Sunday, August 07, 2005

Madden: Training camp for your thumbs

If you are a football fan who also happens to be a video gamer, Aug. 9 is the day you have been waiting for.

Madden Day.

The release of EA Sports' ultra-popular gridiron sim is an annual late-summer rite. The game usually arrives in stores about the time that NFL squads are sweating through the dog days of training camp.

Unburdened by two-a-day drills, Madden fans line up to buy their copies so that they, too, may have some time to hone their skills.

For local fans, this year's game is more exciting than ever because the player on the cover of the game box is none other than the Eagles' No. 5, Donovan McNabb. It is the first appearance of a Philadelphia player on a Madden cover in the annual football game's 16 years.

Fans can look forward to several exciting new features. Chief among these is a revolutionary passing system that takes into account a quarterback's ability to see downfield. Once the ball is snapped, the field view displays a "vision cone" based on the direction the QB is looking.

McNabb, who is featured on the cover, said he had the chance to play the game a few times and likes what it brings this year.

"I think the game presents much more of a challenge this year. It's not just dropping back and pressing a button to throw it to a receiver, which makes the passing game a lot harder," McNabb said. "When Ray [Lewis] was on the cover last year, you could barely run. At least this year, you have little bit more opportunity to run the ball."

Passing to receivers inside the cone will be far more accurate than trying to throw outside of it. The cone also opens up tempting possibilities for defenders, who can read where the quarterback is looking and gamble for interceptions. Better passers will have larger vision cones, of course, making them harder to defend.

The vision passing system is designed to make the simulated NFL passing game more authentic, but it should also help to negate two unrealistic Madden scenarios. First, the value of a running QB like Michael Vick has been downgraded; pure passers like Peyton Manning finally get their due.

What's more, the new system eliminates the cheap "look left, pass right" completion trick. Now, if you do not look before you uncork a pass, the odds are you will throw an incompletion or, worse, an interception.

The passing vision system is probably the most exciting innovation to Madden in a long time.

McNabb, who has an overall rating of 97 on the game, said he doesn't usually get involved in the player ratings that much, but did say he wanted to be portrayed on the game as he is in real life, up to a point.

"They could have boosted my arms and biceps a little more," McNabb joked.

When asked what he thought about his speed being lower than Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez, McNabb just smiled and said, "I'm pretty sure I'm faster than a tight end."

-- From Inquirer and Daily News staff reports