10 Q’s with: Jeff Ecker, Associate Producer, EA Sports NCAA Football

In SportsPickle's "10 (or so) Questions With" series, DJ Gallo interviews people in the sports world doing interesting things.
Today's interview subject: Jeff Ecker, Associate Producer, EA Sports NCAA Football. (That means he's, like, the designer of the game. Or something.)
And, yes, these are real interviews.

SportsPickle:What is your team’s schedule like once the game is released? When will you begin working on the 2011 game? Also, will the 2011 game have an option in training mode that allows you to exceed the allowable time limit if you play as Michigan?
Jeff Ecker:This seems like a good time to bring up a completely unrelated item: my boss is a Michigan grad.
As for our schedule, it depends on the team. I worked on the Erin Andrews features (I lead a tough life) so as soon as we putNCAA Football 10—in stores now for Xbox 360, Playstation3, PSP and PS2—to bed I started working on 11. Some of the guys who worked on our Season Showdown feature are tasked with maintaining it throughout the season, so they went right back to work on the same stuff after much-deserved vacations.
Mostly, though, we spend the time between shipping the game and football season coming up with new ideas for next year. Then football season starts, angels sing and 18 weeks fly by like senior-year spring break.
For many of us, most of the next four months will be spent either watching college football, attending college football games and travelling to see college football games. We’re even planning a five-games-in-five-days trip this season. I have to stop here as I’m now tumescent and getting distracted.
By the way, the rumors that I’m trying to get the rights to John Denver’s “Country Roads” so it can play whenever Michigan is on the road in our game are completely unfounded.
SP: You are spending the next four months traveling around watching college football? I am tumescent with rage.
SP:If you were scoring yourself using the same player ranking categories found in NCAA Football 10, how would you rate?
Ecker:Usually scoring myself is enjoyable, but this exercise turned into a blow to the ego. I used the Overall formula for a middle linebacker since that’s what I would have played at Penn State if I had been in a different recruiting class.
Overall –-39
Throw Power –2
Throw Accuracy –3
Awareness –99
Speed –-3
Elusiveness –1
Spectacular Catch –8
Route Running –97
Acceleration –0
Spin Move –73
Break Tackle –-2
Tackle –1
Hit Power –0
SP: If it helps your ego any, with your speed, awareness and route running ability, you could have played receiver at any number of Big 10 school.
SP:The new TeamBuilder feature in NCAA Football 10, which offers an in-depth create-a-school functionality, is fantastic. It’s a perfect blend between fantasy – you can create your own school with unique uniforms and colors – and reality: your fantasy school can still be left out of the championship game by the BCS computer. How many years of work go into conceiving and then creating and installing a new feature like this?
Ecker:From the time we decided to put it inNCAA Football 10to the time we finished the game was actually less than a year. The programmers we have working at this studio are second to none and I am consistently amazed at what they can pull off in such a short amount of time.
It would be misleading, though, to tell you that it took less than a year to create TeamBuilder. We had been honing and tweaking the design every chance we had. More importantly, we’re not done with it yet. We will continue to improve the feature in the future as we learn more about how our fans use the tool.
SP: You said "tool."
SP:So I’m close to completing an undefeated season. Just rolling my opponents in every game – 20, 30-point wins. Then suddenly a far inferior opponent gives me the game of my life – forcing fumbles, picking off passes and scoring repeatedly on long runs and passes. I lose. I have wasted a month of my life. Who is responsible for this bit of programming? Is it you, Ecker?! Out with it!
Ecker:I have to be honest, I thought once I went through the initiation rituals around here I would be let in on the secret (kind of like becoming president and getting to know where Hoffa’s buried). Unfortunately, this is nothing more than an urban legend.
I know, I know…you aren’t buying it. You’ll just have to trust me here. I haven’t lied to you since I agreed that you were handsome.
SP: I am handsome.
SP: Continuing with my amazing physique, which is really what people want to know about, how close is the technology that would allow a gamer to scan in a photo of his/her face, upload size measurements and then play as himself? I am 6-foot-3, 220 pounds of solid muscle, with a strong chin and a disarmingly handsome, if not sexy, face — so this is not a concern for me as there are many players in the game already who look like me. But, you know, I ask for the disgusting, unwashed masses, such as my readers.
Ecker:The technology is here on our end. Just check out the PhotoFace feature inTiger Woods PGA TOUR. As for when you can scan your own body, you’d have to ask the people who make the scan machines when they will have a home version.
And I have to admit, of all the writers who contribute to ESPN.com’s Page 2, you best represent the ideals and physique of a student-athlete now that Hunter S. Thompson has passed.
SP:Erin Andrews supplies in-game injury reports in NCAA Football 10. Have you heard of gamers purposely playing frail lineups in order to have her appear more frequently?
Ecker:Let’s just say our users are jamming the Hit Stick like never before now that we have Erin in there.
SP:Nerdiest reputation among the general public: video game designers or online writers?
Ecker:Wow…that’s like a perfect Vegas line, isn’t it? If I’m forced to choose I have to go with video game designers. Let’s just say I’m certain there is a lot more Star Wars memorabilia around my studio than yours.
SP: My mom made me put all of my Star Wars memorabilia in the basement. Which is good, because that's where I live and work.
SP:I enjoyed the inclusion of on-field band formations in this year’s game. Any chance next year that we will see off-field, X-rated band formations?
Ecker:I spent too much of my day trying to work anAmerican Piereference in here that won’t get me fired. Let’s just move on…
SP:Are NCAA Football cover boys such as Michael Crabtree paid? If so, do you think you can pay them less so they feel the need to draw an NFL salary?
Ecker:I’m going out on a limb and guess you’re a ‘Niners fan. Look at the bright side, all season you’ll enjoy a sneak preview of next year’s line of Coors Light ads.
SP: Shot only from the waist up, I hope.
SP:What is the relationship like between the NCAA Football design team and the Madden team? Fist fights? Wedgies? Purple nurples? Flaming poo bags left outside cubicles? Please tell me it is a bitter and intense rivalry, even if it isn’t.
Ecker:It is a lot like the Army/Navy rivalry. We know in the grand scheme of things we’re all on the same side, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to crush them like grapes when there is competition.
It’s not just in design, either. When I lose to a Madden guy in the official EA SportsMadden NFL 2010Online Franchise I force myself into two-a-day practice games online until my next match-up.
As for pranks, here are just a few examples:
— A manager on the Madden team had his office door removed, complete with drywall and painting, so there was no way for him to get into his office when he got back from vacation.
— Covering everything in an NCAA artist’s cube with aluminum foil. And I meaneverything…including each individual key on the keyboard.
— Then there are the pranks involving people who forget to lock their computers when they leave their desk. My favorite is the Desktop Wallpaper trick. For the uninitiated, here’s how it works:
1.Minimize all windows
2.Press “Print Screen”
3.Save that image
4.Hide the Taskbar and all the icons on the Desktop
5.Assign the saved image as the wallpaper
6.Watch as target tries to open files but can’t because he isn’t actually clicking on icons
— Or the always-classic Changing the MS Word Autocorrect Settings Prank where you make common misspellings like “teh” auto-correct to “poop”. Childish, I know, but we make video games for a living.
SP: Awesome.
SP:Have you seen this football controller patent?If controllers like this become the norm, I will actually have to be good at real football in order to play video game football. I’m not good enough to play real football. That’s why I play video game football. Where are football video games going in the future?
Ecker:I will not stop making video games until I can deliver to our fans a Star Trek holodeck-like experience of running out of the tunnel and playing a football game for Penn State. Until then, I’ll spend most of my time trying to deliver an experience as close to that as possible (although I’m being slowed by the fact that my bosses insist I include the experience for other schools).
For the record, I’m not good enough to play real football either, so rest assured you won’t need to be Bo Jackson in order to playNCAA Football 2035: The JoePa Farewell Tour Edition.
SP: Although Bo and Joe have equally sound hips.