Brian Murray, who in a past life hauled 16mm cameras for NFL Films, lowers the rig onto my right shoulder. “This is the same size, weight and balance as a camera I would shoot if I were back on the sidelines,” said Murray, Madden NFL 23‘s creative director for presentation. Yet it looks nothing like a camera.
Metal tubing approximates the skeleton of one, and some of the front dials control things like focus and zoom, but it’s mostly an open space attached to a rather thick platform. The viewfinder is an iPad, so at least I’m not peering. But on that screen, head coach Sean McVay and four or five Los Angeles Rams, who come off the field after a game, are shown in Madden. And as I move the camera, I’m filming in virtual reality, walking close to Jalen Ramsey or Sebastian Joseph-Day and crawling into their faces, just like I’m wearing a photographer’s vest and field pass.
“You may have heard of a very small movie called avatar,Murray jokes. “James Cameron patented a technology where he was able to take a little wired kind of path and walk around his digital scenes in that movie, to get authentic shots, to frame the digital scenes in that movie. .”
Murray joined EA Sports from NFL Filmsthe competition’s Emmy-winning documentary arm, starting work on 2014’s Madden NFL 25. Murray was brought on board specifically to tailor Madden’s in-game broadcasts to more closely resemble the kind of rich cinematography football fans have come to expect from the league’s biggest games and moments—and from the even more cinematic NFL movies. Shortly after moving to Florida, Murray began implementing the VR movie system that Cameron had patented. Since then, Madden’s broadcasts have filmed what is essentially the same sequence from different camera angles – in a number of different styles, each lifelike – to bring some variety to the game’s presentation.
The big difference? “My last room in which I had to do this was the size of this piece of carpet,” Murray says, gesturing to a carpet marked with grid lines and an EA Sports logo, the size of a closet floor at best. Today, he works in a much larger and much newer motion capture studio at EA’s downtown Orlando studio, which EA Tiburon moved to in 2019, shortly before the pandemic. The recording room was, in fact, completed the day before our interview, Murray said.
The extra space means “thousands” of new footage has already been filmed for Madden NFL 23 — 700 a week before a late May studio tour, Murray says — added to more than 12,000 filmed in the seven years this technology has been in use. Murray is right that Maddens of the past have served up varied animations, after the whistle or half-time break, to keep the footage from becoming dull and predictable. But when I look at the new space he has to work with, I can’t help but think he can frame a shot from a sideline camera better now that he can literally move to that sideline, in virtual reality.
“For us, we always want to start with reality, and then push the buttons from there,” Murray says. “Otherwise we would have just had 1,000 drones flying everywhere. And then we have a very unique responsibility, where our fans are pros at watching this game on a Sunday, Thursday and Monday from the couch. So if we don’t represent there from day one, and if we don’t simulate our game like you are pros at watching, then we’ve failed you then and there.”
The D-Cam, or Director Cam, is just one part of a focus on visuals and presentation that isn’t necessarily an overhaul, but emphasizes making sure everything in the game is rendered with meticulous authenticity. Usually, sports developers back this claim with a figure on how many 360-degree athlete head scans are added to the game each year, and Madden NFL 23 indeed has many more.
But the “Mobile Scan Truck” that EA Sports parked outside Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium last year, and during events like the NFL’s league meetings and scouting combo, speaks to the persistence behind the effort led by Terrance Newell, Madden’s art director, and Juan Chavez, the characters’ director. The truck wasn’t just there to take mugshots. Newell tapped five Kansas City Chiefs of varying heights and, er, widths to better represent the spectrum of NFL players’ bodies. Until this year, Madden had used a single base model, or “silhouette,” which was then modified to reflect larger or leaner archetypes.
“Admittedly, if you look closely enough, all those different players have pretty much the same traits, don’t they?” says Newell. ‘Because they are built on the same foundation. So we were like OK, let’s create accurate bases, making the whole roster of players more accurate†
The five Chiefs they scanned also carried their gear in the truck, including the 6-foot-8, 344-pound offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who Newell says represents the “edge case” player — guys who are in the league. , but in small numbers. (The other four represented “speed guys” at quarterback, receiver, and defensive back; “impact players” at running back, linebacker, and defensive side; “monsters” who play offensive line and internal defense; and “tweeners,” which are an unbalanced combination of size or speed, usually at quarterback or on special teams.)
Newell recalls that Brown had to crouch and hold a pose to get his upper body into the scan area. “He was a go-getter,” Newell says. “Have held that pose the whole time.”
The result isn’t just that more players’ bodies are believably proportioned in Madden – their gear hangs much more authentically from it too. “The detail and the nuance, how tight the jerseys are, how thin the pads are now, even” [on offensive linemen]which even looks dangerous, to be honest – those things all appear one-on-one in the game now,” said Mike Mahar, Madden NFL 23‘s senior producer.
EA Tiburon also used the scanning technology on the gear itself, in some cases to capture the actual color of a jersey under direct light (especially important in the case of throwback uniforms, whose colors can be a more subtle or slightly different shade) . For modern gear, that means a lot of Nike stuff was marched into the office under armed guard, literally, because the designs haven’t been shown to the public yet. But to complete the throwback look for John Madden, in the All-Madden game who: starts a new installation of Madden NFL 23† Chavez went to a vintage clothing dealer and found the same kind of two-piece belt and short-sleeved shirt that made the coach famous, and scanned them into play.
“You heard us talking about Coach [Madden] quite a bit, and how he inspired our team; he was super passionate about authenticity,” says Newell. “You know, if it’s in the game, it has to be in the game.”
[Disclosure: EA Sports invited Polygon and paid for its flight and accommodations at the one-day preview event at EA Tiburon’s studio.]