Joe Conte is, as everyone knows, the lead developer for Grid Iron Dynasty.  He was gracious enough to take some time and answer some questions for us about the game engie, “The Update”, and other things.

BH: Hi Joe, thanks for agreeing to this interview – we usually start out with what I call the “demographic” questions, so – please tell us a little bit about your background.

JC:  I was born and raised in the Cincinnati area and went to Moeller High School followed by the University of Notre Dame where I earned a computer science and engineering degree (class of 99). I got married a few years back and my wife is a graduate of the honors plus program at UC.

Since this is a sports site, I'll give you my athletic background. I played intramural sports at both and did martial arts at ND. I have black belts in Tae Kwon Do and Jujitsu. After graduating, I played in some rec basketball leagues for several years as well as soccer (indoor and outdoor) and softball up until a couple years ago when life and some health issues got in the way. I think all of that is behind me now after a little radiation a couple weeks back (the real reason the new engine release was delayed a week).

As for watching sports, I love watching football -- both college and pro. I can sit down and watch just about any football game and enjoy it. Even though I like football more, I think March Madness is the best sporting event and wish college football would move to a playoff/tournament format as well. Unfortunately, these decisions are driven by money and the bowl system is simply too lucrative for the big schools/conferences that would have to get behind the playoff to make it happen. My favorite teams ND, UC, Bengals, and Reds. I can't stand anything USC and have learned to tolerate Ohio St.

 

BH: How did you come to work at WhatIfSports ?

JC: I came to work at WIS by chance. I was working for a startup company that was going bankrupt and laying people off left and right. I knew about WIS and decided to send in a resume. As it turned out, the owner of the company (Tarek) was someone I had worked with at a previous employer and had played basketball with several times a week back then. He got back to me and we started talking about bringing me on board. After about a year, he brought me on to create GD. That was in April of 2004 and GD was released about 4 or 5 months later with me doing all the design and coding. The day GD launched was awesome. 

 

BH: What was the "inspiration" for GD? Was it something Tarek had in mind or something you pitched to him? Did you have any "influences" in creating the game -- for example, any of the various games on football (Strat-O-Matic, APBA, StatisPro, Bowl Bound, Coleco Electric Football?)

JC: The idea for GD was Tarek’s. He had created HD and wanted to do a dynasty college football game. Beyond that, I was given the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. I've played most of the popular console football games like Madden and I've played APBA and Strat-O-Matic before, so using those experiences, along with working with Tarek on how he did things for HD, I designed GD.

 

BH: What is the most rewarding part of working for WIS?

JC: I love the fact that I put a game out that thousands of people play and are very passionate about. The passion can lead to some "colorful" tickets and forum posts, but it's still great to see it.

 

BH: What’s your job title at WIS, and what other responsibilities do you have besides GD?

JC: I think my official title right now with Fox Sports (after being acquired) is Sr. Software Engineer. Within WIS, I'm the product director and lead engineer for GD. In addition to all things GD, I've helped out on many other WIS projects ranging from UI work on HD to writing the simulation engine for FCD. I've also worked on projects for Fox Sports with the most notable being the lead on their NFL Survivor game.

 

BH: Speaking of Fox Sports... In one of my fake interviews, I called WIS a "wholly ignored subsidiary of Fox Sports". How much impact / influence does Fox have on WIS activities in general, and GD in particular? Are there 10 people at Fox Sports that would know what GridIron Dynasty *is*?

JC: The Fox Sports guys don't directly affect our games in that they don't tell us how to run them, what updates to do, etc. However, we are called upon to do development work for them and since we have limited resources, this takes away from the time that we have to work on our games. For example, I was pulled off GD to lead the development of the NFL Survivor game currently running on foxsports.com. Our office has also developed Baseball Hotstreak, Basketball Hotstreak, Guess the Score, and Frank's Picks for them to name a few that are currently running and we will likely be doing a super bowl game and racing game in the coming months. There are a group of guys from the LA office that play GD and some of our other games, but I'd say the majority of Fox Sports employees have not visited out site. I think they know who we are since we are doing most, if not all, of the game development for them though.

 

BH: Do you ever wish you could quit WIS so you could really play GD and kick everyone's ass?

JC:  <laughs> Sometimes. The way it is now I basically can't play the game. There are too many people out there that can't accept me playing the game along with everyone else.

BH: So Northern Iowa in Leahy…

JC: I just have the team so that I can monitor the game and check things out.  I don’t try to win or generally recruit.  Winning recruiting battles and games draws too many complaints, so I just let the team go.

 

BH: The uber-nerd in me has some “technical” questions next.  Can you describe the platform that the application runs under? Approximately how many lines of code make up the current game? Written in what language?

JC: There is a controller app that is written in VB (I would like to rewrite it in C# to clean it up and gain performance). There used to be a VB engine that was responsible for loading and playing the games for each world one at a time. Now there is a simulator app written in C# that creates a thread pool and uses one thread per world to load the games for each world and play them simultaneously. To play the games, it uses the simulation engine which is also written in C#. The sole responsibility of the simulation engine is to play a game. The simulator thread loads the game -- home team, away team, rule set -- and then passes the game to the engine which plays it out and returns the results -- score, stats, game events (play-by-play), game drives, etc. Then the simulator is responsible for saving off the results. You'll notice that I mentioned the rule set for the game. This allows us to use the same game engine to play both college and NFL games. This engine will be used for an NFL Dynasty game as soon as we have the time and resources to do it.

All of our web servers (we have 3 active for WIS games) are windows servers running IIS with our database (1 active) being SQL Server. To give an idea of scope, the user interface portion of GD is 733 files in 42 different directories (9.59 MB), the simulator application is 284 files in 10 directories (6.73 MB), the game engine is 88 files in 18 directories (7.08 MB), and the database has 112 tables and 592 stored procedures. I have no idea how many lines of code that is, but it's a lot!

 

BH: What, if anything, can you tell us about the Pro Football game?

JC:  Sorry, I don't really have anything to share on it. At this point it is nothing more than a couple page very high level design spec that I wrote up. I know that we would like to make it a reality, but we simply don't have the resources to make it happen at the present time.

 

BH: We've been told repeatedly that it's not possible to have different worlds running under different rules - for example a world with D1-A playoffs. What restrictions prevent that from happening?

JC:  The reason all worlds run under the same rules is because the same code controls all worlds.  As I mentioned before, there is a controller application, written in VB, which handles the recruiting, scheduling, etc. for all worlds. It runs every 3 hours and processes all actions for each world. We could create another controller app to handle all this for worlds running under a different set of rules or modify the existing one, so it is possible, but it’s not something we want to do in terms of development, maintenance, and support.

 

BH: Please describe the “development cycle” for GD.

JC: When it is time to do an update for GD (I don't decide when that is), I sit down and go through suggestions that I've received from support tickets, the council, general forums, and co-workers. I will sit down with select people here and we'll talk over the items, then I'll make a list of items I want to add to the game along with the time requirements to make the change. After that, I prioritize the list grouping items at different priority levels. Then I sit down with my boss and we talk about how much time we have to devote to the update, the number of resources (developers, graphics, etc.), etc. and hash out what to include and who will work on it. Sometimes an update is just me and sometimes I have 1 or more other developers working with me on it. I have final say over what goes in and what does not when it comes to the game and how it plays.

 

BH: I've also played HBD, and one of the biggest differences in the two from my perspective is the overwhelming number of updates HBD receives compared to GD - not just major updates but lots of minor tweaks. Is that an actual case of more updates, or more a matter of not announcing every time a tweak is made to GD? (Obviously there is a lot of tweaking going on presently)

JC: I think in HBD, whenever a bug is fixed or a minor tweak made, an announcement is made. I tend not to do that, but is something I should try to get better at doing. In terms of major updates, HBD, GD, and HD all get about the same amount of attention.

 

BH: Let’s turn our attention to “The Update” and its aftermath.  It's Tuesday November 16th. You've got everything installed, the sim runs, things seem to go smoothly ... and then you look at the message boards. What is running through your mind at this point?

JC: Honestly, when I first looked at the forums after the first half of games I wasn't too worried because overreaction is a strong point of many posters. I like to take a step back and actually analyze the numbers and then make a decision. The problem is that to get those numbers, it takes a few days’ worth of games. I knew there would be things that fell through cracks and need to be adjusted once the update rolled out, but I never expected anything like this. I started going back through my test data to see if I missed something and nothing jumped out, but the numbers from games didn't add up. Then it dawned on me -- the test players/ratings didn't accurately reflect the makeup of the real teams. I made a mistake not pulling down the production data to our test environment to test with -- I know better next time. I immediately went to work on fixing the problem. The fix ended up breaking exhibition games between teams at different divisional levels, but I figured it was worth it to get the games that count running better. Unfortunately, the time it took to gather the necessary data and get the fix in and tested was enough to get many coaches very fired up.

 

BH: What do you wish you had done differently with the update?

JC:  Pulled down some production data and tested with that in a test world....but I didn't realistically have time to do that before the set release date.

 

BH: In a forum post you mentioned that you had simmed a game 1000 times - about how long does that take? Could you reasonably sim all the games in all worlds, say, 500 times and take a look at aggregate results across each division for testing purposes?

JC: With the new engine, it is not bad. I think it took just about 5 minutes to sim the games and compile all the stats. Right now, an average days’ worth of games takes about 5 minutes as well playing each game once. 

 

BH: So, 500 times would be roughly 42 hours – then you have to compile the data, and break it down into meaningful chunks in order to analyze the results.

JC: Yes – about 42 hours just to run the games.  There would also be time in setting everything up and compiling all the data afterwards.  I think you can get a good idea of aggregate results by running far fewer games and I don’t think the aggregate is the problem at the present time.  I think those numbers look very good.  I think the problem currently is at the game level and the way in which games are turned on too many big plays.  This is something else that we are working on currently.

 

BH: What's been the most frustrating thing about this update rollout from your perspective?

JC:  Other than the fact that what I thought to be an extremely good game engine that was leaps and bounds ahead of the previous version fall flat and has been viewed as a total disaster?  It has to be that people don't believe or accept answers to questions or statements about how things work. I never intentionally try to mislead anyone and try to explain how things work and answer questions honestly. When I get a question, either in a support ticket or see it in the forums, that asks “how does A work?” and I respond with exactly how it works only to get a response back that I'm a liar and have given horrible customer service, or have my words twisted around is quite frustrating. I understand that people are frustrated and want things to work as they expect -- I do too and am working to make that happen.

 

BH: Many players feel a lot more work remains to be done on the engine.  Your thoughts?

JC: I think that once another adjustment or two is made, the game engine will be far better than the old one ever was but I think it is hard for current coaches to see this. The possibilities for the new engine are tremendous and I hope that I get a chance to leverage some of those capabilities in the near future -- I know the patience of many users is being tested right now.

 

BH: There's a perception among the user community that you can sometimes be ... ah, how shall I put it? ... "stubborn" about certain aspects of the game, regardless of input from players. Are there parts of the game that are just "sacred cows" and aren't going to be changed?

JC: I can be stubborn, sure, but I also don't like making snap judgments and decisions. I like to look into things a little more and analyze the situation before moving forward. As far as I'm concerned there are no untouchable parts of the game, but some parts would take more convincing to change than other parts. I think some players make suggestions without looking at the bigger picture of the game as a whole or all the data and then don't understand why I don't see things their way. If a suggestion makes sense, I definitely look into it and will make changes if it is for the good of the game long term.

 

BH: Once the current issues with the game engine are addressed, and are more under control, do you foresee continuous ongoing tweaks to the game a la HD and HBD? Or are we more likely to see future changes rolled in to larger, less often updates?

JC: As long as I am not pulled onto another project, I would love to be able to sit back and make frequent changes.

 

BH: Let’s turn to actual game play.  How much randomness is really in the play-by-play results? For reference, I used to have an old Avalon Hill game called Strategy Football, and the way it worked was each side called their play, and looked up the result on a table - so a specific offensive play against a specific defensive play would ALWAYS yield the same result, no matter what. Nobody wants that, but we don’t want “spinner” football games either.

JC: There is always going to be a level of randomness since everything is odds based. For example, if a QB recognizes that the receiver is open. Basically, the end results is a percent chance -- say 0.9 or 90%. Then a random number is used to determine the outcome -- between 0 and 0.9, then the QB sees the receiver....between 0.91 and 1.0, the QB misses him. That percent chance is what gets adjusted based on the player ratings. This is why sample size is important. Going back to the example, the random number could end up being between 0.91 and 1.0 4 out of 5 times yielding 10% recognition, but as that sample grows, the results will trend toward the 90%.

 

BH:  Without going into the actual calculations, could you go through what is involved with simulating a play? For example, it obviously starts with select offensive play based on down/distance/game situation, select defensive play based on down/distance/offensive formation, then... ?

JC: I think a lot of people out there don't realize that each play is simulated, in great detail, and the game plays out just like a real football game. We don't predetermine outcomes or get a final score and work backwards. It is played just like a real game. I’ll walk you through a passing play (skipping all the steps prior to the snap of the ball where the offense and defense are selected, players subbed, etc.):

1. The first step after the ball is snapped is to determine the time the QB has to throw the ball.
*** This initial determination is done looking at the number of players the offense has available to pass protect on the play and their ability to do so (blocking, strength, and game instinct are the most important factors) against the defense's pass rushing ability (strength, elusiveness, and technique). There is also a chance that an offensive player will miss his assignment which would result in very quick pressure on the QB. This is done by selecting a blocker and looking at his blocking, formation IQ, and experience to determine if he understands whom to block on the play.

2. The QB determines where his target location to throw the ball is for the play.
*** This determination is done based on the aggressiveness of the offensive play call to start. Then it is adjusted by shifting the QB's vision if it is 3rd or 4th down and he needs to look beyond the first down marker, if the team is close to scoring and the field is compressed, or if the throw needs to go to the endzone (time running out, hail mary, etc.).

3. Using the protection time and target location, does the QB have time to go to his target location?

4a. QB has the time - the matchup between the target receiver and the defender on the play is analyzed to determine if the receiver is open. (Go to 7)
*** This is done by looking at athleticism, speed, elusiveness, technique, and game instinct for the receiver and athleticism, speed, technique, and game instinct for the defender. This is further modified by the location on the field -- the player is more likely to be open on a screen pass than he is on a deep throw.

4b. QB does not have the time - does the QB recognize that he does not have the time he needs? (Go to 5)
*** This is based on the QB's game instinct and experience.

5a. No - there is a chance for a sack. The matchup between the QB and the pressuring defender is analyzed to determine if the sack is made or the QB eludes the pressure. (Go to 6)
5b. Yes - the QB will either select a different target he does have time for (checkdown) or rollout to buy some extra time. If he leaves the pocket, the amount of extra protection time is determined and the decision process basically goes back to 3. The QB can obviously only leave the pocket 1 time to get extra time.

6a. Sack
*** Based on the matchup between the defender (ATH, SPD, GI, TKL, TECH) applying the pressure and the QB (ATH, SPD, ELU, STR).

6b. The QB will leave the pocket to get more time if he is in the pocket.
*** The amount of time he can gain is based on his ATH, ELU, SPD, and STR along with the blocking/defense factors determined in step one with slight modifications.

6c. The QB will either throw the ball away or scramble if he is already outside the pocket.
*** Determine if the QB will scramble based on his ATH, SPD, and ELU.

7a. Receiver is open -- determine if the QB recognizes that the target receiver is open (Go to 8)
*** The main factors here are the QB's GI and formation IQ.

7b. Receiver is covered -- the QB will either force the throw or move on to another target which basically goes back to 3. *** The decision to force the throw is based on the aggressiveness of the play call, the QB's GI, and his STR.

8a. Yes -- the throw is made.
8b. No -- the QB moves on to another target which again goes back to 3.

9. Determine the outcome of the throw. Is it a good throw?
*** This is based on the distance of the throw, the throwing window the QB has (relative "open-ness" of the receiver), and the QB's accuracy (TECH, STR).

10a. Yes -- does the receiver make the catch? (Go to 11)
*** Based on the accuracy of the throw (ease of the catch), and the receiver's hands, athleticism, strength, and technique.

10b. No -- determine if the defender makes the INT or if it is just incomplete.
*** This is based on the positioning of the defense and the closest defender. Whether or not the defender can make the play on the ball and intercept it is based on his speed, athleticism, hands, strength, and technique.

11a. Yes -- is the receiver tackled right away by the defender? (Go to 12)
*** Based on the ease with which the receiver made the catch (results of 10a).

11b. No -- the receiver dropped the pass.

12a. Yes -- receiver tackled.
*** Whether or not the receiver is tackled or the run continues is based on defensive positioning, receiver's speed, elusiveness, athleticism, and strength, and defender speed, athleticism, game instinct, tackling, and technique.

12b. No -- receiver runs after the catch.

 

BH: What are the possibilities of having pass distribution settings returned to coach's control in a future update?

JC: Small. The former distribution settings simply set the QB's first look. This is now controlled through the style of the offense, the QB's ability to read the defense, and the WR's ability to get open. The QB now has a much larger role and takes on more responsibility. I think this increased importance of the QB position is a good change.

 

BH: A couple of years ago, the recruit pool was changed, and the overall quality of QB recruits dropped. If I remember right, the idea behind that was QB was a position where you needed to "groom" a guy. With the increased importance being placed on the position, do you expect the quality of QB recruits to be increased, or remain the same?

JC: I don't expect the QB recruits to change, but you never know. I'll have to keep an eye on it. It is very rare that a true freshman can step in and play right away and play well, so I think the fact that you have to develop the guy is a good concept to have in the game.

 

BH: How is the recruit pool generated for each world?

JC: This is just from memory, so I may miss something. The number of recruits generated is based upon the number of anticipated open scholarships that will need to be filled. The location of each recruit is based on population and college location. The position of each recruit is based upon the anticipated number of players at each position that are going to be signed. We do this by looking at the current roster makeup of each team. In the end, we try to make it so that each DIII school has plenty of recruits to choose from and then reduce that number as you go up divisions to make recruiting more difficult and competitive.

 

BH: Is there anything in the works to fix the end of game logic, field goal logic, and 4th down logic? Or perhaps giving us separate sections for end of half and end of game behavior? There have been cases where teams have gone for it on 4th down from their own 40 yard line while they are winning.

JC: We are looking at this aspect of the game right now. It is extremely difficult to write logic to take into account every possible situation that arises in a football game. There are also grey areas that will cause differences of opinion on both sides of the decision, but we have to draw the line between punting, going for the first, and kicking the FG somewhere.  This is going to be an aspect of the game that we continually have to update as situations arise.

 

BH: Let's talk about Formation IQ. How does it work exactly? Is there a bonus/penalty applied directly to a player's attributes when determining outcome of the play? Is it the same for every play called in that formation, or does it vary based on, say, aggressiveness settings? Does it have ANY effect on penalties?

JC: Player's attributes are modified based upon IQ -- this has the effect of a player playing either above or below his ratings based on his IQ. This adjustment is the same for each play called in that formation. There are also some situations where the player's IQ is used just like any other rating, e.g. blocking, to help determine the play outcome. For example, a QB's IQ comes into play like this when he is reading the defense and determining where to throw the ball. Yes, it is also used in determining penalties.

 

BH:  I always thought that’s where Game Instinct came into play for QB.  Is that a change from the old engine?

JC:  The QB’s game instinct is also used – you can see how this is used in the rundown of the passing play.

 

BH: Speaking of penalties, what are the factors that go into determining when a penalty occurs and what kind of penalty it is? Game Instinct? Or one of the hidden attributes like "citizenship"?

JC: You got it -- game instinct is the major factor along with technique. The secondary factor is IQ. Each play has a chance for a penalty and the players on the field are analyzed using those factors and the play itself to determine if there is a penalty and the type called.

 

BH: You've expressed hesitancy in revealing the actual "formation IQ" of individual players. Why would this attribute be any different from other "intangibles" like Game Instinct, which is explicitly revealed?

JC: It is a little different in that it is not used like the other ratings are used most of the time. I feel like you can get an understanding of your player's IQ from reading play-by-plays and his performance. I like having things that are not exactly known because, to me, it adds interest. I understand how many coaches don't like this and just want a number 1-100 like the other ratings or an A-F grade....it takes away the mystery. I think showing this rating in some form will be an update fairly soon.

 

BH: There have been some extraordinary coaches over the years who have built impressive dynasties. Since the recent update appears to have lessened the impact of talent disparity on the results, do you foresee coaches being able to build and maintain those kinds of dynasties in the future?

JC: I think we have made a few updates since the initial release of the update that address the concern that talent does not mean much. Each rating point is very important -- a 10 point advantage at each skill for each player results in 9 victories out of 10 games. Of course, teams do not necessarily have an advantage at every skill at every position and this is where game planning comes in. I think the game plan settings are setup in such a way so that you can take advantage of your strong points and try to hide your weak points as a team. Proper game planning is more important in the new engine.
With that said, we have also provided some ways for lesser teams to build up more quickly. Recruiting promises can't be blindly given out to everyone anymore so now only the teams that will actually start the player and/or play him significantly will use those options. Work ethic adjustments based on playing time help teams who are young build those players up more quickly if they give them the playing time. Finally, once we get the IQ and experience adjustments where we want them, these things will make it more difficult for those dynasties to stay on top and reload season after season with young players. Other teams will be able to develop players and put a very smart, experienced team on the field that can give the young, inexperienced stud players a battle.

 

BH: Currently we are restricted from listing a player in more than one position (DT/DE for example). Given the roster size that can create real depth issues - what's behind the decision to not allow a player to be listed at more than one position?

JC: In the old engine, using a player at a different position would cause some balance issues based upon how the ratings were used and distributed within the player pool. This was carried over after the update to the new engine for simplicity in setting starters. The new game engine has no such restriction. We are currently evaluating if we want to open up the depth chart to allow coaches to set players in multiple spots, i.e. a DL could be listed at DT and DE but not at the other spots (ILB/OLB).

 

BH: The new position designations (CB/S, ILB/OLB, DE/DT, RB/FB) means we'll need to make new decisions on the types of recruits we look for, as the attribute requirements of a DE would be different from a DT (for example.) In the past, you've said to use "what makes football sense" as a guideline, but what makes football sense to you might not be the same as what makes football sense to someone else. Can we get a breakdown of "cores" and "secondary" stats for these positions like we have for the others?

JC: I agree that my opinion and your opinion on what makes football sense will vary some, but I think the basics will be pretty close. I have updated the FAQ with this information.

BH: Any chance of a WIKI-style player's guide covering the game with the new update?

JC: I wouldn't mind getting something like that going if I had the time.

 

BH: The players guide lists "cores" and "secondary" stats for each (old) position - are these still accurate? Have some stats (ex: TECH for OL/DL) gained in importance, while others (STR for RB) lessened?

JC: I think they are still accurate, but they may be weighted differently. During the development of the new game engine, we didn't handcuff ourselves with how things were done in the past -- we simply used the ratings and formulas that made the most sense for the given situation. There is also much more complexity in the new engine that brings more ratings into play more often and this makes giving a straight more or less answer very difficult. For example, strength for a RB might be less important when he is running outside the tackles, but could be more important when he is running between the tackles. His strength could be less important when he is blocking, but more important when he is trying to break a tackle. It really depends on the situation.

 

BH: Ok, I’ll make one last attempt to cajole the inside scoop on attributes - since I am going to have to update the GUESS ratings with the new realities of the game, how do the various attributes rank at each position, in terms of importance and frequency of use by the simulation?

JC:  Well, since you put it THAT way…

QB : Primary Attributes - TECH, GI, STR
Highly Important - ELU, SPD, ATH
Moderately Important - HND
Somewhat Important - STA
Not Very Important - BLK, TKL

RB : Primary Attributes - ELU, SPD, STR
Highly Important - ATH
Moderately Important - HND, TECH, GI
Somewhat Important - BLK, STA
Not Very Important - TKL

FB : (assuming used primarily as a blocking back)
Primary Attributes - BLK, STR, GI
Highly Important - ATH, TECH
Moderately Important - ELU, HND, SPD
Somewhat Important - STA
Not Very Important - TKL

WR : Primary Attributes - HND, ELU, SPD, GI
Highly Important - ATH
Moderately Important - TECH, STR
Somewhat Important - STA, BLK
Not Very Important - TKL

TE : Primary Attributes - BLK, TECH, STR
Highly Important - HND, ELU, GI (flip primary/high for a receiver)
Moderately Important - ATH, SPD
Somewhat Important - STA
Not Very Important - TKL

OL : Primary Attributes - GI, BLK, STR
Highly Important - TECH, SPD
Moderately Important - ATH
Somewhat Important - STA, HND
Not Very Important - ELU, TKL

DT : Primary Attributes - TKL, STR, TECH
Highly Important - ELU, ATH
Moderately Important - GI, SPD
Somewhat Important - STA, HND
Not Very Important - BLK

DE : Primary Attributes - TKL, TECH, SPD, ELU
Highly Important - STR, ATH
Moderately Important - GI
Somewhat Important - STA, HND
Not Very Important - BLK

ILB : Primary Attributes - TKL, GI, TECH
Highly Important - STR, ATH
Moderately Important - ELU, SPD
Somewhat Important - STA, HND
Not Very Important - BLK

OLB : Primary Attributes - GI, SPD, TECH, TKL
Highly Important - STR, ATH
Moderately Important - ELU
Somewhat Important - STA, HND
Not Very Important - BLK

CB : Primary Attributes - TECH, GI, SPD
Highly Important - STR, ELU, HND
Moderately Important - ATH, TKL
Somewhat Important - STA
Not Very Important - BLK

S : Primary Attributes - GI, SPD, TKL
Highly Important - ATH, STR, TECH
Moderately Important - HND, ELU
Somewhat Important – STA
Not Very Important - BLK

 

 

BH: Even with the changes made to the substitution patterns, we still see players with low stamina (in the 30's) staying in for 75-80% of the game. What *is* the effect of stamina now? Is this the result of a conscious effort to increase the impact of starters?

JC: The settings put in were done quickly and the engine is not calibrated to use them perfectly. We're working on some adjustments right now to the fatigue/stamina system to make stamina and depth more meaningful. The fatigue system at the present time is a little off in terms of fatiguing players enough to make depth matter.  We are currently working on some changes to dial in fatigue and make depth more important at all positions.

 

BH: To me, Defensive Tendency has been a misnomer - having more to do with how far off the ball the defense lines up rather than what kind of play they are anticipating. Is this still true? Any chance of a future update breaking this down into multiple settings - one for actual play anticipation, another for tight/loose coverage, another for LB/DL "in the box" vs drop back into coverage, etc.

JC: The defensive tendency is all about positioning. If the defense is looking for the run, then the LBs and DBs are pulled up closer to the line of scrimmage. If the defense is playing the pass, then the LBs and DBs are backed off the line some. There's always a chance of a future update to add settings, but I haven't thought about doing so in this area.

 

BH:  How "smart" is SimAI? We all know (or believe, anyway) that it uses the Default-Balanced game plan, but for things like practice plans, the players they pursue, etc., does the Sim make "optimized" moves? I assume that it doesn't make halftime adjustments since it is using default game plans - would you like to "smarten up" the SimAI? (Although I suppose the ultimate goal would be to not need it LOL.)

JC: SimAI is really quite dumb. The sim does the minimum to coach the team. It will use the default game plan. It sets the depth chart by just looking at the overall player ratings at the positions. It uses a good, but not great, practice plan. During recruiting, sim teams will simply recruit good players that are at the positions the team needs with no special logic. SimAI is simply meant to keep a team going until a user takes over. I doubt we will ever make SimAI smarter because most people don't want competition from sim teams. The sim teams shouldn't be absolute pushovers in recruiting and a guaranteed win, but they shouldn't be powerhouses either. It would be nice if a world gets to the point where there aren't any sim teams!

 

BH: Earlier you mentioned responding to support tickets – what's the strangest support ticket you've ever gotten? Besides one asking you to do an interview :).

JC: I don't know if it is the strangest, but definitely the most creative I've seen:

"Dear Penile Implant,

Season after season, you transfer pleasure from playing the
game to your host penis by "tweaking" the hoops sim engine. As I am
not in your line of work, I find it difficult to comprehend exactly
how titillating it must be to strip the zone defense of all its
effectiveness. The fervor with which you dedicated yourself to
destroying this game, however, appears to be no less than the
intensity of the jolly you receive from tonguing a scrotum. After
seeing the new recruiting changes, I now understand that it would be
extremely difficult to sway your addiction to the caress of the vast
bosom of an un-wiped ass crack, and I will try no further.
Unfortunately, I cannot allow myself to support your further
endeavors in seeking hairy penis to massage your tonsils. I must ask
for the refund of my remaining seasons."

BH: <laughs> Did he get the refund?

JC:  I don’t know – Tarek was handling that case.

 

BH: On the subject of Customer Service - much has been made, and long before the uproar over the new release, about WIS' "poor customer service" when it comes to acknowledging faults in the overall game engine, or trying to explain away sometimes bizarre behavior with "the engine is working as designed." In my own experience, I have gotten so much more complete explanations when tickets have been escalated that I really want to bypass front line CSR's completely. How do you react to these criticisms?

JC: I think some of the criticism is valid. I don't answer all the tickets and we do have some generic responses that the first level of support uses for certain situations. We're not a large company (WIS not Fox) and only have a single level 1 support guy who is part time. In order for him to be able to respond to all tickets within 24 hours and help most people, the generic responses are a necessity. Most of the time, they answer the question and everyone is happy. Sometimes they do not and the answer was wrong or incomplete for whatever reason. When I answer a support ticket, I try to explain how and why something has happened the way that it has. It does not mean that the behavior was exactly correct.  I often make notes to check out certain aspects of the game based on these support tickets. I think this sometimes gets misconstrued as poor customer service since I don't say it is a bug or incorrect. When I answer the ticket I don't know if it is a bug or behaving exactly the way we want -- I need to investigate and that can take a long time. I have always taken the approach that the person would rather get a response back quickly than wait several days or weeks for one. Finally, I think a difference of opinion is also viewed by some to be poor customer service. Sometimes I simply do not agree with the premise of the person submitting the ticket. I respond and explain my view or how the game works, but I'm not going to make modifications to the game that I don't think should be made. The bottom line here is that I always try to do what is best for the game moving forward.

 

BH: Realizing that 1st Level CS has guidelines they need to stay within, there are times when some exceptions need to be made to those guidelines. What's the best way for a player to present a case for an exception, so that it reaches the people who CAN make those decisions?

JC: The best way is to be polite and articulate the situation and your reasons for wanting an exception. You will likely receive the standard response from level 1 first, but if you stay calm and explain things, it can bubble its way up the chain and eventually get to me. As soon as someone starts yelling and cursing, it's game over. Even if it does make it me, I don't take kindly to that and will not make an exception. When I do make an exception, it has to be a very good reason because it always gets out and the reasons are not always presented 100%... so then everyone wants an exception and the rules become unenforceable.

 

BH:  OK, admit it -- every time you see an interview with the "Triple Fake JConte" you wish that Fox Sports had never sent me that promo code for a free season. :)

JC:  Ha...I'm glad guys like you are in the game and active. You add a lot to the community.

 

BH: Have you ever looked at the user-created add-ons, tools, and materials for GD (maddiesdad's spreadsheet, yatzr's tools, GUESS reports)? What are your feelings about these things in general?

JC: I have looked at the GUESS reports site, but not the others. I think it is great that people want to take the time to do these things and add to the community.

 

BH: Not wanting to single anyone out - what are your thoughts on the GD Community as a whole?

JC: I think as whole the community is made up of a great group of people. There are obviously situations that arise that bring out some ugliness, but for the most part it is pretty good. I think the nature of an internet game where you are behind a keyboard instead of face-to-face allows some people to get carried away and say things they wouldn't ordinarily say. Luckily, we can give people a little "timeout" when they need it.

 

BH: Let’s lighten things up a bit.  Have you ever wanted - just for giggles - to run the game results under the old engine, and watch people complain about how broken the game is?

JC: <laughs> I'd rather just make all the guys who talk about how great they are in the forums lose a few games and then watch all the "sky is falling" complaints / tirades come rolling in. (Wait, didn't the new engine just do that!)

 

BH: Is it true that you wrote GD because that's the only way ND could win another NC ? [I should talk - the only way Colorado State will get near the national trophy is to schedule an away game with the BCS champ.]

JC: Thanks for the reminder! I didn't put the “ND wins every game” code into the new engine! I knew I should have done more testing!

 

BH: Do programmers really function better on Jolt Cola and cold pizza?

JC: You'll probably be shocked by this, but I'm a programmer that avoids caffeine and I don't care for cold pizza.

 

BH: You can invite any four people, living, dead, or imaginary, to your favorite restaurant. Who's there, where are you eating, and what's on the menu?

JC: I'd invite my four grandparents and we would go to Petrelli's to have an authentic Italian meal.

 

BH: If you have read any of the "Dobie Coach Interviews" published on my site (insert gratuitous plug here) you'll know we like to close these with something Dubs calls "the Trios". So, without further ado...

Superman, Spiderman, Jack Baur?

JC: Superman.

 

BH: Star Wars, Star Trek, or Dancing With the Stars?

JC: Star Wars.

 

BH: Tacos, Pizza, or Burgers?

JC: Pizza.

 

BH: Winning the Lottery, a real-life Notre Dame National Championship, or breathing?

JC: Breathing...what good are the other two if you're dead?

 

BH: Classic Rock, Country, or Rap ?

JC: Rock.

 

BH: Less Filling, Tastes Great, or "If it's not imported I'm not drinking it”?

JC: Tastes Great.

 

BH: Most annoying often-asked question - "why can't we have variable elites", "why can't we have a world with D1A playoffs" or "Which back is the blocking back?"

JC: All of the above! <LOL>

 

BH: I think that just about wraps it up.  Thanks Joe!  Any last words you want to share (besides “Go to Bob’s website and click on an ad)?

JC: Thanks for taking the time to do the interview with me and for adding to the GD community on WIS. I also want to express to everyone that, as with all of our games, we truly try to make the most realistic and fun game possible and when things go wrong, no one is more upset than the people in our office. We love the passion that people have for our games and we hope it continues for many years to come. Thanks to all who play GD, have a passion for it, and contribute to the GD community.