CCC: Where did the inspiration behind the new blocking system come from? Will I finally be able to return a punt this year instead of fair-catching it every time?
Frazier: Each year we work really hard to innovate gameplay in Madden. Our goal with Madden NFL 07 was to add features that made the previous products obsolete. While we have spent time on tuning the running game in previous versions, we have never really redefined our running system. With the addition of Lead Blocking Control and the Highlight Stick, we think running the football will be so much fun you'll never want to touch an older version of Madden again. Lead Blocking Control stemmed from realizing that many people never really followed their lead block but would instead run their own play. In investigating why that might be, we discovered that many people wanted their lead blocker to act in a specific way, rather than be forced to follow the AI-controlled blocker. To solve that in this year's game, we are simply giving you the control over that blocker. You can now lead the way for the back and then quickly switch back to the ball carrier to blast through the running lane you just created with the blocker.
The Highlight Stick was added to allow tailbacks in Madden NFL 07 to run more like the types of backs you see in the NFL. Each team features a back with his own personality and we wanted to see that come through in this year's game. When flicking the Highlight Stick you should see moves that that same back in the NFL would pull off. Backs like Warrick Dunn will pull off slippery moves, while bigger backs like Jamal Lewis will just try to run you over.
Special Teams AI is always something we want to get right. In previous versions of the game we've had the game tuned in a way where it was too easy to run back kicks, as well as too difficult sometimes. We did work on our blocking and AI to help with this particular issue for Madden NFL 07. We're confident you'll have more success when returning any type of kick.
Ortiz: In the AI, we have definitely improved how the blocking is handled. It's going to give you a real nice running game. Our goal is to make that three to seven yard gain fun. We want to make it fun not just to break a long sweep but to actually have fun between the tackles as well. In addition we also improved the D-line play. We didn't just want to make the offensive line better and have them blow the D-line out all of the time. So now that we've made the O-line smarter in how they create holes, we've made the D-line better as well.
The changes we made to the running game this year are called our "Run to Daylight" package but it starts off with our lead blocking control. This allows you to set up a different kind of strategy. If you're in a three receiver set and you're running a sweep to one side, you can bring any one of those guys over or pull a lineman to bring more reinforcements to that side. It just provides a different level of strategy for the run game this year.
The Highlight Stick is an evolution of where we were last year with the Hit Stick. It allows us to take the right analog stick and create a variety of animations based on the player you're using. For example in the past if you pressed forward on the right analog you would lower your shoulder, no matter what player you were using. Now, if you do the same thing, the animation will depend on what running back you are using. For example, if you press up on the right analog stick instead of it lowering the shoulder with a guy like Warrick Dunn; it's actually going to try and evade defenders instead.
I think punt returns and kick returns are really well tuned this year and you do have to worry about someone breaking one on you. I am using the Jags in my franchise right now and I have returned one punt and two kickoffs for touchdowns so far this season.