Article 15—MADDEN NFL 96 PROMO VIDEO (1995)

My video-game ephemera collection includes a ton of promotional VHS tapes from the 1990s. Many of them have footage of guys running around with little white spheres attached to their bodies at strategic locations. At the time, developers were excited about showing off their new motion-capture technology: special cameras that could record the movements of an athlete or stuntman while disregarding his or her appearance. These movements could then be used as the basis for creating realistic character animation in a video game.

This particular video comes from 1995, right in the middle of the industry-wide transition from two-dimensional sprite-based gaming to three-dimensional game environments made of polygons. It shows a behind-the-scenes peek at the making of Madden NFL 96 for the PlayStation, and it includes comments from John Madden
himself as well as the following participants:
• Pat Summerall, Madden’s then-partner in the broadcast booth at Fox
• Ken Kline of pioneering motion-capture studio BioVision
• Ken Harvey, all-pro linebacker of the Washington Redskins
• Mike Rubinelli, producer of several mid-’90s Madden games
San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Derrick Deese is also seen performing moves for the cameras, although his name is not mentioned.

What makes this promo interesting is the fact that Madden NFL 96 was never released for the PlayStation. Many different reasons were given for the game’s cancellation, including missed deadlines, the untimely departure of key members of the development team and EA’s reluctance to compete with Sony’s own PlayStation football game (the surprisingly good NFL GameDay). Any one of these monkey wrenches might have been enough to derail production, but it’s likely that a combination of factors led to EA’s decision to withhold Madden from the PlayStation until the following year.

The Madden 96 build that was used to create this gameplay footage must have been in a very early stage of development. One clip shows a row of spectators on the field—not
on the sidelines, but right out there on the gridiron! Defenders are seen gliding through the secondary like Tudor Electric Football figures. The scoreboard identifies the teams as Cleveland and Indianapolis, but the uniform colors are those of San Francisco and…some mystery team with black helmets and silver pants. The helmets don’t match up with the team names on the Team Select screen, which also has “Cincinnati” spelled wrong. I know that a lot of these minor problems were corrected before the game was cancelled, because we actually had a playable beta of Madden 96 in the offices of VideoGames magazine, and it was much more polished than the game you see here.

The thing that really amuses me, though, is that for all the hype about the wonders of motion capture, the technology was still only being used to generate sprites! The PlayStation wasn’t rendering 3-D players in real time and animating them with the
moves of Harvey, Deese and other NFL pros. That work was being done in advance by some huge mainframe computer, which would then spit out individual frames of 2-D sprite animation at a size and resolution that could be stored on a PlayStation disc, not unlike the individual cels in a cartoon. The stadiums may have been made of 3-D polygons, but the players were drawn on the screen in basically the same way as they had been for years on the Sega Genesis (and on the PlayStation in NFL GameDay). There would not be a fully polygonal football game on the PlayStation until Sony released NFL GameDay 98 in 1997, with the Madden series going 3-D the following year.

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