The creator of Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football turned fantasy into video game reality.
Canadian David Winter decided to start building the title in 2004. It started as a PC desktop version and has morphed into console since.
“The goal was to allow the game to play full Canadian rules — three downs, 12 men, 20-second clock, 110-yard field — all those things,” Winter told 3DownNation.
“It would support Canadian football and I also built the game to allow it to be easily swappable between different rule sets: Canadian football, U.S. pro football, U.S. college football, high school football, indoor football. You could play all that in one game.”
Originally, Winter built his own game engine and the football game on top of it. It launched in 2005 and there was a second edition in 2007. Those games had franchise mode where you could draft players, manage teams as well as full customization, such as creating your own players and uniforms. It ran on the PC desktop.
Around the same time, Electronic Arts sports division took notice of Winter’s video game passion and “came knocking on his door.” EA Sports wanted him to work for the company and that’s where Winter spent the next five years as the online producer for all of the sports titles at the Vancouver studio.
“I was responsible for the online feature sets for Madden, FIFA, NHL and others. The EA Sports hockey league was my design and came out of my desk, Madden franchise I had a big role in,” Winter said.
“I left EA in 2010 and went to work for a small studio on the east coast, spent some time in Montreal working at a big studio. Now I’m here in Peterborough. When I arrived in Peterborough, I was trying to figure out what am I going to do with my life.”
That’s when Winter realized there were new technologies on the market with the Unity game engine. Winter looked into what he could do with the new tools and reached out to a former EA colleague who was working at Microsoft. He wanted to know what it would take to get a game on Xbox One. A proposal was submitted, vetted, and approved reasonably quickly.
“Microsoft said yes, we think your idea for a new, competitive football title with all these extra things is of interest because it included Canadian rules and they’d never had something that was specifically Canadian before on their platform,” Winter said.
“They brought me on board as a development partner and provided me with tools to help me get started. That was in 2016 and here we are in 2020 — we’re on multiple platforms and the game is growing.”
You can literally narrow it down to dollars when compared Maximum Football to Madden. The biggest football title in the world has a budget of eight-figures, while the upstart Canadian game uses a modest six-figure budget.
“I essentially take two holidays in the year — Remembrance Day and Grey Cup. That’s just how I approach it,” Winter said.
Maximum Football was built with a budget that could be a salary for one person nowadays. Madden has a large staff working on it — developers, marketing, licensing, and legal team. They have people who do nothing but specialize in making rain in the game.
“Madden is made with a multi-million-dollar budget with a gigantic studio the size of a campus and hundreds of people. Maximum Football started a couple years ago in my basement,” Winter said.
“In terms of the on-field game play, that’s all me, I wrote all that code. I worked with a 3D modeler to do the player models, but all the stadiums I created myself. We do have a part-time UI specialist who helps design the user interface for the game and the PNGs that makeup the button textures.”
Winter comes by his work ethic honestly as part of a military family growing up and moving around to different provinces. He spent his formative years in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and naturally developed an allegiance to the Roughriders.
“My dad took me to a Riders game and it was the very first sporting event I ever attended. It was October and it was a rainy miserable day, and Edmonton was kicking their backsides up and down the field,” Winter said.
“This was the John Hufnagel, J.J. Barnagel era of Roughrider football. The Riders were crushed that day, but literally I felt my blood turn green and that’s what got me into football in general, but specifically Canadian football.”
Even though Winter played and loved the sport in high school, he realized his size would hinder him from playing any further. Winter wanted to stay involved in the sport and did so by combining his computer coding talent with football.
“It was an aligning of the stars. In 2018, I was still doing everything on the game myself, I had no business partners, I had no other developers, it was all 100 percent me,” Winter said.
“It’s a big part of Canadiana, we are the only country in the world that plays this version of the sport, which in my opinion is the better version of the sport.”
The vision was clear, but the business and brand around the game needed building. The same day Maximum Football 2018 was launched, Winter and the team decided the title needed a recognizable face which could draw increased attention and market share.
Past titles like Joe Montana football and Wayne Gretzky hockey had a brand ambassador by putting an athlete’s name on the box. Winter felt Doug Flutie was the perfect choice to be the brand ambassador for Maximum Football given that the game is NCAA, Canadian and U.S. pro, it has all the iterations at which Flutie excelled.
“He was always our number one choice. We had B and C options, but Doug was always the A option. Flutie and his agent wanted to get into the digital space. It’s been exactly what we were looking for,” Winter said.
Flutie helped the game hit fast forward on the business end and allowed further investment in the game. Unity engineers who worked on the game engine did a performance audit of Maximum Football in February 2019. The major change that came out of it was doubling the game run rate from 30 frames per second to 60.
“Everything became so much smoother. The animations, physics, controller reaction are better because we made a few small tweaks to the rendering and physics pipeline and took advantage of new features in the game engine,” Winter said.
The 20-year video game veteran changed the code of how players run in the open field which improved the experience. In 2019, players believed it was too easy to beat the computer. Winter spent a lot of time to make the computer better and more difficult to play against. The last time Winter counted he was just shy of 450,000 lines of written code.
“There are things that we’ve added to the game this year and the list is so big I’ve actually forgotten some of them. For most of the development cycle, I am literally in the office seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. at night,” Winter said.
“That’s how it is until launch and then the real works starts, then things get really busy. That’s what I’ve been doing over the past years to get the game to show the level of improvement a sports title should be showing year to year.”
The Canuck Play crew recreated an entire new animation system for receivers. Last year the ball would hit the player in the chest and it would be considered a catch. Now this year the receivers are properly putting their hands out and able to catch the ball in stride. The ball will come over their shoulder and land in the bucket. Also, there is a play designer for players to create their own playbook on offence and defence.
“Maximum Football will always spend time on making sure the football is correct as opposed to everything else. The games are generating enough revenue that I’ve been able to hire a full-time staff to help,” Winter said.
“Now we can start looking at adding the really glitzy visuals and I can hire somebody to come in and redo all the player models. I bootstrapped it. We have no angel investors, no venture capitalists — I paid for this out of pocket to start.”
Maximum Football is focused on growing and not competing with Madden. It could take a long time to catch up because EA Sports has had 30 years of continual development with the NFL the biggest partner in North America to help grow the game. Measuring Maximum Football versus Madden needs to be kept in context.
“When I started this thing in 2017, everybody was a naysayer, there was just a gazillion of them, and now they’re few and far between. You just have to look at every year, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, you can really see the differences in the game improvements,” Winter said.
“I’ve had people tell me I’m lying, saying there’s no way, there’s 10 people in the background that are all coding this game. I’ve literally had people not believe me that it’s been one developer all this whole time.”
Editor’s note: Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football is a sponsor of 3DownNation.