FIFA 13 is shaping up to be a bumper release for EA Canada. Dave Cook speaks with the developer to learn more about this year's significant changes, such as first-touch revised Player Impact and the most aggressive AI yet.
VG247: FIFA 13 is out next month; how confident are you that you've achieved everything you set out to with this instalment?
Nick Channon, producer, EA Canada: Well, we're almost coming to the end, finally polishing the game and just ironing out all the bugs and stuff. That's where we are, and the focus this year has been around lots of gameplay changes yet again in a number of key areas.
We're also building on what we did last year with the Player Impact engine and the changes we made to defending - These two things have allowed us to do a number of things we hadn't been able to do before. The defending allowed players to have a lot more time on the ball, but I think at times last year you'd look out to do a pass and your team mates would appear quite static.
So we wanted to make a lot of changes to our attacking AI and to really rework that system. You'll now get players making a lot more runs, supporting runs in behind, supporting runs from midfield an runs out wide. We've reworked the way runs work in terms of – now you have the ability to do curve runs – the ability to go in behind defends, get on the back shoulder of defenders.
That's really made a big difference to out game, and it's a lot more fluid with our new tech. The other big changes are – if you look at Player Impact engine – that allowed us to create lots of variety all over the pitch in terms of collisions, and we wanted to bring that to all facets of our game.
VG247: In what ways will Player Impact shake up other areas of gameplay?
This was our piece of tech that helped with collisions, so we've done a lot of work this year with our push-pull mechanics and just how the players interact with each other to create a true battle for possession – both on and off the ball, because last year it was only on the ball.
One of the other changes – and what we feel to be one of the biggest changes we've ever made in FIFA – is First Touch Control, which is bringing in a system that looks at how players will actually control the ball. What it does Is, it looks at the speed of a pass, where the pass comes from, and I think we always felt that in previous FIFA games, we always had a perfect touch.
This meant that players always got the ball down completely under control, and it felt like that particularly wasn't realistic. It also didn't make you think like a footballer in that you get the ball down and then run around an attacker or defender which wasn't really right.
VG247: How will First Touch make ball control and movement feel more authentic?
It adds more variety to the game, but the key is that it's not random in any way, and that's very, very important because we didn't want to create something that was just randomly happening. Instead it's re-creating how the ball would react in the real world, and making sure that we capture that within our game. It also creates lots more opportunities, as well as much more separation between the player and the ball, which really changes our game.
VG247: Unpredictability in games can also feel cheap or although the game is cheating you. Just how contextual is the mechanic and were you mindful leaving too much to chance?
Yeah, I think that's something we've worked on a lot, and we're actually just finishing it up just now. We want the ball to feel realistic off the foot, or off the thigh if you're bringing it down, because it's actually very unrealistic when the ball just sticks to your player's foot or body.
So how do we create it so it would work in a way that felt right? If you're pinging a ball to Messi at a short difference, he still wouldn't take it perfectly under control. It's about eradicating what you mentioned – a random element that feels cheap – and this is something we've been checking for over the past four or five months.
It really is about creating a system that delivers how a ball would react naturally off the foot. With our game it's created – firstly – separation which allows defenders to come in with the push-pull mechanics brought in through Player Impact, and secondly, by just getting the ball out of your feet a little bit as an attacker, it gives you a few more opportunities as well to ready the ball at your feet and take a better shot.
VG247: You mentioned that the AI will be more reactive, how does this impact on the difficulty of the game? Will attackers be hounded by more ruthless defenders for example?
It actually keeps things a lot more balanced in the way that, one of the things it does is it gives you more opportunities to score in different ways. For more casual players, at times he game had a tendency to be more predictable and there wasn't a great variety in the ways you could score.
Whereas now, because you've got smarter AI runners coming through, there are more opportunities. You still have to finish and score, but it now feels like there are way more things going on in the game. For our more hardcore users, we obviously have done quite a lot of work on defending as well, to make sure the AI tracks runs by the other teams.
"I think the key is that we’re not complacent and we push that on our team all the time, but ultimately, I don’t think they want to be complacent either. FIFA is a big product and it’s important to us and obviously there is some pressure with that. There’s a big pride in making a 90-rated game, and once you’ve done that you want to keep it there."
VG247: There are a lot of core changes to the mechanics here, and that's always refreshing to see in a game like FIFA 13 where there are yearly instalments. That said complacency often comes when you are the best at what you do. How challenging is it now to keep innovating like you do?
I think the key is that we're not complacent and we push that on our team all the time, but ultimately, I don't think they want to be complacent either. FIFA is a big product and it's important to us and obviously there is some pressure with that. There's a big pride in making a 90-rated game, and once you've done that you want to keep it there.
So for us it's completely the opposite of complacency, because that does not maintain the standards that we set. To do that we need to change out game each year with new features, and by refining it to make it better.
I think we felt coming off of last year with two fundamental changes - Impact Engine and enhanced defending – that actually set the stage to really kick on and create some real gameplay changing features that would make a huge difference in the feel of the game.
We've also created a new dribbling system that is very responsive, allowing you to do things that you wouldn't have been able to in the past and again, this makes the game feel very different as well. So for us, it's just about maintaining the standards that we've set while trying to make the best game that we can every year.
VG247: FIFA 13 also has a range of skill games that teach player new techniques. Is this tailored to newcomers in an attempt to keep the game as accessible to the widest audience possible? How crucial is it to keep the game open to all?
Well we've done Skill Games around having the Impact Engine, and our physics allows us to have objects in the world that the ball would react to. So Skill Games was driven by that technology. For us, Skill Games were two-fold: One, we brought in an interactive tutorial to teach players the new defending mechanic and the feedback we got from that was, 'That was great, but why didn't you teach me the fundamentals of passing and shooting?'
We thought 'OK, this is something we need to look at', so yes, one reason for Skill Games was to build those fundamentals, and to teach everyone all the core parts of our game. But it was also to create Skill Games that more hardcore football fans would find a real challenge as well.
Every discipline has four levels and they get progressively harder and the later ones are made specifically to be very hard. The last one is sort of a skill challenge and you basically get rated on how well you do and how high your scores is, so anyone can finish it, but it's about getting those high scores.
VG247: Another new feature is Kinect. In what ways does it enhance the experience and why did you decide to add in a referee reaction whenever a player swears?
First of all, we wanted to add Kinect because we think it makes our game better. The core features are around voice activation, substitutions, tactics and basically using your voice to do things so you don't have to pause the game. This is something we felt really improved our product.
The feature you're talking about, we felt, was a fun way to use the technology and it also really plays out in career mode with a few things that we haven't talked about yet, just in terms of how...We just thought it was a fun cool, fun thing and there will be some storylines around it within career mode and some outcomes from that as well.
VG247: FIFA 13 is getting European teams. What is your view on the success of the FIFA 12 Euro DLC, and does this mark the end of the boxed tournament release?
Talking about future things is not something I can really do, but just in terms of the Euro DLC, I think it was something that we're very proud of. It was a big addition to our game, and it was a model that was really good to try, and I think it's been successful. For the future we'll have to see, but we're very happy with how Euro turned out.
VG247: What are the biggest challenges that you face during your yearly development cycle?
Well I think the biggest challenge is that it's a year – you don't have lots of time, and I think what the team manages to do in a year is amazing. We've got an incredibly dedicated team, and as I said earlier, we're very driven to create the best game that we can every year.
It's a short cycle and within that we like to make as many changes as we can – not just for the sake of it – but to fundamentally change our game, and I think we've done a great job of that his year. So that's probably the biggest challenge we face.
In terms of ideas, we're very much in the situation where we don't run out of ideas – we've got plenty of them – and we still have many that we'd like to get to. We've become very successful aver the last four or five years, long may that continue, and we'd just love to keep that going.
FIFA 13 is due on PC, PlayStation 3, Vita and Xbox 360 in late September, as well as 3DS, Mac, PS2, PSP and Wii. A Wii U version is undated.