TGS 2013: FIFA 14 Interview - Kicking Around With David Rutter
Written Friday, September 20, 2013 By John Robertson
FIFA 14 is getting ready to kick off, so we grabbed Executive Producer David Rutter at this year’s Tokyo Game Show to discover everything EA Sports has in store.
Lace up your boots then, for next-gen talk, team and player styles, the new and improved Ultimate Team and more. It’s a far-reaching chat with FIFA’s reigning supremo, so if you’re a fan you won’t want to miss out.
Oh and in case you missed it we previewed FIFA 14 at E3 this summer. Dan reckons it's "a giant leap for football games." Read it here.
When you started designing for the next-generation consoles, what new elements did you instantly get excited about including?
Well, obviously, we guessed that the transition to new hardware was coming. One of the key things we did at EA Sports was get together with Tiburon (developers of the Madden NFL series) and work on a suite of software that eventually became the EA Sports Ignite Engine.
Really, we wanted to make sure we were fully prepared for the new consoles. Which we were. Once we'd done that we then set about figuring out what our priorities were, which fall into three buckets.
The first is the concept of mimicking athletic motion, which we call True Player Motion and gives us ten-times the animation depth compared to the current consoles. Literally there are hundreds of new moves that look great and make the game more fun.
The second thing was to address the shortcomings around the believability of the players and their actions, which we call Human Intelligence and is about making them feel more human and less robotic. Ignite allowed us to get four-times the decision making abilities for each player then we've had in the past.
Finally, the third thing, is the desire to create a living world around the matches. This is most noticeable when you just watch a match and you can see the full 3D crowd with over 100 broadcast cameras being controlled by an intelligent camera director that follows the right players at the right time.
Can you follow matches in that way between real players online, like a spectator mode?
No, we don't have a spectator mode. That is one of the biggest requests we've had over the past few years, but it's not something we're doing for this year.
The 'Human Intelligence' improvements... does that also translate to how entire teams play? For example, do CPU-controlled Swansea play possession football like the real-life Swansea and Italy like to buckle down and stifle you from passing?
Yes, so there are a couple of things about this. Firstly, there's the authenticity surrounding the players and teams and how they play football and at a basic level that's a difficult thing to do.
However, the harder thing for us is looking at different athletes and figuring out what the difference is between a robotic player and non-robotic player. With that we've got a concept we call 'Pro Instincts'. I use an analogy to explain it, which is being slapped in the face. If I slap you in the face while you're expecting it, and I slap you when you're not expecting it then your reactions are going to be very different; you'll anticipate it.
It's a similar situation with athletes anticipating what's coming and them hurdling tackles or putting their arm out to shield from someone else approaching them. We never had the ability to process that sort of anticipation with the games we've done in the past, but we do with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions. Players really react according to what others are doing around them.
Do you think such increased levels of detail are going to come as a shock to veteran players of the FIFA series?
Well, I think there are bigger changes than that that'll "shock" people. Some of those things are present in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 demo that is out there, the feedback from which has been that this is a pretty remarkable change.
One of those changes comes with the Precision Movement, which is based around step-base locomotion and is present on all versions of FIFA 14. When the players move they can only move where their feet are going, which always them to accelerate more explosively and cut and change direction more realistically at slow speeds. At full speed it takes them longer to slow down and change direction.
I think that's one of the biggest things people have noticed, you really can't sprint everywhere. If you do you can't stop as quickly and you can't turn as quickly, which hampers you in certain situations. There's an advantage to blasting past someone using a sprint, but there's a disadvantage if you're not doing it intelligently.
The step-based physics: is that calculated purely by a player's stats, or is their body weight/size and leg length taken into account?
All of the player's have skeletons, and those are scaled appropriately for their size - taller players have more gangly skeletons, shorter ones are more compact. That allows them to run properly according to their abilities.
Their weight and speed determine how quickly they can stop and turn etc. Thankfully there are some very smart engineers who design this stuff, because if it was me I'd be doomed.
Do what degree are these features included in the current-gen and the next-gen versions?
The gameplay improvements around Precision Movement, AI, ball physics and the general ability for the AI to mark players properly - all of that is in current and next-gen versions. But then you've got a ton of things that are in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions that aren't in the other games.
Variety of animation, the new movesets, a lot of decision making abilities, multiple headers (more than two people being able to contest a header), the Pro Instinct physic system, 1080p, 60fps - all of that stuff is only on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
This all sounds very expensive. Has the budget been bigger than past games?
It is expensive, I guess. We're kind of lucky, though. We've got our 360/PS3 team working away on that version, collaborating with our Xbox One/PS4 team and sharing whatever they can. The year has certainly been challenging, but the 360 and PS3 version is awesome and it's the best version we've ever made for those consoles.
At the same time, we've got the Xbox One and PS4 version is at a different level.
How do you strike that balance between making the most realistic game you can, but also making sure it's fun? I guess, to make the most realistic game ever you will need to take a lot of control out of players hands with things like bad refereeing decisions and other random things that can impact a game...
Well, in FIFA referees do not make incorrect decisions and we're very particular about getting that right. The reason for that is we want you to be penalised only for the things relating to your abilities and what you choose to do, we do not want it to be random. Random is bad.
That being said, there is error in the game and those are centred around the abilities of the players combined with your inputs. We're massive fans of the outputs being rich and deep and context driven, while also keeping in mind your inputs and the player actually being able to pull off what you're trying to do.
The difficulty in balancing comes down to capturing the essence of the game. For example, no one is playing a full 90-minute game so you need to make it feel like a full game within six or seven minute halves. Thankfully, our game is really good and we've spent a long time creating the systems that achieve that.
With sports simulation games getting ever more complex, is it becoming harder for new players to approach an established series like this?
Interesting... I'm not sure. The basic control scheme for FIFA has been the same for pretty much this entire console generation, I wouldn't say it's got any more difficult. Around FIFA 10 we introduced the two-button control scheme to really simplify things.
I think what we have seen is that the game can be tough if you don't know about the sport itself and about sports games in general. With the success we've had you do garner attention from gamers that are not necessarily interested in sports games and I really don't have any idea whether those players have any idea what they're actually doing.
To try and combat that we introduced the skill games last year, which was aimed at educating players to the core mechanics. We've continued with those this year and we've got a whole ton of new in there.
If I've got FIFA 14 on my Xbox 360 and then I buy an Xbox One with FIFA 14, will my progress carry over between the two?
Some of it will, not all of it - but it will only carry over from Microsoft console to Microsoft console and Sony to Sony. Basically, anything online will carry over: EA Sport Football Club, seasons progress and Ultimate Team. Career mode won't, because that's locked to your console and we can't get it.
You've got the classic players included in Ultimate Team for Microsoft consoles, are they locked only into Ultimate Team? You can't use them in other modes?
Just in Ultimate Team, yes. We wanted to add some special moments and let players build their teams using contemporary players as well as those from the recent past.
How did you decide which classic players to include?
It really started with an email thread in which people on the team would come up with ideas about who their favourite player from the past is. However, we wanted to stick to players from the recent past to keep in line what people in our target demographic would know from when they were growing up.
We were also mindful of making sure we included players that are meaningful for all the different territories of the world that play our game. And, obviously, making sure we covered all positions on the pitch.
FIFA 14 kicks off on September 24th in North America and September 27th in Europe for Xbox 360. The Xbox One version - which is free with all European and Australian pre-orders of the Day One Edition console - is out at launch on November 22nd.