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CSC Interview: Jordan Peterson, EA Sports NCAA Football Designer

These days it seems as if every football fan, whether college or NFL, enjoys playing the latest football video games on their gaming console of choice. But while the debate over which gaming system is superior, there is no question as to which company makes the best football games. 

EA Sports has been dominating the sports video game scene for years now with their Madden franchise and NCAA Football series. Each year their products get better and more life-like with the help of their dedicated team of developers, programmers and designers.  

As it turns out, I went to middle school with one of the designers for NCAA Football. His name is Jordan Peterson, and after noticing a few of his video game-related status updates on Facebook, I realized that he might make a great interview subject for all of you die-hard gamers out there.

Recently, I had the chance to ask Jordan a few questions and get the inside scoop on his job as a designer for EA Sports and the NCAA series he's helped create including NCAA  Football 12, which will actually be released in just about a month. I think you'll find his answers to be both interesting and educational. 

I would like to thank Jordan for taking time out of his work schedule to talk even more We wish him continued success in his career. 


Dave Cariello: How did you land a job with EA Sports?

Jordan Peterson: I was working in another industry back in NY that I really didn't care for, nor could I see myself working in it for the rest of my life.  I knew I needed a change and since I had always wanted to get into the video game industry as a Designer, I thought I would give it a shot.  I was fortunate enough to have some friends working at Blizzard that had just made the transition from QA to design and they encouraged me to take a job in QA to get to know the industry and then work my way up to design.

I had always been a huge fan of the NHL, Madden and NCAA series as a kid, so naturally my first choice was EA Sports.  So I moved to Florida with the intent of getting a job at Tiburon.  Sure enough, a few months after I moved, EA was hiring QA positions. 


Dave:  How long have you been with the company?

Jordan:  It will be five years in September.


Dave: What is your job title and what are your responsibilities?

Jordan: I am a designer for NCAA Football.  I am responsible for coming up with new features for the game and then ensuring they are implemented accurately by the engineers. I'm also responsible for tuning one of the, if not the, deepest game modes in sports gaming, Dynasty.   In addition, there is some, what I would consider significant, community interaction to ensure we are making our fans as happy as possible with the end product. 


Dave: Are you a huge football fan? Does that help with being a designer?

Jordan:  I am indeed a huge football fan.  The Jets are my team for the NFL and I follow Alabama for college.  As a designer, I think it's essential that you understand the game, the fans, and especially the atmosphere and tradition of football.


Dave: Being from Long Island, how did you become a fan of Alabama?

Jordan:  As a Jets fan, that was an easy pick.  Joe Namath played his college ball at Alabama.  I also had some family from the state, and they actually went to Auburn, so naturally I had to go against them and cheer for Alabama.


Dave: How do you think Mark Ingram will perform at the next level? Will you follow his career in the NFL and with the Saints?

Jordan:  I always tend to cheer for the Alabama players in the NFL, unless of course they are playing the Jets.  I think Ingram will perform very well in the NFL, he's a hard running back that will do a great job running between the tackles.  Actually, I was really hoping he would fall to the Jets, but unfortunately the Saints snagged him I think two picks ahead. 


Dave: How do you come up with the new concepts/features for the game each year?

Jordan:  Since we're an iterative title, there is always something we would have liked to have implemented the previous year.  We're constantly looking to improve the game, so when it comes down to features we would like to add, the list is extensive. This creates an excellent base for what we would like to implement the following year.

Then, as a design team, we're always brainstorming and discussing new features that we would like to see added.  Inspiration can come from our own experiences playing our game, to playing other sports games, or even playing other genres.

So we have our internal list of what we would like to add to the game, and then there are always the fan requests.  A few websites always have a poll going as to what features they would like to see implemented and whether they believe it or not, we do actually pay attention to the results.   

The difficult part is cutting the list down to a manageable size, that can be accomplished with our engineering/art resources in a single year.  As a fan of the game, trust me, I wish we had the time and resources to implement every feature exactly the way we wanted.  


Dave: Have there been any features that you've come up with that never made the game?

Jordan:  Yes! There have been quite a few features that have not made it into the game...yet.  Just because they did not make it into the game one year, does not necessarily mean we will not consider them for next year.  Then, of course there are others that will not make it into the game at all for one reason or another.


Dave: Have you gotten the opportunity to meet players?

Jordan:  Yes, not too many though.  The first few months I was working at Tiburon, I ran into Marshall Faulk in the company store.  Since then I've been fortunate to meet a handful of other players and coaches.


Dave:  What's the best part about your job?

Jordan:  It's difficult to identify one single part of my job, as there are many aspects that I love.  It's probably a close tie between coming up with and writing new designs/features and tuning Dynasty.

While I love the design process, Dynasty is probably one of the most in depth game modes across most gaming genres.  I don't know of any other game where you can look at all of the stats of so many players/teams over 60 years.  Attempting to tune Dynasty so it is balanced to represent real world results, while ensuring it is still fun for the user has been an extremely fun challenge.


Dave:  What's the worst part?

Jordan: The worst part, by far, is when a feature has to be cut.  Especially if you know it is going to improve the game significantly, or address a concern from the community.  Anytime the decision is made to cut anything that will improve the game is very difficult. But sometimes, due to various reasons, we have to cut them. It's just an unfortunate part of the development cycle.


Dave: Does NCAA require more work or a larger production team than Madden because of the amount of players and teams?

Jordan:  Actually both teams are around the same size.  I know we require quite a bit more work for our art assets, but the last I heard was the teams are around the same size.


Dave: Is there a certain year of NCAA that's better than others?

Jordan:  This is a tough question.  Personally I'm extremely partial to NCAA Football 12.  I think we've really nailed the feature set this year between all the Dynasty and Gameplay improvements, new features in Dynasty, in addition to a completely new Road to Glory experience. However, I feel that NCAA has really put out some great products over the past few years. 


Dave: Do you get so sick of designing the game that you never actually play for enjoyment?

Jordan:  Not really.  Actually, as crazy as this may sound, I even bring my console home over the weekends to play the game during Alpha, which is the busiest time of the year for us. 

Unfortunately, there are times when I don't get to play the game as much as I would like because I'm working on various tasks.  At the end of the day, above all else, we want the game to be fun.  Aside from bringing in play testers and getting feedback from the community, there is really no other way to test that out aside from sitting down and playing the game yourself.

 I'm always playing other games as well, just to see what else is going on in the industry, so maybe that helps.


Dave: Which team would you use when you play NCAA Football?

Jordan:  Each year when the game ships I will start a Dynasty with Alabama.  Typically I'll also start a dynasty with a low rated team and try to get them to the national championship.

 This year, with the new Coach Carousel feature, it adds quite a few new options.  I'll probably take a coordinator job at a 1 star school, and try to build them up to the national championship. In another dynasty I'll probably start as a 1 star coordinator and try to make it to a 6 star head coach.  Both should provide different but very difficult challenges.


Dave: Any secret tips or tricks you can share with NCAA players?

Jordan:  Given the sheer scope of the game it's difficult to provide a single tip/trick that all players will find useful. Having said that, I've mentioned it before, but this year when creating a coach in Dynasty mode, setting the Alma Mater will help you out in the Carousel when you're trying to land your dream job.  So, if you want to end up as the head coach of Tulane, your best bet is to set your Alma Mater to Tulane.


Dave: What's your favorite video game of all time?

Jordan:  I could really spend hours discussing my favorite games of all time, and it's practically impossible to cut it down to a single one, so I'll go by genre:

Sports (team) - NHL '94.

Sports (Solo) - SSX Tricky

Action - God of War series. 

RPG -  Final Fantasy XII