One of the more often overlooked aspects of Madden NFL every year is just how determined the development team at EA Sports is to make the game look as close to what fans see on Sundays as possible.
We’re not talking about how the game plays, either. We’re talking about how it looks. Do the players wear the same gear in the game as they do on the real field? Do jerseys look realistic? What about the cleats?
That process of development is all lead by the “Equipment Guru” of Madden, Dustin Smith who works as the franchise’s authenticity producers.
In part one of a series exclusive to Sports Gamers Online, we sit down with Smith to take a closer look at the visual and presentation side of Madden 18. From the Lambeau Leap to new and upcoming stadiums, no stone is left unturned when it comes to NFL authenticity.
What is your official position and what do you do exactly?
I’m the Authenticity Producer- or technical terms goes to Assistant Producer within the building. I do a lot involving anything player likeness, authenticity, and rosters. I kinda have a little big umbrella that I have to hover over.
That seems like a large umbrella that covers a lot of things. Can you touch upon how your position and the graphics and presentation teams work together?
I do most of my work with Art Works. I work a lot with a lot of their character artists on getting things just right for heads, uniforms, etc, stadiums. It’s relatively more kind of providing directions. Sometimes I do the actual work myself. It’s kind of a little bit of this and that, depending on what the work is. Not so much on the presentation side. More so just on the actual visual side.
A lot of guys will always come to me with questions about how should this look? Is this what you would expect when you go in game? Is this the proper number placement? Is this the proper number size? I just got ask the other day on sideline characters, “What’s your expected result here?” And I’m like, “I want it to look exactly like the player on the field. One-to-one, hardly any difference.” You know, those kinds of things is kind where I do a lot of my work with graphics.
Are there plans to improve sideline reactions and interactions even more than what we’ve seen thus far?
That’s something I know has been a big thing on Rex’s and presentation’s things to keep improving that, keep improving that, keep improving that. I believe it’s something we’ve made an improvement on this year. I’m not so involved in so much of the logic of how the players interact and how they react and all of the nuances and how they react to what’s going on on the field. But I’m more on that side of ‘are they wearing the right thing? Do they look exactly right?’
I guess it’s best to say I’m more of the visual type there. But I do know, I can speak to some degree, that there has been some improvement. I’ve heard people talk about many things. I haven’t been in the game as much as I’ve wanted to this year, but I’ve seen some things myself. So, I know there’s been some improvement. I don’t know what exactly I can say the finished product will be, but I know it will be better than last year.
Have there been any updates for stadiums in Madden 18?
Yes! We went out on a scan trip to multiple stadiums to scan stadiums. I could name Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers just to name a few. And I know we have plans that we want to keep doing that and get more and more so we can get to the point where all stadiums are scanned. But as of this year, we have I think… I think it’s around 10. Don’t quote me on that, but it’s somewhere in that range. We have a good amount.
We’re trying to get super, super authentic with it, and extra details on those. So we went with the scan route. And you’ll see a lot more detail with our scanned stadiums this year, which I’m sure we’ll touch upon again as the year goes on.
What about stadiums that are newer or currently being built? Such as the Rams’ stadium.
I don’t believe we have the Rams’ stadium since they still have- they’re behind on schedule. We have Falcons’, we had Falcons’ last year. We obviously won’t be able to scan Falcons until they’re completely finished. But we do have Falcons’ too, as accurate as we can.
We have the new Chargers stadium. Which isn’t a new stadium but it’s new to them. We’ve updated the Rams to more accurately represent what it looked like last year now that they’ve played in there. We hit up a bunch of stadiums for the renovations. Such as, you know, the Rams added some video boards which is technically USC. They added some stuff to the coliseum.
Anybody else who’s added some renovations we’ve been on. San Francisco did some renovations. Jacksonville did some renovations, even though it was minor. We did a pretty good job of trying to make sure we caught up with every team that did any sort of rework or major overhaul or anything over the off season.
Let’s talk celebrations. Is the Lambeau Leap back in the game yet? Is it something that may be added going forward? They were saying they had the ability to add celebrations after release.
I’m not a hundred percent on that. I can’t say for sure. Since that’s something that’s NIS driven, which is non interactive sequence for those who don’t know, I think there’s a way. Patching in an animation is easier now. But patching in a whole NIS sequence with an animation and all that, I can’t speak to how difficult that may or may not be. I wouldn’t rule it out though. Frostbite’s given us a lot of really good capabilities moving forward and we’ve obviously put a lot of effort and time into it’s development.
I don’t know at this point. Where as before we so willing to say “No, we can’t patch this, no we can’t patch that.” I would say moving forward, like, that realm has opened up some. To the point where we feel a lot more willing to take on things like that. And with us being on an engine that everyone else is on, we have a little bit more freedom and capability to go try out and do more things like that throughout the year. Where as before we were more limited.
Can you talk about the jersey upgrades afforded by the Frostbite engine?
Yeah, because of all of the new lighting that we ended up with, we had to basically kind of start from ground zero on the uniform colors. We tried a few methods, we thought one of them was going to work, but more and more, the lighting go to be final, we realized those weren’t going to work. So went and made a pass on all Nike colors. Every single Nike color has been redone.
It has been tuned to our lighting to look exactly like what it should look like based on what you see in TV and what you see in photos. We tuned it basically- as long as pictures were available, and for most there were, obviously except for color rush- we tuned it to midday lighting, and then we made sure the lighting would adapt correctly for night, other circumstances, dusk, etcetera etcetera. So if it looks slightly different at night or dusk or evening or whatever, then it’s more likely that we should look at the lighting rather than the color. But we feel pretty happy with where we got on all of our Nike colors for midday.
What threw another wrench into that was when Nike came to us and they said, “Well, we’re pulling out the new seam pattern that we were using on color rush last year. Well, most teams are going to be taking this change.” And we’re like “Ohh boy. So, all right. Shoot us a list on how many this is.” And it was basically ninety percent of the league. (He laughed) So we had to go redo all of our jersey seams and pants seams for all of those teams. It was an overwhelming task, but I think we got it right.
We have the little metal NFL looking shield that looks really cool. Especially from certain angels, you can see it. You can see it during gameplay. It’s a nice little touch that you’ll see on the field this season. You can see it last year if you look at color rush uniforms. It’s the same little metalized, or whatever you want to call it, decal. It looks really good.
On the Nike uniforms that didn’t have that, we made ours look more like the little rubberize plastic that was on it before. And we didn’t skimp on any of the Nike uniforms. I made a hundred percent sure we hit all color rush, all home and away, all alternates. And if a team was wearing a different uniform when Nike took over in 2012, we hit up those uniforms too. Every Nike uniform has had a full, authenticity pass.
You did mention some of the lighting and how that affects the uniforms. 4K and HDR have been big improvements moving to PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. Can you speak on how the increase in resolution and color range has impacted what you do?
We tried to increase- I know graphics and artworks spent time trying to find any textures or anything like that that were low rez and tried to upres them as much as we could knowing that we’re heading into that generation where it’s harder to get away with making somebody more low detail, low res. Because it will be so obvious when you see it next to something that has a much higher resolution texture. Right? So I don’t think we’re fully there, but I think we’re really on our way. And we did a lot of upgrades to kind of catch up and get ready.
I think, you know, the NFL presents a huge, huge task in that area, where you have to see tons of fans in the crowd. Twenty-two players on the field. However many refs we show at one time. A chain gang. All the sideline players. All the assistant coaches. And then all the media and all those other sideline players or characters that show up there. We’re trying to load umpteen thousand people on the screen at one time and try and make them all look good at the same time.
Stay tuned as we will be back with Dustin covering Equipment and Accessories in Madden 18, which launches on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 on August 25th. Those who pre-order the G.O.A.T. Edition of the game can get access three-days early on August 22.