White has been an assistant designer with EA Sports for the past four years, where his main focus has been the creation of the strikingly accurate Madden playbook. So when you drop back to pass this season with Jay Cutler from the shotgun on third and long and check down to a streaking Juaquin Iglesias across the middle for a first down, go ahead and pat yourself on the back, but be sure to give thanks to Mr. White for designing such a perfect play.
White was kind enough to take some time in the middle of the development process for the forthcoming Madden 10 (to be released Aug. 14) to answer a few of our questions about this year's edition of the most popular sports video game of all time -- and what it's like to have the coolest job in the universe.
Sports Pros(e): Where are you from, and when did you start playing Madden football?
Anthony White: I'm originally from Oakland, MS which is a small town located about 45 minutes south of Memphis. I started playing Madden NFL in 1991 when the game was first released on the SEGA Genesis console and I've been a diehard player ever since.
AW: This was something I wanted to do even before I was hired. I have a small coaching background so obviously I've always had an interest in the X's and O's aspects of the game of football and my current role affords me the opportunity to work in an area that I'm passionate about.
SP: What type of skill set did you bring with you to EA Sports when you started working on the playbook -- how much football and computer programming knowledge did you need going into it?
AW: I coached youth league football and was a player/volunteer coach for three seasons with a semi-pro team when I got out of the military in 1997. I actually have an IT background, but from the hardware side of things. Before I was hired, I was working fulltime as a computer maintenance technician, and on the side I built custom computers and did general repair work for family and friends.
I'm not a programmer in any form or fashion as we already have some extremely talented software engineers in place that I work with on a daily basis. I still have an interest in coaching and computer gadgets/gizmos, but for now I'm enjoying my time working here at EA SPORTS.
SP: What's a typical day for you like this time of year when you guys are making final tweaks to the game?
AW: A typical day depends on what part of the game's development cycle we're in. Early on in the cycle I can spend as much as eight to nine hours a day breaking down game film. This time of the year though I spend a good chunk of time fixing any bugs that might come up in my area of the game. I also spend a good bit of time fine tuning the play call logic for the CPU controlled teams in order to get them to play similar to their real life counterpart.
SP: Talk to me about the Wildcat offense, which will debut in this year's edition. I read over at ESPN that you "nailed it." What was the process like in developing this?
AW: Before last season began we had already made plans to add new handoff animations for the Wildcat to be used in our other football title "NCAA Football". We have game film of the Arkansas Razorbacks Wildcat offense with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and we'd already identified specifically what we needed in order to make the Wildcat work smoother in our game. When David Lee (Arkansas' former offensive coordinator) was hired by the Dolphins last offseason, Larry Richart (our other playbook designer) and I actually discussed the possibility of the Dolphins using the Wildcat with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. When they used it against the Patriots in Week 3 of the NFL season it was very cool to see. Each of the plays that we had seen on the Arkansas game film they ran in that game.
When the game film of that Dolphins/Patriots game arrived at my desk the following week, we started making plans for adding the Wildcat to Madden NFL. There were some details with it that we had to properly design out mostly dealing with the unbalanced line with the left tackle aligned where the tight end would normally be. As I alluded to earlier we already had the Wildcat in our college football title, but in that version of it the left tackle and the tight end are aligned in their normal spots. That would be an illegal formation in the NFL since the left tackle is not covered by a tight end or split end to his outside. So we had to build a Wildcat formation from scratch specifically for Madden NFL.
<<< Some of Anthony's handiwork.
It was fun seeing the Wildcat through the design phase from concept to its implementation into the game. There's a perception right or wrong that we can just draw up a play and it magically appears in game working the same as it does in real life. There's a lot of planning that goes on amongst the design staff, software engineers, animators, and mo-cap talent to bring it all together. It really was a total group effort with many talented individuals playing a role.
SP: It seems like it could become a popular but potentially overused set for players this season. What were some of the challenges in creating it and which teams will run it?
AW: We're putting some measures in place to ensure it is balanced. We'll obviously monitor all community feedback concerning its use and if need be we'll respond accordingly.
It was actually a fairly smooth process to get it up and working properly in game. Much of the groundwork needed for it was quickly put into place. We just needed to polish it up a bit which we did. Anytime you introduce something new and for lack of a better term "exotic" to the game, you're bound to have a few hiccups along the way, but nothing we can't come up with a viable solution for.
As for other teams that will have a Wildcat set in their playbook, we're holding off on that for now, but other teams will have their own unique version of it with the correct player taking the snap.
SP: What's your bread and butter play? (I'm a huge fan of running slants because it makes me feel like I know what I'm doing when I check down to my No. 2 receiver. I'm also a fan of any play that sends a tight end on a drag across the middle ... by the way)
AW: Speaking of slant routes, I'm a San Francisco 49ers' fan and I grew up a big fan of the west coast offense. I tend to lean on those west coast offense concepts such as Y-Stick, Flanker Drive, Spacing, Curl Combo, and the aforementioned slants. Basically, the quick short rhythm passing game that keeps the chains moving is my preferred style of play.
SP: Have you ever drawn something up that was a bit too creative? Something the developers said 'no' to?
AW: We really don't have many (if any at all) issues like that come up. We plan ahead and communicate outwards with all stakeholders any plans we might have for something that's a bit too "creative" if you will. As I mentioned earlier when discussing the Wildcat, many times there might be a type of play or series of plays that we'll want to add to the game, but depending on the play's complexity it will more than likely require others getting involved to make it happen, namely our engineers and animators. If it requires assistance from our engineers and animators, then my boss needs to be kept up to date on our plans and what the potential risks for adding it are. Outside of that though we do have full autonomy when it comes to adding new formations and plays to the game.
SP: It seems like from year to year there aren't many dramatic changes to the playbooks -- how do you keep things fresh and updated while not veering too much and angering some of the devoted fans who are expecting a certain level of consistency?
AW: Last year for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Madden NFL 09 we added 31 new formations and over 800 new plays. That was a fairly sizeable update. For Madden NFL 10 we're doing likewise with even more team specific formations and plays that only those teams will have. Some examples of this would be the Colts now having a singleback set that has their tight end Dallas Clark aligned in the slot by default, the Saints shotgun empty stack formation, the Ravens unbalanced shotgun trips formation, or the Chiefs now having the Pistol formation in their playbook. All of this is in addition to the Wildcat that we discussed earlier in which other teams will have their own unique version of it. We try our best to push the envelope each year when it comes to making sure our team playbooks are authentic. We obviously can't put everything we see a team do on film into that team's playbook, but we try to squeeze as much in as we can within our memory constraints.
SP: What about your research process -- I hear you've obtained black market versions of teams' playbooks to make Madden even more realistic? What are some other ways you nail down teams' offenses?
AW: The playbooks we've acquired are used more so for reference. We use them if we need to check something related to a scheme we see on film, learning the different terminology that's used from team to team, and for studying the various coaching points for each position in a given play. It's one thing to see it on the game film, but it's another thing to gain insight into the minute details of how a given team coaches it
The best resource that we use for building the team playbooks in Madden NFL is the game film the NFL provides us with each week during the season. This is the exact same game film that each team in the league uses for studying their upcoming opponents, reviewing their last game, and it's also used for instructional purposes in team and position meetings. We also have at our disposal a video editing suite that's also provided by the NFL which allows us to quickly and efficiently find the video cutups that we need.
So for example if I want to look at all of the Bears 3rd and 10 or more passes in the 4th quarter from the shotgun (they had seven last season), I can use the video software to load those video cutups for me in a matter of seconds. I can then analyze, create, test, and tune those plays for the Bears playbook in Madden NFL. We can also perform player specific searches like the number of Matt Forte runs over ten yards (he had 24). It's a powerful tool and it really allows us be much more efficient in our film study.
SP: When you play -- who's your team? Are you a franchise type of guy, or do you like to play online? Both?
AW: I go back and forth with a bunch of different teams really. I tend to gravitate towards the 49ers to see if I can restore their great tradition of a winning franchise. I play franchise more so than online, but I do get online from time to time to check out what's going on in the online world.
SP: What are the best and worst parts of your job?
AW: The part I enjoy the most is getting to talk to the NFL coaches and picking their brains about schemes, matchups, and talking football in general. Rex Ryan, who's now the head coach of the Jets, was one of my favorites to talk to. He's all football and has a very good sense of humor. I think he'll do a great job with the Jets.
Watching and breaking down game film would rank a close second as my favorite part of the job. My least favorite part of the job doesn't have anything to do with the job itself; it's the morning rush hour traffic. Anyone who's been to Orlando and driven in I-4 traffic during rush hour would probably agree with that. Once I'm in the office I'm good though.