Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

I spent my first two days with Madden NFL 13 looking for the classic Franchise mode. That’s the feature from the series’ previous games that enables players to control every aspect of their favorite football team for multiple seasons. All I wanted was to take my beloved Detroit Lions to the next 20 Super Bowls. Instead, I curled into the fetal position as the new menus made me feel lost and stupid.

Let’s go over the modes from Madden NFL 12:

  • Franchise – In this mode, players control one or more teams over several seasons. Franchise puts players in control of drafting players, managing free agency, and controlling the games.
  • Online Franchise – The same as Franchise, but played in a live, online world with other real players instead of computer-controlled opponents.
  • Superstar – Fans can take control of a single player (either a real star or a created character) and guide him through his career.

Those modes have been a part of Madden for a long time. That’s why it is so confusing when Madden NFL 13, which hit every major console today, opens up to an unfamiliar screen with options like Play Now, Play Online, and Play Career.

I determined that the Play Career option was the likeliest home for the Franchise mode. This confronted me with two options: Start a coach career, or start a player career. This is where my assumptions really ruined my whole day.

The player career mode (like the Superstar option from the previous game) allows users to take the field as a single character over the course of his life. I assumed that the coach mode would be the same but played in the style of that NFL Head Coach game from a few years back…which is kinda like a football-statistics-themed version of Microsoft’s Excel.

Madden NFL 13 menu

I shouldn’t have assumed that I understood what the coach mode is before trying it myself. After sulking through a few exhibition games from the Play Now option, I did my research and discovered that starting a coach career wouldn’t mean inviting gigantic packages of statistical spreadsheets into my life.

In Madden 13, a coach career is the new Franchise mode.

“The primary motivation [when we were designing Connected Careers] was to create a new, innovative career mode that allowed you to play as any coach or player in the same universe,” Madden NFL 13 senior producer Josh Looman told GamesBeat in an e-mail interview. “We couldn’t do that with the old features, so we built a brand new engine and plan to keep Connected Careers as our career mode foundation for a long time to come.”

Here’s what is and isn’t included in Madden NFL 13’s Connected Careers:

  • Connected Careers puts players in control of any real NFL player or coach.
  • Users can create their own player or coach.
  • Players can create a league with up to 32 members.
  • In each league, the game imposes a limit of one team per gamertag.
  • It features salary caps and real contracts.
  • It simulates the full off-season, the draft, and free agency.
  • The fantasy draft (which is a fan-favorite mode from previous games) is not a part of Connected Careers.
  • This mode will allow fans to control their team or player for up to 30 years.
  • Players are not editable in Connected Careers.
  • Madden 13 no longer allows NCAA players to import their draft classes from that game.

Eventually, I figured that all out, but it was a shaky start. A handful of reviewers have mentioned that the menu presentation is disorienting at first, so I don’t think we can just blame my ADHD.

I asked Looman, who is the mastermind responsible for the Connected Careers mode, if the team has any concerns about player confusion.

“Change is tough, but once the players get into the mode and realize that is has more depth and replayability than Franchise mode, Online Franchise mode, and Superstar mode combined, we’re pretty sure players will understand why we made the decision,” Looman said.

He’s confident now, but the fans will be the ones to have the final say.

Since I had Looman’s insight at my disposal, I did ask him what he would suggest for a, let’s say, less-experienced Madden player.

“I’ve seen people have the most fun controlling a young star like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III,” Looman said. “Play through a season with one of those guys and that will give you a great initial experience.”

Remember, pick RG3 and everything will be OK…except for the horrifying polygonal renditions of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. I’m still in the fetal position thanks to those digital nightmare mannequins.