FIFA 13 is looking - and playing - like a mighty fine update to the already-sublime EA Sports football series. You?ve probably read our First Look earlier this month (if you haven?t, read it here) and already know why it?s so promising: the First Touch Control mechanic, which determines how a ball reacts when a player receives it; improved AI and a more responsive collision detection system; and the ability to control the ball much better while facing opponents.
On paper, it sounds like a league ahead of FIFA 12
. In play, it feels less like you?re a player on a pitch and more of a football war general, using these new features to plan an attack strategy ahead of time and moving your little striker pawns about a hands-free battlefield.
I guess it?s appropriate that I?m talking about FIFA
as if it?s a war game - as lead producer David Rutter explains, the Vancouver team at EA want to take on not just competing football titles, but other AAA games such as Call of Duty
. I had a sit-down with him to explore this ambition, and some of the reasons behind the game?s new features.
SPOnG: The funny thing is, I love playing FIFA, but I?m not so interested in the sport itself though. A lot of people probably feel the same way as me - why do you think that is the case?
Wow. Hm. Let me think about this for a second. It?s an interesting question. So, I am guessing there are two things at play here. One is, for a football fan, we are the definitive simulation of the sport they love, and we?ve done it in a way that I think allows people who aren?t into football to enjoy it too. And that is creating systems in the game that allow for calculations to determine outcomes based on context, rather than random scripted crap.
And so, looking at this year?s game, and how we wanted it to be unpredictable and dramatic, I?d kinda go ?OK, what have we done with First Touch Control?? We?ve taken our shooting system, which calculated spin, velocity and direction of the ball, and a bunch of other stuff - your foot hitting it and your preparedness to hit it - and determined what the outcome was for the ball?s trajectory towards the goal. That led to this very deep, engaging shooting mechanic in our game which, when you mess a shot up, never made you feel like it was the game?s fault.
You know it?s been accurately simulated, because you can tell. You watch the leg move, you watch the ball move, and you realise that the outcome is actually correct. So when you get into the Replay and you look at it with absolute scrutiny, you can see the trajectory of where the ball goes and it makes complete sense to your human brain.
We?ve done the same thing with the First Touch Control system, so that when a ball comes towards you and it?s got spin or velocity, and your body?s not prepared... when it hits you, then it?s going to be more difficult to control.
Moving away from the football thing and looking at non-football fans, what they see is this amazing simulation of humans running around kicking a ball of leather, that when they perform an action is executed in a way that makes complete sense. And it just so happens that it?s a really competitive environment, where you have two teams and you have to score more goals. Or not concede as many. At that point, it becomes something that I think people enjoy. My kids love it, and they?re like... eight and five years old.
SPOnG: Do they understand the concept of football yet?
Not really. My-- anyway, I won?t get on to my kids [laughs].
SPOnG: You?ve mentioned in the past as trying to define FIFA as a simulation above all else. How much of a balancing act is that? Because you can go too far into the sim thing and make a game that?s just not fun to play.
I think... yeah, I mean, I don?t think we?re ever going to get to the point where you have to use the analogue sticks independently to do steps. That would be kind of weird. I think when we?re simulating it, we?re simulating the interaction between your little virtual character, the other virtual characters and the ball.
We?re conscious of it, and what we want to do is remove - like I keep saying - the scripted and random elements and introduce systems that create simulation, rather than doing anything that?s just not going to be fun. So we?re conscious of that, and I guess it?s our jobs to try and not mess it up.
SPOnG: The interesting thing about that, obviously, is that you mentioned in the presentation that you took a few elements from FIFA Street for FIFA 13. FIFA Street goes quite heavily into the arcade side of things.
The elements that we took from that were related to the Street Ball control system, where you?re knocking the ball between your feet. That?s something that you see in real football matches, as well as in tennis courts or other places where people are playing footy. The idea was that if we were going to make this really good, fun, dribbling mechanic for the attacking feature for FIFA 13
, we needed to achieve a couple of things. We need to be able to move in full 360-degrees.
We need to be able to move over very small distances, and we need to maintain a face angle. Why? It?s going to allow us to take on defenders, it?s going to allow us to get past people, and shield better. We achieved that using several things - but one of them was the ability to move the ball between your feet. And thankfully, our brilliant sister team had made this great game, which had a really good version of that in it, so we said we?ll have that [laughs].
SPOnG: Every FIFA game has really evolved and added all kinds of different features. And certainly the franchise seems to have pulled away from PES as well. Do you still feel pressured by the PES team?
They?re the nearest competitor in our genre. And they?re a great team, full of very clever people. I don?t think we just look at them as our competition though. We look at Call of Duty
, even some of our sister titles as games we want to beat. And the reason we want to beat them is a bunch of different things.
As I said before, I love the game we make - I think it?s really good. Really brilliant. And I play it every day. It?s my job, thankfully! And I want to bring that level of enjoyment into people?s lives as well - that?s why I do my job. If I didn?t, I?d probably go mad. So the thought is, ?Hey everyone, let?s all go play FIFA
together?. If you?re playing another game, then good for you, but I?d much rather you?d be playing mine!
And then the other side of it is... a team of amazing developers in Vancouver that I?m really lucky to work with - all of them massive footy fans and love video games, all working together to out-do each other, basically. Year-in, year-out, being super-competitive and wanting to do the best we can possibly do. All those things combine to make us a bunch of really super-competitive people.
SPOnG: Finally, I wanted to pick up on the animations of the players for this year?s game. FIFA 12 was interesting because of the whole player dynamic system that you introduced last year, and there were a few oddities in animation that came out from that. Were you surprised to see that happen?
I was surprised, but also in hindsight probably not so much. My question to you is, have you ever seen any of this happen on your own TV?
SPOnG: Not on mine, no.
I think on YouTube, so the phenomenon for me is that when you go from a few hundred people playing a game to many millions overnight, then you?re exposing yourself to pretty much anything. With the real-time physics engine, we kind of thought we were safe, and obviously we had not seen a single bug like that in the development team or in QA for the entire duration of the year. And then overnight, when the demo came out, it started to appear, because you?ve gone from a few hundred people to many millions.
?Oh my goodness,? we go, ?we better start looking into this!? Thankfully, the fans of the game appreciate the diligence of the team and also the fact that 99.99999% of people have never seen it themselves, and we fixed as many of them as we could quickly.
We?re still fixing really odd outliers even today, but we?re pretty confident that we?ve got rid of all of them now. But the weird thing is, how does it happen? From hundreds to millions, and thankfully most people haven?t seen it themselves, but YouTube is a wonderful thing.
SPOnG: I think my friends who come across that on the rare occasion, they haven?t been annoyed at the game or thought it was broken. It?s just a nice little funny quirk.
It is funny. So, having now been working with Messi a little bit, I was really hoping at some point we could maybe get him to wear like a prosthetic backwards leg for a photo shoot or something. We can put it up and say, ?those bugs you saw on the internet? They were real.? And the fantastic Andy Caroll kiss
, which is always a favourite of the team?s.
SPOnG: Thanks for your time.
Cheers, thank you.