Interviews// Reinventing FIFA Street

Posted 24 Feb 2012 15:55 by
It?s been a while since we?ve seen FIFA Street, the skill-based football spinoff that was helmed by EA Sports BIG. But anyone taking a close look at this upcoming title will be surprised to see that it looks very different. With the studio behind the core FIFA series also behind this new iteration, EA sees an opportunity to reinvent Street to appeal more to the core gamer.

Creative director Gary Paterson hopes that this new version of FIFA Street will appeal to those gamers who have a fleeting interest in football and are on the fence about buying into a sports title. He refers to FIFA Street 3, released in 2008, as ?almost so casual, that it forgot to be a game. You press one button and score a goal. That?s not a game.?

Clearly, there?s a new focus here - ?it was important to make a game for a pure gamer.? As I sat down with Paterson to find out more, I learned a lot of details and interesting facts that have led to this more playful approach to street football - including inspiration from a certain beat-'em-up series known as Street Fighter...

SPOnG: The last FIFA Street game was released in 2008. What took so long for you guys to pick it back up again?

Gary Paterson: Well obviously FIFA Street 3 didn?t do so well. It was probably the wrong game at the wrong time. We released a... casual game - I?m going to use the word ?casual? but I don?t really mean that in the negative sense - at a time when the PS3 and Xbox 360 was in its infancy. Therefore only hardcore gamers had the consoles to play it at the time.

Since then we set a new direction for FIFA with FIFA ?08 and have learned a lot about making football games between then and now. We?ve also learned a lot about making technology - we rewrote the technology for FIFA ?07 and now it?s really matured. With those two things - the design learnings and the new technology learnings - I think it was the right time to try again with FIFA Street.

SPOnG: Visually, you?ve gone in a different direction too. It seems a lot more football sim, akin to the core FIFA titles, than the almost-cartoon style that FIFA Street 3 had. You mentioned it was the wrong game at the wrong time. Were you guys disappointed with the approach that was taken for FIFA Street 3, or the reception it had?

Gary Paterson: We were definitely disappointed with the reception FIFA Street 3 had. Speaking personally, I think there?s a market out there for a cartoony football game. I don?t know how big that market is, but there?s definitely one out there. For me, and for what we at FIFA know about sports gamers or football gamers, it?s not really right for them, and so we thought we?d build the game closer to what we know.

SPOnG: I was just going to ask if you thought there was room for a cartoony football game! You read my mind. It sounds like such a game wouldn?t be a good match for the FIFA brand though. Could a cartoony FIFA game work?

Gary Paterson: I?d like to try! I mean, maybe I?d have to think about it a bit more, do some research into what it?d be. Obviously Mario Strikers works, but then again it?s Mario. You can never use Mario in an example or as evidence for anything because the Mario franchise is an enigma. But I think there?s something to be said for a game like that, whether there?s enough of a game there to allow for a full game... I?m not sure, I?d have to think about it a bit more.

SPOnG: Perhaps you could approach it in a similar way to NBA Jam, which has recently seen a release on digital distribution platforms?

Gary Paterson: Yeah. It?s interesting, because one of the things that we?re very conscious of is that in North America there may be people who are looking for a street football game to be more like NBA Jam. But we don?t think that?s what our consumers want, certainly in Europe.

Hopefully people in North America will respond to the direction we?ve taken here too. We?ve had a great response here in Europe, but we are wary that the NBA Jam and NFL Blitz situation might have an effect on what North Americans perceive a street football game should be.

SPOnG: FIFA and football in general is largely considered a European sport, I?d imagine. Madden is likely the dominant EA Sports title there, right? Do you think that in America, FIFA Street has been a series that has resonated more with consumers than the core FIFA games?

Gary Paterson: Well, I don?t know the numbers, but FIFA does really well in America. In my time working on the franchise, the market has been growing rapidly. So I wouldn?t say FIFA doesn?t do well in America - it does. And hopefully with that growing market, maybe FIFA Street can grab onto the coattails, or as I said before there may be more gamers on the brink of being football gamers that might be interested in FIFA Street.

SPOnG: Must have been fun working with the motion capture guys to get all the fancy tricks down in the game. Any good stories?

Gary Paterson: Usually, when you do motion capture we get to direct the actors to do this or that. Although there was an element of that for this game, because there was specific stuff that we needed, a lot of the time we just let the actors do what they fancied. Largely speaking, we had no clue what the moves should be.

It was interesting when I first got introduced to the talent - they were already suited up, and I started speaking to this guy who introduced himself he was doing a trick. I don?t know what it?s called, but this trick - he stands in front of you and puts the ball behind you. You look to see where he?s put the ball, but it?s not there. Turns out he hadn?t ever put the ball behind you - it?s right up his shirt. He then just pulls the ball out from his sleeve.

SPOnG: During the presentation you referenced racing games when it came to using the triggers - accelerate, brake, that sort of thing - so obviously there was some kind of racing influence that you had to try and make FIFA a bit more accessible. Were there any other types of games that inspired you?

Gary Paterson: Obviously, yeah the driving game thing was something we thought would be very intuitive for people to pick up and easy for them to understand - hopefully that?s been the case. It seems like it is, from what we?ve seen so far. Even in the gestures for the tricks for the skill moves, we wanted to try and find a way to make them more intuitive and easier for people to pick up and understand.

We find that when we use the FIFA system - in the FIFA system, the gestures have to be relative to where the player is facing. But sometimes it?s not obvious to see which direction your player is facing, so you input a gesture and don?t get what you expect as a result.

So, we actually took influence from Street Fighter. The default system in the game, we actually internally called it the Street Fighter controls. Because basically, if you?re shooting from left to right, the input for any given skill move - let?s say the Rainbow, or Roulette - is the same, regardless of where the player is facing. If you?re shooting left to right, it?s the same. It matters if you?re shooting right to left.

Just like it does in Street Fighter - again to try and make things easier for people - the gestures are easier, it?s easier to recognise what the gesture should be and to input the gesture. And to make them all as simple as possible. So yeah, I guess in that sense, the 2D fighting game is one of our influences!

SPOnG: Just a shame there isn?t a ?Finish Him? mode like in Mortal Kombat!

Gary Paterson: [Laughs] Yeah! It?s funny, we had those jokes as well at work. We?d be thinking, ?Well, what could you do? Finish Him!?

SPOnG: I?ve noticed there?s one FIFA Street Arena called the Justin Chan Memorial. Who is that?

Gary Paterson: It?s a bit of a sad story, actually - that?s why it?s called the Memorial. Justin Chan, in the... obviously it took five years for us to finish the FIFA vision, and Justin Chan was an animation engineer. Really great and funny guy, always laughing and smiling. He was an ex-software engineer, and very influential in creating the gameplay on FIFA. Sadly he died last year, very bravely trying to save one of his friends. And so we felt it was right for us to remember Justin. That?s why that environment?s in the game, and hopefully... hopefully he sees it [smiles].

SPOnG: That?s pretty amazing. And I love the picture that?s used on the arena court as well.

Gary Paterson: Yeah. He was a really happy guy. Just speaking to him, you?d probably walk away smiling because he was such a happy guy, laughing. That?s why we used that particular picture [laughs]!

SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.

Gary Paterson: Cheers!

FIFA Street will be released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on March 15th.

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