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TVG sits down with the gaffer of EA Sports' FIFA series to discuss where the game is going this year...
To say that David Rutter has single-handedly turned around EA's FIFA series would be an over-statement, but to say that he's galvanised the FIFA development team with a unified vision is certainly accurate. Before Rutter took over the FIFA reigns at EA Canada, the game had promise but lacked the dedicated attention to detail that could transform it from a decent enough game, to a brilliant one. Now, with the huge success of FIFA 10 both critically and in terms of sales, FIFA 11 has a daunting legacy to follow. We caught up with David Rutter, FIFA's Producer, to see what the team is doing with this year's game...
FIFA 10 was a standout year, how do you top that?
I think by doing what we did from FIFA 09 to FIFA 10, and what we did from FIFA 08 to 09, which was to sit down with people who play the game a lot, and read about what people have said about the game, a lot; and play the game, a lot, ourselves and figure out where our weaknesses are, where our frustrations are, where we're lacking. Then spending the year making those all go away.
FIFA World Cup came in-between this year and I felt the animation had improved a lot; it's two different teams, but how much of that will appear in FIFA 11?
It's an interesting one. All the game modes, presentation, cameras, lighting, all that kind of stuff for World Cup is very World Cup specific. The World Cup guys took at the time what was like a FIFA 9.5, probably, and started working on it then upgraded it with bits of FIFA 10 and then, for a couple of months after 10 came out, did a few more things. So it's almost like a FIFA 10.25, but very much more orientated towards a more mainstream audience.
FIFA still remains much more of a steady football video gamers game rather then somebody who goes out and buys what we call event titles. Everybody's suddenly a football fan when the World Cup's on so everyone is going to go out and buy the World Cup game that wouldn't necessarily buy FIFA. So you make it a different experience for them.
We took FIFA 10 and that's what we've done, we have refined FIFA 10 we've responded to feedback on FIFA 10, we've innovated on FIFA 10 and we've done that in a couple of key ways. You mentioned the animation, the biggest difference is the new dribbling styles in support of Personality Plus. Personality Plus is a very big deal for us this year, it's the look of the players from a distance and up close; it's the way they move, all of their animation sets have been tweaked and tuned; some for specific players, some for specific types of players, and also the attributes of players, so the engine now is very much more driven by all of the attributes in the game and the traits and tendencies of the players as well. So that side of things is very different.
The biggest difference in the current build though is that we've fully switched on the 360 fight for possession, so the physical play is a lot more obvious at the moment. It's the first build we've shown in public that's got that in. That's a very big deal for us, full 360 degrees in any direction, player to player interactions and you can really feel yourself being pushed off the ball from everywhere, including shoves from behind which is pretty cool.
The other parts of what you will see is the AI actually doing skill moves intelligently this year and the tactics analyser, which we call it but we've got to get a better name for it than that. We can record skill moves in the studio now and then assign them to players in the game, so you'll see their intelligent use rather then us having to hardcode them, which becomes predictable and dumb. The AI can analyse plays beyond the immediate now, so rather then 'pass here successful', 'pass here fail', 'take the pass here successful' or 'there's 25% chance of that being successful but it could lead to this opportunity', It'll go the riskier route because it's got a better outcome. So that's pretty impressive.
That's been the big focus for us in the early part of it and obviously all the other stuff we're doing as well.
Personality Plus must be a hard thing to get across. Certainly the trailer I saw managed to do ti justice, but a lot of the things if you're looking from a distance might leave you asking whether it's already in there?
We spent a long time debating on what to say, because we're essentially almost putting our hand up and saying 'it didn't work very well in the past', and we're actually rubbishing previous versions of FIFA by doing it. But I think they were there, they just weren't obvious and distinguishable.
That's not to say what we're doing is caricaturing everything, but if you wanted to win at FIFA 10 or FIFA 09 or FIFA 08 you took the strongest players and the fastest players and you played with that team, the nuances of everything else that is football was completely lost. If you had seven defenders at the back that were massive and strong and one incredibly quick striker, you'd win the ball and lob it up the pitch and do it. Now that tactic is ridiculous anyway, but that's kind of the ultimate extreme of exploiting FIFA 10. We want to get away from that, we want teams that aren't necessarily the Barcelonas or the Real Madrids but do have a skillful passer or have a strong defender or have a playmaker in the midfield, that they should still be able to still do that and flourish within the game even if it's against a team made up of very strong, very fast players. That's why Personality Plus from an attribute perspective becomes important.
The second part of that is the tendency to look at the traits of the players; to say it's just about when you're on the ball is totally incorrect, it's about when you're not as well, so work rate offensively and defensively, whether you're a box-to-box midfielder, all of those kind of things become incredibly important for the drama of the match more than anything. If you have a Danny Alves or a Glen Johnson who's forever throwing himself up the pitch when he should be defending then that's great when you're attacking, but when you're in defence it's bad news. We didn't really have that level of independent personality in the past, but we do now and it's incredibly easy for us to assign it and make it work, and with the Creation Centre online you can do it too.
The penalty system from the World Cup game is making an appearance; was that a decision based on fan feedback?
Yes... it depends where you look. If I speak to a casual gamer and I say 'hey we brought over the World Cup penalties' and they'll go 'oh my god what a disaster'; if I speak to somebody who plays a lot of FIFA or World Cup then they're like 'brilliant, it's the best thing in World Cup' and I'm like 'seriously'?
Penalties are not a popular thing in the real world or in FIFA, because it essentially came down to luck in previous FIFAs. It was a paper-scissor-stone situation - I push left you push right, I score; I push left you push left you save - that was it, it was literally a luck of the draw thing. With the new system it's a lot deeper and a lot more fun, there's an element of skill, there's an element of judgement and there's an element of goalkeeping skill too.
For me that's a very important part of our game, it's why we're successful and why we're good. What we didn't do well in World Cup, and I think everyone will own up to this, is explain it, help people learn it and get people on-board with what we were trying to achieve. That's something we'll be fixing with FIFA.
The commentary was brilliant in World Cup, I know it's a different team obviously, but Andy Gray and Martin Tyler have become a little long in the tooth with some of their lines in the last game; is it something that's been looked at?
We've done a lot of new commentary this year, not the team, we're sticking with the team. We umm and arr about it all the time. I think this year the biggest part of the new commentary has come about in support of the Personality Plus feature again. If you're playing with a skilled dribbler it will let you know, if you're playing with a strong defensive midfielder it will let you know; a) because it sounds authentic, and b) because it also helps people understand what they're seeing. So if you're not a strong football fan, if you don't know who Huddleston is for example, and you don't know why he's good at some things and not good at others, the commentary will help you understand this year and that's a big part of what we're trying to achieve.
With the modes on offer like Manager and Be A Pro, are you looking at them again to evolve and do you have anything else?
Massive effort there. We're removing Be A Pro Seasons and Manager mode and we're replacing them both with a new Career mode, which is Be A Pro Seasons and Manager mode combined. You can embark on a 15 season career as a player, a player/manager or a manager.
We've replaced the competition engine, transfers, and everything, we've done a whole heap of work. Last year was the first year of our Manager mode rewrite. I think, generally speaking most of the people I talk to were happy with the improvements, but it wasn't enough. Some people were upset that there were some bad bugs in there, which we were really upset about too.
This year is the second year of this three year thing we want to try and achieve and it's looking good at the moment. Beyond that we've still got a heap of stuff that we'll be announcing over the coming weeks and there will be more announcements at Cologne.
This might not be your area, but FIFA 11 is getting released in the United States first...
I'd like to say it's strategic, but that would be a lie. Shops release games on a Tuesday in the States and Canada, UK and Europe on Fridays, it's as simple as that. It's a day of the week thing.
TVG would like to thank David Rutter for taking the time to speak with us about FIFA 11, which is due out in the UK on October 1st...