For years, EA Sports' NCAA Football franchise has been a solid seller. The problem? It’s just never quite made the same waves as that EA gridiron franchise, Madden NFL. One game inspires midnight lines outside Gamestops and WalMarts. The other? Well there’s a reason we’re reminding you that NCAA Football 12 drops on Tuesday.

But EA Tiburon’s Ben Haumiller thinks that might change this year—maybe not a lot, but at least a little bit. The veteran producer on the college series sees the NFL lockout opening doors. Football fans have always preferred on-field action to off-field legalese, and on Tuesday, with no minicamp clips or workout updates to tide them over, they just may have to pick up the college game to scratch their gridiron itch. 

By Ebenezer Samuel

 

COMPLEX: First of all, can you admit it? Is there a rivalry between Madden and NCAA? You know, do you guys secretly spit in each other’s coffee in the break room?
Ben Haumiller: There’s no denying the fact that Madden is the monster. As far as sports games go, I don’t have the numbers with me, but I believeMadden’s No. 1 in North America. And we’re at the same studio, EA Tiburon.

At any other studio, we’d be the top game in that studio, but not here. So yeah, there’s a little bit of a sibling rivalry that always exists. We work together sometimes and we did on some stuff this year. There's no reason for us to both develop 3D grass when we can shoulder the development cost together. 

But we’re at our best when we try to differentiate the products, so the consumer has value in both. A halfback dive is a halfback dive is a halfback dive. But there are a lot of different ways to do a halfback dive, too.

And this year, you think you guys have a chance to have the dominant halfback dive, don’t you?
Maybe not totally, but we may make up some ground. With the labor situation going on in the NFL, there’s a lot of increased focus on us this year. You can go out and play or game for a month or so and get back into football, so that’s big. People are going to pick up our game just for that, and then they might realize, ‘Wow, I really like this game.’

I mean, I’m not trying to beat them. I’m not looking to take away from Madden. But it is really a chance for me to increase my market share.

All of which adds up to a very important year for you guys. In broad strokes, what’s in store for this year?
There’s so much to talk about. I’m very pleased with where we’re at. Gameplay-wise, we’re making it the best possible experience we’ve had in this game, getting rid of suction gameplay. Then visually, the look of the game has been updated with things like 3D grass, to make it look like people are actually kicking grass up. We wanted this to be the best-looking game possible.

Going into the dynasty mode, we have the addition of Coaching Carousel, where you’re actually kind of progressing up the coaching ladder. And conference adjustments. This time last year, we were all talking about the possibility of a Pac-16, but we didn’t have the ability to make those changes in your dynasty. Now, you can make a Pac-16. And Road to Glory mode has been revamped a lot, because honestly, it had gone a little stale.

Tell us more about the Dynasty adjustments. Sounds like there’s a lot of new customization options.Adding those elements was huge for me, and I’m kind of partial to the custom conference feature. In Year 2 of your Dynasty, for example, you can move TCU to the Big East. Or you can make up to 32 schools independent. With a feature like that, there’s a lot of depth, too. You can edit each conference’s rules for conference championships and stuff like that.

You can also edit BCS bowl tie-ins. While we can’t do a playoff per se, we can allow you to edit tie-ins and toy with those things. And do you want to edit the division names, like in the Big 10? Maybe you don’t want Leaders and Legends divisions. So change them.

We will. Silliest division names ever, if you ask us. No what about Road to Glory? Sounds like you weren’t too happy with last year’s…
Now you can start out and not just play your high school playoffs. But you can play your entire high school season. Play Iron Man, play on both sides of the ball, then sift through schools, then have a whole new college season. It was a lot different this year. In the past, we’ve always had people working on Road to Glory on the side. This year, we had one developer assigned to focus only on Road to Glory.

The mode updates have us excited, but what about the on-field action? We’re sure you’ve heard plenty of rips about how sports games never actually change from year to year.
I know a lot of people might not notice these kinds of changes, and haters are gonna hate always. But you talk about the gameplay and the evolution of where we’re at. Back in the day, when we’re going back to 2002, 2003, there were a lot of things that weren’t in the game. We’ve gone from the day where a catch animation was just a guy that puts his hands up to sideline catches, over-the-shoulder catches. Now, it’s just refining things and making it better. The big upgrade for us this year is really getting rid of suction gameplay.

Will it really change that much, or is it just cool to talk about?
To a casual fan that means nothing if I say that. But when they play the game, that's when they feel it. How many times have you been running through a line and a D-lineman comes from out of nowhere and tackles you and it just didn’t feel right. And it’s frustrating.

That won’t happen this year. This year, the guy will actually have to come get you. He won’t just get off a lineman and instantly have you. The game engine itself is still the same, but it’s making a lot of changes, changes that make it a lot more realistic and a lot more fun to play. You’re not getting a dive play and you feel like you’re sucked into a tackle.

Same thing if you’re a defensive lineman. If you make a speed rush off the edge, the offensive tacke’s feet didn’t just slide over to block you. He’ll have to get there to block you. It lends itself to a lot more realistic look and feel of the game.

Except we used to take advantage of suction gameplay all the time. Guess we can’t line our defensive end up and get to the passer as easily anymore. Thanks.
It’s an adjustment, but a good one. When people pick up the game, people are going to feel like the game is broken. A slant over the middle on a Cover 2 may not be there anymore (Ed’s note: Zone coverage is upgraded, too). They’ll think, ‘I should be able to make that no problem.’

But now, it’s not going to be easy to do. Running around on a sweep will be easier, though. It’s not that you got any worse as a player. It’s that the game is different. It’s a learning curve. And that’s the thing. We wanted to make the game more realistic and more challenging.