John Madden Football is the first game in the now multi-billion dollar video game series. First released on June 1st 1988 on the Apple II computer and later in 1989 on the Commodore 64 and MS-DOS, this game shows its age. The game first greets you with a jarring sound clip that is fuzzy and distorted. As you boot up the game you first see John Madden, mouth wide open busting through a chalkboard with a sound that features 3 noises, someone getting tackled, a high pitched scream, and then cheering.

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The main menu gives you three options, the two arrows on the left, play, and chalkboard. The two arrows allow you to look at stats and to replay the opening if you want to listen to the death scream and cheering again. The play option lets you start playing a football game. Under the chalkboard (this is where I spent most of my time) you can look at play books, create your own plays, and even create your own team. Below is an example of what a defensive play looks like.

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Despite its primitive appearance, this create a play system has a lot of depth to it. You can click and move each player on the field, you can change formations and defensive assignments (gap control, man to man, zone, etc.). All of this can be done for offensive plays as well.

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Once you have developed a play book that you are satisfied with, you can save it or print it. Being able to save a bunch of custom made plays to a floppy disk which you bring to a friend’s house to upload to his game is a cool feature, especially for the late 80’s.

After I finished messing around with the create a play feature I went to play an actual game. There is a quick game and a standard game option. The quick game offers a more arcade fast experience while the standard game allows you to use created plays, look at stats, and play more methodically. Once you chose to play a game you are given several options to modify your game experience. You can change the quarter length, field conditions (hot, rain, cold and windy, and snow), and you have the ability to turn on/off the features of fatigue, penalties, announcer, cross hair passing, and 30 second clock. I changed the field conditions and besides making the game harder to play, it didn’t change the appearance. The field is still green and the weather looks sunny no matter what weather condition is chosen.

Each play starts off with a fuzzy “hut hut!” sound and all of the players begin to move. On running plays the screen  freezes after the ball is snapped and the player on offense who is supposed to get the ball is highlighted and then the play continues. On pass plays the quarter back drops back, chooses a wide receiver and throws the ball. When the ball travels through the air the screen zooms out to show the entire field. The players look like little red and blue dots as the oversized football travels towards its target. When the ball gets closer to the reciever, the game zooms back in. This zoom out, zoom in feature is used on kicking plays as well.

I am not good at this game.

It is difficult to maneuver and most of the time I just let the game play itself on defense. This strategy was not effective as I got burned for a 81 yard touchdown pass. I picked a blitz defense, which lead to the wide receiver being left wide open after a quick play action pass.

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I experienced even more difficulty on offense. The 2 frames per second action takes some getting used too. My best play was a 35 yard pass play on my second drive.

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If I said that I played an entire game to its conclusion I would be lying. I couldn’t grasp the controls and with 22 pixellated players on the screen, it can be difficult to predict where everyone is going to go. After completing a game you can look at your stats using the double arrow icon on the main menu. You can save and print your stats to show your buddies how well you played.

This game did not have the NFL of NFL PA license so it couldn’t legally use any of the team or player names. The designers had some creative ideas to get around this limitation making 7 original teams. The team names are the Blitzers (Chicago Bears), Eighters (San Francisco 49ers), Ringers (Pittsburg Steelers), Oakland (Raiders), Vice Squad (Miami Dolphins), the All-Madden team (had the best players in the game on its roster) and the All-Timers (the golden age legends). Each team had several player names that are easy to figure who they are representing. Joe Idaho (Joe Montana) is on the Eighters, and Sweetness (Walter Payton) is on the Blitzers.

My two favorite rosters are the All-Madden and All-Timer teams. Every player on both teams represent a real actual player.

The All-Madden team:

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The All-Timer team:

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Overall I am impressed with this game. I could barely play the actual game but early simulation games, especially sports, were not great. They had to start somewhere and I have definitely played worse sports games than this one (Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball). The best aspects of this game are the ones that dont involve gameplay. Creating plays, creating teams, adjusting rosters, studying stats, those are all features that still exist in Madden today. The simulation is very much a part of even the first installment of this series. This isn’t an arcadey sports game like many of the games at the time, it is the real deal. John Madden Football created a strong foundation for the series to be built upon.

Release Date: 6-1-1988

Consoles: Apple II, Commodore 64, MS-DOS

Developer: Electronic Arts

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Cover Athlete: John Madden

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