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Box Score: E3 2012: Sports powerhouses strut their stuff

“The E3 feedback for Madden NFL 13 has been fantastic,” said the game’s Executive Producer Roy Harvey. “With the announcements of the new Infinity Engine and our Connected Careers mode, the fans definitely feel that the franchise is back in a big way this year.”

Of course, with Connected Careers being such a massive addition, there was – and still is – some confusion about a lot of the details, causing many Madden staffers to take to webcasts, blogs, and Twitter accounts to answer questions. Naturally, some details have come out that were unexpected (such as the inability to edit players in the Connected Careers mode) but with any update so large, certain options will become obsolete or unsupportable in the interim based on the timeframes available to the team.

So what’s the deal? Why are some popular but relatively long-in-the-tooth franchises generating such buzz?

For starters, the long console cycle we’re in has provided a level of platform stability that’s never been experienced. Development teams are intimately familiar with console infrastructure, which has allowed them to dive deeper into core gameplay than has ever been practical. That’s why we’re now seeing things like physics and momentum across the board; in every previous generation, we’d have moved on to newer (and more unfamiliar) technology by now.

Another key component, unfortunately, is the attrition of the genre. Almost every sports franchise left standing is a profit center, which allows for major investment in people and resources. As we’ve seen and heard, profitable games are now benefitting with larger team sizes and technology expenditures. On the other hand, those that aren’t – such as the MLB 2K and UFC series – are left to wither and die or be sold at a loss to the highest bidder.

While the fall of 2012 looks promising, there are a few concerns coming out of the show. A half-complete version of NBA Live 13 has raised some nervous eyebrows, especially considering the powerhouse competition of NBA 2K13. Plenty of time remains between now and its October release, of course, so I’m not pushing the panic button just yet.

However, when it comes to the Vita, I’m mashing that panic button like a maniac. As an unabashed fan of Sony’s handheld, I was crushed by the lack of support shown to sports by Sony – especially since it’s one of the best ways to showcase the hardware. Other than scaled-down versions of Madden NFL 13 and FIFA 13, the rest of this year appears barren.

Overall, even better times appear on the horizon for sports fans in the twilight of our current console era. While there have been – and will continue to be – bumps along the way, E3 2012 proved that the near-term future appears quite bright.