VGJ Preview: NCAA Football 10

Anyone who follows real NCAA football knows that the fans in that sport are amongst the most diehard around. Supporting your team is more akin to a religion than a simple sports team. That support will be relied upon to propel your favorite college football team to the top of rankings in EA’s NCAA Football 10.

I was able to sit down with some of the team that worked on the game and was shown a demo for the latest iteration of the undisputed leader in college football games. While all the great graphics and animations will be back, making its debut is the Season Showdown mode which is sure to take real world rivalries to a whole new level on the virtual field.

Season Showdown mode will allow players to pledge their allegiance to their favorite school and help them in winning the Season Showdown championship. After selecting a shool, everything a player does, from online to offline games and when they play as their designated school or not, will earn points towards the Showdown rankings. Before the actual football season begins, the points accumulated by NCAA Football 10 players will count toward preseason rankings. Then each game you play will count toward that weeks point total for your school. In the end, the top 32 teams will battle it out in a single elimination tournament to crown the winner.

The winners of each week’s matchups, as well as the tournament and championship, will not just be aggregate points. To make it more fair toward smaller schools, the matchups are broken up into 5 categories. Those five categories are broken up into 3 categories (Vs. CPU, Vs. Nation and Online Showdown) which are averages of how well your team is doing against the CPU, the National average and against your teams real life opponent in any given week. The final two are Web Trivia and U Decide. These will be played online and will involve answering trivia questions and voting each week for up to five teams. These are the categories in which schools with the largest fan bases will have big advantages.

Beyond wins, many in-game elements will count toward racking up even more points for your school. Skills, strategy and sportsmanship will all earn bonuses for you while contributing to the Season Showdown rankings.

The skills category is exactly how it sounds. Amazing user-controlled catches, interceptions and sacks will all earn skill bonuses in the game.

Strategy bonuses will come via a new system added to the game this year. Before and at any point during the game, players will have the ability to set a multitude of strategic elements, such as going for swats or interceptions or tackles versus trying to strip the ball, to conservative, balanced or aggressive levels. This will put some of the AI in the hands of players. When up by several touchdowns it may behoove you to play conservative and finish the game smart. On the other hand, you may want your players to try and strip or intercept the ball more frequently when playing from behind. Also comprising the strategy element is the ability to guess plays beforehand. Players will be able to guess runs to the left, center or right or passes. If you guess correctly and shut the play down, a strategy bonus is headed your way.

The last category that will gain you bonus points, and the only one where it is possible to lose points, is sportsmanship. Sportsmanship will reward players for not going for it on 4th down when it is unrealistic, such as 4th and 20 on your own 18 yard line. It will also reward players for taking a knee at the end of games. Players will not be penalized if they are in a situation where going for unrealistic 4th down tries, like when you’re down 21 with 2:00 left, when necessary.

Refinement is the name of the game when it comes to core gameplay in NCAA Football 10. The AI was a big focus in what EA is terming “Adaptive AI.” This year’s game will feature AI that is better able to recognize player tendencies and adapt to them over the course of a game. A new play calling feature will allow for certain plays to setup other plays and help players in thwarting the AI much like real life play calling. Plays like a rush up the middle will be tethered to other plays like a play action pass from the same formation. This will be shown on-screen with locks connecting the two the two plays. Each time one of the plays is run, the setup percentage of the other will go up. Run a play a certain amount of times and its partnered play will become 100% setup and have a great chance of surprising the AI opponent.

Perhaps the most impressive new feature of NCAA Football 10 is the EA Sports Football Factory. This new feature will allow for players to create schools from the ground up and give them the ability to customize everything about their new football powerhouse. The best part is that the new feature is not even on the disc. All of this customization will occur online where players will have the ability to create an infinite amount of teams and download up to 12 at a time (although more slots may be available to those who pre-order) to your Xbox 360 or PS3. The download will be very small and takes, on average, 1-3 minutes depending on your Internet connection.

Using this new interface, players will be able to customize the logo, stadium, field, uniform (with the option of creating alternate uniforms), program characteristics and roster of created schools or the existing ones already in the game. Since the interface is done online, players will be able to upload any picture they want, or choose from the hundreds already available, and create a team based on anything, even their favorite podcast perhaps? Players will also be able to search for teams that other users have created and sorted lists of the most downloaded and highest rated teams will make finding the best created schools that much easier.

The best part is that players will be able to create custom online dynasties with up to 12 created schools, each being controlled by a separate player online.

The game looked great and the extra features seem to be adding to the depth and ability to get behind their virtual schools as much as their real favorites. So, whether you’re supporting your favorite school or creating a new favorite, the new features in EA’s NCAA Football 10 will give players plenty to do on the field and off.