Several Baltimore Ravens players tried out the new video game Madden NFL 2005 this week to test what is billed as a loosely based version of the team's own defense.
Electronic Arts Sports, the game's California-based publisher, holds "Madden Day" every year at the training camp of the player featured on the cover. All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis is the cover boy for this year's edition, which officially goes on sale today.
With nearly 37 million copies sold, the "Madden" franchise is the No. 1-selling series of football video games in North America. And the new version seems to be eagerly anticipated: According to gaming site IGN. com's GamerMetrics, an interactive tool that tracks interest in games, the Madden NFL 2005 Web page was the most-viewed sports title during the past month.
EA Sports executives said the new game includes better graphics, a Defensive Playmaker Control feature and the ability to force turnovers by using the Hit Stick to make hard tackles and force fumbles.
The enhancements were popular with players such as rookie wide receiver Clarence Moore. "The overall defense is better," he said. "You just can't run around and cut back as fast on offense like you used to do in the old version."
Starting defensive back Will Demps said he uses the technology to "get a feel for how the other NFL teams play."
Backup quarterback Josh Harris said elements "like the play-action stuff and some of the fade routes," reminded him of the Ravens' style of play.
Former coach and player John Madden and EA Sports started the video game franchise in 1989 to teach users how to play football in a three-dimensional video environment. Madden said he wanted to combine a teaching tool with the recreation of video.
Since 2001, the Madden NFL franchise has featured athletes on the cover of the video game, some of whom have suffered injuries. That has led to talk of a "cover jinx" for players who appear on the game.
Last year's cover athlete, Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, broke his shin bone during a preseason game against the Ravens the week the game was released. Others players who have graced the game's covers have suffered serious injuries or had subpar seasons.
But Lewis said he did not believe in any jinx.
"I only play my game one way, which is full speed," Lewis said. "If somebody is going to get hurt it's just not going to be me."
Madden NFL 2005
Rating: E for Everyone
Platforms: Six platforms, including Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo GameCube.