When first booting up Madden NFL 15, you may notice something a bit surprising — it doesn't take you to the game's main menu, but instead drops you into the middle of a fictional playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers.
This is something EA Sports is calling First Interactive Experience. It's a completely new approach aimed at on-boarding new users, while introducing Madden veterans to some of the new changes in this year's game.
"We wanted to do a better job with on-boarding, bringing in users that are either coming back to Madden, or first time playing, or they haven't played in a few years," explained creative director Mike Young, who led the creation of the Experience.
It's not just about teaching players new mechanics though. The game literally presents itself as if you were watching an NFL Films production, complete with real voice overs by Panthers' Quarterback Cam Newton and Seahawks' defensive back Richard Sherman. There's also a certain story-like narrative to it, as you take on the role of Newton, tasked with charging the Panthers offense downfield for a game-winning touchdown.
"I went off and thought about how you can drop somebody into a story-based experience because I really feel like anything you do where you kind of enhance it with story makes it more engaging," explained Young. "I really just thought about what would be an exciting potential real world story for the upcoming season. It didn't have to be guaranteed to happen, but how can it build off of what just happened. Carolina is an exciting team that had just kind of gone from a mediocre team to a breakout season. And then you have the Seahawks who are exciting with an amazing defense."
If expanded upon, I could definitely see this Interactive Experience become a staple in the Madden franchise. When asked about the potential of turning it into a more formal campaign mode, Young said it's something he's hoping for, but ultimately comes down to fan reaction.
"My hope is that it's something the fans clearly like and respond to and then it's something we build on," he said. "This is really my passion in game-making. I love sports and I love sports movies. I've always felt like Madden can have a campaign type mode, and I think some of the other genres have really figured it out that when you wrap a story around kind of learning the new game mechanics, it makes you naturally learn. I hope we keep it and expand on it."
Should EA choose to expand upon it, we would have to wait until next year's version as they don't have the technology to introduce new potential stories. Young told me early versions of the First Interactive Experience featured a rematch between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, but the decision ultimately came down to EA actually being able to work with Cam Newton.
"They're all the real players," Young said of the dialogue in the mode, "but some of the content like Russell Wilson's playcall is from NFL Wires. So when we started to iterate on the story, I looked for real lines that would support the exact story we're telling. And then with our relationships with Cam Newton and Richard Sherman we were able to work with them in studio and get exactly what we wanted. It was really cool to work with Cam Newton. We designed the first play with him and he sat down and put it in the exact terminology that he'd call in the huddle. He actually improvised his speech."
Madden NFL 15 is out on August 26 for Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3. Check back shortly for our review.