At 80, John Madden is still helping to make Madden 17

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With Gridiron legend John Madden having retired from commentating on American football in 2009 – and been swapped out of his own videogame earlier that same season – many fans, myself included, have long assumed that his role in making EA’s NFL series these days, such as Madden 17, is a purely ambassadorial one.

Not for the first time, ‘many fans’ are wrong.  

It transpires that the 1977 Super Bowl champ and Pro Football Hall Of Famer remains in semi-regular contact with the team, and still helps to shape changes to the game – such as this year’s reworked special teams plays. “Last year, we got a call from John Madden himself where he said, 'guys, the PAT is under review, it’s going to be a 33-yard kick now,'” executive producer Seann Graddy tells GamesRadar+ during a behind-the-scenes tour of developer Tiburon. “And it’s going to change the game. The knock-on effect it that we knew we had to change the kick mechanic this year to make it more of a challenge, just like in the real NFL.” 

The big boss man had a similar effect on one of Madden 16’s biggest features. “Last year we showed up [to a meeting with Madden] and said, we’re adding new catch types, and one of the catch types we’re adding is called ‘YAC’. He’s like, ‘what’s a YAC?' And we reply,’ it stands for ‘Yards After Catch’. And he says, “no, it’s a RAC – Run After Catch. And I know this because I’m the one who coined it on broadcast TV!” So we ultimately changed that terminology based on what he said.

“We go up to see him at least once a year, show him the design, and he gives us feedback,” continues Graddy. “And then we’re on the phone with him two or three times a year. When he wants something changed, or knows something’s about to happen like the new PATs, he’ll call us direct. If he’s got a strong opinion about something, we’re going to listen very intently. He knows football like no other man I have ever met.”

You can read detailed impressions of Madden 17 – including a closer look at those new special teams plays – as part my extended look around at the Orlando-based developer.

Madden 17 is out on PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360 on 23 August.   

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