Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why I can't love (or even really like) Madden Ultimate Team

I rarely sit down at my computer and make my main mission to write about something I don't like or complain about something. Don't get me wrong, I do both of those things but usually as a consequence of being a person on the internet. This time I am sitting down to do both at the same time.

I don't like Madden Ultimate Team. Not only is FIFA Ultimate Team better in almost every regard but I can't even begin to understand why people like MUT. It's that bad.
So far I've mainly talked about narrative games here. I'm not only about narrative games. I actually really enjoy playing Madden, FIFA, and I'd like to learn how to play the NHL game. I decided to sit down yesterday and today and try really hard to get really into MUT. I'm already a big fan of FUT so I thought they might go together like different sides of the sports-called-football coin. They do not. At all.

For those who don't know, Madden Ultimate Team is a trading card based fantasy mode for Madden. In Ultimate Team you try to do just that, create the ultimate football team. This is achieved by earning coins and spending them (or real money) on packs. This is exactly like you remember the days of collectible trading cards games. You open those packs, take the cards to your line up and try to make the best time you can.

I've played MUT before in past versions but have never been particularly impressed with how it came together.

So how does it all go wrong (for me at least)? The user interface is completely awful. When I was a kid and collected Pokemon cards the user interface was my living room floor and some binders. Physical cards have the advantage of existing in three dimensional space. Video game card games don't have that so they must have good to great UI in order to be playable. What makes a good user interface? A way to compare all of my cards and sort them, clear instructions on what is necessary to have in my deck (read: lineup), ability to quickly move between stored cards and active ones and move those cards, ability to compare cards at a glance, and a place to buy/sell/trade (an auction house) that clearly states the current bid, the time remaining and a few other quick bits of information. I also need one big home screen to tie it all together.

Madden tries (badly) have these things. First let me start with that home screen. Madden Ultimate Team has four tabs which break down into play a game, manage your cards, buy packs, and auction house. The play a game tab is my favorite because everything works and is pretty straight forward. The other three are kind of a mess.

The manage your cards tab essentially breaks down in three major components, the cards you'd like to play with, the cards you have on reserve, and something called collections. Collections are sets of specific cards which can be "turned in" for bonuses, mainly in game currency and packs, a good way to do away with cards that you might otherwise have no use for. Now moving these cards around is problematic to say the least. To move something to collections it must be in active cards, it cannot be in reserves, this is also true vice versa. A card in reserve can be moved up to active but the game does not show you which cards are active. Should I move by 80 rated running back to active? Well first I'd have to exit one menu and open another and then if I should I have to close that and reopen another. Accidentally send a card to your collections? Close active, open collections, find the card, then send it back to active, close collections and then open active again. Sound complicated? Sound tedious? That's because it is.

But once you have created a good "deck" it's pretty easy to set a lineup. The game shows you the best available active cards for each position. So lets say I decide to start that RB I moved from reserve to active. Open up lineup, make the change. Easy. However, what about the guy he replaced? Well he's on the bench but surely he had a back up who is no longer needed, a back up who could go into my collection. When setting your lineup you cannot send cards to collections even though they are active so I need to close my lineup, open the active cards menu, find the card, and then send him to my pending collection. Complicated and tedious, this process is made worse by the fact that I cannot see my depth chart. I don't know which places can be collected and which I need to fill up my roster.

Well when I finally have Mr. Benchwarmer in my collection I need to find his collection. The game does not help in this process and not all cards can be collected. I've been trying to find a use for all these extra uniforms I have and I'm pretty sure they cannot be collected. So let's say he's a 3rd string Atlanta Falcons running back. I have to find the Atlanta collection and then add him to it from pending. Easy enough for one card, lets say I sent over 10 cards as a batch. I have to dig through and find all of the collections for all the cards. There is no function that finds homes for all the cards in your pending collection. If Mr. Benchwarmer had already been collected I'd need to send him back to my active cards in order to sell him in the auction house or do anything else with him.

Selling cards is stupidly difficult as well. Even though they can be quick sold, its usually better to auction them to see if you can make some more coins. At least on the PS3, instead of a simple odometer type price selection, its an input from a line of numbers that is taken from a keyboard. That is not helpful to quickly sell considering how far every number is from zero. Almost any idiotic number can be entered, even though points are earned almost universally in "100"s.

Buying them is strangely worse. The action house is not intelligently sorted to begin with. Let's say I want to buy a new stadium or a head coach. I can search by very specific criteria, a huge plus, but the auction house sorts the items almost randomly. It's very difficult to compare stats in this screen and keep track of the time remaining and the price. Also, the time remaining for auctions is days-hours-minutes. Much to my confusion. Now I have money locked up in an auction that won't finish till Thursday.

In a vacuum these systems are pretty okay at best, when they suddenly need to function together it's a nightmare. The store is no better. There are two prices of packs. Pro packs can be bought for 7500 coins or $2 and bad packs can be bought for 2000 coins. I've played a good number of solo matches and a few online matches and I've been able to afford maybe pro packs, they're not cheap. A more cost effective way is to spend real money to buy several packs all at once. I understand card collecting is pay to play but this is sort of absurd how expensive a pack is. I've never needed to spend real money in FUT to but together an amazing squad, just currency I've earned by playing.

Once you open a pack the cards can be sent to either your active or your reserve, not collections. I don't understand why there are all these firewalls between the sections. A card should be able to go to collections from reserve. Furthermore, if I have a card and I sort through the collection, the game should notify me.

FIFA Ultimate Team has a lot more going for it. There is still some clumsiness moving cards from storage to active but it's not a big deal. Packs are tiered and reasonably priced, there's numerous online and offline matches that can be played. If you're bidding for an item the game notifies you if you've been outbid. Also, a card can be moved from any menu to any other applicable menu without needing to jump around. There's also a web application that allows you to buy, sell, and trade cards. Also, from there you can adjust your squad and move things around. Having a mouse is a massive boon here and I don't know why Madden doesn't. EA has tons of money and Madden is a giant money making operation, why can't make a system at least slightly worse than FIFA as opposed to entirely worse.

I'm going to try and stick it out and see if my feelings change but there's just so much wrong with MUT I don't see it happening.

I'd love for people to explain to me if I'm doing something wrong. I consider myself pretty good at games but I'd really like some help if I'm just doing things wrong. If there's something I'm missing or people would like to explain MUT to me I'd love to hear it.

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