FIFA 13 is selling like proverbial hot cakes right now - and it's about to continue that momentum this November with the launch of Nintendo's Wii U. EA Sports is preparing a special version of the game that will aim to attract "non-twitchy" players to the world of virtual football.
Tablet controls allow you to manage your team at your leisure, while the AI handles the movement of the players on screen. Dragging players on the pitch will direct them to various openings, while tabs on the GamePad touchscreen opens up a whole realm of options and tactics that can be deployed in real-time.
I spoke with the game's producer, Matthew Prior, on the unique features and the team's experience in working with a new Nintendo console.
SPOnG: Working on the Wii U must have thrown you some very interesting challenges. What were your thoughts on the design process going into making this version?
One of the selling points of the Wii U, that we knew we had to focus on, was the GamePad. Itís an interesting device, particularly from a FIFA standpoint. It really made us think about the things we could do that have never been possible in a football console game before. That was key - we didnít want to just make a carbon copy of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of FIFA 13. We wanted to make an experience thatís truly unique to the Wii U.
So we accomplished that largely with the GamePad. In terms of development cycle, one of the challenges working with new hardware is that youíre building off of nothing. With FIFA 13 on PS3 and 360, we had FIFA 12 to build from. A nice solid foundation. We had nothing like that for Wii U. So we needed to lay that foundation, first and foremost.
While you might consider that 100 per cent of the development teamís time on the PS3 and 360 versions of FIFA 13 would be spent on new features, we probably had an 80/20 split when it came to priorities. 80 per cent of our time was spent just getting the game working on the console, and 20 per cent was dedicated to new features.
The challenges that represents is that youíve got to really be buttoned up on the features you include. You donít have the luxury of being able to develop something, spending time tweaking it, maybe dumping it for something else. Youíve got to pick features that you truly think will showcase the console to the best of its ability, and not feel tacked on. Thereís much more pressure from that standpoint.
SPOnG: I definitely noticed that the tablet controls made the game feel more like a management sim than a football one. The FIFA series has always been split between the core football games and FIFA Manager on PC. Are consoles getting to a point where both experiences can be converged?
Itís more to do with the potential we saw to attract a casual gamer audience. We know there are people out there who love football, but donít necessarily game. Theyíre naturally interested in FIFA by virtue of living the sport, but if you hand one of these guys a controller they wonít bother. If you donít game, then this sort of thing is just alien to you.
So what the Wii U does is allows us to embrace those guys. Touchscreen is such an everyday part of life now. Planes have touchscreen entertainment controls, everyoneís got a smartphone... nobodyís put off by that control mechanism. Thereís no pressure of a twitch-gaming experience.
Nintendo consoles in general are much more aimed towards a casual demographic anyway, so that gave us a natural opportunity to embrace a lot more people.
SPOnG: A part of the development process called ĎGame Opsí was mentioned during the presentation. How does that benefit the end result?
Game Ops is where we bring people in to test the game. These are non-EA people, who sit down and play the game with a fresh set of eyes, so to speak. They test out the UI, the functionality, that kind of thing, and give us feedback to improve the game before release. Of course, it was a bit difficult to accomplish that this time around, with a new device and all. There are obvious embargoes - so with the Wii U, we had to use mainly internal people.
SPOnG: You mentioned that you had to really focus on features that you knew would work well on a Wii U console. What helped you decide what to develop? Did it come from Game Ops feedback, fans, or simply ideas you knew would work?
Well, weíre always looking at the forums to see what our fans want. But with this version, we decided to consider features that would work best for our demographic. With the Wii U and our past experience with the Wii, we knew our target audience was the more casual audience. So we focused on features that would embrace those guys, and create a FIFA experience that is really non-twitch.
You donít need to be a twitch-gamer to enjoy FIFA 13 on the Wii U. There are way more football fans out there who arenít twitch-gamers, than there are football fans who are. So weíre attracting a much bigger market now.
SPOnG: What team developed this version of the game?
Itís an entire team devoted to the Wii U, and made up of people from the same studio that worked on FIFA 13 for the Xbox 360 and PS3. The team out of Canada.
SPOnG: So it wouldnít be the same team that worked on the Wii titles, would it?
SPOnG: There was a story that went around saying that FIFA 13 on the Wii was nothing but a carbon copy of FIFA 12...
No, thatís not made by the same studio. Weíre not involved in that at all. Those particular decisions arenít anything to do with my realm of influence, so I canít really comment on that. Iím not knowledgable on what went on there.
SPOnG: The Wii games have traditionally been treated differently to the FIFA titles on Xbox 360 and PS3. Now youíre using the same engine for all consoles, and aiming for performance parity... would you say this is a sign of EA Sports taking the Wii U more seriously than it perhaps did the Wii?
Well... partly, the issue with the Wii was that it just wasnít as powerful as the other consoles. You could never get parity across the Wii, PS3 and 360 for FIFA 13. Wii U, however, levels that playing field. It looks and plays exactly the same. So in terms of the future with Wii U... yeah, weíre very much on board right now, but weíll see how well the console does.
I personally hope itís a big success, and I think the worldís a much better place when there are three [strong] consoles on the market instead of two. Hopefully weíll be able to continue to build on the uniqueness of this version, because thereís still plenty of things we could do with the Wii U.
SPOnG: Whatís the scope for online play?
For our online, weíve managed to include the most popular mode of all - Seasons. You can have 5 v 5 matches using that mode. Some of the more complex features that are on the 360 and PS3 versions, such as Ultimate Team, arenít on this version. Thatís simply because weíre at the very early stages of online development with the Wii U, and something like Ultimate Team is a very complex mode to get right.
At this stage, itís all about laying the foundations and moving on. We can look at those more complex features next time round. But we wanted to make sure we had an online component, and to include the most important mode there is, Seasons.
SPOnG: How does Nintendoís new online functionality with the Wii U differ from that on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3?
Thereís lots of different systems, and every console has different guidelines and processes for online. Weíre held to those, because thereís a lot of login flow and everything...
SPOnG: Is it easier for you to work with, generally, than say the Wii?
Itís certainly easier compared with the Wii. Nintendo is devoting a lot more resources in establishing that online experience. I think most people know the standard in multiplayer fun now - the best gaming experience you can have is you and your friend in a room. The second is you and a friend online, and the third is you and some random person online.
Playing a human being is always that much more rewarding than playing the AI. So I think Nintendo are grasping that, whereas with the Wii they didnít really devote that much... online wasnít a big part of the Wii. I think online will be a big part of the Wii U, certainly something theyíll be building on and will allow us to build on in future.
Thank you for your time.
Thanks very much.