x360a Meets: Josh Looman, NFL Head Coach 09
Written Thursday, September 11, 2008 By James Parkin
Today Xbox 360 Achievements got the chance to have a one-on-one talk with Josh Looman of EA Sports about the recently released NFL head Coach 09. It was a great pleasure, and we've even transcribed the interview for you to read.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with Xbox 360 Achievements. Can you please introduce yourself and give a brief explanation of the role you’ve played regarding NFL Head Coach 09?
No problem, I’m Josh Looman, I’m the lead designer for NFL Head Coach 09 which basically meant that I kind drove the vision of design and came up with the overall general concept of the game and kind of then saw the quality through towards the end.
NFL Head Coach 09 will be the second in the series, the last releasing two years ago. Why such a long wait when most EA Sports games are released on a yearly basis?
I think we kind of sat down after the first one came out and tried to figure out where we want to go with this franchise in the future. Tried to figure out the right design for this game and exactly how it should be approached. We took our time sitting down coming up with different concepts and different ideas and stuff. Trying to figure out the right way to try and fix some issues with the first game instead of trying to as quickly as possible put something together and get the game out. We really wanted to nail this version to ensure that in the future this is a viable franchise for EA.
On the first NFL Head Coach game, we played as the offensive and defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. We had just won Super Bowl 40 and were now ready to move up to take the reins of an entire team. Is there anyone specifically we’re following this year? Or are we going in as a new head coach?
Yeah I mean we kind of went back to simplifying things a little bit and went a different route with that. We decided to allow you to either choose to play as a current NFL head coach, so you can take over as Tony Dungy, or any other NFL head coach and kind of pick up their career from the start of the season this year or the start of the offseason. Or you can create your own guy and step in and become the head coach of that team. We talked about some ideas early on about allowing you be the Super Bowl team’s coordinator again, we just felt like we’d simplify it and get back to letting you create your coach, get in there, and start playing the game.
If we create our own head coach, are there any kind of customization abilities that we have at our disposal?
Yeah, you can actually go in and choose I think it’s from about 180 different models that you want to represent you. Then you can go in and fill out a kind of like, RPG skill trait, so you’re given a set amount of skills early in the game when you’re creating your coach and you can look and decide if you want to be better at play calling, general strategy, or progressing your players. You also get to choose a personality type, and that plays in later on in the game affecting how players react to your decisions and what you do, and how the owner and GM react to you to.
From playing the demo, we found out that the coaches earn skill points, and we can then use these skill points to acquire new traits. Is there a cap on how many skill points we can acquire per season, or can we ultimately make a dream team and max all our coaches out?
Yeah, it’s not technically a cap, those skill points are actually all distributed based on how well you do. It’s based on how well you win, how well your players do... If you were to dominate your games, win every game 56-0, and have your quarterback pass for 400 yards, then you would get a lot of points. It’s all limited based on your performance. How you do on the field really translates to how well you can beef up your coaches.
We’re now able to both make plays and use them in game, or even export them to our Madden 09 playbooks, how hard was this feature to implement?
I wouldn’t say it was that tough. From the design standpoint, what we really needed to do was make sure the play creator was a simple thing to use. I think in the past, in other football games, when a play creator has been put out there for everyone’s use it’s been a little complicated to use. The interface isn’t the most intuitive thing in the world; we kind of sat down with that idea from the beginning. Our goal from the beginning when designing was to make sure that my dad who doesn’t play video games, but does know football, could sit down and create some plays pretty easily, and then use them in the game. That was our goal; to make the UI really easy to use and intuitive and make sure people could just go in there and not be intimidated by creating plays as a coach. Actually getting them into Madden was pretty easy, it was just figuring out how to design them correctly from the beginning.
Xbox LIVE will be a big part of this game, what modes will be available to play on LIVE against other players?
We do have head-to-head, we kind of opted for a quicker experience than I think people are used to with sports games head-to head. We went with a more strategy, kind of chess game approach, so you can go on, simulate a game against someone else, and use your own playbook with all your created plays that you put together. Go head-to-head and see if your team is better than someone else’s. That’s one aspect of it.
The aspect we’re mostly proud of is our Gamernet feature which basically allows you to take all your plays you’ve created and share them with other people online. So your content is brought into other people’s games. If you’re having trouble throwing the ball and you can’t create any passing plays that you like, you can go onto Xbox LIVE, go onto the Gamernet service, look through all the passing plays and find one you like that looks successful according to it’s stats, and add it to your playbook to use offline.
We also have sort of a spore like feature, where user-uploaded plays will be downloaded into the game and be used by coaches in the single-player modes. So the game will actually use user-created content in career mode to keep it fresh throughout the year.
Speaking of LIVE, will there be roster updates that reflect what’s actually going on in the NFL?
Definitely, we actually just have one come out either yesterday or the day before that was accurate as of the opening day rosters. We also plan on releasing roster updates at regular intervals throughout the rest of the season.
What feature in the game are you most proud of and why?
Good question, I’d actually have to say two. One would be the UI as a whole, I think one of the challenges we had early on was figuring out how to make a text-based sim football game work on a console and be again very intuitive and simple while also drawing people in that aren’t used to playing this time of game. So if there’s a fantasy football fan out there that doesn’t play a lot of console sport games, this is one he can pick up and quickly get into provided he has a basic level of NFL knowledge. That was one of the concerns from the first game since the UI was a little tough to navigate and use, so we worked a lot on that in the second game and I think we were pretty successful with how it came out.
The second one would have to be how we worked the new draft and player profiles, we did some work with Adam Shaffer from the NFL network who did a lot of commentary for us. We tried to create really immersive stories; we have rookies coming out who’re brothers, previous teammates, or even rivals. Just really trying to create these stories that you follow as players come onto your team. We’ve had a lot of great feedback from the community, like people trying to figure out who Bor Jackson is, the next version of Bo Jackson. People have liked that so far, so we’re pretty proud of that.
Is there anything that you guys wanted to put in the game that you couldn’t, due to restraints- be they time, money or technology?
Actually, I wouldn’t say that there was a whole lot. The goal for this version was that we created a very, very, deep game, and laid the ground work for a possible version in the future and I think we did that. One of the things I would have liked to have done, because we’re based on the Madden 08 gameplay engine, was to get to the Madden 09 graphics. The Madden team did a phenomenal job this year, the game looks amazing. It would have been nice to get those graphics, since we’re still looking like Madden 08. Other than that, EA gave us all the time to make sure this game was solid, tuned correctly, very deep, and fully featured. I think it’s turned out pretty good.
If you had 30 seconds to convince someone to play or even buy NFL Head Coach 09, what would you say to them?
I’d say that I’ve been told that it’s deepest sports game that’s ever been made by one of our reviewers. It’s one of those games that if you’re a big fantasy football fan, or a NFL fan who wants to run your team the right way, then this is the game for you. You can jump right in, take over a team, and you can lose hours of sleep. A game you’ll play for months and years from what I’ve been told so far, it’s just one of those games that’ll really suck you in.
That concludes the questions we have for you today, thank you for your time.
No problem, have a good one.