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EA showed off Madden NFL 22 for the initially time this week for the duration of a press briefing, and one of its most intriguing elements will be its deeper integration with the league’s Next Gen Stats to increase the extended-operating sim’s AI.
Next Gen Stats is division of the NFL that is a partnership with Zebra Technologies and Wilson Sporting Goods. It makes use of radio-frequency identification tabs (RFIDs) on the player’s shoulder pads and the ball, cameras posted about stadiums, and other tech to not just get stats we’re used to like Yards After the Catch (YAC) but telemetry that, as Next Gen’s web site says, “captures player data such as location, speed, distance traveled and acceleration at a rate of 10 times per second, and charts individual movements within inches.”
Madden NFL studio EA Tiburon integrated Next Gen Stats for the initially time win last year’s game, coinciding with the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. Creative director Connor Dougan dived into what this meant for Madden and why Tiburon added Next Gen Stats.
“We had an opportunity to do something pretty cool from a gameplay perspective, we wanted to kind of go back to our roots which is you know authentic simulation football,” Dougan mentioned on a video get in touch with. “So we have all this data from every play for the last six years, and there’s a whole bunch of cool use cases for it. So our first use case … we move to Gen 5 [PS5/Xbox X/S], we have all this extra horsepower, animation, memory. What can we do to make our movement more authentic? So we took our real NFL player movement past to drive our underlying player movement engine.”
The AI currently makes use of Next Gen stats to increase how Madden sims route-operating speeds and acceleration values, Dougan mentioned, so “we felt our next evolution was on the AI, so they have all these interesting and cool stats that [Next Gen Stats] tracks. How good is a quarterback under pressure? What is their average time to throw? How good are they scrambling a pocket? There’s literally like hundreds of different stat, and we wanted to use this data to help inform our AI and drive our AI to make them that much more intelligent, much more authentic.”
How does it work
Curious about how this Next Gen Stats integration worked last year, as a way to greater comprehend the improvements coming to AI this year, I asked if Tiburon was attempting to greater capture Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s tendencies for not just how he scrambles out of the pocket, but the prices at which he runs and the paths he tends to favor.
“So for last year, it was more using that to authenticate, how they move, how fast they accelerate, [not] necessarily where they go. And when they go. And we also took a route verbatim so if you had [Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver] Tyreek Hill’s post route, we could take that exact route imported into our game and have the virtual Tyreek Hill on that,” Dougan mentioned. “So now this year is much more about decision-making. And it’s such a cool amount of interesting data that we can use to inform and drive, not only our player movement but also our AI.”
Madden NFL 22 will have improvements to catching, tackling, and blocking. Tiburon makes use of Next Gen Stats for player movement and tendencies, Madden designer Clint Oldenburg mentioned in a clarification e-mail. “So that data will have an indirect impact on the types of interactions that play out based on the speed, acceleration, and momentum of the players entering the interaction,” Oldenburg mentioned. “But we are not using Next Gen Stats in our ratings system right now, thus it will not impact the outcome of the play.”
As for blocking, Oldenburg mentioned, “We’re not using robust Next Gen Stats data in the blocking space quite yet, but it could have an indirect impact based on the movement of the players.”
While Dougan mentioned EA Tiburon does have some information scientists assisting make sense of all this data, the heavy lifting comes from Next Gen Stats’ finish, producing it a genuine partnership, not just funneling numbers from the NFL spigot into Madden’s databases. (Or, you know, just adding legs to a Madden Thanksgiving game turducken.)
By utilizing these stats and matching them machine finding out from EA player tendencies, Madden becomes even more of an alternate universe for the “What If?” NFL crowd, with an wonderful set of information that comes from the integration of genuine stats and how players use it.
“There’s millions and millions of Madden players, and when you think about it, something we’ve always wanted to do is, let’s say you and I were playing against each other. How cool would it be for me to see a scouting report of you, your tendencies, your behaviors, what you like to do,” Dougan mentioned. “Longer term down the road, getting full video and scouting reports, so I could scout you before I play — I mean, I can see a world where it’s all it’s on a completely different level in terms of like analytics, statistics, and then scouting.”
This comes into play with the new Scouting Report feature. The presentation focused on how this functions with scouting colleges players. I asked Dougan if would apply to scouting reports ahead of a game as properly, providing you information about your next opponent. And you can use these for halftime adjustments as properly (a new feature).
“From a Franchise perspective, they will work that way so you will be tracking what players like to do on 1st down, 1st-and-long, 3rd down, 3rd-and-long — all these different game situations,” Dougan mentioned. “So if you’re playing in a Connected Franchise, so let’s say we’re playing together. And we have a Week 12 matchup, I’m going to be able to understand what your play-calling tendencies are, and then I’ll be able to pick a game plan accordingly.”
Dougan offers an instance: “So let’s say you really like to run outside, for whatever reason. I can infer that from the stats that I’m going to see in my scouting report in Franchise, and then pick the appropriate game plan to hopefully get an edge on you. And then if that doesn’t work, you decide to switch it up, I can again adjust at halftime.”
Next Gen Stats will not be streaming into your Madden games each and every week at the starting of the season. During a Q&A soon after the presentation, Oldenburg mentioned that the group would initially add updated Next Gen Stats a couple of weeks into the 2021 NFL season in a title update. But the target is to speed this up, obtaining to weekly title updates. Dougan says the group does have some issues that variables into the slow rollout.
“We just want to be careful for statistical outliers. So if we get, for whatever reason, some quarterback all of a sudden changes his behavior completely, and it could be that there’s like three or four turnovers in the first quarter, so their game plan is completely changed,” Dougan mentioned. “So we just want to ensure that you know the statistical thresholds that we hit to change the player’s tendency is as accurate as it can be, because if we just automated it, there’s a little bit of nuance to sort of the data, from game-to-game, and we just don’t want to change it too early. That’s our main concern.”
I asked how this course of action would influence the case of players like Buffalo Bills quarterback, who more than the course of two seasons became a various (and significantly enhanced) player. [Of course, now I wish I’d asked this about Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold — Ed.]
“I think that will be a little bit easier, because we’re going to have the Next Gen Stats data on them. But then that’s really kind of the difference between the nuance between a tendency and a rating, right?” Dougan mentioned. “A tendency is what we’re seeking at, is like his propensity to invest in time in the pocket, or scramble outdoors of the pocket to throw, or scramble to run. And that is how we can get their successes is sort of the next aspect on major of it. It’s sort of the second piece on major of it, and that is more ratings driven.
“But from a tendency standpoint, we’re just going to have to ensure that we get enough data before we make the switch, that’s all.”
For rookies, who have no Next Gen Stats datasets, they’ll start off with traits and get updates based on what comes in from the NFL.
A taste of home
Being a San Francisco Bay Area sports fans, I nevertheless really feel a bit of affinity for the Las Vegas Raiders. This year, Madden NFL is factoring homefield positive aspects and momentum into gameplay. The 12th Man’s noise plays a function at Seattle, attitude variables into games at Denver, and in Chicago, it is going to be tougher to kick. It’s an extension of the X-Factor program from Madden 20. In a comply with-up query more than e-mail, I wondered why EA Tiburon is adding this now.
“Why not now?” Dougan mentioned more than e-mail. “Players told us then they desired an emotional connection to the Superstars of the NFL and wanted them to feel unique on the sticks. Since then, they’ve told us that they also want to feel an emotional connection to their favorite teams’ environments, fan bases, fandom, etc., as they crave this affiliation inside of Madden. We believe this feature will do for the NFL atmosphere was X-Factors did for NFL players to meet the desires of [Madden] players.”
But the Raiders’ new indoor stadium didn’t have fans last year since of the pandemic, so you cannot tailor any positive aspects to the crowd. And we do not know if The Black Hole will be anyplace close to as raucous in Vegas as at Oakland, as some longtime fans cannot afford to travel or the tickets at the Raiders new home.
What has Tiburon brewed up for the Raiders? The benefit is a fitting one: “We have a one that is called ‘Just Win, Baby.’ While winning, you have an increased momentum ability to gain momentum and fatigue recovery. And really, that’s just made to honor the Al Davis team motto and reflect, you know, his burning desire to bring home the win for the fans.”
EA Tiburon hopes that Next Gen Stats’ deeper integration will bring home a win for fans — and EA — as will.