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TheStreet Open House

EA Changes Video Game Landscape With Madden 15 Cinematogoraphy

Stocks in this article: EA

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- EA's (EA) Madden 15 comes out on August 26th, and along with FIFA 15 hitting stores early this fall, EA should have a big quarter coming up. Shares for the Redwood City, California based game developer are up 57% for the year, compared to a 6.5% gain for the S&P 500.

The next chapter to the EA Sports Madden video game line is headed by Brian T. Murray, former filmmaker for NFL Films. TheStreet's Adam Leverone was able to speak with Murray:

Adam Leverone: On why Madden 15 could be the best Madden ever:

Brian Murray: Delivering a [generation] 4 game makes it the best Madden because it means you have the largest capacity for your graphics, lighting, animations, movement, presentation and telling stories within the game. So it's definitely the best for us.

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It's also my first video game. I'm a filmmaker so for the last 8 years, I was here in New York with NFL films making shows like Hardknocks on HBO and 30 for 30 [on ESPN] and "Uncle Drew" with Kyrie Irving. I was doing stuff like that and then I came down to take that cinematic background to the game.

Leverone: Coming from a history of sports film making, what changes did you bring to the new Madden?

Murray: For us it had to be the small things starting out first. You sit back and you watch the game: what are we doing right and what are we doing wrong? A lot of that was timing the pacing of flows. It wasn't that things were broken, it was more like where are we not thinking about the small stories we want to tell within the game. The first thing that I did was a game capture, and with my editing background, I took that capture, I put it into my computer and I sat down on Final Cut for hours and I edited it the way I wanted the game to look, feel and sound. Then I showed up and said, 'here's the target from our in-game, from what we have now.' Not touching lighting, graphics, gameplay, only how is it going to flow better, like a movie. I felt that was the best way for us to get past technical glitches and the way we were looking for flows and telling stories. That became our visual target for timing and pacing.

So that's what we did first: fix the core. There's a lot of flows in this game. There's at least twenty and that's just big high level stuff, not like crossovers or an injury happened at two minute warning, I'm just saying two minute warning. Let's make that correct. Let's make a challenge flow correct. There's a lot to it: there's lighting, graphics, gameplay. There's a lot of technical hurtles you have to conquer, the skips and hitches and stuff like that. We worked on all of that and said, ok where are we graphically? Where are we with everything?

Then we hit cameras big time. I'm a cinematographer, I'm a camera operator, it's my religion. If we have bad looking cameras in the game, then I failed this year. So we spent nine months making our cameras look and feel like real cameras

Four years ago EA Canada hired me from NFL films as a partnership to come and develop a virtual camera. We call it 'the D cam.' For four years I've been filming the scriptibles of the game. It became a really nice partnership and then obviously being the director of presentation, it became more of a full-on creative position. It's a full field, there are hundreds of IR-cameras that are covering you just like with motion capture, except it's recording the movements that I'm actually doing with the camera.

As it pertains to cameras, and movement and the technology around that, it has been four years in the making.

Leverone: Can the 'D cam' be used in developing other EA sports games?

Murray: You can absolutely use it with other sports. I just got done in Vancouver doing the NBA live trailer.

It was built for Madden because we've made such a heavy investment in it. The camera is built from an old camera, we gutted it and put all the technology into it, so it felt like a real camera and moves like a real camera. It was built for Madden but obviously other teams use it.

Leverone: Did you have to record each NFL player to get his movements?

Murray: We have multiple sizes of guys and the athletics and swagger from different people. So we get someone who is the physical equivalent, not that there really is an equivalent to a Calvin Johnson, but a tall guy, lengthy, and moves really fast. So we get a guy that is like that and we get him in here. And then we get someone who is like a lineman and someone who is like a corner. And then record, record, record. Movement, action, celebration, injury. It's done on a mimicking scale with an NFL caliber athlete. So it's not just an actor, but it actually is someone who played high level football who has had the training, has taken the hits, and has played the game. We have former NFL players who do it for us.

Leverone: What's different about the recordings you're making for this Madden?

Murray: As opposed to getting a first down and seeing someone who throws his arms forward, subtleties in story telling in football happen on a very small level. A guy gets up and just kind of shrugs his shoulders back and gives himself a little nod. We couldn't do that in other generations, but now we have these little subtle movements. That's where graphics pay off on motion capture. We're asking these guys to do smaller movements now, less blatant, in your face. You get a first down and it's the first drive you've had; it's not that big of a deal. You've got a whole game to play. So were not going to have that guy loose his mind after stuff like that. It's very important that we get the subtle movements. That's where graphics is a great partnership with our motion capture to help us work towards animation. It's knowing your tech and knowing what you're capable of. It's knowing what stories you want to tell and how to direct that into the game.

Leverone: What's the first thing you would notice if you had never seen Madden 15 before?

Murray: When I turn that game on and I see that first close up, I go to graphics, lighting, fabrics. I look at the helmets. I'm such a huge helmet guy. I'm a big authenticity guy. I've shot hundreds of games on the football field so if it's not resonating to me, then I'm not sold. You play Seattle, and you see that two tone helmet, with a matte and a shine, then you're sold. It wins. It looks so great. But here's the thing: you're only as good as what you're shooting. If you're not paying off your graphics with those beautiful cameras, you'll miss something.

Leverone: Did anyone outside EA have input in making this Madden?

Murray: I'm technically now on the tech side but I'm from the professional side. We have a great relationship with NFL and NFL PA. We have the NFL come down, they critique it. NFL PA does the same exact thing. This is a partnership. We hear from players all the time. With my background from Hardknocks, I know guys and they're like, 'hey you going to get my celebration in this year' or 'I know this is what we normally do as opposed to this.' We have players that come down and talk about our defense and they say 'you know I wouldn't do this here, I'd do that for coverage and zone.' Things like that. We had several players on defense come down this year and critique it as well as some quarterbacks and they're like 'this is the way I'd call that play. I wouldn't call it that way.'

We have such a respect for the NFL because in the end this is a deal. It is us and them so we reach out to coordinators, we reach out to coaches. We reach out and ask, what would you like to see in the game?

Leverone: Do you have a favorite part of the new game?

Murray: I can't tell you what my favorite part is because you haven't seen it and we haven't announced it yet. But my second favorite has to be the cameras. It's me knowing where we were and where we went in nine months. The best compliment I got was, I'm talking to people in other video games and I give them the whole list of everything that we did and then they're playing the game and they go 'well you must've had an advanced team on this. There's no way you did this in one cycle.' A typical cycle for us is nine months, we had about seven.

Leverone: How did you get all of this done in such a short time?

Murray: We have a great team. We've got about 280 to make that game but it's actually small as a design team. The guy who makes these cameras work is one guy. It's a small group of people who just live eat breath, this art-form.

Leverone: Most people playing Madden aren't pro athletes, how is the new cinematic Madden going to translate for people used to watching the games rather than playing them?

Murray: You have to respect the fans and [most] of them, see it from a couch or a chair on a Sunday. You have to respect the broadcast. If you put the disk in and someone saw just an NFL films version of it, it would resonate, but they would miss something. So we had to do a hybrid. We did camera angles and editing and pacing from a cinematic style that I directed, but you also have to respect the broadcasts.

As far as audio goes, it's twofold. You're in the world like you're at the game. You want to hear if I'm Steeler's and its third quarter, I want to hear "Oh Mama" from Styx. I need to hear that to feel like I'm actually at the game. Or you're the Patriots and you just scored a touchdown, you want those muskets going off as you kick.

The confusion is that there is another wall there. You're also kind of watching the broadcast. We had to balance what is actually happening in the world, what you would hear if you were there, and what you would hear in the broadcast: the sweeping music, commentary, halftime shows. It's a balance and obviously audio is huge for us. We have an original composer this year, Mark Petrie, and he's absolutely amazing. Me and my group would give him a template of what we're looking for, anything. 'Well I want daft punk with m83 meets dark knight' and you cram them together and you work it out. That's the way were telling the audio stories.

Leverone: Any concerns about the Madden curse?

Murray: No. Not at all. Obviously the cover is the cover but we have a lot of players associated with the game, so were thinking that were spreading the wealth.

-- Written by Adam Leverone and Whalen MacHale

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