We are in the twilight of Playstation 3 and Xbox 360's year with another round of next generation consoles almost upon us. But if NCAA Football 14 is any indication, EA Sports seems focused on making its collegiate football title's last few years on the current gen, memorable ones. NCAA Football 14 is slated to receive a nice number of upgrades including a new Infinity Engine 2 which promises to deliver a whole new game play experience and new dynasty tools called Power Recruiting and Coach Skills. XXL recently caught up with Ben Haumiller, the producer of NCAA 14, to talk more in-depth about some of the new additions we will see this year.—DJ Rhude (@DJRhude)

XXL: There was a lot done to ramp up the presentation this year, what are some of the improvements we can expect to see?

Ben Haumiller: Presentation is such a big part of college football, from the fight songs to the traditions, to the uniforms; pageantry is what sets the sport apart from everything else. This year a premium was placed on streamlining the presentation moments so that we keep all of the emotion and tradition but show it at a much quicker pace. The pre-game runnouts have been replaced with music videos that serve as hype pieces for that game, these are much faster than previous year’s intros, but hit all of the key moments you want to see in a pre-game. Once the game kicks off you will see a bunch of improvements to the pacing of the post play scenes, the addition of pre-play chatter that gives the players on the field a more alive feel, the addition of new crowd chants in the form of “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes and “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation, and new playable camera angles to let fans see the field from new perspectives. Commentary also received a big upgrade this year with the addition of Key Player stories and Drive stories. Key Player stories focus on the performance of a star player and their impact on the game. If the star player is having an off day and another player is taking the spotlight the Key Player story can also branch away from the initial player to talk about someone else’s performance. Drive stories focus on talking about how a team has been doing over multiple drives, if they started out hot and have cooled off in the 2nd half the Drive stories will call out that the coach needs to light a fire under the offense to get things back on track. Outside of the game we have done a lot of work to the menus to make them much more responsive and streamlined so that you can navigate them quickly to get you where you want to go.

How will the ESPN Living Game Clock work?

BH: The ESPN Living Game Clock will function just like it does on a real ESPN broadcast. The living gameclock serves as a constant information stream as stat information pops up on post play and pre-play. ESPN implemented this Living Game Clock as a way to minimize the number of banners that they need to display during the game while still providing fans with a steady stream of stat updates from player performance stats, to a team’s run/pass ratio, to a team comparison of turnovers, you will be constantly informed without the need to pause the game to go to a stats screen or have some big bulky banner clutter up the screen.

I read there will be a halftime show complete with highlights, will a post game show with highlights be included as well?

Joining Rece Davis in the studio this year for the new halftime show is David Pollack who calls games with Rece for ESPN’s Thursday night college football broadcasts. In our halftime show Rece and David will give their perspective on the first half action as well as their thoughts on what might be in store in the 2nd half. While Rece and David are breaking down the action there are highlights from the first half as well as stat banners to help reinforce the story of the 1st half of play. Rece and David have a natural chemistry from working with each other in real life and you can hear it in their banter back and forth. We aren’t including a post-game show this year.

Talk to us a little about the addition of the new Infinity Engine 2 for NCAA Football 14. What kind of impact can we expect it to have on the game and how gamers approach playing this year?

I think the biggest impact you will see with the inclusion of the Infinity Engine 2 will be the limitless possibilities for what can happen on a play. Under the old animation system, there was only so much variety that you could see on those impact moments like tackles or stiff arms, now that physics are applied to all of these moments you really get a dynamic look and feel in the game. With the new Force Impact System, where the ballcarrier makes contact with a defender on a stiff arm determines how the defender will react. Punch him in the facemask and his head bends back, hit him in the shoulder and his torso turns accordingly. Gone are the days where a hand just shoots out from a ballcarrier and the defender just falls down. Now you can actually see the ballcarrier’s arm follow the defender to the ground or if he’s a smaller back, you can see the game of hand-checking going on as he’s just trying to keep the defender far enough away so that he can’t make the tackle.

Traditionally, people have shied away from using power backs in NCAA Football as it always seemed to be more advantageous to use a speed back. Will the Force Impact System make using a bruising runner a more fruitful experience?

All I ask is that when you get the game in your hands, find a big back, call a stretch play from I-Form, watch the fullback blow up the linebacker on the lead block and then get into the open field where there’s just a safety by himself. As you are coming up to him either give him the stiff arm or truck him. There are few things in the game more rewarding then watching what happens to that safety when you successfully stiff arm them into the ground or decleat them on a truck stick. On the other hand though, with the new Acceleration Burst mechanic it’s also a lot of fun to take a little back, find that crease and explode through the hole for a big gain too.

In one of the NCAA playbooks, it was mentioned that the hit stick is even more powerful. Will we see more fumbles or injuries in a typical game as a result of this?

Force Impact has allowed us to do some fun tuning to the Hit Stick, and it’s more effective than ever. There’s definitely an opportunity to cause more fumbles, but you still have to time your hits right and catch the runner when he’s not protecting the football.

What kind of changes was made to improve the running game?

BH: As mentioned before, the Infinity Engine 2 goes a long way to improving realism and eliminating legacy issues like the swerve. We’ve also added a ball carrier avoidance animation which will let running backs and scrambling QBs avoid offensive linemen who are engaged in blocks. Since you don’t have to worry about tripping over your own man you can focus more on finding the hole and shedding defenders. The addition of the Infinity Engine 2 and the Force Impact system were huge upgrades for the running game, but those improvements would have fallen flat if there were not also big upgrades made to run blocking. A new targeting system has been implemented which will prevent guys from peeling off at the last second to go after a linebacker that has no impact on the play rather than blocking the safety that’s closing in on the ballcarrier. Additionally each running play has had their blocking assignments updated vs. each front so that the linemen are targeting the correct players at the snap.

There have been improvements made to the CPU ballcarriers as well so that they are more intelligent in their actions. In the past it was not difficult to shut down the CPU’s running game, but this year be prepared to give up some yards if you are not focused on shutting down their attack.

My favorite improvement for the running game though is the upgrades to the option game. Not only did the blocking overhaul help tremendously with running the option, but the entire option system has been overhauled and is an absolute blast to run. There are over 30 new option types including midline options and the shovel option. If you are a fan of Oregon’s up tempo spread option attack or if you want to go old school with an old Wishbone attack the option is where it’s at in this year’s game.



What kind of risk/rewards can we expect to see in the option game this year?

Just like in real life, your success with the option all comes down to your ability to read the unblocked defender and make your decision based on their assignment. In a triple option, if that fullback dive is open feed him all day long to chew up the offense, but once the defensive end crashes down keep the ball and look for the pitch man to make your next decision. Making the correct reads and picking up a big gain is a hugely rewarding feeling. Since the option can be very difficult to run if you don’t know who to read we have called out both the read man and the pitch man during pre-play. You will be able to identify if you are reading the defensive end or the defensive tackled based on the type of option you’ve selected. Head to the new Skills Trainer to master the read option, the triple option and even the new shovel option which gives you two different pitch men on the same play.

Have there been any improvements made to address how the defensive backs react in coverage? In NCAA 13 they didn't cover the vertical routes very well and you could complete them at a high percentage.

There have been a number of changes made to defenders from adjustments in coverage, to better pursuit angles, to adjustments in ratings that will help defenders cover better in NCAA 14.

When the news came out that you guys were able to add Ultimate Team with real players, people got very excited as it didn't seem possible to do this in NCAA. How were you able to accomplish this?

In order for us to get into the Ultimate Team game we wanted to make sure we did it the right way. Since we don’t have the rights to current college players, we reached out and partnered up with our friends at the NFLPA to get access to the 2,500 players. All 126 FBS teams in the game will be supported in Ultimate Team and you will be able to build your Ultimate Team from a pool of all active NFLPA members. Additionally, we have gone out and signed some of the greatest players in college football history as well as a group of players that were phenoms in college but might not have gone to the same level of success in the pros. These Campus Heroes are guys that are very recognizable names to college football fans, and will be guys that we feel fans will be very excited to see as a part of the Ultimate Team.

We're digging that we can play with favorites like Charlie Ward, players who had solid collegiate careers that didn't necessarily translate to the pros. That would seem to be one of the charms of playing this mode.

As we started talking about Ultimate Team being added, those Campus Heroes names were the ones that kept coming up as the people that got people most excited. There’s something about college football, names that are so prominent for the 4 years they are in school often get forgotten quickly as the new crop of stars come in. However, once those names get brought up you are instantly flooded with the memories of their college heroics. Adding these types of guys were key for us to make the NCAA version of Ultimate Team the most compelling version possible.

We're going to assume you guys took care of Kirk Herbstreit ratings wise?

BH:  [Laughs] It’s funny you ask. When we first approached Kirk with the concept he was instantly on board, but right after he agreed to be in the mode he was quick to ask what his ratings would look like. Rest assured, after being a part of the NCAA Football family for over a decade Kirk will be taken care of.

Will there be a true college playoff in Ultimate Team?

Our multiplayer mode is very similar to FIFA’s Head-to-Head Seasons, so you’ll play a 10-game schedule and if you qualify you’ll make it to the 8-team playoff at the end of the season. As you win games and tournaments you’ll be promoted, and the higher your level the more lucrative your rewards for winning.

You boast over 1,400 players, that's quite expansive. Will we see some of the same players in different stages of their collegiate careers?

Yes, you may get a player’s Freshman profile and then later on open up a pack and find his Junior or Senior version. These items are typically higher-rated and represent the player after he had some years on the team and games under his belt. We’ve also got multiple items for players who played multiple positions in college, and yes, we will let a player throw the ball to himself if you have both his QB and WR profiles.

Let’s talk about the dynasty mode, what are some of the new additions being implemented?

Our biggest new features this year are the introduction of Coach Skills and the new Power Recruiting. Coach Skills lets you focus on the traits you feel are most important for a college football coach. So as you complete goals and earn points you can level up various recruiting or game management abilities, and each skill can be improved up to 3 times before it maxes out. This isn’t tied just to players though, as CPU coaches will also gain skills, and what they do changes every time you start a Dynasty. On the Recruiting front, phone calls are gone. Instead you’re now given a pool of points that you can spend on hopefuls however you see fit. Your point allocation carries over from week-to-week, so you can easily keep things the same if you want, or quickly shift points around to go after specific recruits extra-hard. The whole system of scouting and recruiting is just as deep and immersive as ever, but now it’s quicker and easier to set your recruiting board and get back to playing games.

Is 12 still the maximum allowed number of users in online dynasty?

Yes, the maximum number of users allowed in an online dynasty is 12.

What improvements have been made to the online website and will the supersim feature be part of the standard options?

The Online Dynasty website (easports.com/dynasty) has been updated to reflect the changes to recruiting, so you will be able to utilize the web to either set your recruiting points or adjust them from week to week without booting up the console. As for the supersim feature, in an effort to streamline our efforts and due to low usage by fans, we have decided to discontinue this feature for NCAA Football 14.

How has recruitment been handled this year especially in relation to the impact of a particular school's pitches and its effectiveness?

With the shift to the new Power Recruiting system we knew that we needed to find a way to keep those dynamic school pitches as an integral part of the recruiting experience. The main way that those pitches have an impact are through the bonus points that are applied to each prospect on your recruiting board each week. With each school having approximately the same number of points to distribute from week to week (depending on the coach’s skills) these bonus points are what separates the big dogs from everyone else. Alabama is going to have the advantage that Alabama has because there are very few things that they can’t offer a prospect.

The other way the school pitches play an impact is through a new feature called “Dealbreakers”. Some prospects care so much about a particular pitch that if you’re school’s grade isn’t up to snuff you won’t be able to add them to your recruiting board. If a player you really want has locked you out, focus on getting that pitch grade improved so that you can start recruiting him. If your “dealbreaker” grade dips below the prospect’s cutoff then you will not be able to earn bonus points for that prospect until you get that grade back up. So if there’s a 5-star QB who’s dealbreaker is academics, a school like Duke is in the elite company of schools that has a shot at getting that blue chipper on campus.

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