The release date of Madden NFL 21 is fast approaching, and football and video game fans alike have been eager to see what the new game will bring. One of the biggest - and most rumored-about - additions to the game has been "The Yard", a new gameplay mode that would provide a completely different kind of virtual experience. Last week, EA officially confirmed that the game mode would be arriving in Madden 21 -- and now we have an indication of what that will entail. ComicBook.com recently got to be part of an early preview event for the game, and even try out a couple of matches in The Yard.
The new game mode throws many of the mechanics of Madden into a whole new context, allowing fans to play smaller-scale games in settings outside of traditional NFL stadiums. As the name would suggest, The Yard is trying to capture the energy of a game of backyard football -- but with a few twists that Madden veterans and newbies alike will surely enjoy. So, what can you expect from The Yard in Madden 21? Keep reading to find out, and share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
The Yard takes many of the staples of a typical Madden game into new territory -- a 6 v. 6 iron man football game, as opposed to the traditional rules and regulations of a 12 v. 12 NFL-like game. In order to properly capture the energy of those smaller games, the game field has been shortened to 80 yards by 40 yards, with first downs being awarded after a player passes the 20-yard markers. As those working behind-the-scenes at Madden NFL 21 explained, their goal was to create a game mode where the ball is constantly moving, and players are expected to take on multiple roles over the course of a game.
"If you think about lots of other sports, all the players are expected to play offense and defense," developer JP Kellams explained. "But in football, offensive and defensive players are very separate. By doing iron man, you play on both sides of the bowl. We create that offensive and defensive dynamic. That really makes you rethink how you play the game."
When it comes to the gameplay itself, there are some other changes, including the instigating of a "one Mississippi"-style Pass Timer, and the ability to perform Double Passes and multiple snaps. The goal with these additions was not only to move the gameplay forward, but to create a visual experience unlike what Madden fans might be used to, with a slew of unique, custom animations helping bring those moves to life.
While there is a bit of a learning curve in terms of the mechanics of The Yard (which you can read more about at length here), even the newest of Madden players will be able to quickly get a grasp on the game. Even if you occasionally flub or make a bad decision during a game, the fast-paced nature of it all will allow you to quickly try out something new.prevnext
At launch, The Yard will have four different fields available, with plans to release more over the course of the Madden season. Each field will offer a series of unique challenges for fans to accomplish, as well as a completely different aesthetic.
This includes F.O.B. Nico, a Forward Operating Base in an undisclosed location that provides a sort of NFL Combine-like experience.
"The players that hang out and play here are stars from the NFL combine that have done really amazing things, Kellams explained. "The challenges that you'll face are more about offensive and defensive drills."
There's also Miami Port, which sets out to celebrate South Florida football with a bit of flair -- and an interesting catch.
"All of the players that hang out there have ties to South Florida, from Lamar Jackson, to University of Miami's Frank Gore, And the house rule there is that everything is First and Goal," Kellams revealed. "So you have one drive, no first downs to make it to the end zone."
There's also the Lambeau Tailgate, which will focus on games between Packers stars and NFC North Rivals.
And rounding out the initial launch is at Brandenburg Football Festival, which is situated in front of the iconic Brandenburg Gate in Germany.
"All of the Pro Bowl stars and all pros from the NFL have shown up in Berlin," Kellams added. "It's one of our hardest locations to play... but it's also a bunch of fun."
From the get-go, each of these four fields brings a wildly different kind of experience along with them, and players are sure to gravitate towards their favorites as they play more rounds in The Yard.prevnext
One of the biggest draws of The Yard is sure to be its customization, with thousands of individual pieces of gear - including 2,000 pieces just at launch - for fans to unlock as they play and earn Cred. These will include unique visors, helmets, jerseys, pants, and more, all of which are a bit more visually dynamic than you'd expect from a traditional football uniform.
"You get to put all of the coolest gear on your character," Kellams explained. "They've been designing this gear as kind of capsule collections, how you would think about fashion."
"I think integrating a lot of the apparel and vanity into the mode is going to be really exciting," craft designer Frank DiPinto added. "When you see professional sports now being the runway for such amazing fashion driven by these athletes and their personalities, it's an opportunity for us to go outside of that 11 v. 11 mode and showcase some really interesting capsules and cool patterns."
Given how popular character customization has been in games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and (most recently) Fall Guys, and how much sartorial flair the real-life NFL has grown to have, this level of player expression seems like a pretty perfect fit for Madden 21. The Yard will also provide multiple ways to earn that Cred, including leveling up your Prototype (which we will get to in a minute), unlocking challenges at specific venues, or leveling up in an overall season.prevnext
Then there's the nature of exactly how you dive into The Yard, which has a wealth of interesting possibilities in and of itself. At the beginning of each match, you'll be asked to pick a Prototype, which will determine the type of gameplay your character brings into the field. Each of these Prototypes are based on existing and past NFL stars, and will provide a sort of indication of how your avatar will move throughout the game. But given the nature of iron man football - and the fact that players have to play both offense and defense - these Prototypes aren't pigeonholed to one specific position, allowing for some interesting strategy choices as you play.
Each Prototype comes with a unique X-Factor that can be utilized on the field, and will also feature a series of Skill Points to level up and unlock, which benefits the player on both an offensive and defensive level. There are also Abilities to slot into your Prototypes' states, which can be unlocked both by leveling up your roster of Prototypes, or by playing Face of the Franchise: Rise to Fame.
For more casual Madden players, the Prototype feature might be a little overwhelming at first -- but it soon becomes one of the most intriguing aspects of playing in The Yard. And even if you gravitate towards a specific kind of Prototype, the game incentivizes you to try out all of them.
"We don't want you to fall in love with a single prototype," Kellams added. "We want you to have a big binder full of them that are all powered up. Because when you're playing a multiplayer game, you don't know what position you're going to be able to line up on in the field. Somebody might've already taken quarterback. And so you might need to have a good wide receiver prototype, or you might need to have a good running back prototype, or a great safety prototype, to fit into the game that you're going to play. Prototype progression is really important in this realm."
That progression will also include earning XP, even if you don't ultimately win a particular match.
"For each game, win or lose, you're going to be earning XP against your prototype so you can keep powering them up," Kellams shared. "We never want to penalize you working on your game. So you're always going to be powering up your prototype."prevnext
Once you choose your Prototype, you need to build a team around it -- and The Yard provides two different ways to do so. The first is an automatically-assigned team, which already establishes players for you based on a plethora of NFL stars. There is also the option to do a sort of "backyard draft", allowing you and your opponent to choose each team member.
These additional players will fill an interesting role within games of The Yard, as the game's focus remains on your custom avatar, whether you're playing a 6 v. 6 game against the AI, or a multiplayer game with another Madden player.
"So every single play you're going to start with your avatar is a player that you have highlighted," Kellams explained. "And in multiplayer games, you're only going to be able to control the crew that came with your avatar. And so in a single-player, head to head game, that's all six people on the field. But if you're playing 2 v. 2, you only get to control two other players for a total of three. And in 3 v. 3, it's you and your NFL buddy that you've brought onto the field with you."
While the idea of splitting a 6 v. 6 game into three players maximum might seem a bit unconventional, Kellams revealed that it was chosen for the nature of the gameplay.
"We felt after a bunch of iteration trying that 3 v. 3 was actually really a sweet spot, especially with the crew control, because it means that almost every player is involved in every single play," Kellams revealed. "You're never really sitting around watching a play inside of the yard. You're always involved with the ball constantly moving. It means that you have a lot of choice in how you play the game. It's really important to play that way.prevnext
Another highlight of The Yard will be its ability to be played on multiple platforms, as those who have discovered "The Yard: Underground" on the Madden NFL 21 mobile app have already seen. Since the mode will be available on multiple platforms, your avatar and gear, as well as your earned currency, will be able to be accessed no matter where you play. However, some features will only be available on mobile, on a console, or otherwise.
"Premium currency, because of restrictions, is unique to each platform," Kellams revealed. "But your avatar, who you are, and your gear collection - that closet of amazing gear that you've accumulated - are shared between platforms. Since the [modes] are different [between mobile and HD], we know that you might want to look different on each one of those places. So your loadout, and how you wear that gear, is unique to each platform."prevnext
While there's still some time until the official unveiling of Madden NFL 21, those working on The Yard are especially excited to see how the Madden community is brought together by the mode.
"I'm most excited to see everybody hitting the 'record that' button, and sharing their amazing moments with all of the crazy animations and the crazy things that you can see. I think that's going to be the most fun for me. I'll have Tweetdeck filters up ready for all of this stuff. One of the things that we've experienced a lot during playtesting, especially with the remote playtesting that you have to do because of COVID, is that we always are like 'Is somebody recording this game?' Because every single game, something crazy happens. And I can't wait to see the crazy things that users create."
"The emergent gameplay that comes from this mode is really exciting," gameplay producer Clint Oldenberg added. "I am most excited to see some elite Madden players get their hands on the sticks and then share their videos and their schemes and styles via YouTube, Twitch, whatever it may be. I don't think that we've actually seen the best that The Yard has to offer yet. We're going to see some really exciting things happen that probably we even have not expected yet. I'm looking forward to that."0comments
Madden NFL 21 will be released on August 25th.prev