Meet Serverless Inc. – The Startup That Aims To Accelerate Serverless Computing

Serverless computing is no more a buzzword. It has become a first-class citizen of the cloud alongside virtual machines and containers. Serverless Inc., a Bay Area-based startup realized the potential of serverless computing back in 2015 when the only prominent serverless platform was AWS Lambda.

Serverless PlatformSource: Serverless Inc.

Last week, Serverless Inc. announced that it had raised $10 million in Series A funding from Lightspeed Ventures. Including the seed round, the company has raised a total of $13 million.

Austen Collins, CEO and Founder of Serverless Inc., saw the opportunity in creating an open source tool to simplify application development targeting AWS Lambda. What started as an abstraction to Lambda transformed into a cloud-agnostic serverless platform supporting all major serverless environments.

Serverless developer community loves the framework and tools shipped by Austen’s team. Apart from getting featured on the home page of Hacker News several times, this open source project on Github gathered about 25000 stars which a remarkable feat for an independent open source project.

Within a short span of time, Austen’s framework has become an unofficial standard for serverless tooling. Every major serverless platform debuts with support for Serverless Framework. From Google Cloud Functions and more recent Kubeless, almost all the major environments are supported by this framework.

So, what excites developers about Serverless Framework? It’s the simplified approach to building modern applications based on integrated tooling.

Unlike other application development and deployment patterns, serverless platforms are highly distributed. For building a simple web or mobile app, developers will have to assemble a variety of resources ranging from an API Gateway to object storage to an event-driven messaging service. They have to connect the dots across a variety of cloud services making deployment and debugging very complicated. Serverless Framework is one of the first toolkits that aims to simplify the lifecycle of microservices targeting serverless environments.

Recently, Serverless Inc. announced an end-to-end platform that comprises of the framework, a visual dashboard and a cloud-agnostic event gateway. At the core of the platform is the popular Serverless Framework that provides a declarative mechanism to deploy and manage functions. The Dashboard enables developers and operators to monitor, collaborate and secure serverless applications. The Event Gateway offers integration infrastructure by connecting serverless applications and functions to existing workloads and cloud services.

Serverless Platform attempts two things – plugging the gaps existing within mainstream serverless environments and delivering a consistent workflow. This approach minimizes the risk of adopting serverless environments for enterprises. I feel the uniqueness of Serverless Platform lies in its platform-independent approach. In its current form, it supports AWS, Azure, IBM Cloud, GCP and Kubeless among other environments. Developers follow the same workflow to manage the application lifecycle irrespective of the deployment target.

Serverless Inc., boasts of impressive clientele. EA Sports, Coca-Cola, Nordstrom, Expedia and Reuters are some of the big brands using the framework. The company has set an example for other startups aspiring to build an open source platform that enjoys the attention of the developer community while being highly relevant to enterprise customers.

Serverless computing and Functions as a Service (FaaS) are in their infancy. The market is extremely fragmented with dozens of services and tools. The industry has no standard for eventing, messaging, function declaration, versioning, deployment, monitoring and logging.

The container world is equally excited about the convergence of Kubernetes and FaaS. Multiple projects claim to deliver serverless capabilities on Kubernetes.

CNCF, the custodian of Kubernetes and related projects, is working on standardizing some of the building blocks of the serverless platform. The serverless working group at CNCF recently proposed a standard called CloudEvents for exchanging messages across functions. But, it has a long way to go before the vendors accept it as a standard.

With the fragmentation and complexity revolving around serverless computing, companies such as Serverless Inc., have a massive opportunity in building tools that aim to make developers productive in building modern applications.

Biotech Analysis Central Pharma News: Teva's U.S. Erosion, Denali's Preliminary Results, Epizyme's Trial Shutdown

Welcome to Biotech Analysis Central Daily News, a daily news report and analysis about what has happened lately in the biotech industry.

Teva Dips As U.S. Generic Sales Continue To Drop

News: Recently, Teva Pharmaceuticals (TEVA) announced its Q2 earnings. It reported adjusted income of $0.78 cents per share on sales of $4.7 billion. In comparison analysts were expecting the company to earn $0.67 cents per share on sales of $4.76 billion. Generic U.S. Sales dipped down to $947 million for the quarter. It was also reported that sales of Copaxone dipped by 46% to $464 million. It was revealed that debt remains at around $30.2 billion.

Analysis: The earnings per share number was a beat, however sales came in slightly below the consensus of what was expected. However, setting that aside there are major issues that remain. The first issue is that earnings have still been declining year over year. In the same period last year, Teva reported adjusted earnings of $1.02 per share on sales of $5.72 billion. That’s a huge dip year over year in both EPS and in revenue from the numbers reported. Generic sales in the U.S. continue to erode due to increased competition from copycat drugs. It is just the landscape of the generics market which is bad and continues to fall. It is even said that generic U.S. drug sales fall an average of 15% per quarter. In my opinion, such a drop is not sustainable. Copaxone continues to fall by the wayside as a generic versions of the drug continue to eat into sales. Teva attempted to counter the eroding sales with laquinimod, but that has failed to live up to expectations in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and in other diseases. Just recently, Teva and its partner Active Biotech (ACTI) failed a phase 2 study using laquinimod to treat Huntington’s disease. Debt is slowly coming down, but in my eyes it’s not fast enough. That debt of $30.2 billion will still continue to be a major risk factor and burden on the stock.

Denali Therapeutics Shows Positive Preliminary Data For Parkinson’s

News: Recently, Denali Therapeutics (DNLI) announced that it had obtained positive results from its phase 1 study treating patients with Parkinson’s using DNL201. This phase 1 study recruited more than 100 healthy patients who received either a single or multiple ascending doses of the drug. In addition, some patients in the study were given placebo. It is believed that DNL201 is able to inhibit leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 ((LRRK2)). The reason for doing so is because it is believed LRRK2 regulates lysosomal genesis and function, and for those with Parkinson’s this mutation causes the disease. The drug was shown to encourage robust target engagement in two blood-based biomarkers of LRRK2 activity. DNL201 was also shown to have an effect on biomarkers for lysosomal function. These may have some indication that this drug can work in this population.

Analysis: These are preliminary findings, but the most important item to note is that targeting LRRK2 activity may be a way to treat Parkinson’s. There is another item to make note of, and that is the ability for the drug to be adaptive. By that I mean even though DNL201 targets patients with the LRRK2 protein, it can also be used in a broad sense. That means DNL201 is going to be explored in a phase 1b study as the next part of its clinical advancement. It will treat Parkinson’s patients with or without the LRRK2 protein. This study is expected to start by the end of 2018. This is a good start on preliminary analysis, and the next study should incorporate a higher dose that should improve efficacy.

Epizyme Shutters B-Cell Cancer Study After Trial Observation

News: Recently, Epizyme (EPZM) released its Q2 earnings report and updates on its pipeline. It was noted in the report that it would stop development of its drug tazemetostat for treating patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). It was noted that in cohorts from a particular study, tazemetostat was not performing well in treating patients with DLBCL. This observation was made with both tazemetostat as a monotherapy and as a combination with prednisolone.

Analysis: This is another huge blow for Epizyme, because tazemetostat is the main drug in its pipeline. This bad news is in addition to another prior issue where tazemetostat was placed on an FDA partial clinical hold for a study treating patients with genetically defined solid tumors and malignancies. The reason for the partial clinical hold was that a pediatric patient developed secondary T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. This prompted the FDA to immediately place the partial clinical hold on the trial. It has been about 3 months now since the hold was announced, but I guess the bright side is that it was only a partial hold. Meaning, patients that were already in the study could still receive treatment with tazemetostat. In essence, the hold was just to stop the recruitment of new patients. Even setting the issue with the FDA clinical hold aside, Epizyme having to dump its DLBCL indication due to lack of efficacy is not good at all. The hope now lies in the ability for Epizyme to get the partial clinical hold lifted by the FDA. If it can do that in a timely manner, then maybe it still has a shot to turn things around.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

All The Reasons Tesla Stock Popped After The Q2 Conference Call

Introduction

The following is an analysis of the Q2 conference call. Specifically, bullish takeaways that I noted while listening to the call. The 16% gain on the day was due to multiple factors, which I will cover in some detail in this article.

Increasing Production rates

Musk reported that Tesla produced 5K/wk multiple times in July, which means it was not a sustained average but only burst rates, most likely extrapolated from individual daily rates.

He estimates a 5K/wk average for Q3, in line with the expected 6K/wk burst rate, which would make up the ground lost in July. The estimates of 50-55K for the quarter don’t add up to a 5K/wk average but may be factoring in some downtime for improvements.

The current bottleneck keeping the company from a 5K/wk steady state is body production, which it estimates will be solved in 1-2 weeks. Tesla says it achieved a burst rate of 800 bodies made in 24 hours. The production rates are clearly making significant progress on a quarterly basis, and any deadline misses from internal guidelines are secondary to actual output and deliveries which will improve Tesla’s bottom line for Q3

Surprising Sales and Demand

Model 3 US market share for the midsize luxury category surpassed all competitors combined. This was outlined in the shareholder newsletter but also mentioned again in the call. This means the majority of cars sold in this category were Model 3s.

Tesla’s head of sales says Model 3 trade-ins are also coming from non-mid-sized luxury owners. This means the addressable market for Model 3 is much larger than most people anticipated and not limited to luxury car buyers only. The company listed the top 5 vehicles that Model 3 buyers traded in between January and July: they were the Toyota Prius (NYSE:TM), BMW 3 Series (OTCPK:BMWYY), Honda Accord (NYSE:HMC), Honda Civic, and Nissan Leaf (OTCPK:NSANY). Tesla was especially surprised, since all but the BMW 3 Series are budget increases. Customers were trading up into a Model 3.

Musk noted that with an absence of a traditional sales team at showrooms, customers are the primary sales force. Viral sales are occurring by word of mouth. The more cars the it delivers, the more owners show off their cars, the more cars company sells.

It was noted that not all stores have test drives available yet. Tesla believes this lack of ability to test-drive the Model 3 has throttled potential orders. I’ve written in previous articles that this will be a significant lever that can be pulled to increase demand. Three weeks ago, eight stores had demo vehicles for test drives, and there are now ninety stores offering test drives.

As was predicted by Ben Sullins’s Teslanomics configurator, the company reports >50% of customers are choosing AWD and Performance versions over the RWD, leading to higher margins and ASP. This also dispels the narrative that the majority of buyers are waiting for the SR RWD base model, when the data is indicating more than half will opt for the AWD version of the SR battery.

Tesla also reported that when reservations were lifted in North America, new orders outnumbered converted reservations, indicating there is strong demand outside of the reservation list, likely due to the appeal of a shorter wait time. I noted in a previous article that once wait times were reduced, stronger demand would surface.

In July alone, 60K test drive requests were made. Tesla notes that the conversion ratio on test drives is strong. I also predicted in a previous article that test drives would add a considerable layer of demand given that 20% of all buyers ranked test drives among the top 3 reasons they bought their vehicle.

Positive Cash Flow and Sustainable Profitability Outlook

Musk estimates that Q3 and on, Tesla can achieve sustainable profitability and positive FCF. Recession or force majeure to the supply chain are only threats to positive FCF and GAAP profitability from here on. Quarters with loan paybacks could be an exception.

The potential production output of the lines is much greater than Tesla expected, and with fine-tuning of the production line from manual to automated and vice versa, with very little capex, margins have increased.

In addition to gross margin improvement, the company forecasts S/X volumes increasing in H2 as contributing to positive cash flows.

CFO Deepak Ahuja mentioned that opex is essentially flat with increasing revenues from the other businesses.

In response to analysts’ questions Tesla reiterated that it has no plans to raise equity. The plan is to use local debt to finance GF3 instead of tapping capital markets. The company clarified that all future plans are self-funded, despite plans for debt repayment to reduce interest expense.

Tesla says it has no cash flow issues, and that Q3 GAAP profitability is still on track as of the end of July. The company also noted that profitability will not come at the expense growth but expects certain quarters to be just above breakeven during factory building or loan repayment quarters.

Improved Autopilot With FSD Features

Tesla’s Autopilot (AP) team reports radical advances in neural net development and FSD chip development, with an order of magnitude improvement in operations per second. The current Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) GPU the company is using is capable of 200fps, versus Tesla’s proprietary chip which is capable of 2000fps with redundancy, at the same cost. This new V3 hardware will offer full frame rate, full resolution, and full NN processing with idle cycles to spare. It is also plug and play for the existing vehicle interface.

(Source: Daily Mail)

Autopilot V9 is the release that was mentioned for some time in August. Features include navigation integration with autonomous lane changes, GPS routes, and on-ramp and off-ramp capabilities. It will also add new safety features due to nuanced perception of the vision system.

One surprise was that Tesla revealed this system has been running in stealth mode for the last 2-3 years, and the company believes it is finally safety-validated for deployment. FSD features are being deployed in iterations of AP as safety features first. The company is forecasting coast-to-coast potentially by EOY, but AP V9 release is the focus. It is estimating this breakthrough release in about a month.

Musk’s Improved Behavior

Musk apologized to Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi for his treatment of the analyst on last quarter’s conference call. He mentioned a lack of sleep and being overworked at the time of that call. Musk also apologized to RBC analyst Joseph Spak for similar treatment.

(Source: Spaceflight Insider)

This is not a trivial detail, as most analysts were predicting a crisis of confidence if Musk repeated his behavior from the 1st quarter call. This more professional attitude is a comforting sign to shareholders that the company is still in good hands and the risk of Musk being removed from the helm is significantly reduced.

Positive Gross Margins On Model 3

Gross margins (GM) for Model 3 turned positive in Q2. Musk explains that Model 3 GM increases were due to the elimination of inefficiencies and bottlenecks. Labor cost per vehicle is improving, along with manufacturing cost efficiencies. CFO Deepak Ahuja also noted that initial ramp-up costs were one-time affairs, and that fixed costs are leveraged over higher volumes – which is to be expected. Musk noted that big expenses included low-volume tooling for emergency fixes. GM will continue to improve as efficiency improves without further capex.

In the Q&A, Tesla confirmed that 25% Model 3 GM would be at the lower $44K ASP by about Q2.

Factory Expansion

Tesla’s first Gigafactory, GF1 which was estimated at $5 billion, was a huge learning lesson for the company in terms of cost efficiencies, and the planned factory for Shanghai, GF3, would be more than 50% cheaper at around $2 billion. This would add capacity of about 250K vehicles/year, including battery module and pack production. This cost does not include cell production, as it would most likely be covered by another partnership with Panasonic (OTCPK:PCRFY).

(Source: Reuters)

Tesla estimates that it will be able to announce the location of GF4 Europe before EOY. The company reiterated that no capital raise was necessary, and that it would most likely use local banks for financing.

Massive Production Efficiencies

CTO J.B. Straubel noted that certain areas of production that were capital-intensive saw a 25-30% increase in output with zero additional capex.

Musk clarified that the Sprung structure is often being used as a permanent structure and is not the temporary “camping” tent it is being made out to be by critics. GA4 is permanent for now, but Tesla likes that it is flexible and iterative so it can be expanded or reconfigured. It was a capital-efficient solution that fit the company’s needs at the time. Musk noted that steel frame buildings are still the goal when asked if this would be a model for future Fremont expansion. The company did admit that the production line inside the tent would serve as a model for GF3, particularly the parts delivery workflow.

Tesla noted that GA4 re-used the conveyance system from previous S/X/3 production lines, which kept costs for GA4 down. One of its creative solutions included implementing a 1% grade so that it was downhill trip for the cars, in order to keep the line within the specified load rating of the conveyor.

(Source: @elonmusk)

The quality assurance team installed at the end of line was able to produce the same quality from GA4 as was achieved on GA3. All P3D vehicles are being made on GA4, which are the most expensive Model 3 vehicles you can buy. This is especially significant as it reduces rework costs as well as warranty service costs.

The simplicity of the GA4’s layout means fewer labor hours per car than GA3. This is due to a simpler parts delivery system, which allows trucks to drive up to the exact station that requires the parts. Currently, the parts for GA3 are unloaded into the warehouse and reloaded into bins for conveyance to the relevant station. This means that parts are unpacked, packed, and then unpacked again before being installed on the car.

Some non-essential GA3 robotics that required additional maintenance were removed, thus reducing maintenance costs for the line.

Both Musk and JB stressed that GA4 is not a walkback from automation, but selective automation would be applied, further reducing labour hours per vehicle – a metric often cited by shorts.

Troubleshooting

In response to an analyst’s question, Tesla clarified that it treats manufacturing problems as technology problems. Musk added that most production problems are software-related at volume.

The company blamed outsourced software development as the cause for the original issues in the battery pack assembly. These outsourced suppliers were supposed to be world-class experts but failed. Tesla rewrote the software to be more efficient and simpler.

Rapid iteration between design and production was key to unlocking bottlenecks. Tesla noted that its strategy is understanding the rate limiters of existing software. This allows the company to produce batteries that are lighter, better, cheaper, and with more range. It is estimating this to be active in about 6 months. The design engineers are working with automation and line engineers to improve production, which is allowing for better design for production.

The ability to problem-solve manufacturing as a technology problem keeps Tesla within its circle of competency and will lead to continuous production efficiencies and cost reductions.

Product Pipeline

In response to a question, Tesla said it has trimmed 2020 vehicle production estimates to between 700K and 800K. This includes 600K between Fremont and GF1 and 200K from Shanghai. It seems that being more realistic is looked on favorably by shareholders.

Plans for Model Y, Semi, Pickup, and Roadster were confirmed, but the company could not announce production locations.

When asked about Powerwall and Powerpack being such a small proportion of GF1 output, Tesla responded that the growth restrictor on those products is cell production. Panasonic recently just announced a 30% bump in output, which should help with this. Tesla Energy also relies on other cell suppliers like Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) and LG (OTC:LGEAF), which are supply-constrained now.

Tesla’s additional cell capacity at GF1 will allow it to ramp energy storage 3x-4x in 2019.

(Source: Teslarati)

The company is also ramping GF2 on solar and solar roof production. Tesla says there are several hundred homes with solar roofs. But it is still validating the longevity of the product, as well as ensuring first-responder training is enough to handle the incoming installations. This is probably why critics feel like solar roof is still vaporware.

The Energy division is constrained by a lack of certified electricians to install the systems. There aren’t enough certified electricians to handle the current delivery load.

Tesla confirmed that Semi will be using Model 3 components, such as motors, handles, and screens, but declined to give away any more details other than more improvements have been made since the reveal back in the fall. This repurposing of Model 3 components reduces R&D costs on Semi and improves economies of scale on the lower-volume truck prototype.

The company reaffirmed that it expects energy and auto revenue will reach parity.

Conclusion

There was immense concern by critics that Tesla was going to need a capital raise to fund future projects, and also regarding Tesla’s guidance for consistent quarterly profitability, and thus, annual profitability put this to rest. Musk’s behavior was also a concern for critics, but the call took place in a civilized and professional manner. Gross margin improvements due to improving production efficiencies are paving the way for the full Tesla product pipeline to become a reality.

The stock finished the day up 16.9%.

Disclosure: I am/we are long TSLA.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Google, Facebook Aim To Fix AI Diversity Issue By Funding African Machine Intelligence Course

SHANGHAI, CHINA – JULY 04: An AI robot by CloudMinds is on display on the opening day of the China International Robot Show 2018 (CIROS 2018) on July 4, 2018 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Tang Yanjun/China News Service/VCG)

Google and Facebook are funding a machine intelligence masters course in Africa as part of an effort to fix the industry’s diversity problem.

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) will launch the “African Masters in Machine Intelligence (AMMI)” course in Rwanda in September, before looking to roll it out to other African nations. 

AMMI will be a one year course that will train young Africans in machine learning and its applications, according to a blog post on Medium by Moustapha Cisse, who is the founder and director of the course. Cisse added that Facebook and Google’s sponsorship and partnership are making AMMI possible.

Facebook said it will provide $4 million in funding and staff lecturers over several years, while Google is also contributing resources.

Our investment and engagement in AIMS is part of our commitment to the creation of a more diverse talent pipeline,” Facebook Research wrote in a blog post on July 31. “It is notable that the talent pool currently actively researching this space has remained relatively small and, importantly, is unrepresentative of the diversity of our world in terms of ethnic representation as well as geographic, economic and cultural background.” 

Jeff Dean, head of Google AI, wrote on Twitter: “I’m very excited to have Google and Facebook come together to help fund this new Masters program at the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

I cover artificial intelligence and Google DeepMind. In previous roles I’ve written about tech policy, European startups, the gig economy, and venture capital. Today I’m a freelance journalist and I’m also working on a book about Google DeepMind. Previously I was a senior te…

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'Madden 19' Review: The Good, The Bad And The Bottom Line

With an earlier release date than normal, Madden season has begun a little sooner for fans of the historic football gaming franchise.

Lamar JacksonCredit: EA Sports

The leadership situation on the development team is in a transitional state. Thus, there are a few legitimate concerns about this year’s finished product and the series moving forward. The game goes live for Xbox One EA Access subscribers late on Wednesday, and there are already a number of fans getting a taste of this year’s release.

What should you expect from this year’s game? There are some areas that are the equivalent to a fly route that turns into touchdowns. Others are akin to infuriating five-yard penalties that stop a drive cold. If you’ve played Madden for years, you know what I mean.

The GoodCredit: Brian Mazique

Visuals…The Good Parts

Dak PrescottCredit: EA

I’ve thought about this next sentence for the past 4 days because I didn’t want to sound like a prisoner of the moment. After further review, I feel confident in saying: Madden NFL 19 is the best-looking sports video game I’ve ever played.

Let me put that into proper perspective. I’m talking purely about the visuals as it pertains to the overall look of the players, equipment, stadiums, grass, lighting, etc. I’m telling you, the players and objects in this game are rendered so nicely, it’s hard not to recognize the quality. You can take almost any screenshot, zoomed in or out, and marvel at the level of detail in almost every aspect of this virtual world.

Quentin NelsonCredit: EA

I’m more than 15 games in and I’m still taking the time to stare at the reflection in the helmets. Even the cutscenes, overlays (though there could be more from a statistical standpoint) and monoliths look good. The art team and whoever is responsible for the visual quality of this year’s version of Madden deserves a round of applause because those men and women did an amazing job.

This is easily the best example of what the Frostbite Engine has done for an EA Sports title.

Animations…The Good Parts

There are some nice new animations in the game. The dropped passes look a lot better than they did before. Also, the tackles are impacting, especially the ones involving three or more players.

This version of Madden captures a nice balance between hard and fun-to-watch hits and the safer, softer tackles that we saw in recent versions of the game.

Some of the interception and fumble recovery animations are incredibly smooth. I had one memorable fumble recovery on the sidelines. A linebacker in zone coverage put a solid hit on a receiver just as he was trying to run out of bounds. The ball popped in the air, and my safety ran over, caught it in the air with a seamless animation and headed the other way with the ball.

It was a satisfying play, not only because my defense created a takeaway, but more importantly, I could see exactly what happened during the instant replay. That’s the way it should be in a sports video game. Quite a few of the virtual athletes have their moments in the game, but running backs look the smoothest in action in Madden 19.

LeSean McCoyCredit: EA

The jump cuts, hesitations, and spins will likely cause the most oohs and ahhs from fans.

The Positive Effects of Real-Player Motion

RPM can be felt in Madden a little more than in FIFA 18. Quite honestly, I wasn’t a big believer in the technology until EA UFC 3 was released, and then I started to pay attention to what the possibilities could be with the feature.

It’s not something that should be described as a gamechanger in Madden 19, but you can feel the weight and speed of players more definitively. That’s a good foundation.

Stick to the Numbers

The ratings seem to matter more in this year’s game than in other versions. You can feel the difference between elite players and average to below-average guys, and that’s not just at the skill positions. Offensive lineman and pass rushers who aren’t especially good will pale in comparison to the top guys.

Carson WentzCredit: EA

When building a team in CFM and MUT Draft, you’ll need to be aware of your impact players and the positions they play.

MUT is Strong

Ultimate Team continues to be one of the strongest–if not the strongest area of the game this year. Solo Battles brings a favorable offline element to the mode. Players will pit their teams against random lineups plucked from user’s collections with varying difficulties and rewards. While the gameplay is technically offline, Solo Battles still has an online component. There are 14 tiers of rewards in the mode with 13 total games each week.

Solo BattlesCredit: EA

The objective is to win the game and score as many points as possible. It’s a fun new wrinkle to the MUT system. It may need some further development, as was the case with MUT Squads last year. This year, MUT Squads against the A.I. and MUT player upgrades round out the newest additions to Ultimate Team.

In MUT Squads against the AI, you and friends have an opportunity to play for rewards and upgrades against CPU opponents in challenges.

Aside from providing a way to earn unique content, this new angle on co-op play gives you and your teammates a chance to practice against an opponent. Co-op Madden is more challenging than just about any other sports video game, but when things come together, it can be fun.

Create-a-Draft Class

Draft ClassesCredit: EA

EA has finally given fans the ability to create their own draft classes for Connected Franchise Mode. This is perhaps one of the most overdue additions on the current sports gaming landscape. I’m happy to confirm that the feature is as solid and in-depth as was originally advertised.

This should help to add longevity to the overall CFM experience.

Player Development and Scheme Fit in CFM

Scheme FitCredit: EA

This aspect of the game might go unnoticed by fans who won’t take the time to recognize the substance and what it can do for CFM. The entire player development, scheme fit system works really well in Madden 19. Not every player develops or regresses at the same pace, and the game does a good job accounting for those factors. Training players seems a little more relevant this year too.

Player performance can be impacted by how well a guy fits into his coach’s scheme. If you take the time to learn the kinds of players you need to make your system successful and then target players who fit the bill in free agency. trades and the draft, you’ll see how it all comes together.

This was a good addition to the game’s feature set.

Longshot…The Good Parts

Longshot 2Credit: EA

Devin Wade and Colt Cruise are back for Longshot 2: Homecoming. The voice acting is really strong again this year, and Rob Schneider’s character is hilarious. More to come on this mode a little later on, though.

The BadCredit: Brian Mazique

Animations…The Bad Parts

In some ways, Madden 19 is a victim of its own beauty. The game looks so good in still shots, slow motion, and most live action that when you see poor animations, they look even worse because it’s happening with such accurately rendered models.

Some of the things I saw during my review period might be eliminated with a Day 1 patch, but I have to report what I saw in my time with the game. There were some incidents of frame skipping, and some really strange things occurring after injuries.

On one play, Ty Montgomery got injured and somehow he got stuck in the hurdle animation. He hilariously hurdled his way off the field. He didn’t come back, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the way he was supposed to exit the game.

There’s also a pretty significant issue on punt returns. The CPU returner will sometimes touch the ball and leave it for your coverage team to recover. That led to a TD and possession deep in the CPU’s territory on separate occasions.

Again, this is another area of the game that could be patched soon.

Real-Player Motion…The Bad Parts

As I mentioned earlier, RPM can be felt in the game, only it’s not always good. It takes some getting used to as the locomotion of the players–especially ball carriers–can be herky-jerky. Sometimes it feels as if the movement system creates an extra step or motion that seemed to cost me in a few instances as I tried to hit a hole.

This is something that I might get a better handle on after more reps, but chances are I’ll still feel as though it could be tuned.

Low Situational A.I. 

Sideline player A.I. is still an issue for what seems like the 15th consecutive version. On one play, I called an out route for Larry Fitzgerald. I threw a bullet pass to him immediately out of his break, and he just kept running clean out of bounds and off the screen entirely. The next day it seemed this issue had been resolved, but receivers still aren’t respecting the sidelines or making a reasonable effort to stay in bounds.

It’s pretty frustrating we’re still seeing this issue after so many years.

The CPU’s playcalling at the end of the half and game is worst than Darrell Bevell’s in Super Bowl 49. The CPU will throw the ball in obvious run situations, and I’m not talking about taking reasonable gambles; I’m talking decisions that just go against the fabric of the NFL and good football.

CFM Still Needs Some Work

The addition of created draft classes, player development and offensive and defensive schemes is nice, but CFM is still a ways behind NBA 2K‘s MyLeague and MyGM, and even MLB The Show‘s franchise mode. For starters, the injury presentation is still lacking.

We’re still getting a full diagnosis of injuries within the game the injury took place. That’s not at all realistic. Can we get a virtual MRI that at least forces you to wait until the end of your game to find out the details?

Also, the off-ball injuries are still phantom events with no visual representation. Because of the way they take place, they are more irritating than immersive. These are essentially randomized injuries that the system alerts you to during games. If you go back and watch the replay, you’ll see, the player shows no sign of injury at all.

Injuries also seemed to happen at a relatively high rate in at least of one of my CFMs. I started one with the Chicago Bears and I lost two players for the season within the first few weeks of the regular season, and at least one player for multiple games in every contest.

I was happy to see that didn’t happen as much in the first 3 weeks of my second CFM. I used a fantasy draft for that one because I wanted to see what the game felt like playing with better players than my Bears have at their disposal. I’m still not sure if the injury rate is too high, at least on default settings, but this is something you can tweak in the sliders. However, I don’t think you should have to do that. The injury settings should be on the most realistic level as a default.

Stat tracking still has some problems, and this may be one of the more egregious issues. Mostly because it’s been a problem of sorts for a few years now. Some sacks still aren’t recorded or even called out correctly by the commentators. The first time it happened, I thought I was mistaken. Thankfully, I was capturing the footage and confirmed on multiple that not only did a player not get credit for the sack a few times, play-by-play commentator Brandon Gaudin called out the wrong guy in his dialog.

Presentation Problems

The commentary is still OK, but this is the first year I’ve started to feel as though Gaudin and Charles Davis’ lines are getting redundant. It’s not the basic lines, it’s the longer spiels that sometimes don’t quite match the sequence on the screen. I think it’s important to keep the longer stories fresh because those are the ones that are the most memorable. The moment Davis says, “I used to have a teammate who used to say, I hate experienced quarterbacks,” I’m turned off because I heard this same speech a million times in Madden 18.

It’s not ideal to duplicate such a recognizable soliloquy.

I suppose there is something to be said for effort, but the new halftime show feels undercooked. It’s as if they wanted to show highlights from other games, but ran into some issues and decided to leave the bland stats and scores on the screen with the cool 3-D map. Jonathan Coachman replaces Larry Ridley as the voice of the halftime show, but it doesn’t really impact the presentation’s effectiveness.

Longshot Gets a Little Long and Cheesy

While the story is well written again this year, and voice acting is still strong, things get a little cheesy about ¾ of the way through. I won’t give any spoilers, but if you play through the entire mode, you might see what I mean. It starts to feel like an after-school special from the 80s or 90s.

This section of the story could have been made about 20-30 minutes shorter, and that would have added a little more value. Sometimes less is more.

The Bottom LineCredit: Brian Mazique

This year, Madden doesn’t break any new ground or fix all or most of the nagging issues that have impeded the series in the past. However, it does deliver an absolutely stunning visual experience, decent gameplay and enough options to keep most fans occupied.

 

Developer: EA Sports

Publisher: EA Sports

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One (version tested), PC

Release Date: August 10, 2018 (EA Access begins on Aug. 2 and early access for pre-orders starts on Aug. 7)

Price: $59.99

Score: 7.7/10

Disclaimer: Free review code was provided for coverage purposes