PES-fanatikere & FIFA-udviklere

What happens when a couple of diehard PES-players are confronted with a couple of the developers of FIFA?

Football has always divided people. Liverpool or United. 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Maradona or Pelé. Things aren't very different when it comes to football games. Roughly 15 years ago there was a nearly religious war between Kick Off 2 and Sensible Soccer. Today that duel has been replaced by Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series and EA's FIFA series. The majority supports the latter, but the first has a more dedicated following, which believe they have seen the light. The authors of this article belong to that group.

The 2007 update of FIFA is nearing and on that occasion the developers of the series was on a promoting tour in Denmark. Here they met the Danish games press, got the usual questions and gave the usual answers. And then we were offered to ask anything we wanted - as FIFA critical PES players - and guaranteed answers on everything from FIFA 07 project lead Joe Booth and gameplay lead Gary Patterson. And so we did...

P:R> One of the problems with football games in general - and FIFA in particular - is that the genre now aims at being a realstic copy of the real game, from a visual point of view. Where older games like Kick Off 2 and Sensible Soccer gave the gamer full control of the active player, new games are in larger content controlled by the game's AI, in order to maintain the visual realism. You have to wait until animation cycles are completed before new actions are accepted and so on. Will the new FIFA do anything to let the gamer regain more control of the game?

Joe> We worked a lot on the responsiveness of the game to make it feel right - we interrupt animation if it's the right thing to do and is appropriate to the context. I don't think simulating reality is a constraint, I just think it very hard to do because the gamer compares it to something they know, so they have an opinion of what feels right or wrong and in the end this is what matters.

Gary> It's a valid point though, and is definitely an important aspect of any football game. However, I also think that it is sometimes misunderstood, that people look almost entirely at animations to solve this problem (usually by making them unrealistically fast). I think that the problem has multiple solutions and I believe that we have made considerable strives in this area on FIFA 07. On FIFA 07 we have worked on animation responsiveness but also on algorithmic responsiveness - that is that the logic of the game will allow you to be more responsive. What this means for us is that FIFA 07 feels as responsive if not more responsive than its counterparts but at the same time looks more realistic - sounds like a contradiction.

Furthermore, there are areas of gameplay that actually benefit from being less responsive! For example taking long shots: When playing football you need to have a certain amount of space before you can take a long shot as it takes a little time to set yourself for the shot and for you to perform the kick action. The result of this is that, when watching football, you feel a certain amount of excitement and anticipation when players like Steven Gerrard get into space around 25 yards from goal as you know they have the time and space to set themselves for a shot. This has been recreated in FIFA 07 and adds depth to the gameplay as players cannot shoot from anywhere, but must work the ball into the space necessary to accommodate an accurate shot.

P:R> One of the issues which made FIFA 06 problematic were the all too effective tacklings, which made fluid passing football unreasonable hard. Has the balance between the ball possesing and the ball hunting team been severely changed with the new version?

Joe> Yes, we have made this a much better balance. The systems take into consideration the players attributes plus the context so it's not predictable, but it's authentic in that a big player is much more likely to get the ball.

Gary> The first change I made was to add realistic restrictions on a defenders ability to launch a standing tackle. I did this by limiting the number of tackles a player could consider playing based on the speed of his movement - the slower the defender is moving, the more agile he can be. Thus when sprinting the defender can only tackle when the ball is front, but when 'jockeying' (slow defending), the defender can tackle in all directions. This adds a new level of depth as advanced users can utilize the 'jockey' feature to give themselves an advantage over an inexperienced dribbler. Another change we have made is to adjust the acceleration curves of all players in the game, making them more realistic (we didn't mimic real life exactly, it was too slow and wasn't fun). The result of this is that, if you can turn a defender, then he will take longer to get back to full speed, giving you time to take advantage of the space you have created.

In FIFA 07 experienced users can, with skillful players, dribble past defenders using direction changes, speed changes and tricks. At the same time however, a skilled defender will be able to out maneuver even the most skilled dribblers. We will be releasing a FIFA 07 Tutorial video soon that will show this in action.

P:R> Another remarkable problem with FIFA 06 was the players general lack of decent AI. An example would be the way the single player constantly returned to his starting position - only in short shifts would he run forward and then back again. In real life football the players are positioning themselves much more freely and cover larger areas. Has there been major changes to make the AI controlled players act more like humans and less like simple robots?

Joe> We fixed a bunch of issues but I would say we focused more on the gamer vs gamer / social gaming as this it where the game is at its best. While playing vs AI is an improvement over 06 this more because the fundamentals improved than us focusing on cpu AI.

Gary> The improvements in players evaluation of space and positioning made a significant difference to the CPU AI experience. When you pull a player out of position he will evaluate whether he should stay in his current area and support the possessor or make a forward run before he considers returning to his default position. At the same time other players may be covering his initial position.

P:R> Another annyoing aspect of FIFA 06 was the prominent catch-up feature. Because of the players' above mentioned limitations, you could score to 1-0, and then pass the ball between your defenders without the opposition really ever made an effort to capture the ball. But should they get ahold of the ball, you could surely know they would blast it into goal with a super shot - although in regular play they'd hardly ever be a challenge. Has this kind of AI-cheating been abandoned in the new version?

Gary> Yes. We have tried very hard this year to create realistic, logical, variety in our game. To achieve this we have removed all code that was in any way scripted or had any form of cheating. The shooting system is an example of this. In 07 the accuracy of a shot is only altered by realistic effects; player skill, defensive pressure, player move speed, kick angle, player composure, kick power, ball incoming velocity, ball lateral velocity, ball height - these are the factors that effect the accuracy of a shot. Similarly for the goalkeeper, his ability to save is based on realistic factors although difficulty level does play a part in this decision.

P:R> An often debated issued of the newer generations of FIFA-games - 2002 and upwards - has been the annual complete rehaul of the free kick system. Isn't it time the makers of FIFA found out what really worked and what didn't, and then settled on one free kick system for future releases?

Gary> Yes... and no. I think consistency is good for a feature as fundamental as set-pieces but I also think that the game must evolve, provide new challenges and take advantage of new technology that is created from year to year. When we re-wrote the ball physics system for FIFA 07 it opened up a lot of possibilities for us in other areas of the game - one of these was free-kicks. For the first time we had a realistic ball simulation, we could apply top-spin and back-spin and create limitless numbers of realistic trajectories. We couldn't ignore this so we decided
to alter the set-pieces to fully utilize this. In FIFA 07 you have full control of the power, direction and spin of the ball when taking the free-kicks and this is a huge step forward, that we believe everyone will welcome. We also took the liberty of unifying the controls for all set-pieces (indirect free-kicks, corners, goal-kicks) so that the user would only have to learn one set of controls.

Joe> I get that it can be an issue when people learn one system and then we change it. But it's a good system this year. I guess when we are happy with it, we'll stop fiddling with it.

P:R> Visually FIFA has always had a polished and up-to-date surface. However the later versions have had problems with the animations, which seldom seem realistic nor fluid. How are FIFA 07 going to change this perception?

Gary> Part of the problem with 06 was that in order to maintain responsiveness we sacrificed the visuals of the animations, making them ever shorter. As described earlier we have taken a different approach to combating the responsiveness issue, and this has allowed us to use more realistic, fluid animations. In pursuit of more realistic and fluid movement we have actually replaced around 50% of the animations in the game!

P:R> The later versions of FIFA has - especially in the PS2-versions - been plagued by slowdown. You can for example always count on stuttering images, when the ball pass the center line. Isn't it time to foremost focus on making the game run perfect, and then afterwards see how many unneccesary effects can be pasted on?

Joe> 07 is cool - you have to turn on a bunch of extra stuff to get it to slow down. It's complex because you can't predict what the AI needs to do per frame.

P:R> Lately Europeans have become accustomed to 60 Hz support in most japanese games. But we seldom see this in the european versions of EA's sports games. Shouldn't we be able to play all EA games in their original speed?

Joe> FIFA is built for PAL @ 50 Hz - you are playing it at the designed speed. There is ability to run it at 60 Hz in PAL on some platforms, but the gameplay still ticks away at 50 Hz. I don't know about the other titles, but if I ran EA, I would make it so!!!

P:R> Through the years FIFA games have generally been easy accessible but shallow, and thus the most fun on short term. Lately FIFA has clearly tried to approach the style of Pro Evolustion Soccer (among other things obvious by the "borrowed" key configuration), which are hard accessible but deep games, which are the most fun on long term. Isn't the result of this development, that FIFA now is neither easy accessible nor deep, and thus not really as fun in one way or the other?

Joe> To me it's kind of obvious that anyone simulating football would want both accessibility and depth. If you play the game you'll see that we have kept the accessibility but given it depth. Really this is my core job.

Gary> I believe we have taken a step forward in both directions! FIFA 07 has achieved this by adding what we call 'context sensitivity' into every aspect of our game and also adding intelligent assistance into some fundamental features. By adding intelligence to basic systems like passing and adding more intelligence to team-mate positioning, we have made it easier for users to be able to perform fluid passing build-up plays. This makes the game relatively easy to pick up and play, especially on the lower difficulty levels.

More advanced players however can up the difficulty level and force themselves to delve deeper into the controls and features on 07, utilizing tricks and learning the intricacies of the shooting, passing, through passing and defending systems. By adding 'context sensitivity' - that is every action you perform is affected by the situation in which you executed that action - we have created a more realistic system with more logical variety than ever before; take a shot while off balance or under pressure then it won't be so accurate, take a first time shot on a moving ball and it's more likely to be fast, but less likely to be accurate. This has increased the depth of the game and thus means that users will have to play longer in order to master FIFA 07.

P:R> Which direction is FIFA supposed to move in the future? The easy accessible arcade type football, as known from older FIFA games, or the hard accessible simluation type football, as known from Pro Evolution Soccer?

Joe> It should be accessible and deep, just as real football is simple yet complex. I have been watching and playing real football for over 30 years and I still see things that amaze me and surprise me, yet football is so simple in that it's a ball with a few basic rule. A good football game should be simple to pick up, yet still surprise and amaze you after 100's of hours.

P:R> Most will agree that everything outsite the pitch is very well done in the FIFA games. But isn't the entire problem with FIFA, that so many resources are spent on getting the right teams, the right players, the right hit music and the right design? Doesn't this mean that the football gameplay itself - which really should be the major focus of a football game - has been downgraded?

Joe> I can't speak for how things used to be, but this is not how it is. I spend more on gameplay than any other area, we have a good foundation for other areas and good shared technology within EA which makes it easier for our programmers and artists to express themselves than perhaps it is for other studios. But my core focus is gameplay and anyone who pics up the game with tell you the huge jump we've made.

P:R> Is the explanation of these priorities that the average user buys FIFA to get a good football product - and not to get a good game? Where would FIFA be without all the fancy extras outside the pitch - which part of its gameplay should attract real gamers to play it over e.g. Pro Evolution Soccer?

Joe> As I said, gameplay is my priority. I like online too and the interactive leagues I think is an interesting idea, but gameplay comes first.

P:R> A new FIFA game costs upto 60 pounds or 115 US dollars in Denmark. That's a lot of money for a game which is basically just an update of last year's version, causing even most fans to only buy the game biannualy. With the new consoles all being online and supporting downloadable content isn't it time EA severly reduced the price of these "updates" and sold them as downloadable content instead?

Joe> FIFA 07 is the best value football game on the market by a long, long mile with over 1,500 new animations alone. We have our biggest improvement in gameplay ever, we have more authentic clubs and teams and leagues and cups than any game on the planet, we have given so much more depth to the manager, added the PSP link, added create club, given the game more emotional depth than ever before, and invented a totally new way to play online via the interactive leagues.

If you look at films and all the different ways you can watch them and the different business models, then it's reasonable to assume that video games will adapt different business models at some point in the future. EA has been experimenting in Korea with FIFA where it is basically given away for free, then you pay to enhance your team - for now this works in Korea but we'll have to wait and see if this is viable elsewhere.

Such were the answers from EA. Whether FIFA 07 lives up to the hype or this is just more empty PR talk, we'll have to wait and see. If you look on the development through the last couple of years, things don't look too good for EA. The following is a chart of the Danish games reviewers judgement on the last five PS2 editions of the respective series.


Kommenter artiklen...

Kick Off

Sensible Soccer

Kick Off 2


Pro Evolution Soccer

FIFA 2001

Pro Evolution Soccer 3

FIFA 2003

Pro Evolution Soccer 5

FIFA 2005

Pro Evolution Soccer 6