New Madden Game Is Un-Buc-Lievable

July 26 - Pewter Report editors Scott Reynolds and Jim Flynn recently visited Electronic Arts-Tiburon in Maitland, Florida and had the opportunity to test the newest version of the Madden Football video game series for Playstation 2 -- Madden 2003. Pewter Report gives fans and gamers a sneak peak of Madden 2003, including an in-depth Tampa Bay Buccaneers preview.

Just when video gamers thought they'd seen it all from Electronic Arts' Madden Football gaming series, the video game powerhouse soon will show gamers that they've outdone themselves again. Whether you're a video game addict, an occasional player, or a person with absolutely no interest in video games what-so-ever, Madden 2003 for Playstation 2, which will hit stores on August 14, is a game that every football fan must see and play.

Madden Football, which was created with input from Hall of Fame coach and NFL broadcaster John Madden over 10 years ago, reached new technological heights when the Playstation 2 gaming system was created nearly two years ago. Fans embraced the new and improved technology, which in turn, allowed EA to make Madden Football one of the most realistic football games in existence.

"I think we have set a very, very high industry standard and keep pushing our limits thereby leaving many competitors in the dust," said Joe Vance, who is the lead artist for Electronic Arts-Tiburon in Maitland, Florida. "There are many great sports games on PS2, including a lot of Extreme sports, which are great fun, but not that many are as deep and complex as Madden is."

Members of both the local and national media are not the only ones that have taken notice in terms of the renovation that has taken place in Tampa Bay. The Bucs' defense practically stayed intact and the team added head coach Jon Gruden and several offensive free agents, which led to Madden Football's creators fabricating the Buccaneers as one of the most balanced and competitive teams in Madden 2003.

The Madden player rankings typically mimic a player's real attributes. Warren Sapp received the highest player rating on the team with a 99 overall. Keyshawn Johnson, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Martin Gramatica all rank right behind Sapp with overall ratings in the 90s.

Tampa Bay's quarterback situation is depicted in Madden 2003 exactly the way it's unfolding in real life. Brad Johnson is the starter with a 75 overall rating. Rob Johnson is the team's second-string quarterback with a 69 and Shaun King is right behind Rob Johnson with a 68. Michael Pittman is Tampa Bay's feature back with a 78 overall rating while Mike Alstott is his backup. Jameel Cook has replaced the A-Train at fullback. As for Tampa Bay's receiving corps, Keenan McCardell is the team's No. 2 receiver with an overall rating of 80. Joe Jurevicius (72), rookie receiver Marquise Walker (68), and receivers Keith Poole and Frank Murphy are also on the Bucs' roster.

On the defensive side of the ball, cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly are two players that saw their player ratings jump substantially from last year's Madden 2002 game. Barber, who hauled in 10 interceptions last year, went from 83 to an 89 and Kelly's rating skyrocketed from 64 to 78.

"Having a good year will do that for you," said Vance. "We keep an eye on who is improving and declining in the NFL and try to reflect that in the game."

Tampa Bay's defensive line has a few changes, but they're precise ones. Right end Simeon Rice (86) and left end Marcus Jones (80) play at their respective positions, whereas last year's Madden mistakenly had them flip-flopped.

EA can't possibly place 80 players on each of the 32 teams' rosters, so they have to use their judgement to decide who makes it onto the roster and who doesn't. With that said, there are a few inaccuracies regarding Tampa Bay's roster.

While rookies Walker and Stephens are on Tampa Bay's roster, the rest of the team's 2002 Draft class are not. Wide receiver Milton Wynn is also missing. But not to worry – you can use the Create-a-Player feature to create these players. While Murphy is on the roster, his speed and overall ranking are grossly underrated. The only other mistake we caught on Madden 2003 as far as the Bucs were concerned was that fact that Jurevicius was sporting jersey No. 82, not No. 83, but in EA's defense, Jurevicius had just recently switched numbers with Poole, who is no longer with the team. But users can edit Murphy's ratings and Jurevicius' jersey number and simply release Poole with the Edit-Player feature, which will allow your Bucs team to look exactly like the one that will take the field on opening day.

As for the players' movements, they've been rectified to give the players, especially the running backs, more fluid movement, which makes it a lot of fun to run Pittman and Co. between and outside the blocks. As for the receivers, Madden 2003 has added a new feature with standstill receiver catches. Some of the other new features include gang tackling, gang warm-ups and gang touchdown celebrations. There are also some player signature animations, including sidearm quarterbacks.

In the previous games, users could only pick their home uniform combination, and then the away uniform was assigned for them – for instance, Tampa Bay sported white jerseys and pewter pants for away games. But users can now pick their away uniform combination, too. The options include white jerseys on white pants or users can choose from the alternate uniforms, so if you want Tampa Bay to sport the Bucco Bruce logo and the old orange and white uniforms, you can do it. Speaking of uniforms, Madden 2003 has Bills, Seahawks, Texans and Redskins' (home) new uniforms. Don't like any of the existing teams' uniforms or any of the teams for that matter? Well, create your own team and uniform in the Create-a-Team mode. This feature was very popular last year, which is why EA decided to expand it. There are now over 100 unique logos to choose from and a few new stadiums to play in, too.

The first change users will notice inside of the game itself is the play-by-play commentary, which is now conducted by the Monday Night Football team of John Madden and Al Michaels. Madden's former partner, Pat Summerall, retired from FOX at the end of last season, which opened the door for Michaels, who actually has more commentary in the game than Madden. Michaels adds so much to the game in terms of realism --it sounds like Michaels is actually calling your game as you're playing it.

"Al Michaels just really brings so much to the game," said Vance. "It really helps improve the feel in the whole experience. It makes it more of an experience. He was great to work with. Pat Summerall was great, but Al Michaels is every bit as good if not better"

The next obvious difference is the stadium crowds. The new crowd dimension, which allows the crowd to sit, stand and do the wave throughout the games, makes the game experience much livelier. When K Martin Gramatica kicks a field goal through the uprights at Ray-Jay, the crowd in the end zone will stand and cheer in anticipation of the ball's arrival and score. The cheerleaders, coaches, cameramen and players still occupy the sideline, but all of these features have been improved in terms of appearance. The coaches look much better, and yes, Jon Gruden patrols Tampa Bay's sideline for each Bucs game. Gruden's playbook has also been tweaked – Tampa Bay can have as many as five receivers line up in a formation vs. his playbook in Oakland last year, which only allowed for a maximum of three receivers in a formation. And users will now be able to create their own unique offense and/or defensive playbook in the Season and Franchise modes under Create-a-Playbook.

Some of the other tweaks include better overall sound quality and playing surfaces, especially the grass, which looks more realistic. The snow and rain conditions seemed somewhat practical in previous games, but they look phenomenal in Madden 2003.

There's also a new replay matrix, which might remind some of Raymond James Stadium's two replay boards.

There are several brand new features in Madden 2003 that will leave users' jaws dropped on their controllers. A Preseason-mode has been added to the Season/Franchise modes. You can play the preseason games or simulate them. You can draft rookies and watch them develop by playing them in the four-game preseason. In the Franchise-mode, Madden 2003 introduces a Rookie-Scouting feature, where the user can check out the rookie pool and find out what each college player did during his combine workout. This feature also allows the user to see which round each college player is projected to go in the draft.

Madden 2003's Mini-Camp mode certainly is a grand addition. The players sport practice jerseys and shorts while you conduct your own mini-camp. You can have your players run and/or throw through several obstacles and earn Madden cards in the process. This mode also features John Madden's Cruiser Tour Bus, which can travel to all NFL cities to complete skilled tasks.

Madden 2003 has worked its way onto the Internet in a new online version. Users will be able to logon to the Internet on and play their neighbors, distant relatives or someone they have never even met before in another state. This feature will also allow users to download updated rosters to their memory cards.

Before he signed with Tampa Bay, Keenan McCardell visited EA Sports near Orlando, and while they appreciate his company and assistance in creating Madden 2003, EA feels it can put together an even better product with the help of more professionals, particularly the Buccaneers players since they're the closest NFL team to EA's branch near Orlando.

"Keenan McCardell has been a very strong supporter and he's been up here a few times to help us out," said Vance. "He's a big Madden fan and supporter, so having him on the Bucs now is exciting for us because now he can tell his teammates that they're more than welcome to come on out here and see the game. We'd love to have the pro perspective because it really does help, just like the coaching clinic did. It gives us a lot more insight into the real game."

There are approximately 40 people who put the Madden Football games together and EA Sports recently sent personnel over the NFL sponsored coaching clinic, which was hosted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"That (the coaching clinic) was real useful," said Vance. "We're real grateful to the Bucs for allowing us to attend that. Our guys learned so much over there. That is going to go a long way in helping us make Madden Football as close to the actual game of professional football as possible."

There are actually quite a few professional football players that play Madden Football for PS2. Former Bucs WR Jacquez Green became the first ever back-to-back Madden Bowl champion on January 31 in New Orleans. But the amount of professional players playing Madden Football for PS2 simply is a testament to how close the video game is to the one the players are playing in real life.

Perhaps one of the reasons Madden Football has separated itself from its competition is because its creators continue to listen to people who play the games – ranging anywhere from professional football players to blue-collar workers.

"Usually by February, we're already well into the next year's version," said Vance. "By then, it would be great to have any of these guys that are in the area come by and play the games, give us their input and tell us what they liked and what they didn't like from the previous year's game. That's what we go by. EA is very conscious of the fan reaction. We want to make this a game that everybody wants to buy every year. You never want to have a year where people say ‘they didn't make any improvements'. It's always great to get feedback from both pros and fans. We take all of that to heart."

So what's Madden Football's secret? How do they continue to outdo themselves year in and year out?

"It's really just a matter of tweaking," said Vance. "I'd say Madden has everything you could possibly want. It's just a matter of improving those areas. What do people want and what do people think would be cool? That's what we're always asking ourselves. If you look at Madden 1999 and the current version, you'll see that we added a ton of stuff. It's gotten to the point now where this is a pretty deep game."

Make no mistake about it – Madden 2003 is a must-play for both video and non-video gamers everywhere. One can't possibly appreciate how brilliant of a product EA Sports has created or how far ahead of the competition Madden 2003 is until they've lived through the game experience for themselves.

For more information on Madden 2003, click here.

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All photos are courtesy of Pewter Report director of photography Cliff Welch unless noted otherwise. Click here to visit Welch's web site.

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