Anyone who’s a regular reader of mine knows a few things:
1) I write an irregular column that is going to bring our PR director to alcoholism before he’s 30.
2) Lucard and I have the potential to duel to the death over the Fire Emblem vs. Shining Force debate. (Editor’s Note – It’s not just me. It’s EVERYONE vs Bowen in that particular argument on staff.)
3) I love football. (Editor’s Note AGAIN -He means Soccer to those of you who haven’t resided in a British territory or commonwealth.)
The latter point is the one I’ve written about the most here. I’ve reviewed Football Manager ’07, FIFA ’07 and most recently, UEFA Euro ’08. Despite the fact that two of the games up there are EA games, I’ve been a noted fan of Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series since it came over to America. That said, I’ve been on record as being happy with the improvements that FIFA had made to their gameplay engine, which EA has proven is more than just lip service.
Before the upcoming release of FIFA ’09, I got a chance to shoot some questions over to David Rutter, the producer of the 360 and PS3 versions of the game, and given complaints about the slow pace of last year’s game, the versions that could use the most work to get the most out of the next generation hardware.
David Rutter: We spent a lot of time reflecting on the community and press feedback from the 08 cycle, and playing the game a lot. We managed to distill it down into 250 key additions and improvements for the 09 game – and we’re really really happy to be able to say that the vast majority of them are things we know our fans are after. The three biggest areas of improvement among the core gameplay you’ll see are in Responsiveness, Physical Play and Attributes, and Intelligence.
Responsiveness this year has improved massively – we’ve revamped our animation and animation technology to make sure every user controlled action from dribbling, running, tackling, heading passing and shooting to be much more responsive. You’ll really feel the fact that what you want to happen really does happen when you want it to.
Physical Play and Attibutes were top of our agenda too. The team really felt that there wasn’t enough difference between say small pacey players, and large strong players. There is now – and you’ll need to become familiar with the individual strengths and weaknesses of the players you have at your disposal. Fast players can nip in and out of tackles much faster than hulking defenders, but the little guys are much easier to muscle off the ball. For tackles we can discriminate between standing and trailing legs, so if you contact a player in the right spot he’ll go down or skip out of it realistically. We’ve also put in some amazing in air collisions and stumbles that add a fantastic sense of realism.
For intelligence we’ve massively improved positioning and goalkeeping, as well as pass avoidance (so that ball goes exactly where a professional player would want it to go – cutting out unrealistic mistakes), through-balls and you’ll even see skilled players curling passes and crosses. Plus keepers can change their mind mid-dive when they realize they’ve made a mistake.
In addition, as part of Team Management you’ll be able to edit 11 tactical sliders to change attacking and defending parameters of your team. Think of it as being the first team coach and being able to dictate how your team plays on the pitch. Theres roughly 140 attacking and 40 defensive options. Let me use one slider, defensive mentality, as an example. In a high setting you’ll have nine players pushing into your opposition half trying to cut-out play in much the same way as ateam pushing for a win- desperate to get the ball no matter how vulnerable you are left in defense. So the “Ëœyang’ to the “Ëœying’ is to hit a long, lofted pass over the last man. Your striker will probably have 30 yards of space to run into.
The opposite of the above is a low Defensive Mentality.. So your defensive line is way deep. An attacking team is going to be met with a 10 man defense – so theyre going to need to use some pretty quick passing and feet to get around you.
DHGF: How are you planning to improve the online modes that you put forth last year?
DR: We’ve changed a heap of different elements to do with match-making, quitting and general tidiness. In the next couple of weeks we will be revealing the number of players you will be able to play with in Be A Pro: Online Team Play but it will be more than the 5 vs. 5 we introduced last year. In addition, we will be announcing new online features at the Leipzig Games Festival in Germany on August 20 so look for some innovative news from FIFA 09 regarding online play on that day.
DR: Absolutely. You’ll get the chance to choose or build a player, control them for four seasons and grow their abilities using the experience points you gain on the pitch. Hopefully you’ll be good enough to get spotted by your national coach, with the ultimate aim of being your country’s captain, and winning the International Cup to become a legend.
For the first time in BAP we’ll be enabling fans of the mode to play unlocked – so if you fancy a change of position you can still gain experience for your pro, whilst playing as another pro. And if your mate pops over they can join in – either playing along side you – or trying to spoil your progress as your opponent.
DHGF: There are two main football games, and with it, two schools of thought on what is good and bad in a video game: there’s FIFA, and there’s Pro Evolution Soccer. Adding the “New” control scheme gets the gameplay close for those (like me) that have been weaned on Pro Evolution, but are there any further plans to narrow the gap between how the two games play?
DR: I’m a big fan of football and a big fan of football videogames. I think it’s very healthy for people to have the option of playing more than one football game. Competition helps us concentrate on making the very best experience we can for the people who love to play our game and our competitor’s game as well. What we have done this year is approach things differently. We have done a great job on the game in recent years which has enabled us to focus on improving the core gameplay. In the years to come I hope we are far and away the best game on the market. If you look at the improvements and innovations we have made in the past three years and we continue in that direction, than people will be very pleased with the FIFA we make in 5 years time.
For us we are focusing on what our consumers want and our consumers have told us they want a more responsive game, intelligent, and physical game that authentically represents the attributes of the players and way those players play together. People also want to customize there experience more, to map different buttons on the controller and they want a more dynamic , emotional football experience. I feel we have delivered that vast majority of these improvements.
For players like you, you can fully customize your controller to any mapping you want – so that will hopefully go some way to getting more shots instead of crosses. And you’ll be able to map to D-Pad control too this year.
DHGF: For all the positives that FIFA brings across on a gameplay standpoint, the management aspect has been somewhat lacking. For instance, players stay fatigued too long after matches, and there never seems to be ample time between fixtures to handle management tasks, such as transfer preparations. You have a “Manager” style game (FIFA Manager) that plays more like Sega’s Football Manager as well as standard FIFA, but are there plans to close the gap between the two, and create options for better management within the main FIFA franchise for American gamers who don’t get FIFA Manager without importing it?
DR: We’re still a ways out from finishing the game and Manager Mode is a work in progress. We don’t have anything to talk about right at the moment but we’d be keen to touch base with you a little way down the line in the development cycle when I can talk specifically about what you can expect this year.
DHGF: The European world of soccer is far different from that of MLS. Whereas Europe relies heavily on transfers, MLS features more trades and has nuances such as the Designated Player Rule. Are these going to be incorporated in FIFA 09?
DR: It’s something we’ve noted and as above we’ll have to make a point of touching base later.
DHGF: One of the perks of the FIFA series has always been real teams, which Pro Evolution Soccer has been spotty with. So, with Pro Evolution seemingly picking random teams to include in the game each year, has there been any discussion of entering exclusive deals with teams and leagues?
DR: We’re really proud of our authenticity…of course we’re constantly looking on how to improve this. But our authenticity goes further than just licenses. Player likenesses, kits, balls, boots, stadia, 25 new crowd types, three crowd sections per stadia accurately reflecting home away and neutral sections, as well as scarves, flags etc all help. And wait until your hear our new Brazilian and Mexican crowd sounds.
DHGF: What are the odds of actually getting all the World Cup teams and a World Cup mode in FIFA 10, as opposed to having to buy a whole separate game?
DR: We call the FIFA World Cup and Euro titles “Ëœevents’ – and that’s what they are. As a group of teams we’re really keen to give our fans a title to enjoy yearly – with FIFA being about clubs, and event titles that feed into the emotion and celebration of International tournaments etc – in the form of the World Cup. A lot of the national teams are in FIFA franchise – but the value from FIFA World Cup and titles like EURO is there. They’re their own game.
DHGF: With the lion’s share of development time going to the newer systems, are there any significant changes being brought onto the PS2? Can we look forward to any further tweaks and expansion to an ageing game engine?
Paul Hossack, producer, FIFA Soccer 09 on PS2: We listened and responded to what consumers want in designing FIFA Soccer 09 on PS2 this year. We will continue to invest and innovate on the PS2 as long there is a demand for it. Soccer is so popular globally that I’m sure we will continue to see strong demand for the game now and in the future. Remember, FIFA was made for 10 years on the Playstation.
This year we have made one of our biggest feature changes in years in the animation system that makes the game feel more realistic, more responsive. We have added 500 new animation sequences and developed a new collision and shielding system, which will make the game responsive and the physical action more realistic.
The new collision detection system has 360 degree coverage and hundreds of new collision animations that enable players to behave according to their physical attributes. Player speed, direction and strength now determine everything from the severity of the collision to the outcome of possession. Plus, contact occurs with shoulders, arms and legs. Stronger players possess the strength to knock down smaller players or use their body or arms to win challenges. Player strength and momentum also determine outcomes in challenges through the new shielding system. Players can now shield the ball by pushing off the defender to create space.The increased control shielding the ball adds another strategic element to matches, enabling you to slow the game’s pace as needed. We have tuned acceleration attributes so that swifter players possess quicker first steps and gain advantage in sprints.
Like the PS3, we have developed a career mode for Be A Pro:Seasons and created the Be A Pro camera. In Be A Pro: Seasons you choose a professional player or create your own player and then develop his skills at a single outfield position until he becomes a national legend. Play with up to three friends playing all fixed to single players on your favorite club. Complete individual challenges to develop your player attributes and win glory for the squad while competing against friends to develop the best player.
We have developed four new skill moves for a total of 32 tricks, making it easier to recreate signature moves of the real-world superstars. The new moves are scoop turns, rainbow flicks, heel-to-heel knocks and ball rolls.
We have also made it easier and less intimidating for new players to play at their own level of ability with a new control system. This will bring more people into the world of FIFA and maybe even enable you to play with your girlfriend. You can play with advanced controls and she can play with new AI assisted controls. The new system is more automotive so football fans new to gaming can play like a professional controlling only the shooting and passing.
DHGF: Will FIFA ’09 – at least the North American version – support teams from the United Soccer League, much like how FIFA supports from the EPL down to the Conference?
DR: Alas no – but it’s certainly somewhere we want to push in coming years…
Overall, if you asked me to pick the things that the FIFA team needed to concentrate the most on, I’d have picked out responsiveness, pace, and AI, and as stated, my priorities and those of EA Sports match. For the first time in a really long time, I think I can say that, based solely on what I’ve heard and seen from EA, I’m actually legitimately excited for the release of a new FIFA game, something I haven’t been able to say throughout this decade. If EA can come out with everything they’re talking about, and if they can avoid the punishing and inexcusable bugs that befell recent releases NCAA Football ’09 and NASCAR ’09, this could be the first version of FIFA that is inarguably better than Pro Evolution Soccer since that game came over to America.