Next Madden May Solve Game's Notorious Difficulty Problem

If you'd like to play video game football but you stink at it, don't worry. The next Madden will put a voice in your ear, telling you how to excel.

Kotaku recently had the opportunity to try the "Gameflow" feature of this summer's Madden NFL 11. It is the latest tool concocted by the Madden makers at Electronic Arts to make the game more accessible to those who have not kept up with the series' 20-some iterations. It's something the series has needed, given stagnating sales and, from what EA says, a growing crowd of both lapsed Madden gamers and those, like the author of this post, who just can't seem to get into the game because they can't get good at it.

The Gameflow feature in Madden NFL 10 is optional and is overlaid atop the standard football games that anyone will play off of EA's disc. It's not a special mode of football. It's an aid for playing classic video game football. With Gameflow activated, the feature picks football plays for the Madden gamer at every moment where a play is necessary — be it offense, defense, the time when you need to punt, go for fourth down or prepare for a blitz. The feature tells you which play you will do next — out loud — if you have a headset plugged in, and even sketches the play and highlights the best way to execute it in red, so that you can never be an awful Madden player again.

Gameflow comes from the minds of EA's Madden team. The headset part of it spring from creative director Ian Cummings, who confesses that that aspect came to him after playing a Stuntman game. He could have just as easily gotten it from Rockstar Game's macabre first Manhunt game, which allowed all of the game's sounds to emanate from the player's television, except for the voice of the sadistic director of that interactive snuff film. His voice, if you had a headset plugged in, cackled murderous orders right into your ear.

Gameflow will talk you through the best plays on offense, removing the need to go through the game's dense playbook in order to pick what your next strategy will be. Gameflow — which, again, is optional — can do it for you. When Kotaku tried it, there was no need to select plays. Before each offensive play, a text box would appear, naming and describing the next play. A recorded voice through the headset would describe the play. A schematic of the play would show up on screen, with icons representing controller buttons showing the play's planned routes for several players, the ideal one marked in red. Then, the player can snap the ball. And then they can try to execute the play.

The idea of Gameflow, Cummings said, is to feel like you are a head coach who has an offensive coordinator picking the plays for you. It makes playing Madden a whole lot easier and is designed to be deactivated in stages, dropping the audio or the text, as the gamer feels more comfortable shouldering their football responsibilities.

The Gameflow system is not yet as refined for defense, the aspect of football which is more about reaction than strategic plans. Nevertheless, a Gameflow-activated game of Madden that Cummings had Kotaku play on defense included audio suggestions about what to prepare for in each sequence and how to handle it.

With Madden sales plateauing in recent years, EA is clearly trying to find ways to increase the number of people playing the multi-million-selling franchise. In recent years, a neon training camp feature was supposed to judge a player's skill level before they even started an actual Madden game. Cummings clearly prefers the Gameflow approach, which lets novice Madden gamers get into real Madden matches but sweat less of the details. A bonus, Cummings noted, is that the Gameflow's automatic play-picking speeds up games of Madden, making the whole thing take less time.

The voice you will hear in Gameflow, by the way, is no one special. There were too many lines required for the feature for John Madden himself to do it. The football coaches EA tried to use, Cummings noted, were terrible. So a professional voice actor was employed.

For those of us who have struggled to play the complex game of video game football, EA may have finally found a good solution. Gameflow certainly made life easier during that recent demo we had of the game. Who knew that all it would take would be a voice in our ear?