Madden Men

While our regular Popped Culture guru is kicking back with a beer and some loons in northern Ontario, we thought we'd illuminate one of his
Cultural Blind Spotswith this post.

John Madden is old for a video-game star. He has coached a Super Bowl champion, spent 29 years in the broadcast booth covering the NFL and at 72 years of age will help kick off the 20th anniversary edition of Madden NFL 09 when it arrives Tuesday for Xbox 360, Wii and DS handhelds and Sony's PlayStations.

The Madden NFL franchise published by Electronic Arts has become a benchmark that allows us to measure how far the fidelity in video-games has evolved since 1989 when it first appeared on the Apple II computer. The fidelity is both visual and visceral. Sound, music, instant replay, on-screen graphics, statistical info and the in-game play-by-play announcers are now to the point that they have surpassed the real deal we see on the network TV on Sundays. It is to my mind, mind boggling.

Because the problem for EA developers to solve hasn’t changed for 20 years it’s easy to see the progress almost like a scientific experiment. 11 players on offense, 11 players on defense, (Madden insisted on this little bit of reality when he originally signed on), and the rules are set by the NFL. Enhancing what we see and hear on the screen is the only problem to solve. And good lord how it’s evolved.

The artificial intelligence has gotten to the point where the current version will adjust its difficulty level based on how well you perform a series of tests via a weirdly disconcerting hologram program with Mr. Madden taking the part of Princess Leia, (strangely hologram technology has yet to evolve in the least since Star Wars episode 1). It looks like a weird window on how Madden’s role will be presented in future games after he’s, um, gone.

On a more personal note, I am big hater of Brett Favre who happens to be the cover boy this year. You may have heard of the “Madden Cover Curse”. Well considering the way Green Bay fans have turned on Brett in recent weeks the curse appears to live on despite the fact that he had officially retired when EA made their choice. If you’re a Favre hater like myself check out for alternate covers that you can cut and paste over the official version as well as more beautiful screens and vids. And for those that can’t wait until Tuesday to get started, has an excellent series of tutorials to prep before kick-off - and there is of course now a Facebook-like community space for like-minded football geeks at Even if you’re not a huge football fan you owe it to yourself to download the demo from XBL or the Playstation Network if only to see John in all his holographic glory.

David Duncan is a graphic designer, game geek and die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan living in Toronto.

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