It's important all the same, though. Without it, we wouldn't have Madden, we'd just have a football simulation. This isn't any old football game, it's John Madden's football game, and that means something to our customers. Madden's face and voice are a key part of the experience even if they don't affect the gameplay. That's the part I create. Most of John's color commentary consists of whole sentences, chunks of audio that are played whenever circumstances merit it. After each play the software checks to see if one of a long list of events has occurred, from most important (a score) down to least. If one has, it plays a suitable audio clip for the most important event. For example, if a receiver was wide open when he caught a pass, John might say, "The defense had better find some way of stopping that, or they're gonna run it all day." Then that remark will be checked off the list and won't be played again for a while so the players don't get tired of hearing it. For each event there are usually five or six clips that the software chooses from at random.
Madden's face and voice are a key part of the experience.
Pat Summerall's play-by-play is considerably more complicated because it's full of names and numbers. We're perfecting a technique that I pioneered at my previous job, assembling sentences on the fly out of fragments. In order to make this sound natural, the inflection has to be just right in each fragment. You can't get that by recording the fragments individually; you have to record each one in the context of a complete sentence, then cut away the extraneous material afterwards using a waveform editor. But as people speak they tend to slur their words together, and this can create problems when we're trying to cut up the audio. In order to create a distinct break between the part we want and the rest of the sentence, we make sure that the last consonant before the beginning of the fragment and the first consonant after the end of it is a T or a K-sound. For example, if we want to record the fragment, "Ball on the…", we'll record it by having Pat say "Ball on the two yard line." If we had him say "Ball on the nine yard line" the word "the" would slur into the word "nine" and we wouldn't get a clean cut. Similarly, if we had him say "Ball on the eight yard line," Pat would pronounce "the" as THEE rather than THUH, which wouldn't work with the other numbers. This occasionally means writing some odd sentences, but the odd parts will never be heard. Only the needed fragments will be used, and if we do it right no one should be able to tell that they're fragments at all when we actually hear them in the game. All the customers should hear is seamless, uninterrupted play-by-play. That's the theory, anyway.
In addition to the game itself, the PC version will have a second CD full of "football stuff." PC players tend to be older and demand more for their money than console players, so the previous year we created something called Madden University. We'll have a little movie about each team that discusses their prospects for the coming year. I've written the voiceover narration for this, and Madden will record it in the audio booth. I'll be spending the rest of the spring and summer looking through hours and hours of footage from NFL Films to select the best clips to illustrate it.
We're also trying something new this year: recording Madden while he uses the Telestrator, the device that lets him draw on the video image during games. The Telestrator is very much a part of Madden's on-air persona, and we wanted to get it into the game somehow. He'll use it to explain basic football terms: zone defense, trap plays and so on. We'll record his explanations in the audio booth. Capturing video from the Telestrator is much easier than a full-scale shoot because we can send its output directly to videotape. For that part of the work we won't need the cameras, lighting, Ultimatte, and all the people that go with them.
It's now 10 AM. Pat and John are dressed and they come in to take their places, side by side in chairs in front of the green screen. We're already half an hour behind, but I've built in a margin for delays and we're well within it. We make a last few lighting tweaks, and I go around to check that everything is where it needs to be. Even though I'm nominally the boss, when I'm not actually directing I find that my real role is to make sure that everyone else has whatever they need to do their jobs properly. For example, I make certain that the wardrobe and makeup ladies can sit where they can clearly see the talent. If Pat or John starts to sweat a little under all the lights, the makeup lady will dart in and put some powder on his head so that it won't shine, and the wardrobe lady will straighten their collars and ties occasionally. She tells me she's never had a producer get her a chair before, but I want everything to be as easy as possible for everyone.
I think we're set. Pat and John each has something to drink (out of shot, of course) and the crew are in place. I take up my position, standing slightly behind and to one side of the camera, then make a final roll call. "Video?" "Ready," comes a voice from somewhere behind all the lights and cables, echoing slightly in the vastness of the studio. "Audio?" "Ready." "Teleprompter?" "Ready," and so on down the line. As they would say at NASA, we have a green board.
"Quiet please, everyone. Roll tape."
"Rolling tape…we have speed."
I've got my script in one hand, one eye on a preview monitor and another on Pat and John themselves. After months of work, it's the moment of truth. Deep breath.
Pat: Well, John, it's the beginning of a brand-new NFL season, and our eighteenth year broadcasting together.
John: Yeah, this is the greatest feeling, Pat. Everybody's excited. The teams are here, the fans are here, and it's a whole new beginning. It doesn't get any better than this.
Production of Madden NFL Football was transferred out of the Redwood City office of Electronic Arts in the summer of 1999, and with it my job. However, I saw it coming, and on August 2nd I took up a new position as lead game designer for Bullfrog Productions in Guildford, Great Britain… on a product that had nothing whatsoever to do with football.
In February of 2002, Fox Sports refused to renew Pat Summerall's contract, breaking up the famous team that had broadcast together for 21 years. Madden immediately left to join "ABC Monday Night Football" with Al Michaels, where he says he wants to remain for the rest of his career.
Thanksgiving doesn't fall on a Monday, so he's eaten his last six-legged turkey.