Troy Aikman Football

Atari Jaguar

from AEO Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 4

 |||   Troy Aikman Football
 |||   By: Randy Magruder
/ | \  CIS: 70720,663    AOL: randyborl

Troy Aikman Football for the Atari Jaguar is finally here. Produced by
Williams Entertainment, and developed by Telegames (of Brutal Sports
Football fame), the Jaguar version is the long awaited port of the
16-bit versions of the same game.

//// Standard Features

The following are the features which you would expect to see in most any
NFL console football game. Following are the standard features available
in TAF.

[] One or two players, as Player or Coach, or Demo mode.

[] Three modes of play: Pre-season (exhibition), 94-95 season (Aikman
   for the 16-bit consoles had 93-94 season), custom generated (and
   editable) season.

[] FlashRAM backup to store season records and team (not player)

[] Three skill levels: Rookie, Pro and Veteran.

[] New rules changes including 2 pt conversion and kickoff from the 30.
   (When playing 94-95 season.)

[] Varying quarter lengths: 2, 5, 10 or 15 minutes.

[] Playing surfaces: Grass, Mud, Dirt, Snow, Rain and Turf.

[] Multi-game injuries.

[] Three user-defined offensive plays.

[] Missing features: NFLPA license, player numbers, individual player

//// Special Features

[] Troy's Analysis: Troy Aikman rates each team by the following
positions: quarterback, halfback, fullback, wide receiver, tight end,
kicker/punter, offensive line, safety, cornerback, linebacker and
defensive line. Players are rated with one to four stars. *=Weak,
**=Average, ***=Strong, ****=Outstanding. The ratings for each team
are provided in the back of the manual.

[] Ratings tied to salary: As you might expect from a millionaire
quarterback, the quality of a position is directly related to how well
you pay your players. Each rating corresponds to a salary range. You
may re-allocate money from one position to another, but you take a net
loss when doing so, because you are only credited with half the money
you took from one position to apply to another.  So robbing Peter to
pay Paul isn't going to work too well unless you're in real trouble.
Also, injuries will often knock off a star. The Miami Dolphins I took
to the Super Bowl started out with two star running backs, and were at
one star for most of the season anyway because of injuries (sounds
ominously familiar to Miami's =real= season!). You do earn money for
winning games. The manual suggests waiting until halftime to allocate
the money to positions where you might have had injuries, but I always
just load up my players at the get-go.

Play design: Unlike most other console football games, Troy Aikman
Football contains a play editor. You can change your blocking,
position your receivers and running backs, change the make-up of the
offensive set, assign blocking and pass routes, and even put a man in
motion (crossing, or doubling back). You may design up to 3 special
plays. As long as you don't power down your Jaguar, your plays are
saved. It's a shame this wasn't added to the backup system! I have
little patience for re-designing my plays every time I want to play a
game. This feature is great if the other team is shutting you down and
you need to draw up something that you think will work. Yes, you can
edit your plays DURING a game, but it costs you a timeout to do so.
Editing is free before the game and at halftime.

Computer clock management: Aikman is the first console game (even for
the Aikman series!) to automatically accelerate the play clock down
to a couple seconds before snap when the computer has the ball. (I've
even seen the computer take a delay of game penalty when it couldn't
get its play off in time!) This prevents the computer from running an
excessive number of plays just because it doesn't use up the play
clock.  Unfortunately, no option was provided for the user to
accelerate the play clock, so you have to either run 2-3 times as many
plays as is realistic, or wait to pick your play, or patiently let the
clock wind down while you stand there yelling "Hut Hut Hut".

Miscellaneous noteable features which set Aikman apart from Brand X:
Aikman will let you down the ball in the end zone (what a concept!).
You also have a button on the keypad to throw the ball away if you are
the quarterback, a button to switch the QB to a runner instead of
having him shuffle around back there. You can stiff arm both to the
left and to the right using the keypad. This is an addition to the
standard buttons, used for juking, spinning, hurdling, a burst of
speed, jumping in the air, attempting a catch, and so on.

//// Graphics

Player images: The players are acceptably well drawn, but few colors
are used, basically just a couple of base colors and a bit of shading.
Don't expect striping or helmets here. There are faint etchings of
numbers on the jerseys, and the players do look correctly sized. It's
hard to say why these graphics look amateurish in spite of being
accurate in many ways. There just appears to be a lack of polish and
sizzle to them. But they are okay overall. I just wish more time would
have been spent on creating more detail and less blur.

Field images: The field comes in grass, turf, snow, mud and dirt. This
basically changes just the overall tone of the field. The numbers on
the field are chunky and high contrast. Very little (or no) effort
went into anti-aliasing the field graphics to make them look more
realistic or pleasing to the eye. The pixellated field lines and
numbers make the game look very 16-bit in graphic quality. The Jag can
do far better than this field.

Views and scrolling: The view is a closer view than what you might be
used to with the 16-bit softs, and though it makes for bigger,
easier-to-see players, you pay for this in not being able to see your
wideouts or in not getting a bird's-eye view of the field. It would
have been nice to have a panning out view of the action - ala ESPN
SNES Sunday Night Football - but no, the view you get is the ONLY
view. It's a shame that with the Jaguar's graphic capabilities,
nothing more was added in the view options. How about a nice side
view, especially for replays? How about zoom-in/zoom-out in instant
replay? Nope. The field scrolls smoothly and the action is fairly easy
to follow, but a little diversity would have been nice here.

Animation: The players benefit from a great deal of variety in the
player animations. Players use several frames when running, 3-4 frames
in a tackle animation, 3-4 in a kicking animation and so on. Why count
the frames? Because at full speed they help give the illusion of
motion. No one likes to see tackles that just happen in a single
frame.  People just don't fall flat on the ground. It's nice to see
some attention was paid to developing solid player animation. It's not
as smooth as what it might have been had it been rotoscoped, but
better by far than the 16-bit excuses for animations. Players do seem
to fall a little =too= flat on the field, and there are areas where
the animation is quirky, such as the kicker approaching the ball for a
kick off. The guy looks like he's hopping and skipping around. Also,
tackles seen from the side appear to happen even before the tackler
touches the carrier, so a few more frames in there would have been

Overall graphics: The field really dragged down the overall score
here, and these graphics won't sell the game, though they are
competent enough. On an SNES or Genesis, these graphics are an 8 or a
9. On a "64-bit Multimedia System" they are a letdown.

//// Sound

Sound effects: The sound effects are your basic deep bass "oomph"
variety. The QB audibles sound fairly accurate, but the repetitive
"hut hut hut" can drive one crazy when running down the clock. It
would have been nice to have something like "Blue 32! Red 85" or
something to pass the time. (Though you do get that if you call an
audible.) The referee's whistle is a truly pathetic imitation of a
real whistle.  There are also low "whoosh" sounds during passes, and
nice thumps for kickoffs. The crowd does cheer great plays, and gives
a sad "awwww" when a field goal misses. However, they don't seem to be
particularly partisan towards the home team. This crowd seems to enjoy
action whether it's for you or against you! The sound effects are
basically unspectacular.

Music: The opening music has sort of a college football band sound,
which segues into the main menu music, which is just a port of the
16-bit music onto the Jaguar. Won't get you pumping the way NBA Live
95 does on an SNES, that's for sure. During the game you'll even hear
hockey style organ music, and this completely drives me nuts, as
anyone who knows anything about NFL Football knows that they don't let
organs in the stadium, let alone the PA system. If there was ever
something someone included in a game that just screamed: "Shoot us,
we're clueless", it's the organ music during the football. Football
fans should feel that their intelligence =is= being insulted. I sure

Voiceovers: The voiceovers are simple and range from "Touchdown", "No
good", "Tipped ball", "Interception", "Knocked Away" and so on. You
won't find colorful Maddenisms here. What's worse, the voice sounds
like a badly sampled imitation of someone with a Madden-like voice.
What good's the voice without the colorful commentary?  Not only that,
but the voiceovers fall out of date in a hurry. You'll hear "knocked
away" just before an interception, but the interception won't be
reported.  You'll have to read that in the play summary. Overall, a
pathetic attempt at voiceovers.

Overall: As you may have guessed, this game suffers badly from the
sound department. I wish I could give it a higher score, but
regrettably, this isn't one for cranking up the ol' stereo system.

//// Game Mechanics

//// Playcalling

The playcalling screen is a simple scroller with 3 plays per screen,
selected by A, B and C. You may also call one of three custom plays
you have designed (see Special Features, below). You may also "flip"
any play so that run left becomes run right, tight end lines up on the
right instead of left, etc.

The scoreboard shows the hashmark that the ball is on, so you can
decide which side of the field you want to run towards, a nifty
feature. [Editor's nitpick: Whenever you start an offensive series,
you always do so in the middle of the field.] The play diagrams are
easy to read. Troy's plays have a Dallas Cowboy star under them, a
departure from at least the SNES version of Aikman. You can also hit
Option to access instant replay, game statistics, call a time out, or
edit the custom plays.

There's not anything much else I would do to the playcalling system to
make it better. The clock gives you 30 seconds in Pro and Vet modes
(40 in rookie) to select your play. In a two player game, once you've
selected a play, the playbook is replaced by NFL logo shields to hide
the page of three plays you selected from.

There's even an option to play a game as Coach only. When you select
this play mode, you pick an offensive or defensive play. If you're
playing offense, you can call an audible and snap the ball. From there
on out, the CPU controls the flow of the play. If you're playing
defense, you can move one defensive player around before the ball is
snapped, and that's pretty much it. Oh, you can call defensive
audibles also.

//// Passing System

The passing interface is a windowless system. Each receiver has a
letter under him (A,B,C). To pass the ball you just hit the letter of
the receiver you want to throw to. Since the game is windowless, you
can actually follow a receiver through his pattern, provided that he
fits in your current view. This is where the problem with the
close-ups occur.  Because you're so close to the action, you can't
easily tell what's going on off-screen.

To help you throw to off-screen receivers, the letters of the
receivers will stay at the top or top right/left of your screen to
show you the general direction of that receiver. If the receiver's
letter is red, he's covered. Don't throw to him. Otherwise air it out
and hope! This is where the difficulty level of the game comes in. At
the rookie level, your guys will generally catch the passes. At Pro
level, it's more important that the receiver be open. At Veteran...
you have to take over and catch the ball. This means pressing B to
throw, B again to assume the receiver, navigate him to the crosshatch
on the field, and press B again to catch. I have to date completed TWO
passes over 50 attempts using Veteran passing. I just have no idea
what they expect me to do here, as what I've tried in the manual just
isn't getting it done. I rate Veteran passing nigh impossible until
someone tells me otherwise.

The ease with which you can control the passing game also depends upon
the quality of your receivers and quarterback and the quality of the
opposing defense's defensive backfield and linebackers. (More on this

The quarterback actually drops back nicely in this game (in contrast
to that 32-bit football game), and he will move around in the pocket,
scanning down field, looking for a receiver. Looks great. My Marino
does a nice little shuffle, and finds Keith Jackson in a hole in the
zone 20 yards down field. He zips the ball to Keith who gets tackled
at the goal line. Touchdown, and worth an instant replay to boot!

It's easy to see when a receiver on the screen is being covered. The
game quite nicely models picking up a blitz and throwing to the
inevitably open running back coming out of the backfield. Great touch!
The passing system would get higher marks if you could pan back from
the field at will, and if Veteran was just a tad more controllable by
normal humans. Perhaps I'll acquire the touch necessary.

//// Running the Ball

Running the ball is a fairly straightforward affair. You can press "2"
on your numeric keypad to hike and automatically hand off if the
running play has a default running back. Or you can take the ball
yourself and hit the button corresponding to the letter of the running
back. Like passers, running backs can have letters. This allows you to
run quarterback options and give your back time to get further outside
before you hit him with the pitch. But beware! Defenders will
sometimes cover the back and slam him to the turf for a big loss. Make
sure he's open before you gamble!

You can cut back and find holes easily in this game. There are buttons
on your keypad for throwing stiff arms, or you can use the C button to
get a burst of speed, the B button to spin and the A button to hurdle
(I hope I got those straight!).

The Jag could badly use a controller with more of the keypad buttons
duplicated as frontal controls (ala SNES) and three more buttons with
the first three. The keypad is a poor substitute. [Editor: Such a
controller is on its way.] Also, you can escape tackles for a long
period of time... perhaps too long! Some guys are just hard as heck to
bring down. However, its worth it when you find a hole and cut back,
doing a nice little Barry Sanders escape trick for big yardage,
forcing a defender to dive at you to bring you down. This is the best
running game I've seen in a console football sim.

//// Defending

A lot of games are defensive pushovers. Find the right play, call it
over and over, and you can beat the defense. However, a human
controlled (or even computer controlled) defense, can be pretty
competent. Of course, this is subject to player ratings (more later).
In Jaguar Troy Aikman, you can pick from a wide variety of defenses,
though not as many as some of the competitions' games. You can change
which defender you wish to play and may audible to another defense.

Defending is pretty tricky against the run and the pass. Running into
a pile to stop a running back is no guarantee he won't squirt free and
hurt you. Since the B button switches the defender to the one nearest
the ball, you have to be careful or you'll take control of a guy
poised to make a tackle, do something wrong, and miss the tackle

I've been toying with letting the computer do its job if my player
gets taken out of the play, so that I won't do something foolish and
allow the computer to get away. I haven't seen many runaway plays yet,
such as a receiver going all the way down field beating everyone. The
defense seems to run receivers down even when they get burned deep.
This is actually rather nice, and another welcome departure from the
free-for-alls in games like Madden.

There is a rather annoying problem, though. To jump up in the air is a
press of the "2" key on the keypad. This just doesn't cut it. I keep
hitting the option key by impulse. Things are happening entirely too
fast to use the A,B,C buttons and then reach down and hit "2" to
deflect a pass. What's worse, if you press the B button after hitting
the Option button, you will call a time-out. Oops! I'd love to see the
fingers on the testers of this game! Also, it seems that the game is
biased towards completing passes too often (Troy's doing?), so
sometimes it doesn't matter even if your coverage is perfect. I
haven't been able to sack the quarterback very often, either, though
Travis says he can.

//// Computer AI

There are two components to AI: playcalling strategy and clock usage.
In playcalling strategy, Aikman is a VERY solid game. There is no
doubt that a lot of time and energy went into making sure that the
computer tried to win. Unlike every other console game I've tried, the
computer will do what it has to beat you, going for it on 4th down,
calling fake punts and field goals, calling passing plays on long
yardage situations, running the ball when ahead, passing the ball when
behind, using quarterback sneaks to gain critical inches for a first
down, etc.

It also manages the play clock intelligently, using up all but 4
seconds at the beginning of the game, and as the game progresses,
using much less. For instance, I was ahead by 14 points in the third
quarter and the computer started leaving 15 seconds on the play clock.
Then later when it fell further behind it started leaving 20, then 24
seconds (the minimum for it). It calls its time outs when it needs
them, goes for 2 point conversions, has players run out of bounds to
stop the clock when under 2 minutes, etc.

In playcalling and clock usage, this game is hard to beat. This is the
first time I felt like there might be a human being on the other side
of the field trying to beat me, and not just a random number generator
calling plays at random. Defensively, I haven't noticed the same
patterns, but the computer will play a fairly competent defense.

//// Play execution

This embodies how well the computer executes a play. Do the blockers
block? Does the quarterback move well in the pocket? How easy is it to
complete long passes or run for big yardage?  What about turnovers and
penalties? Well, in the passing game, I found that in Pro mode it was
very easy to complete passes with Dan Marino even to 2 star receivers.
There is a higher chance of an incompletion or interception based upon
ratings, and whether the receiver is covered, double covered, or even
triple covered.

I found that the teams I played differed in their quality. Some teams
I could pass the bomb against effectively; other teams required me to
find short dump off passes and quick outs which would work against
their defense. The problem is, through Pro mode it still only took me
perhaps a quarter to find the play that would break the defense's back
time and time again, and once that was discovered, I could run up
ridiculous scores. [Editor: Computer defenses would often adapt to

The running game is nowhere near as easy to execute, though. You CAN
get solid yardage with plays like Troy's pitch, but I've found teams
that just shut my running game down well. Again, it depends upon your
tenacity and your running back's ratings, but while I could generally
run the ball well, it was by no means the kind of killer that the
passing game was. One very nice aspect of Aikman is that blockers
really do block well. If you are trying to tackle a guy receiving a
kickoff, you better dodge the blockers first, or they will box you out
and stop you from getting where you want to go. This is true
throughout the game.

Also, weather has a dramatic impact on the physics of the game. More
turnovers are generated on wet or snowy fields (see below). Also,
players tend to slip and slide a lot. I picked off a pass with my
linebacker because both the receiver and the corner covering him
slipped and fell on the snow while trying to make a cut. My linebacker
had a clean shot at the ball and didn't disappoint me! It definitely
makes the game seem more human when people, even the quarterback, slip
and fall on their keister trying to get footing in the treacherous
field conditions.

//// Giving It Away

Now we come to the major problem with this game: Turnovers. Whatever
random number generator determines the likelihood of a turnover, it's
wayyyyy off. I have seen more than 20 turnovers a game - we're not
just talking bonehead passes by yours truly, we're talking freak
mishaps. Often, I've seen it happen a few times in a game where the
holder fumbles the ball and an extra point fails. Sometimes, once or
twice a game a kick returner watches the ball bounce off of him,
usually into the hands of a cover guy who scoops up the ball and runs
in for the score (which can be against NFL rules, depending upon
whether a fair catch was signaled).

There are regular fumbles in pileups, tips resulting in interceptions,
and so on. The latter is the most frustrating because instead of
falling incomplete, the ball will be nabbed by a diving defender for
the pick.  Granted, these are all realistic occurrences, but they just
don't happen as often as this game generates them. One of the thing
that keeps the scores down in this game is the rampant turnovers. This
just isn't reasonable, and I'd have to say that in many ways this
completely offsets the gains made by the strong AI of the game.
[Editor again: I've seen games where there would be a high turnover
rate, then games that are executed almost flawlessly.]

So how can I rate something which is so incredibly good and so
incredibly bad at the same time? Play execution score: 6. It would be
a 9 if not for the turnovers, but the turnovers just kill it.

//// Comparison to Madden 3DO

Finally, the inevitable question: How does this game stack up against
Madden 3DO? Here are my comparative scores:

                       Troy Aikman   Madden 3DO
                       -----------   ----------
Standard Features:      8             9 (Player #'s)
Special Features:       9             5 (vanilla)
Graphics:               6             8 (more detailed, smoother)
           Players      7             8
           Fields       4             6
           Views        5             8 (zoom in/out)
           Animation    7.5           6
Sound:                  4             8
           F/X          6             6
           Music        4             7
           Voice        3             8
Game Mechanics:         8             5 (super slo mo beach ball tips!)
           Playcalling  8             8
           Passing      8             6
           Running      9             7
           Defending    8             6 (too easy...)
Overall Challenge:      6             2
Computer AI:           10             3
Play execution:         6             6

Overall Sound/Graphics: 5             8
Overall Gameplay:       8             4

I have to go with Aikman because of its strong AI, varied animations,
special options, and superior clock management. But it doesn't
challenge Madden for graphics.

//// Final Ratings

Title: Troy Aikman NFL Football           JagNet: No
Programmers: Telegames                   Players: 1-2
Published by: Williams Entertainment   Available: Now
MSRP: $69.99                          Age Rating: K-A

Here's the summary ratings:
                "*" is a whole
                 "+" is a half
               5 stars maximum

 Control: ****   Fairly crisp play control. Lots of player control
                 options available through the keypad. Near impossible
                 to catch passes in Veteran mode though.
Gameplay: ***    Nice console AI. Play "normal" or just coach a
                 team. One of the best feels for heading a NFL team
                 on any gaming console. Too many turnovers.
Graphics: ***    Ugly field, large players, fixed view. Step-by-step
                 instant replay is a plus. Nice variety in player
                 animations. No passing windows, but receiver
                 "openness" is noted easily.
   Sound: **     Serviceable. 'Nuff said.
 Overall: ***+   Not an amazing football simulation, but one of the
                 best console video football games around. Look past
                 the graphics, and give this game a chance.

Pts Stars  AEO Ratings
""" """""  """""""""""
 10 *****  GAMING NIRVANA!!! - You have left reality behind... for good.
  9 ****+  Unbelieveable GAME!! - Your family notices you're often absent.
  8 ****   Fantastic Game!! - You can't get enough playtime in on this.
  7 ***+   Great Game! - Something to show off to friends or 3DOers.
  6 ***    Good game - You find yourself playing this from time to time.
  5 **+    Ho-hum - If there's nothing else to do, you play this.
  4 **     Waste of time - Better to play this than play in traffic.
  3 *+     Sucks - Playing in traffic sounds like more fun.
  2 *      Sucks Badly - You'd rather face an IRS audit than play this.
  1 +      Forget it - ... but you can't; it's so badly done, it haunts you.
  0 -      Burn it - Disallow programmer from ever writing games again.

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