SPORTS

'Madden NFL 15' video game Skills Trainer raises the tutorial bar

09/30/2014 09:25 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - As you approach the line of scrimmage, you see the two safeties deep. The two cornerbacks are playing five yards deep, part of a five-man defensive zone in front of the safeties.

What to do?

If you have been taking advantage of the Skill Trainer portion of the "Madden NFL 15" video game, you've spotted a Cover 2 defence. And you know to attack the areas on each side of the field between the cornerbacks and safeties as well as the deep middle of the field between the safeties.

In its first incarnation last year, Skills Trainer was a way to explain the basic concepts of football and introduce certain strategies. "Madden NFL 15" takes it to a new level.

"This year we kind of focused on teaching you the game of football. We've never really done that before," said Danny Doeberling, a Madden assistant producer in charge of Skills Trainer and The Gauntlet mini-game that puts your skills to the test.

So Doeberling and his associates at the EA Tiburon studio in Orlando partnered with Bill Courtney, a coach whose work with the Manassas Tigers high school team in Memphis was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary "Undefeated."

Courtney shared his teaching experience.

"We made an effort to kind of teach the different concepts." Doeberling said in an interview. "Because when we play-tested, there's a lot of different people that have no idea about what's Cover 2, what's Cover 3. People enjoy the sport on TV but they really don't know the aspects of the game."

The tutorial shows how to identify what's happening in front of you before offering ways to attack it.

Having taught the concepts, the idea is emphasized with recommended plays during the actual game. The points are also reinforced with tips during load screens.

"So we're trying to teach the users different aspects of the game in different areas of the game," Doeberling added.

Even if you do not absorb all the information, little bits come in handy throughout the game.

"When we first did Skills Trainer, we noticed the people that went in and played Skills Trainer, played the game a lot longer. You're learning, you're feeling more comfortable — because it is overwhelming for people that take years off Madden and start playing it (again).

"My goal was to hopefully alleviate that and teach players just the basics."

The expanded Skills Trainer offers offence and defence tips, as well as strategy and football concept lessons. The gamer is dropped right into it when they first fire up the game, after taking control of a team for an in-game drive down the field.

"Any time tutorials have been brought up, it's always been such a hard sell, because it's like you're providing a mode that the user may or may not go into," said Doeberling. "If they go in, they probably won't stay there long. But we committed to it, we even put it in our first experience so after you've played the initial drive you can learn about the game if you want to.

"And we've noticed that the numbers of usage for Skills Trainer's completely jumped up. We got a lot of feedback (like) 'I didn't even know Skills Trainer existed last year because it was just a small panels on one of the menus.'

"It's showing that a lot more people are playing and learning."

That's impressive in that many gamers ignore tutorials, no matter the title, to launch into the game experience.

But with football a game of strategy, a little training goes a long way.

Doeberling calls The Gauntlet, a "fun throwback to past mini-games." It offers the gamer different challenges, using what they have learned in Skills Trainer, complete with boss battles, such as kicking a field goal in a hurricane.

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