The FIFA soccer series by Electronic Arts has remained on field since its auspicious debut in 1993 with FIFA International Soccer. Since then, the franchise has been augment with annual releases that have evolved in tandem with new console hardware. With FIFA 14, the series comes at a time when the consoles are transition from the current generation to the next one, essentially acting as a bridge between the two.
We spoke to EA producer, Peter Trenouth, during the local launch of FIFA 14 about how the soccer (football) franchise stands out from last year’s installment.
What feature of FIFA 14 are you most excited about?
EA producer, Peter Trenouth (PT): The Pure Shot, as it goes hand in hand with the real ball physics. It also changes the game for the better. If you are watching soccer on TV, players shoot when they have the opportunity and don’t line up perfectly. We had an example of the ball being behind the player and still getting a shot off and scoring. For me, real ball physics like that makes no two goals feel the same, not to mention it makes it feel a lot more natural. Goals did not always feel like real goals at times with FIFA games in the past, but we don’t have that much this year with FIFA 14.
FIFA 14 is launch title for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4. How big is the leap from the current generation?
PT: We decided we had a few weaker areas with the current generation that we thought we could improve on. Sometimes in the past, the action on the pitch felt as if it was separate from what was happening in the surroundings. What people also expect with the next generation of consoles is for things to look a lot better from the get-go. That included the ways our crowds looked and reacted, as well as the way the game was presented to people playing it. Essentially, our vision was to make it feel alive. So crowds look a whole lot better, they react appropriately to what is happening on the pitch and to goals.
How does the added processing power help with the presentation of the game?
PT: We sent our presentation director to some real matches in both England and Spain, so he sat in the truck where the TV broadcast was being put together. That meant we were then able to position our in-game cameras to where they are actually located in real life. So you’re not going to feel like you’re seeing the same thing after playing for a week or two. Instead, it is going to feel fresh and constantly changing. The added horsepower for game engine means we have four times as many calculations per second, and that gives us more animation variety to choose from. That give is a richer and deep experience, more authentic and varied, and not feel as scripted. Overall, the way the game looks, feels and sounds is big.
The FIFA series is on an annual release schedule. What is the challenge with this?
PT: One of the hardest things to do in the industry is consistently beat our consumers’ expectations year after year. We’re already talking about what FIFA 15 is going to be and the features for it, how we’re going to set the vision for our team internally, and the mentality we want everyone to get in. By the time the game launches, we’re always turning our eye to what the next game is going to be like, and it can be gruelling sometimes.
How does the development team manage those expectations?
PT: It is not just a handful of people coming up with how the game will look like, but the entire team. So it is a difficult process, but it is not done by one person and we have a talented group of individuals that allow us to be confident that we will get there. What happens over the course of development is that ideas that come up in the beginning are not always what we make a big deal about in the end. Instead, it is the sum of the parts makes us feel good about selling it to consumers.
Does the yearly schedule allow for any major overhauls during development?
PT: It does, as FIFA does not have a small development team. We have a lot of people working on this game as a whole. For example, we introduced a new engine with real time physics in FIFA 12. That is an example of us being able to change the engine mid-stride. What we do is sometimes have some staff working not one but two years ahead. What happens in course of development of any FIFA title is that we come up with ideas that we know we may not be able to implement in one year, and we considering it for the next year instead. That allows us to improve our engine and move the needle more than people expect in the course of one year.
The Xbox One is pushing features such as SmartGlass, Cloud computing and connectivity in general. What are the opportunities for FIFA?
PT: Firstly, it allows us to make the game look a whole lot better. SmartGlass is definitely an intriguing thing for us as game developers, but what we want to do with FIFA is not to do something just because we can. There’s no point in forcing a feature or using a certain piece of hardware just because it is available. For us, it has to fit for our product and the overall experience. SmartGlass could have really cool potential with team management. That definitely intrigues us as designers.
How about the increased connectivity of the new consoles?
PT: Being always connected to the Internet is a bigger part of the next generation of consoles, and I believe we have a world class online experience. As people go online, they will have a more engaging experience, not only just by playing with other people, but also with the career mode. It is still early days, so we were focused on getting the best version of FIFA up and running. We can then focus on what the broader ecosystem can offer.
How challenge is the journey towards photo-realistic graphics, even with the new consoles?
PT: Authenticity is one of the pillars we have built FIFA on. That means having a large number of teams, leagues, and players. People who are a fan of a team expect the players to look like the do in real life. It is a big effort for us and something we take seriously. We have an army of artists to make the player look as good as they possibly can. Some players do not have as defined features, so it is more difficult to make them look as they do in real life. But if you look at the replays in FIFA 14, you’ll see incredible facial animation. Their eyes are blinking and mouths are moving, so they don’t look like zombies. It is one of the small things that we have to do very well.
Will there ever be a point where crowds will look as good as the players?
PT: There needs to be a balance of what looks really good between players and the crowd. The camera for the most part is focused on the players, so I don’t know if it makes sense to give the same level of detail to the crowds. We’re able to make them look light years better than they looked on current generation, but you still need to have that balance.
How is that balance struck?
PT: For us, the most important thing is the action on the pitch. It is important to have a crowd that looks much better than in the past, but what is happening on the pitch is king. For us it is ensuring that is the best it can possibly be and then focus on other aspects. Will we see the crowd equal the detail of the players in the next generation of consoles? It is too early to tell, but they already look a lot better.
Any consideration to allow environmental incidents like flares going off during custom matches?
PT: We’re not allowed to have flares in our matches. That is some of the restrictions that we have with our licensing partners, but we do have real world elements going on during a match. While we don’t have interaction with the crowd, we do have some sideline elements. You’ll see players interacting with the ball boys, so in that respect we do have real world interaction. In the current generation, the pitch and stadium sometimes feels a bit separated, so with next generation the aim was to bring the two together.
Finally, who is your favourite player?
PT: It’s Dennis Bergkamp. He played for the Dutch national team and was a striker for Arsenal in the English Premier League. He scored an amazing goal in the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the US, which I watched. He was very smart with the ball with great touch and feel.