For Konami, reinventing its flagship football franchise has been a long time coming. Since losing ground to EA’s FIFA series over the last couple of years, the Japanese publisher has been on a mission to get ahead of the next-generation curve and prepare a refreshed Pro Evolution Soccer experience.
And, like a football manager planning an effective strategy, Konami is playing a long game here. Its ‘next-generation PES
’ philosophy began in earnest with last year’s PES 2013
, introducing PES ID amongst a range of other interesting features. This year, the development of Kojima Productions’ internal FOX engine has allowed the PES Productions team to build a new foundation which will be easily adaptable going forward.
It’s not just a new engine that’s being nurtured ahead of next-gen, though. Konami recently opened a dedicated PES
silo team in the UK, called Football Content Studios. While initially supporting the core Japanese team, it’s clear that there are plans in place that will help PES
flourish anew over the next few years.
I spoke with PES Team Leader Jon Murphy and PES Productions Marketing Producer Manorito Hosoda to find out more.
SPOnG: I wanted to kick things off by talking about the new UK studio. What’s the journey been like for Football Content Studios, and what sparked the idea of launching a new studio for PES?
The idea came about from a desire to better incorporate European football culture into the game. The Japanese’s knowledge of European football culture is very limited, and we were aware of that. So we wanted to bring in a Western team that could help contribute a more local approach to implementing that culture, putting forward ideas and suggestions.
As for the journey... we’re still trying to get up to speed, actually. The team’s run by a guy called James Cox, and we’re at about 20 people at the moment. But the team is continuing to grow and grow. As you can see, we have quite a lot of space here, and that will get filled up over the coming months.
When we first started to put the team together, we perhaps had one set of ideas on what FCS would be handling - culturalisation of the product, a bit of presentation, stadium chants, that sort of thing - but we’re finding that James and the rest of the talent we’ve brought in have lots of skill sets that we can use in other ways too.
The new team is already on a supporting role for PES 2014
, and with PES 2015
they’ll get involved at a programming level, and will also have a hand in suggesting modes and alterations to various existing features. It’ll be a learning process for everyone.
SPOnG: That actually half-answers my next question - whether the FCS team will simply be supporting the Japanese team or whether they’ll have a more significant role. It sounds to me that you plan to give the UK and Japan teams equal responsibilities over time. Is that correct?
Yeah. Well, I think there’s a certain amount that FCS has to prove to the Japanese team first. To start with, the UK will have more of a support role, but over time I believe it’ll develop its own identity with its own ideas, and will end up being more of an ‘outpost’, if you like, rather than a simple support silo.
SPOnG: What do you think this says about the UK games industry, opening a new studio in London? Particularly for something as high-profile as PES. It seems that the general feeling about AAA culture in the UK is that it’s pretty much dead. Does this mark a belief and faith in the industry here?
In a way, it does. We’ve not just opened the FCS here, but we’ve also moved our headquarters here too. Really, though, this made sense to us because we could use the UK as an epicentre for football culture. To try and bring in as many different cultural backgrounds to the programming staff, so we could get a better feeling for European football culture in general.
I think the UK is certainly one of the countries with the strongest feelings, attitudes, reactions and approaches to football. It harbours that hardcore element that we want to push into the game. Plus, all the best teams are English as well [laughs]!
[Pauses, shakes head furiously, laughs] To answer the question from my side of the fence... at first the team’s role is more about support, but we had to decide whether we wanted just a support studio or a team that we can work with hand in hand, like a corporate collaboration. We really liked the idea of the latter.
They are our developing partners which will help us pursue our goal of a truly worldwide football game. As part of that, they will form a core part in assisting us with AI engines and things like that.
SPOnG: Let’s talk about FOX engine, and your experience in working with that to produce the next-generation of PES. How has that process been like for you? What have been the main challenges? Has recreating the PES experience whilst still adding new features been a particularly challenging task?
Yes, it has been rather challenging because, while the FOX engine is a very powerful tool that can be used across many projects, we had to ensure that we could keep the identity of PES
. We had to implement a football culture, the purest sense of the football experience, within the game, and on top of that we had to make sure we had a lot of surprises that will hopefully exceed the expectations of our fans.
SPOnG: Speaking of the new features in the game... earlier in the presentation, you mentioned some negative feedback from E3 that you’re now acting on. What exactly were those and what other challenges have you had?
Yes, we did receive some feedback following our E3 demonstration. One of the things mentioned was the goalkeeper personalities and keeper reactions. Another involved a fundamental part of the AI - offense, defence - so we are working hard to straighten those things out.
But to tell you to the truth, we had been working on that E3 demo right up until the day before we brought the code to the trade show! That’s the truth [laughs]! So our direction with the game, and the feedback we were looking for have pretty much fit together, time-wise.
There were a couple of other things as well, like the way goalkeepers would came out to collect the ball and how free kicks were handled. All that is being adjusted based on what people were telling us at E3. Also... turns out people want more than just two teams to play as [Note: The E3 [i]PES 2014
demo only allowed players to control one of two teams[/i]], so we’re going to add more [laughs]!
Yeah, we might just add a third team [laughs].
SPOnG: It’s a good thing that you were working on the build at the same time as E3. Have you found that using FOX engine has allowed you to react quicker to feedback than before?
Yes, absolutely. The FOX engine really opened the door for us to vastly improve the graphical quality, but it really brought us the ability to be much more efficient. By allowing us the ability to react better to feedback and to create builds which focus on repetitive trial and error, we are able to reach our goals for PES
I think it’s fair to say that there’s been a long period where it was taking an awful lot more effort to do small amounts of things, because fitting all the features into the engine and building the structures around it has been a slow and difficult process in the past. Up until quite recently, we were perhaps having a harder time than we would have done in years gone past.
But now we’re getting to the stage where all those fundamental pieces are being put into place, which means that the process of augmenting features into that will be sped up. Come PES 2015
, you’ll see us being able to - hopefully - fit bigger and bigger pieces into that puzzle with greater ease, too.
SPOnG: PES has always traditionally found a home on Nintendo platforms. A lot of third parties have recently expressed uncertainty about development for the Wii U especially - in particular EA Sports, who make the FIFA games. With that in mind, do you see an opportunity for PES to satisfy a core userbase on the system?
Yes. We’ve got the new engine now, so it is simply about applying what we’ve already developed into a different format. It’s not like what we had to do in the past, where we had to develop different codebases for each platform simultaneously. We can develop one codebase, and apply that to new platforms. So the process has been simplified for us, in that sense.
SPOnG: A lot of other studios have their own engines now too, and they’re saying they can’t adapt those technologies to the platform very easily. So, with PES, it wouldn’t be too hard to do for you to adapt FOX engine for Nintendo platforms, I suppose?
That’s correct, yes.
SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time!
Thank you very much.