The Madden NFL cover was just part of John Madden's influence on EA's video game series

The Madden NFL cover was just part of John Madden’s influence on EA’s video game series

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Orlando – Clint Oldenburg recalls his first trip to meet John Madden, the former NFL coach and namesake for the massive video game franchise that Oldenburg is working on. In 2012, Oldenburg, who was then just an intern and a team of Electronic Arts developers, traveled to Madden’s offices in Auckland to introduce a new feature they planned to integrate into the next version of the game, a new AI blocking behavior they called “ID The Mike.”

One of his Oldenburg teammates introduced him to offer the advantage to the former coach, and no sooner had Oldenburg noticed the feature’s name than Madden started waving his hands. The meeting was severely interrupted.

“Let’s not go any further,” Madden said. “I want to know, can you, or anyone in this room, tell me what it means to identify Mike?”

Oldenburg, a former NFL offensive lineman before he directed his career toward game development, took the challenge in stride, explaining what Madden already knew: Identifying Mike is simply when you define a quarterback’s offense between linebackers in a defensive formation to get the same the page.

Madden stared at him, then smiled.

“From that moment, and over the next 10 years until his death, we had a wonderful relationship with the coach,” Oldenburg said. “We were on a first name basis. He would call me to talk to me and ask me how the match was, because I passed the football test. I will never forget that.”

When news of Madden’s death last December began spreading through EA’s offices, developers flooded their Slack channels with praise and discussion. “The immediate reaction was, ‘What are we going to do to the coach in our game?'” Oldenburg said.

During a media presentation for professional and influential Madden players in Orlando in late May, EA revealed that the upcoming game will feature three covers, all depicting a Hall of Fame coach. One featured the jubilant Madden that his players carried off the field after winning Super Bowl XI. Another goes back to his days at the broadcast booth. The third, dedicated to the premium version of the game, features Madden’s resemblance to the original game’s cover, with the cheery boss storming through the black, white, and gold background of the gameplay outlines.

All three versions of the cover have a handwritten handwritten note on the front: “Thank you, coach.”

“they are great!” Mike Madden, the oldest son of the Hall of Fame, said in an email. “They highlighted the three aspects of John Madden – winning the Super Bowl, which was the biggest day of his life; a shirt and tie while he was doing the broadcast, which took that back to new levels; and then the old cover from the original game was nice. I played the game Actually on the Apple II so the throwback was great.”

For more than a decade, unveiling the cover for Madden’s latest game has been a cultural phenomenon in the United States, a marketing decision that carries with it a great measure of national importance to the chosen athlete. The news of the cover reveal is often accompanied by an ESPN SportsCenter section as well as a flurry of articles online (some believe, damn it).

Madden appeared on the cover of early iterations of the game, before EA began highlighting players in 2001. Recent covers have included quarterbacks Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson.

Madden, the former coach of the Super Bowl-winning Oakland Raiders first gave his name to the video game series in 1988 with the requirement that the game be realistic and represent actual NFL football. This started with the requirement that the game had 11 players on each side of the ball, a massive arithmetic challenge for hardware in the early 1990s. Once resolved – thanks in part to the help of the developers at Bethesda Softworks and their game “Gridiron!” – Launched the best-selling sports franchise in video game history, with more than 30 installments produced since then.

Madden did more than just lend the series its name. Each year, developers from EA would meet several times with Madden to discuss new features in the games and make sure they passed a crowd with the man the developers affectionately called “the coach” – out of respect and distinction among the man of the franchise.

“Every year, until the start of the pandemic, he had a Sunday working session with about 12 to 15 Madden developers, where they would sit in the morning and research Madden’s latest game, discussing any questions or topics they had,” said Mike Madden. “My dad would sit and explain To them the things that were happening on the field, pointing out the nuances of the plays that had to be in the game, and they were scratching notes and scoring things. I think it was really helpful for them to get that insight.”

Passionate about the basics, he saw the video game as an opportunity to delve deeper into the intricacies of the sport.

Oldenburg recalls, “He was always asking questions like, ‘We don’t have any illegal processing, right?'” “.” Or, “That specific play you saw while watching football that I thought was a dirty game, you have that in Madden, right? Or, ‘How do we teach this concept?” .

Once again, the coach paused a PowerPoint presentation when a marketing slide containing a football playing diagram clip art appeared. “Is this a play in ‘Madden’?” Asked.

“There were only six players on the field and some of them had arrows and an X, and it wasn’t just a real football game,” Oldenburg recalls. And he was like, ‘This play can’t be in my game. If this is from the game manual, take it out. This is not a real play. We stopped by our creative review of the year with Coach Madden to discuss an infographic in a PowerPoint group. That’s how much originality was in the details. We never make that mistake again.”

Those conversations between EA developers and Madden continued until 2021, when he passed away on December 28. Oldenburg remembered the last time he spoke with the coach. With the covid-19 ban on travel and in-person meetings still in place, the conversation took place via a factual phone call in August to discuss how the team might integrate the NFL’s Next Gen Stats for the upcoming game.

“I think I was watching a bowl game or something, and it came up in the bottom line. It definitely hit me like we lost someone really important,” Oldenburg said. “Everyone has a lot of respect for what he meant to us.”

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