11 Apr 2014
by Rivers McCown
As you may well be aware, since you are reading this on a football analytics site, football is a much harder game to quantify down on a linear level than most of its sister sports in the American consciousness. This makes it harder for us to create statistics that truly show the value of one player above all others. And, when the challenge is to create a simulation game based on football, the answer has tended to be simplification.
Front Office Football Seven (Solesmic website) tries to strike a balance -- it tries to force the world of football into the world of programming. When those places collide, the result is something that is aesthetically pleasing to analytical football fans, but also something that has clear blemishes. Front Office Football Seven is the kind of game where you will get what you put into it, which I mean as a sincere compliment. If you want to sim 10 seasons and figure out who unthrones the current crop of quarterbacks, it'll do that -- it even has a dedicated page to tracking quarterback performance. On the other hand, if you're like me and would rather spend 30 minutes shuffling through undrafted free agents to see if anyone can beat out that disappointing fifth-round rookie tackle, it can also do that.
Seasons take a very short time to actually simulate -- I'm running a three-year-old desktop and it didn't take me more than four or five minutes. There are helpful settings in the menus that let you speed up how fast the game itself goes when you're conducting a draft or watching a game unfold. I would say that one of the other strengths of this game is creating inelegant-but-workable solutions to real-life situations and evaluation. Rather than being hired organically, coaches get "drafted" in stages. Much like Madden did in the early 2000's, it tracks things like "pancake blocks" for linemen, to give these guys some separation in a text play-by-play board that is somewhat akin to "watching the film." (They also use Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards.) The cap system, while not completely based on the real one, is much easier to use. Trading is fairly hard to do: You won't be signing free agents and then flipping them for third-round picks. While you won't be installing actual plays, you can install specific packages and the pass/run percentages for them. The level of realism is very immersive.
In my mind, the real weaknesses of this game are the presentation and the greater financial scheme. Let me quote extensively from the help page on the latter:
When I began designing this game, there was no simulation on the market that made a significant attempt to manage a team financially. Without a strong financial model affecting team goals and performance, players will likely concentrate simply on forming a championship-caliber football team and nothing else. That's not reality. First of all, team owners don't go bankrupt. If they're close, they simply sell the team. The days of teams being bought from bankruptcy court (I can only think of one baseball team where that happened) are long gone. These franchises are too valuable. It costs about billion dollars to enter professional football today, if the opportunity is available. Setting some arbitrary cash amount for each team and providing a income statement is not nearly enough to satisfy the financial requirement for a simulation. Player goals are centered on both fielding a successful team and building a financially stable franchise. This means the player must continually financially upgrade the franchise. This is done by funneling profits into both stadium upgrades and new stadium construction. The value of a franchise is a function of its profitability, its cash on hand and the success of the team on the field.
Is that not reality? It really depends on what your role in team-building is. If you are playing as a coach, you may wish for the owner to be doing well, but as long as your checks are signed, does it matter? As a general manager, you job is to put the best team on the field you can. Do you care about the owner's bottom line beyond what he's telling you that you can spend?
When I'm playing Front Office Football Seven, the ticket pricing and the money are nuisances. As much as I hope the Houston Apollos or Chicago Bruins win on the field, I could really care less about how well they're doing financially. They're football teams. They all do well financially. Trying to minimize the "brand" experience to a granular level just was a distraction to me. That's not to say that I don't want it in there at all -- just, the option to turn it off would be nice.
And finally, there's the presentation. Hoo boy, the presentation. I'm not talking about the visual element. I understand the limitations of a text-based sim. But I found the menus clunky, unintuitive, and hard to work with. The fact that you can't sort by positions or something similar on the menus makes signing free agents take 10 times as long on the scrollwheel as it should. Finding where the free agents actually are -- buried in the view rosters file -- could take some time for new players as well. In general, I feel like the product suffers from trying to stuff too many different easter eggs into the game and focuses on that rather than reducing tedium. And tedium is a big deal when you ask someone to sit down with a simulation game.
Considering the pedigree of the studio, this is a very impressive game. Solecismic is trying to get the game on Steam for more eyeballs. No, it's not OOTP ... but given where football is analytically, the simplifications used here are very stellar. I just wish the design focused on making it a little easier to play.
6 comments, Last at 16 Apr 2014, 8:39pm by pablohoney