With the announcement of the next game in the ever-popular FIFA series, AusGamers got some time to chat with Gameplay Producer Aaron McHardy about the upcoming FIFA 12, where he goes into detail about some of the major new features, including Tactical Defending, Precision Dribbling, Player Impact Engine and Pro Player Intelligence.
Check it out and stay tuned for more information from this game coming soon from E3!
Gamers are always hungry for newer shinier graphics. How much of a challenge is it to satisfy this hunger when the platform you are developing on has been unchanged since 2005?
McHardy: The FIFA development team is tasked with producing the most realistic simulation of football on planet earth on a yearly basis. Whether it be representing the look of the players and stadia, the team and league licenses or true 11 v 11 in online team play. Authenticity is the founding tenet of EA SPORTS and we live by this commitment every day.
As far as the graphics are concerned, it is a yearly process to refine and improve the way players look in the game and EA SPORTS has invested in a new technology that makes player models more authentic. We are now using a 3D head scanning technology that enables us to create digital player models from extremely high-quality photographs of players. You cannot create a more authentic player model than head scanning the actual player. The technology is portable and enables us to go where the players are. We have captured players on teams like Chelsea, Marseille, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Man City, PGN, German National team and many others. The result is stunning player models that are authentic to the individual player. In the future we plan to do more head scanning with teams.
Also, we’ve done a lot of work on the look of the menus, as well as the look of the game on the pitch. We have a completely new menu system this year. It’s side scrolling as opposed to the vertical menus of old, and it incorporates players and colours from your favourite team. We’ve also redone our overlays and intro packages to take a step up in production quality. And in gameplay we’ve created a new camera that is closer to what we are used to seeing on TV, as well as done a lot of work on player and stadium lighting to make players feel more athletic, and look more like their real world counterparts.
With every iteration of FIFA it seems the online integration becomes broader and more functional. What sort of new features can we expect in the next release?
McHardy: While we have a lot of cool stuff planned this year for online, unfortunately, I can’t tell you about it just yet. Stay tuned, and we will have a lot of exciting news about this in the very near future. However, we have some big changes we are making in gameplay this year.
The three biggest features that we are doing in Gameplay are Tactical Defending, Precision Dribbling, and the addition of a new physical interaction engine that we are calling the Player Impact Engine.
The Player Impact Engine in action:
The first time you boot up FIFA 12 you’ll notice right off the bat that defending is completely different. Gone are the days of holding down a button and having your player automatically chase down and tackle the dribbler. The goal was to make FIFA 12 deeper and more engaging on both sides of the ball. We wanted to introduce the same amount of skill in defending that you need to showcase in attack in our game, so to do this we introduced a new defending mechanic that we are calling Tactical Defending
Essentially Tactical Defending is two big changes. First off, we’ve taken out last year’s “Pressing” functionality, or as some people liked to call it, “The heat seeking missile” and we’ve replaced it with a new feature called “Contain”. Now when you hold down the Contain button your player will automatically jockey the dribbler, but he won’t go in to close down the dribbler and launch a tackle on his own. We wanted to put that decision in the hands of the gamer.
This is a big change, as it shifts the focus of defending from holding a button down and having your defender sprint at the dribbler, which is an unrealistic football tactic, to making you think about things like team shape, and waiting for opportunities to commit to a challenge. Now the focus of defending has shifted from mainly tackling, to an increased importance on positioning. Now more than ever you need to wait for an opportunity to commit to a challenge, now you’re waiting for your opponent to take a bad touch, or turn the wrong way, or maybe make an errant pass that you can position yourself to pick off. We think that defending in this manor is much more authentic to football, and it also makes defending a lot more engaging in our game.
The second big component to Tactical Defending is that we’ve removed the Auto Tackle functionality and put standing tackles on a button press similar to how sliding tackles worked in FIFA 11. Doing this introduces timing into defending which is something that was missing from our game in the past. With this change, we wanted to bring the skill and ability of real world defenders into our game, and I think we’ve done that. Interestingly enough, this also opens up some new opportunities in 1v1 situations.
Last year, because players had automatic tackles, as soon as you got your defender close to the dribbler he was able to launch a tackle, which meant that it was difficult to beat a player without having to use the Skill Moves. Now because there is an element of timing for both the gamer and the CPU opponent (remember he has to press the buttons too), you can catch defenders off guard with a well timed dribble turn.
This makes for an interesting dynamic when dribbling in FIFA 12. The end result is that tackling, in fact... Defending as a whole, in FIFA 12 feels much more rewarding. When you do things right you really feel the sense of satisfaction. Also playing as a defender in modes like Career Mode “Play as Player”, and in “Online Team Play”, all of a sudden become much more interesting. I think we’ll see much less of the mad dash for the Striker and Attacking Midfield positions in OTP matches this year, and I think that’s pretty cool.
On the other side of the ball, we’ve also made some additions that can help change the way we think about attacking in FIFA as well. I’m talking about Precision Dribbling. The motivation for this feature came when I was watching an Arsenal match where Abou Diaby had the ball at the top of the penalty area. He took about 5 touches in a row trying to find himself some space, but he only actually moved about a yard in total. I thought to myself... If you took 5 touches like that in FIFA you would probably end up at the half line by the time you were finished. This is the premise for a new level of control in dribbling for FIFA 12. In this year’s game we have added the ability for a player to keep close control of the ball in traffic, and we’ve also added the ability for the player to dribble while shielding.
These two changes should allow you to buy yourself some more time on the ball to make decisions, or wait for your teammates to join the attack. The main thing that we wanted to accomplish with this feature, though, is to make that area just at the top of the penalty area more accessible. If you think of teams like Barcelona, they live and breathe in that area just outside of the D, probing, taking players on, playing 1-2’s and waiting for an opportunity for that defence to open up so they can play a pass in and take a crack at goal. In FIFA 11, if you got into that interesting real estate, you immediately had 2 heat seeking missiles coming at you, armed with automated tackling, and a limited ability to navigate the traffic or successfully shield. This meant that you usually had to immediately press pass and get out of that area. Now, with Precision Dribbling, and Tactical Defending those tight areas of the pitch can be utilized to create chances, and find new interesting ways to break down the opposition.
But the biggest change we are making in Gameplay for FIFA12 is the Player Impact Engine. It is one of the biggest changes we’ve made to gameplay since we rebuilt our game for the next gen consoles. We’ve been working on this change for two years, both here at EAC and also with help from a team in UK. What it is, is basically us ripping out our old collisions system and replacing it with a brand new one. While our old collisions system was very good, it had limitations in terms of the technology. It allows us to solve for a lot of situations that occur in football that we just couldn’t solve with our old system.
Things like collisions during diving headers, or collisions while kicking, or sharing the effects of collisions between two players. We can now also account for things like arm and head collisions, which are things that we just couldn’t account for with the old system. The end result is that we get immediate improvements to collision accuracy, variety and momentum preservation, as well as drastic reduction to clipping in our game. Our new engine not only fixes some of the problems we had in our old system but it also lays the foundation for us to make cool new features in coming years, and we’ve done our best to deliver a couple of those for this year in features like True Injuries where we can now use the information about all the collision magnitudes and joint torques that we are harvesting on every frame to deduce when the player’s body has bent in a way that isn’t normal for the human body, or has been hit harder than the body can take, and as a result we can better understand when a player should be injured.
I’ve gone on a bit of a rant about the big 3 features to try to explain how excited we are about the amount of change that is happening this year, but there’s much more than this as well. I haven’t even started to talk about what we are doing on the AI side of things. Pro Player Intelligence is the big AI feature that we are doing this year. You can think of it as the next step on from FIFA 11’s Personality Plus.
It creates a level of intelligence for your players that we haven’t had in FIFA before in terms of decision making. While Personality Plus was very much about making the players feel different in how they executed based on their attributes. Pro Player Intelligence is all about making players self aware of their abilities, and the abilities of their teammates. They now make decisions based on their own skills and tendencies and the skills and tendencies of their teammates.
In the past, CPU players made decisions based on a given situation, but it didn’t really matter who was in possession of the ball. Now they make decisions based on players involved. Plus, CPU teams now play to their personnel strengths. In a specific scenario, the outcome will be different depending on the players involved.
As an example, let’s say you’re playing with Tottenham and you have Defoe in your team, your team is going to play a little bit differently than if you have Crouch in there. If you take the ball out wide, maybe Defoe comes to get that ball from you. Crouch, he’s going to go the back post because that’s where he’s effective.
In FIFA 12 Peter Crouch will know that he’s an aerial threat and make decisions keeping that in mind. Further to that his teammates will understand this too, so when they get into good crossing areas they will be more likely to play a ball in to the back post because Crouch is there. If it’s Defoe, maybe they will look to play short and keep possession or play a low cross in. This means that in modes like career mode, the game changes day to day depending on who you’re playing against and who you’re playing with. Again, this is just one example, and we are working to put this level of intelligence into the players on the pitch in a number of different areas of the game.
As you can see, we are doing a lot in gameplay. That’s what we’re allowed to talk about now, but I assure you, we are doing a lot in other areas of the game too. Stay tuned and we will definitely be telling you all about the vast other changes taking place in our game modes and online modes this year.
While the manager mode in FIFA is fun to play around with, it pales in comparison to management sims such as Football Manager 20XX. Are there any plans to increase the functionality of the manager mode so it can compete with these sims?
McHardy: Last year we introduced Career Mode and we have major plans for the feature this year. Again, I will have a lot more to share on the feature in the months ahead but what I can tell you now is that Career Mode in FIFA 12 will be driven by the storylines from the real-world of the sport. Elements like player morale, on-pitch form and league position will influence outcomes in the game. Users will face more decisions and factors than ever before, with their consequences being played out on the pitch.
One of the main criticisms leveled towards FIFA is the staleness of the commentary. Are there any plans to re-record the commentary with some new voice talent?
McHardy: Unfortunately we have not yet announced our plans for commentary in FIFA 12 but I can tell you that we have some exciting new elements in the works.
For years fans regarded PES as the true soccer sim and FIFA as its arcadey counterpart. Was it a conscious decision by the development team to knock PES of its pedestal, or was it just a natural result of FIFA being refined over the years?
McHardy: I think when I joined the team for FIFA 08 it was very much our focus to make our game better than PES, so yes, I think you could say that it was a conscious decision. I would say yes it was a conscious decision by the development team to knock PES of its pedestal a few years ago and it is a result of many, many, many refinements. It has been years of refinements, as well as a lot of innovations, and a lot of hard work from a lot of talented people that helped separate us from PES.
Our dev team is made up of a lot of talented software engineers, animators, artists, producers, etc who come from all over the world. We are all passionate about two things—football and making great games. We are fortunate to be able to do both working on the EA SPORTS FIFA Franchise, and we were all very proud of FIFA 11. This year we challenged ourselves to make FIFA 12 better and different than the last. Our goal each year is to make the most authentic football simulation possible. FIFA 12 is revolutionary not evolutionary and we believe that football fans will be very excited about all the change we’ve made to the game with new innovations like Tactical Defending, Precision Dribbling, Pro Player Intelligence, and our new Player Impact Engine. The team has done a tremendous job again this year to raise the bar on football video games.
FIFA is the king when it comes to licenses. However one license PES holds over FIFA is the UEFA Champions League license. With the Champions League being probably the most prestigious football competition outside of the FIFA World Cup, are there any intentions for the FIFA team to obtain that license?
McHardy: We made a Champions League game a few years ago before PES secured the rights. We are always looking at ways to make our game more authentic so I’m sure we will look at this again in the future.
While the console releases of FIFA are generally excellent, the PC release is usually different and missing some features. This was the case with FIFA 2011. Is it a design decision or a publisher issue which causes the PC version of FIFA to be different to the console version, and can we expect the same thing with FIFA 2012?
McHardy: I wish it were as easy as cutting and pasting code from NG to PC but the reality is it took 2 years to adapt our next gen game engine specifically for FIFA 11 on PC. FIFA 11 was a hybrid of FIFA 11 quality and World Cup gameplay. While we have not announced plans for FIFA 12 on PC yet, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by what we have planned. :)
FIFA is usually identical when it comes to the PS3 and Xbox360 versions. With the clout of Electronic Arts behind you, have you ever considered the possibility of allowing PS3 players to play against Xbox 360 players or is this an impossibility?
McHardy: Sounds great!... but unfortunately this is out of our hands. I don’t think this is something that Sony and Microsoft will come to agreement on any time in the near future... so on those grounds, I think we can consider it an impossibility. At least for the short term.
One complaint (amongst my friends, anyway!) is something that's a problem in almost all multiplayer games - people quitting before the end of the game, which happens sometimes if you get some early goals. The current version of FIFA seems to have a record of non-complete games; is this used at all in the matchmaking service? Are there any other changes in the works to help mitigate this?
McHardy: We are always looking at new ways to mitigate this problem. This year we’ve made some changes, some that I can talk about now, and some that you’ll have to wait on. So what can I talk about now? Well... this year we are storing the players’ DNF percentage and we will be using this in matchmaking. Also, we’ll allow you to specifically say you don’t want to play someone with a DNF Percentage below a certain value. As for the stuff I can’t tell you about yet, I think you’ll find that it’s a little bit more punishing to quitters. Again, stay tuned.
Some of the gamers who play FIFA religiously have expressed interest in maybe some less realistic, more "fun" aspects of gameplay (like streakers, or something like a multiball mode) just to throw a bit of variety in. Are there any plans for something like that?
McHardy: We try to simulate as much realism as we can in FIFA, but we also like to try to put things in that make you stop and say, wow, I didn’t really expect to see that. On the team, we call them “Gameplay Nuggets”... don’t ask me why... While we don’t have any plans for anything along the lines of streakers or a multiball mode this year, we did try to do a few things that are new but a little bit more realistic to football, that will still make you say, wow... I didn’t really expect to see that. Now’s the hard part... I personally feel that if I tell you what all the little gems are, it ruins the fun :)
So I’ll only tell you about one, since it’s not that big of a secret. I mentioned true injuries as a feature that we have this year, included in the true injuries feature is something we are calling self injuries. It’s something that’s never been done in football games before, so I think it will be pretty cool the first time you see it. Basically, players who are out of gas and performing explosive actions like high powered shots, or stretch crosses etc. may pull a muscle. This will occur very rarely The animations look great, and it’s something that is realistic in terms of football, so I think it fits our game.