Tackle Madden NFL 2000

SAN FRANCISCO (01/25/2000) - One of my PC pals -- and yes, I like to think I'm broad-minded enough to include within my inner circle those who use an inferior operating system -- recently commented: "What is it with you Mac users?! I've never met such a group of whiners in my life! One perceived slam of Apple in the press, a single interface element that varies by two pixels from the norm, or the failure of Amalgamated Software Corporation of America to release a Mac-compatible version of its Ultra Thingummy Pro 4, and you people begin caterwauling like a sleep-deprived, teething infant who's had a favorite Orajel-dipped pacifier ripped from its aching maw."

After purging this nincompoop's name from my Christmas-card list and posting his personal information -- including home phone number and shoe size -- to every rabid Macintosh newsgroup and Web site I could locate, I thought, in my broad-minded way, "You know, maybe he's onto something."

Case in point: For years I and countless other Macintosh gamers have alternately pleaded, cajoled, and held our collective breath in the vain hope that Electronic Arts would deign to license a Mac version of one of its fabulous sports titles. Finally, toward the end of 1999, this demand became reality. Aspyr Media brought the hot, hot, hot electronic-football franchise, Madden NFL 2000, to the Mac. I nearly wet myself when the first prerelease version of the game hit my mailbox.

But after playing with the game for a while, I felt a fine whine beginning to build. Faced with Madden's countless dialog boxes, page after page of defensive and offensive plays, and a manual that I politely characterize as "erring on the succinct side," I formed a whine -- minus a colorful obscenity or two -- along these lines: "Any Mac users who've never encountered a PlayStation's clunky and necessarily limited interface are going to scream bloody murder when they first attempt to play this game."

And I'd hate to have that happen -- not only because I'd like to cleanse Mac users of this "whiner" label but also because Madden is an important first step in bringing more sports games to our favorite platform. Therefore, I decided it would prove helpful to offer a brief primer on how to get Madden NFL 2000 up and running (and passing, receiving, and kicking).

Pregame

When you're trotting into Bubba's Big House of Mac Software to buy a copy of Madden, be sure to stop by the game-controller aisle to pick up some kind of Mac-compatible game pad -- Madden was designed for pad play, and you'll be at a disadvantage without one. I use a Gravis (800/235-6708, http://www.gravis.com) Xterminator Digital Game Pad ($40) on my Mac, and frankly, although it's a swell game pad, it's more than I require for the game. A simple PlayStation-style game pad such as Gravis's $20 GamePad Pro USB serves nicely-to get the job done, all you need is a four-way directional pad and eight buttons (plus a start button). Remember to select the game pad in the Input section of the Madden NFL 2000 Setup window.

Easy Does It

To have the Big Fun right away, set up the game so you control all the commands -- hike, throw, spin, straight-arm -- with a single button. Later, when you get a feel for the game, you can turn off this wussy option and control the game's many functions with separate buttons. To configure your game pad for one-button control, choose Arcade mode in the main screen, select Controller Select in the next window, press Button 2 on your controller, click on Controller Config in the next window (sigh, see what I mean about all the windows?), and finally turn on the One Button control option.

Training Camp

When first starting out in Arcade mode, don't fret too much about play calling.

Pick a few offensive plays you like-a couple of running plays, a short-yardage pass play (a screen pass, for example), and a couple of downfield pass plays-and base your offense on them. Don't be concerned about defensive-play calling at all. Unless you're near the goal line or receiving a punt on the fourth down, press Button 2 and your team will play some kind of zone defense.

For goal-line defense and punt returns, the computer can select plays for you-just let the play timer run out. Sure, playing this way will cause your team to lose nearly every time, but you'll get a feel for timing and player movement without the distraction of strategy.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Having endured the boos your recent execrable play generated, you need to actually learn how to play the game. To do so, select Practice from the main screen, pick a team, decide whether you want to practice offense or defense, and then turn on the Play Info option-this displays the name of the play you're practicing and draws the play patterns on the field. Now select a formation that appeals to you -- or better yet, one that your team of choice favors (I-formation with three wide receivers for the 49ers' offense, for example) -- and select a play that your team would typically execute. Overall, it's a good idea to become familiar with your favorite team's playbook. Madden is tuned to take advantage of a team's strengths -- a West Coast short-pass offense for the Chiefs and an in-your-face offense for the Falcons, for example. Play to those strengths.

Use the Play Info option to view play names and patterns.

I'd stick with the One Button control option for the first few go-rounds in Practice mode. When using the single button, you'll more easily perceive, for example, that when your receivers run a short sideline pattern, their forward progress propels them out-of-bounds unless you release the ball in a hurry.

Likewise, you'll learn that holding down Button 2 fires a bullet pass, whereas quickly pressing and releasing the same button lofts the ball.

Once you're comfortable with your timing, turn off One Button control; then you can select which receiver gets the ball and have better command of special moves like sprinting and twisting. Thanks to Madden's idiotic interface -- sorry, I'm whining again -- you have to return to Arcade or Exhibition mode to switch off One Button control.

To get a clearer idea of what the button commands do when you're controlling the ball carrier, enter Practice mode and turn off the Defense option. Now when you practice, only the offense appears on the field, and you can try out the buttons on your game pad until the cows come home without fear that a 350-pound defensive lineman will mow down your player.

Illegal Procedure

Sometimes lightning-fast moves and a brilliant strategic mind aren't enough to get the job done. When you need an extra edge, select Arcade or Exhibition mode and choose Enter Codes from the Custom Gameplay menu to enter these cheat codes.

MOJO: all '60s team

SIDEBURNS: all '70s team

TRICKLEDOWN: all '80s team

TEAMMADDEN: all Madden team

HAVETHEROCK: Madden Millennium Team

PAINFUL: more injuries

HANDSOFLARD: more fumbles

FINALBUILD: players fatigue quickly

WIMPBALL: players harder to tackle

NOPICKS: no interceptions

AIRMADDEN: super jump

PHOTON: super speed burst

FIRSTIS20: first down is every 20 yards

OLDSPARKY: electric sidelines

In the Game

Madden tries to model the real thing, so play it that way:

Follow your blockers when running.

For accuracy, make sure your quarterback's feet are planted before throwing.

Avoid throwing into double coverage.

Don't rely on the long pass-play for the first down rather than the score.

Madden allows you to call audibles. If the defense lines up in a way you don't care for, call an alternate play at the line.

Know the other team's players (Madden ranks players by ability). Avoid running at or throwing toward a team's best defensive players.

When on defense, hit ball carriers hard-by pressing the Action button for a speed boost-and you may jar the ball loose.

Use the clock. If you're ahead with little time left in the game, run out the clock with running plays. If your team is down and short on time-outs, either have your receivers run out-of-bounds or ground the ball to stop the clock.

Postgame Show

Having taken these tips to heart, you won't have to wait long before you're chilled by a Gatorade shower and on your way to the Super Bowl. Sure, at first the going may be tough-but when the going gets tough, my friend, the tough call their agents and demand a five-year, $45.7 million contract and a private jet.

And that's hardly something to whine about, is it?

Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER BREEN pleads with you, in his most annoying, whiny voice, to purchase his coauthored book, My iMac (IDG Books Worldwide, 1999).

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