I’m a National Football League junkie. I buy the NFL Ticket every year with the SuperFan plan, religiously watch Monday Night, Thursday Night, and Sunday Night Football, and participate in fantasy football leagues. On Sundays during football season, I wake up, sit on my couch, and watch football from 1:00 p.m. until midnight.
One of the reasons I was initially attracted to gaming was because of football games, starting with Intellivision’s NFL Football (which let you run off one side of the screen and come back on the other side), Accolade’s Fourth & Inches, Tecmo Bowl, and finally, the now-dominant Madden NFL.
For years, Madden NFL was everything that we NFL fans wanted in a football game. But when Electronic Arts announced that it would not support Sega’s Dreamcast system, developer Visual Concepts introduced a new take on the NFL with the 2K series. NFL 2k was a hit with NFL fans, as many felt that the Madden series had become stale and that EA was simply issuing roster updates every year. When Sega chose to discontinue the Dreamcast, Visual Concepts went multi-platform with the 2K series and was the first major challenger to Madden‘s dominance.
After adding the ESPN brand to the franchise, ESPN NFL 2K5 was released in 2004 for only $19.99. For the first time, a football game without the Madden surname captured a competitive percentage of the football gaming landscape. To many NFL purists, myself included, the game had reached a new pinnacle of play. ESPN NFL 2K5 introduced much more realistic blocking physics than Madden, more realistic running and catching animations, and AI that was superior to Madden‘s. The incredible presentation of the gameplay approached broadcast quality. Sure, it wasn’t a perfect game, but ESPN NFL2K5 delivered a next-generation football experience prior to the next-generation actually starting (comparison videos of 2K5 vs. the latest Madden installment are prevalent on YouTube.) Apparently worried that its most successful franchise might be forced to share the marketplace, EA Sports bought exclusivity rights from the NFL for five years (recently extended until 2012) and that was pretty much the end of the 2K football series.
Since that time, Madden has been the only game in town. A few companies have attempted to break into the potentially lucrative football game market, but have met with little success. Midway Games released the ultra-violent, WWE meets football game, Blitz: The League, which was a mild hit, but the sequel’s cold reception likely killed the series. A similar fate met Visual Concepts when it tried to give it a go with a sequel of sorts, All Pro Football 2K8. While the game featured the popular run-blocking AI from the 2K football series, the lack of NFL players and franchise mode hurt sales. The title sold poorly and the series was discontinued.
Because of no viable alternatives to Madden NFL, many former football video game junkies have been left without an option for a number of years. Natural Motion and 505 Games are about to change that with the release of their new football title, Backbreaker, this year. If you haven’t heard of Oxford-based (as in United Kingdom) Natural Motion, you’ll probably recognize them from their previous work on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Grand Theft Auto IV. The realistic ragdoll physics that you observed in those titles were the result of Natural Motion’s “Euphoria” engine.