Drop Back to Pass as a Football Legend in ‘MVP Football: The Patrick Mahomes Experience’ for the Oculus Quest Platform, Out Now

Oculus Blog
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October 14, 2021
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Only a small handful of people who play American football at any level ever get to realize their dreams of lacing up for a professional game. Now, you can embark on a prolific career of your own by strapping on the helmet of Patrick Mahomes, the All-Pro quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, with MVP Football: The Patrick Mahomes Experiencefrom CityLights and Free Range Games. Drop back to pass as a football legend starting today for $19.99 USD on the Oculus Quest Platform.

With MVP Football, you’re placed directly in the cleats of Patrick Mahomes himself behind center. Chuck the pigskin starting back in high school, then progress through college, and eventually make your way onto a professional field in your career as an elite quarterback with pin-point accuracy and deep throw power.

MVP Football: The Patrick Mahomes Experience has been years in the making and I am pumped for it to finally be available for fans,” says Mahomes. “The Oculus VR experience is incredible and will give people a realistic look at the game through my eyes.”

To learn more about MVP Football and what fans can expect, we spoke with key members from the development team.

What was it like working on one of the most popular sports with one of its biggest stars?

Joel Newton, Co-Founder, CityLights: We first met Patrick only a few weeks after he became a starter with the Chiefs, back during the 2018 season. As he began to capture the whole world's attention that season, we began discussing and developing a VR product called "MVP Football" because it was becoming obvious he was going to win the MVP that year. Then he did, and then the MVP of the Super Bowl the next year. What's amazing about him is that he didn't change at all as he became this global superstar. He remained focused on wanting fans to experience what he feels through the power of virtual reality.

Mike Uy, Lead Designer, Free Range Games:Working on a football game took us back to a time when we were kids pretending to be the star players we watched on TV on Saturdays and Sundays. Kids like to play as the star quarterback of their favorite team, yelling out audibles at the line and calling out their favorite quarterback’s name as they throw the ball. We thought back on that time as inspiration—we wanted to give fans a chance to have an immersive experience and become the most electric star in football today. This is the closest we can get to that childhood, backyard dream fulfillment.

Break down the game for us. Which game modes are included and what positions can players play?

MU: The game is experienced entirely in the first-person, so you are always Patrick Mahomes, whether you’re playing through a season at the high school, college, or pro level. You choose and customize your audibles from a playbook using a tablet like the pro quarterbacks use, which also contains your stats, results, achievements, Oculus leaderboards, and menu. You can watch your defense and special teams from the sidelines, or you can skip it and get straight back onto the field.

Ultimately, the game is about reading defenses, calling audibles, making the right reads at the right times, and then making superhuman throws look easy, just like Patrick Mahomes. As a player, you’ll need to perfect your skills as the competition gets more challenging at each level, and as you try to beat your friends’ achievements on the Oculus leaderboards.

If you just want to relax, you can go to the practice field and perfect your throws for all the different pass routes in the game. There’s even an optional setting to throw to your pitbulls on the practice field instead of receivers (either way, they’ll join you on the sidelines during games where you can pet them).

Would you describe this as more of an “arcade” experience, or is this closer to being a football “sim” type of game?

JN: It was really important to everyone involved that we make this 11-on-11, real football, with first downs, quarters, seasons... not just a “lite” game or a skills challenge. There's definitely an LBE or arcade opportunity to give people a situational challenge—like that game-winning drive with very little time on the clock. That's such a big part of Patrick's brand, and that's what we imagine for a context requiring a shorter experience.

MU: It’s a little of both sim and arcade game experience. First and foremost, we wanted players to think like Patrick Mahomes in order to play at a high level. In that sense, it’s a “sim” in terms of the experience. We focused on what it feels like to play quarterback, as you stand in a rapidly collapsing pocket and have to evade rushers to buy time before making a read, and throw in a small window of open coverage.

But the game’s look and feel have arcade leanings, and we added some fun arcade gameplay elements to assist players who aren’t actually Patrick Mahomes. The biggest gameplay feature is what we call “MVP Time,” which slows the game down when you’re about to get sacked, like bullet-time in The Matrix.

MVP Time allows you to pick out the right pass before it’s too late. You earn it (and restore however much of it you used on the play) by making complete passes, earning first downs, and scoring touchdowns. You lose any MVP Time spent on a play if you throw an incompletion or interception.

We also offer sliders in the settings for players to choose how much assistance they want with their throws. Aim Assist, when turned all the way up, means you’ll always hit receivers in stride on their routes, but when turned down, you give yourself more ability to improvise from the route. Power Assist allows you to decide how much of a boost you want to your throws relative to how fast and far you actually swing your controller. We want players to be able to throw like Patrick in the game, regardless of their physical abilities and comfort levels in real life.

There are also some special throws that might remind players of old games NBA Jam or NFL Blitz. For example, if you throw to a completely open receiver, the ball will catch fire and the receiver will be harder to tackle. If you throw while you’re in MVP Time, the ball will be electrified and the receiver will be faster. If you use a long throwing motion and make a very accurate throw, it will be a laser throw which is hard to deflect or intercept.

We’ve seen a lot of VR sports games out there, but American football seems to be a tough one to get right. Why do you think it’s such a difficult sport to capture well?

MU: Until now, VR sports games haven’t been able to animate two full teams of players in the motion-capture style sports game that players have become accustomed to from Madden and 2K on consoles. And American football having 22 players to animate at once is a bigger challenge than, say, baseball or basketball.

We managed to do it in MVP Football by optimizing our art style and code around that goal of animating all the players to provide the most realistic movement and feeling of American football, even if it required a more stylized and abstracted look than the photorealism that console players are used to.

The other issue with American football in VR is that it’s not practical to have players actually running in their play area, so it’s necessary to focus on the parts of the game that can be done in a relatively small area. In our case, putting the player in the pocket as a quarterback works well even with the need to evade rushers to keep the play going. After the throw, since you can’t run as the receiver yourself, we give you back console style control of the receiver via the analog control stick on your non-throwing hand. And when your team doesn’t have the ball, since you can’t play defense yourself, you can modify your audibles, check your stats, or just skip to your turn with the ball.

How involved was Patrick Mahomes in the game’s development? And what was it like working with one of the most prominent players in the game?

JN: We did our first production meetings with Patrick over two years ago, and we all agreed pretty quickly on what mattered most to him—real football, 11-on-11, and showcasing the speed of the game was his main focus. He was still pretty new to the pros at that point, so the transition from college to pro was fresh in his mind. We think having the high school, college, and pro levels was a big part of reflecting Patrick’s journey to get where he is.

MU: Patrick’s insight about the game and the way he wanted it to feel for players was invaluable. He stressed to us how difficult it is for fans watching the game to understand the speed at which everything happens for a quarterback. How quickly the protection can break down around you and how hard it is to make the right read in that time with up to five receivers running different routes through varying kinds of coverage and defensive formations.

Having Patrick as the hero of the game who all players get to inhabit, like Being John Malkovich, gave us great latitude in allowing players to do amazing things that regular quarterbacks can’t. If you’re Patrick Mahomes, it should feel easy to throw deep bombs with a feather-soft touch, backhand no-look passes that are still on target, sidearm cross-field throws off the back foot, or a shovel pass with the flick of a wrist. We’re not sure if time actually slows down for Patrick Mahomes in real life before he’s about to get sacked, but we put it in the game because it sure looks that way when you watch him play!

What about the experience of playing an American football game in VR makes it so immersive?

MU: As a quarterback, every play you find yourself standing on a field in the middle of a stadium with the crowd chanting and only your teammates lined up around you to protect you from the 11 players on the other team that want to take you down. The linemen are huge and difficult to see around. There are five receivers and up to eight defenders covering them, all running different directions. And you have to take it all in not just with your eyes but turning your head, moving your body to evade tacklers, and trying to find an open passing lane to an open receiver. It’s like being the hero of an action movie fighting a whole gang by yourself. The throw is, in many ways, the easy part.

We added a lot of details to keep players immersed. We took efforts to motion capture athletes and even include the little things, like how players fidget at the line of scrimmage and shake off the effects of being tackled. We made the conscious decision to keep the UX for choosing audibles and reviewing stats in your in-game wrist coach, so you never need to break character.

Other than Madden obviously, which other American football games outside of VR did you draw inspiration from?

MU: We wanted to pay homage to the classic American football games at least in terms of the art style and the look and feel of the players and the FX, going all the way back to 10 Yard Fight on Nintendo and of course Tecmo Bowl, but also the Sega Genesis versions of Madden which set the bar for sports games and how we play them since. There are also some nods to NFL Blitz as far as fantastical gameplay.

JN: Today's Madden really wasn't nearly the inspiration that the original John Madden Football in 1988 was. At that time, the most popular game was Tecmo Bowl, but they only had nine players per team. We learned that early on, it was suggested to John Madden that they could make the characters look better if they reduced the number of players on the field. John Madden said, “If it’s not 11-on-11, it’s not football.” They traded chasing the best look for making the feel of football as accurate as possible.

Other football games did the opposite—they went for the best look you could render in 1988. We all know which game became a massive franchise. Football needs to feel like football, and this giant step into virtual reality feels very much like those early days of video games. Now we can take the “feeling” priority all the way. Actually being rushed by passers is perhaps the most striking difference—needing to actually duck and dodge and stiff arm to avoid a sack. The throwing motion is incredibly intuitive and fun as well.

What was the most challenging part about adapting the sport for virtual reality?

MU: Keeping the player within a play space is incredibly challenging in American football, so we had to take scrambling out of the game and just focus on pocket play for the quarterback. Having a huge defensive lineman rushing at you makes a lot of people want to turn and run, but we did our best to make the game playable even while seated and stationary, regardless of physical ability.

What’s your favorite part of slinging the virtual pigskin?

MU: Playing this game will change players’ perspectives on what it’s like for quarterbacks at every level of the sport by letting them experience all the different ways that plays can break down, but also how fun it is to improvise successfully when that happens. We offer players enough help throwing like Patrick Mahomes so they don’t actually have to be a pro athlete, give them UI help reading routes to know how and when to throw, and offer them MVP Time to avoid danger, so that once players achieve mastery—as with sports games of old—they can enter a relaxed, almost meditative state in real life even while under massive pressure in-game.

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You can buckle your chin strap and take the field as Mahomes himself in MVP Football: The Patrick Mahomes Experience today for $19.99 USD on the Quest Platform.