facemask.
Adds Burnsides: "Last year's game, when you flicked the right stick, you would go into that canned animation that would slow you down. Now the truck is just a layer on top of locomotion so you can steer while you're doing it. It gives you a lot more control, and you can change directions while you do it. By layering these moves on top of locomotion, you preserve momentum and acceleration while letting the ball carrier do different things."
And to make everything look as realistic as possible, the design team went back to the motion-capture drawing board to add more variations in running strides. "In the past, all of our running was just a looped animation playing over and over again," explains producer Jason Danahay. "So if you broke a long run, you'd see that same animation like 15 times in a row. This year, we had the mo-cap studio set up a special session where we had 49 yards of capture space. That way, we could have guys run through that entire distance and put that into the game. So now you have a unique run for 50 yards without the animation looping and repeating over again. It's one of those little differences where the guy twists a little differently and his stride isn't exactly the same length ... little things like that add a lot visually. Last year, you might not have known why what you were watching was wrong, you just knew it was wrong. So this year, it's going to look like a more natural run when you're breaking it, but everything is still under your control thanks to the locomotion system."
As for the 100-yard race? The player with 99 acceleration jumps out to the early lead, but is eventually passed by the guy with 99 speed down the final stretch. Then again, how many plays can you recall that went the length of the field?
"We're already seeing this come into play while we're testing the game," adds Burnsides. "You'll see a linebacker shoot into the backfield and you wonder how he got in there, he's not that fast. But now you look and realize he's got 95 acceleration. He's going to make plays over short distances, and that changes everything you know about playing the game."