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RUNNING & SCRAMBLING QUARTERBACKS - Sunday 16th Oct 2011 Top

I've introduced the first of the changes to the range of player skills, starting by eliminating the "main" or "squad" ORO strength for quarterbacks and replacing it with two "special" or "extra" skills, which are QBR (quarterback run) for designed plays and SCR (scramble) for broken plays and mobility.

I've replaced them one-for-two so the waiver value of a scrambling quarterback is the same as before even though his nominal value will be reduced, and the player should function the same as before. But in future we can have QBs that have only one of these skills (either) or they can still have both (more variety) and there's a third QB running skill to be added later.

The draft code QR now means QB-QBR instead of QB-ORO, and there will be a new draft code QC for QB-SCR. There's going to be a bit of a run of these imcomprehensible codes for a while but I figure you guys can cope - so I'm only going to clean them up when we go over to a fully interactive online system when you'll be able to pick things from selection lists with proper descriptions instead of inputting awkward codes.

One change you might notice is that a scrambling quarterback will no longer effect your team strengths on running plays where he's not involved. I think that's right - his impact should be in providing extra plays you can run effectively, not counting a strength when your backs are running a sweep. Although QB blocking skills are another possible addition.

LAST PLAY OF GAME - Tuesday 11 Jul 2011 Top

The change to Hail Mary situations are now in place and under test. I've introduced a specific play to replace the DL play call and changed the way it's processed in a separate routine instead of using the normal play-by-play process (like a special teams play instead of a regular down). I've eliminated unncessary complications like fumbles, interceptions and returns. Currently there aren't even any completions short of the endzone: either you make it or you don't.

I decided the range for choosing between a Big Ben play and a gadget play isn't very relevant, although we might come back to that later. Instead I've opted for cleaning up the decision making on "short" hail mary situations where you can throw a forcing pass to a selected receiver. You pick a range (for what you think is short) and a receiver. The defence tries to guess which receiver and bat the ball away. If they guess wrong you get a fairly good chance of hitting your guy in the endzone. So it's sort of a mini-game within a game. It's a fairly rare event, don't forget. It was tempting to make it entirely driven by coaching choices with no element for player skills - maybe that's something we could come back to.

Initial settings for the hail mary options in your gameplan are 10 yards, SX and SXD and you can't actually change them yet (they won't be available until a few weeks into the season).

ACCUMULATED KEYS & TRAINING - Tuesday 21 Jun 2011 Top

I've made a change so the maximum for accumulated keys and accumulated training is 9 instead of 7. I'm still thinking about how to tie training, formations and play calls on offence together, so that training applies to a play call in a given formation, or is needed in proportion to the number of formations you use for that play (it being fairly obvious the more formations in which you use the play the more training should be needed to make it work).

FOURTH DOWNS, PUNT & FIELD GOAL FAKES - Sunday 19 Jun 2011 Top

Other tactical situations that we could be looking at are fake punts and field goals. For these we need purpose built play calls to fit the players available in the formation and options to decide when to go for them. And a limit of how many you can do.

We could also look at expanding the range of option on punts and punt returns, kicks and kick returns. Maybe some choices that are match-or-mismatch against each other, changing the chances of the various different outcomes. They could even have proper situations defined for them, instead of having vague "strategy" style play calls that apply every time.

While we're looking at fourth downs we could have a think about the current system of fourth down options to see if we want to change any, and also to look at the restriction of two failures after which you can no longer go for it on fourth down. I'd like to change that to one failure - but only apply it to fourth downs that aren't obvious/sensible/consensus decisions. To do that we need to see if we can achieve a consensus on which ones shouldn't be restricted.

LAST PLAY OF GAME - Saturday 18 Jun 2011 Top

Looking at theroutine for the last play of the game, at present with a lead we down the ball if we're not backed up too close to the goal line. We go for a field goal if we're within long range and it's enough to win or tie. If within short yardage needing a TD to win or tie we throw whichever pass we completed most in the game so far. Outside short yardage we throw DL from D formation against WC, no matter the distance to go.

Possible changes are to introduce new play calls to fit the situation instead of using normal ones that are only approximately similar, and a decision point for the maximum range at which to throw a hail mary pass into the endzone (beyond that you have to throw it as a buck and wing play with the receiver throwing a lateral or pitching back to another player). That would mean a set of forcing plays whose chance of success depends on the range and skills (like a field goal attempt) rather than a normal play. With a choice of which one to use at short range? And what field position should count as short range?

I don't think we need to use a shotgun formation, so we need a new formation defined for the purpose (swapping to S formation isn't right as we don't want to keep a man in the backfield - he's got to go downfield with the others).

There's also a decision for the range at which it's worth throwing the hail mary when the scores are tied - and when it's better to go to overtime than risk the ball coming back at you.

PDF UTILITY - Friday 10 Jun 2011 Top

At present the updates to our PDF report writer utilities aren't being added to the version that's downloadable from the website as we think this version is no longer needed - it's the one that allows you to print it yourself after receiving your report in text format and and we don't think anyone does that any more (since we went over to sending game reports in attached PDF files). We think everyone opting for text reports uses other print and display methods, not our utility. Tell us if we're wrong, if you think it matters. I'm guessing it's likely someone will need to update or replace the utility you are using sometime, but since it's not one of ours I don't think we need to worry about it.

GAME STATS - Wednesday 8 Jun 2011 Top

I've added stats keeping for recording first downs won by run or pass or penalties, for run and pass balance on first downs and in the redzone, plus stats for the number of drives reaching the redzone and how the drives finished. We also have runs for loss, runs for no gain, dumpoffs and throwaways, all in the game stats. There are stats for field goals of 50 yards or more, made and missed, but I haven't decided what to do with those.

Most of these will appear initially in the game stats only - we can work them into other reports later. I've done nothing to check or test any of these, as I figure you guys can do that during play. I'm sure you'll notice if the stats don't add up. Any more suggestions for new game stats to be added?

SCOUTING REPORTS - Monday 6 Jun 2011 Top

There's been a fair amount of feedback on improved scouting reports. Providing a large mass of raw data is not what we're going to be doing. That would benefit a small number of coaches and make the game even less accessible to everyone else. What we want from scouting reports is to make the game easier to play, by accumulating and summarising the information already available.

The obvious additions are to accumulate the best plays and formations in the league report, and the best plays and scoring plays from the game summary (information that I think a lot of you are currently not using). I'll look at adding the stats-keeping needed for red zone stats and analysis, stats for first down calls (specifically for the run-pass balance on first and ten) and first downs achieved (by run, pass and penalties).

PRE-SEASON TRAINING - Sunday 1 May 2011 Top

Training and keys should now accumulate in pre-season the same as in the regular season but won't count in game strengths (otherwise the teams that play alot of pre-season games will get stronger and you'll have no idea whether your results are due to your gameplan or just a mismatch in playing strengths). Current training, keys and bonus etc will still count as normal. The point of this change is to help the player stats routine prioritise plays when allocating runners and receivers.

I'm also adding some extra boxes to use for bonus plays during the setup phase.

Accumulated training on formations (accumulated from your "most used" formations each game) should appear on game reports as well, although at present they don't do anything.

SPECIAL ACTIONS - Thursday 21 Apr 2011 Top

I've done the changes to allow special actions during the setup phase (ie. now). You can't do stuff that spends LPs, but you can do Rename, Select Starter, Swap, Select Defence and Select Runner/Receiver. The softsim website will allow you to input any actions you like, but these are the only ones that will work. Let me know if you think of any others that are needed.

I've also added extra boxes for Select Defence and Select Runners & Receivers actions in the same way as the extra Select Starter action boxes. They should work in pre-season the same as they do as special actions.

FEEDBACK - Wednesday 20 Apr 2011 Top

The feedback I'm getting on player stats seems to have wandering off topic, being all concerned with generating realistic player stats across the season rather than how to prioritise player allocations when you don't have lots of accumulated training. If we don't get the business of allocating players to plays right there's no point thinking about adding them up across the season. We need to address this question first.

Sensible player stats aren't really on the agenda anyway until after we've made the change to assessing team strengths play by play against the current formation, and that doesn't happen until after we introduce starting formations. They'll also depend on bringing in some fatigue rules so you don't overuse individual players (either in-game fatigue, or fatigue across the season, or both, either affecting just the allocation of stats or impacting your playing strengths as well). That's serious stuff to be thinking about.

A limitation on making season stats look like real life is we don't have players missing through injury. In real life a team might use six or seven wide receivers in a season, even though only four of them suit up for any given game, but we have the same four all the time. At the top end the best players will not miss any games and get higher stats (not higher than the best, since those are usually the guys who don't miss any games, but we'll have more players at that level). Players at the bottom end we should get more stats, because there will be fewer players with only one or two games, but no-one cares about those. I'm thinking these will be acceptable differences. It's over-using players within a game that really matters.

Game stats are very clumped at present because the allocation of players to plays is made only once at the start of the game and then doesn't change. Except for quarterbacks getting benched. The stats-keeping routine is perfectly capable of coping with the player selections changing during the game (as it does for quarterbacks) so once we introduce a sensible scheme for making changes we'll have de-clumped stats. An obvious first step would be to bench players when they get tired, similar to the way we we bench quarterbacks. It would be clumsy, but it would work, and we could refine it later.

PLAYER STATS & RUNNINB BACKS - Tuesday 19 Apr 2011 Top

I think we've established that the allocation of players to plays doesn't work properly in the setup phase, with the allocations being very random. This is because the routine normally uses your accumulated training to work out which are your priority plays and allocates the highest value plays to those. I see several ways to tackle this, by adding a bunch of training boxes to the turnsheets for the initial draft, or adding a bunch of bonus play boxes to the turnsheet during the setup phase, or counting up the number of times a play appears in your gameplan and using that instead.

Another more complicated option would be to have the "best plays" in each pre-season game accumulate into your training like they do in normal games. That would mean the more pre-season games you play the more training you have - unless I also tweak the system so accumulated training doesn't count in unscheuled pre-season games and is wiped out when the schedule starts. That would mean the player selections would be refined as you go along in pre-season. The more games you play the more your starters should take over the stats. Like in a real pre-season.

I haven't had much useful feedback about using the four running backs, so I've gone ahead and changed to naming and allocating them as FB, HB1, HB2 and UB with the reserve back designation disppearing. The effect should be that HB2 takes the part the RB had as backup to HB1, but doesn't play backup to the FB. The UB is a backup to either, and all four backs count equally as receivers. I haven't made the UB the key receiver on any particular plays at all, although it's something we might add later, probably by deploying him as a wing back or scat back with some new play calls specific to those positions.

COLLEGE LEAGUE - Saturday 16 Apr 2011 Top

In the college version if you want a running quarterback and don't get one in the initial draft tell me and I'll change an OPS to an ORO. In subsequent seasons you recruit players by draft codes so it's only an issue in the initial setup. Maybe we should change the composition of the initial draft list for college leagues.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Friday 15 Apr 2011 Top

Bear in mind that in addition to kickers and punters and returners you now have blocking and coverage skills, so the range of abilities is going to be larger than it was before - although there is some tapering off in the effect of higher values.

I seem to be saying it quite often, but the DPC and DKC skills count for blocking on punt and kick returns as well as coverage to prevent them (eg. someone with DPC helps on your punt returns as well as preventing opponents making return punts against you).

PRE-SEASON - Monday 11 Apr 2011 Top

During the startup phase if you input a turn I run an "unscheduled" game. If you haven't done your initial roster selection you get a warmup game since that's the only format that's possible without a roster.

Your first game afer doing your initial draft will normally be a pre-season game against a warmup team (the Portland Bills, most likely) where their roster will be the same as yours. That format allows you to explore the strengths and weaknesses of your roster from the other side of the ball. If you want to skip this game and go straight to the next stage you need to tell me and hope your email arrives before I run your turn.

After that I'll normally run your game against a real opponent and there may be a delay while I wait for a suitable opponent to show up. If you want to play a warmup team instead then you need to tell me and hope your email arrives in time (they usually do). I can run a game without you changing your gameplan - you just have to tell me that's what you want.

PLAYER NAMES - Saturday 9 Apr 2011 Top

I've now got the utility for reading player names working okay and processed the first several teams. The common faults so far are getting the position codes wrong (you need to say WR1, WR2 etc, rather than just WR, for example) and including other formatting and labels that I have to remove before the software can read the file. Neither is too time consuming or difficult, though. You all know by now that duplicate shirt numbers make a mess, so do try not to do that.

SITUATION NUMBERS & FORM - Friday 8 Apr 2011 Top

Situation numbers only appear in the play-by-play listing in games against the warmup teams. That's because in those games you're the only coach that sees that report. When you're playing anyone else the other coach is reading the same file. The situation numbers don't appear, because otherwise you'd be giving away a lot of information about the structure of your gameplan. This isn't something new, by the way, it's always been like that.

You should find it's no longer possible to get form gains in special teams strengths (it didn't happen often before) so there's no need to include them in the game-day totals. Don't forget that form gains are going to be spread more thinly, being counted separately at home and on the road.

PRE-SEASON - Thursday 7 Apr 2011 Top

Note the team data used by the warmup teams (always the Portland Bills at present) in a pre-season game is your own roster, so if the balance of the game is screwy that's probably because your roster is screwy. In warmup games by constrast there are no rosters, only standard team strengths all round.

A FEW EXTRA TWEAKS - Thursday 17 Mar 2011 Top

I've added potential and additional/initial experience to player strengths along with kick and punt coverage skills (DKC and DPC). Currently potential and experience don't count in waiver and minimum bid values, but the coverage skills should count the same as the other special teams skills. They apply both sides of the ball, for blocking on your kick and punt returns and in coverage when the kick or punt is being returned against you.

Additional experience counts in your favour when you want it (it's added to the "age" value) but doesn't count against you in terms of age on speed skills or for injury and retirment risks. Potential currently just reduces the LP cost when coaching or fixing that player (eg. coaching with no potential costs 15 LPs, coaching with 3 potential costs 12 LPs and one potential).

Another minor tweak for scouting (the FS acton, looking at the free agent list) is when you don't do a special action you repeat your last scouting action instead. That doesn't apply during the draft and camps (when you'll be doing lots of actions anyway - if you have any spare for scouting you can do them yourself).

INITIAL TURNSHEETS - Tuesday 15 Mar 2011 Top

I've added two more player slots to rosters, these being the Utility Back (we'll be splitting the two roles of the RB into separate positions) and Dime Back (DCB, an extra DB for balance because DB strengths tend to get fragmented so much). A point for discussion is whether the backup running back should still be listed as RB or specifically as HB2, which is the role for which we intend the slot to be used. In the meantime both the UB and the DCB are just extra reserves available in the rotation but with no specific roles.

While you're following (real life) draft previews this season, keep thinking about which of the player qualities being discussed are interesting and relevant and could be applied in Gameplan. Quite a lot of draft coverage is nonsense and it has a tendency to pander to the American view that individual skills are all-important (in reality this is a team game and it's how you combine player skills across the team that matters) but keep on the lookout for useful ideas for making rosters and drafts and individual players more interesting.

OVERCALLS - Sunday 6 Mar 2011 Top

At present if your gameplan (in the advanced version) doesn't provide a play call when one is needed you get SW on offence or MD on defence. If we have scripted situations (that delete themselves when you run out of plays) then the risk of falling out of your gameplan is going to be a lot higher, and a lot less predictable. Many coaches will have a catch-all situation to ensure there is no way of failing to provide a play call, but a sensible option might be to program this separately, probably with a selection of play calls. So maybe we want the default call (or a set of default calls) to be a standard part of the gameplan.

At the same time we could reintroduce play tokens, using either the same set of play calls or another set. These were some dummy "token" play calls you could put in your gameplan, which would be selected like normal plays and then substituted with a real play call from an extra situation (an example would be that you call XO in an ordinary situation, and the actual play call is made instead from the group you've set for XO, say RT PW PL SC). That achieved three things: you could change your play calling across a range of situation just by changing the calls in the token boxes, you could call more than just four plays in a given situation, and the reactions to the plays would change across all the situations the tokens are called from. So the results in one situation can influence the play calling in another. I think we only took it out to simplify things and make room on the turnsheet.

Looking at the original version of the game we actually had ten play calls per situation. Are we sticking to four? We went to four mainly to make everything fit on the turnsheet. Plays and formations were called independently on each one. Probably too radical a change and probably unnecessary. You won't get that far down the list that often. Might want more play calls for scripted situations, but that can be achieved easier by having more situations.

TIME & SCORE - Thursday 3 Mar 2011 Top

So far the only problem with the new time & score system is there are a few coaches who are using the time column to make arbitrary changes to their play calling in an effort to create situation mismatches. I think this is trying to play in the cracks in the rulebook and not the game - no real life coach is looking at the clock and deciding to change your play calling in a three minute spell part way through the second quarter. I think very few of you are doing this, and I don't think many of you will start now you know about it. It's very imprecise (you don't know you're going to have the ball within the time frame, for example) and you can't prevent the plays repeating when you don't wan them to.

The actual issue here isn't that you want to change your play calling based on the time, but you want to be able to call a few plays differently and then take them out of your gameplan. This isn't about defining game situations, it's about reactions, and we already have a proposal to do this properly through scripting (with a reaction setting that has the situation remove itself from your gameplan once all the plays have been called). I think these fiddly time-based situations are going to disappear once you can connect to a better selection of real game events (achieving a yardage target, or completing a set sequence of plays, for example).

The stats-based options will need a lot of thought and experimentation to make them work. Several people have asked they should be based on completion percentage or average rush yards but those are completely impractical. Total yardage accumulates and has a real meaning, but average anything will fluctuate wildly - it would have to be fenced together with lots of other conditions (like, the total yardage has reached a meaningful total). This will be quite a complex area.

PLAYER STATS - Monday 28 Feb 2011 Top

I've added to the sections on stadiums and weather in the Rosters & Draft page. And yes I know the "correct" plural is "stadia" but "stadiums" is clearer and unambiguous and simpler and I'm going to go on using it. I've also added player stats to the status page although that's probably going to need some other things to progress a little before we can do much with it.

With the selection of runners and receivers already in, I guess we should deduct some training from that play call when you change the player. Reduce by half? Or just the odd point or two?

SPECIAL TEAMS - Sunday 27 Feb 2011 Top

I'd like to have some new player data already in use before we start making initial selections as well so let's start with adding more special teams strengths (I want to test the mechanics of the changes before doing the more important stuff). Shall we have blocking and coverage on kick and punt returns as a single skill? Two skills? Four skills?

I've added an item in the Formations page on linking offence formations and play calls for training, or maybe changing offence formations to work the same way as defence formations (ie. used to customise the play call instead of being called separately). That's a radical change, though.

At present you can't target an individual defender on a roster, or an individual in the blocking scheme. We'd have to go through several stages to separate positions and strengths between right/left side and/or strong/weak side and/or inside and I think that means first breaking down the player positions further (at least between inside and outside). But it's a possibility in the long term.

FEEDBACK EMAILS - Saturday 26 Feb 2011 Top

In the long run I anticipate there being a variety of leagues working different ways in terms of rules variations, the same way the basic game is is cut down by having a standard gameplan. Another might have rosters with an absolute salary cap (ie. fixed values) but that's not part of what we're dealing with at present.

Am getting lots of feedback on the DP dumpoff play. Let's clarify - a play is logged as a DP whenever a deep pass is completed to anyone other than the primary receiver. It's still completed or not according to the original play call. The idea that we've been running different plays to the ones the coaches called is too silly for words. You all know better than this. Also by my reckoning you can't catch a DP on a hurry. Not at all.

I've added sections on hail army plays and secondary pass routes (ie. dumpoff passes) in the Playbook page and play-by-play roster strengths in the Player Skills page.

ADVANCED GAMEPLANS - Saturday 26 Feb 2011 Top

Top priority for FEEDBACK is I want you to look through the situations defined in your gameplans (in the advanced version) and the combinations of the time and score columns you actually use (examples: late & losing, late & winning, two minute warning & losing, second half & losing, second half & winning, leading by two scores, losing by two scores, and so on). I'm going to want to start the game with as many of these as possible already defined. Initially they might be specified by a list of character codes (the way formations are done at present...) but we'll be able to code the online turnsheet using selection lists instead.

Example: Instead of ordering say, score -1 to -21 and time HT to 75 you'd simply enter "L" in the time-score box (if "L" is the code for late-and-losing).

STARTUPS - Friday 25 Feb 2011 Top

Well, that's an impressive response to opening the waiting list for test leagues. Interesting that it's the advanced game that's filling quickest - I'd better move the advanced changes up the list of priorities. Not been able to do much this week, was away from home midweek and I still have a folder full of emails to answer (all I've done so far is scan them quickly for startups).

But I can make some quick comments on my impressions of the initial feedback...
1. The idea in the current phase is to enhance the existing game, not chuck it out and design a new one. We're especially interested in things that take advantage of the increased resources and improved input methods. The fundamentals of the design aren't going to change. We want to improve the current game and hope to avoid breaking it.
2. I realise a lot of coaches don't know what's a tweak and what's a fundamental design change (although there are also plenty with software backgrounds who probably do). What I'm saying is don't be offended when I say you're outside of the scope of the current project. I think we're going to be able to do some pretty amazing things later, but for now we're catching up on maintenance and the "continuous improvement" process.
3. If you find yourself saying "more like the NFL" in your justifications for why you think something is wanted, then go back and think again. That's not where we're going.
4. I'm not planning to join or run a forum - there are other people who are quite capable of doing this and it will probably work better if what I see is filtered by you guys first trying to form a consensus amongst yourselves or at least filtering out the stuff I don't need to see. I need to maintain focus on the things I'm actually working on and avoid bouncing around all over the place.
5. Long experience has shown that real coaches playing for real, albeit at a bit of a discount, make for good testing. When we've done free test games they didn't work (we get little feedback and the players don't really care or make much of an effort).

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