FIFA, inevitably, is back, and this time, fuelled by strong reviews, impressive sales and a less than impressive effort from its 'competitor', the 09 edition is looking like the best effort yet. At a recent hands-on press event for the game in EA's Guildford HQ, we sat down with David Rutter, line producer for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game, to get the low down on the new gameplay features, find out why that age old PES versus FIFA debate is a good one and why the PS3 version of this year's game will be up to scratch.
David Rutter:How's it going? Did you get a chance to play the game?
VideoGamer.com: I did, yeah, all of the versions.
DR: How did it go? Did you enjoy them?
VideoGamer.com: I did, yeah. I really like the added weight, it feels like the players have an affect on other players in the air and on the ground. I like the players calling for the ball as well. More than anything it's a visual aid to when you should be playing through balls. It catches your attention.
DR: They're generally doing them when they know you should be doing it as well. It's one of our attempts to try and improve the approachability, accessibility, usability, whatever you want to call it, of the game. To try and give more user feedback to guys so they know when they should be doing stuff.
VideoGamer.com: And it also looks very realistic.
DR: We had some really cool ones in there but we had to take some of them out.
VideoGamer.com: Oh yeah, like what?
DR: We had some actions that could potentially get us flagged out by Sony. (Makes silly football prayer gesture with hands) believe it or not.
VideoGamer.com: How odd.
DR: I know. You're not allowed to do it. But there you go. It would have changed our rating.
DR: I know.
VideoGamer.com: Fair enough. I guess with a game that comes out every year and a game that pretty much always sells very well. How do you determine success? How do you know when you're doing a good job?
DR: There's three things. One of which is how many games you sell. The other one is what your Metacritic says...
VideoGamer.com: You don't listen to that do you?
DR: Yeah! Big time! And lastly the big thing for us, or for the guys on the dev team, let's say the marketing and publishing people, is the feedback we're getting from people. That's kind of the stuff we're interested in hearing, what people actually think of the game. People say you shouldn't believe your press. I think for people who spend whatever amount of money it costs to buy FIFA they might not have a right to tell us exactly what they say but I believe they should and I encourage people to do it, definitely.
VideoGamer.com: So applying those three factors to the last game how did it do?
DR: It did very well. We saw a big increase in our quality ratings around the world. It sold a lot and a lot of people liked it. But not to the extent that we were going to sit on our butts and do nothing this year. One of the guys asked earlier with a yearly title that does so well do you not find it difficult to innovate, are you not in danger of putting people off? It was refreshing for me when I joined the team to discover there was this huge emphasis on gameplay and we were already communicating with people via a number of means to find out what people liked and what people didn't so we could try and do the best job we could with that. So that was one good thing. The other parts of it were the fact that if you think of how the game's innovated over the last few years, we're still continuing to do that gameplay wise with custom team tactics and then for game modes with Be A Pro and for online play with 10 vs 10. So to have the investment in just solid gameplay and then the investment in other things as well it's a nice team to be working with, it's great.
VideoGamer.com: The series has been going for a long time now and you have members of your team who have worked on it for a while now. Will the ideas ever dry up?
DR: I don't think that will ever happen. For starters the team's made up of footie fans from around the world. So everyone has a different taste and flavour for what a football game should be, so that's healthy. 18 nationalities are in the team, of which the vast majority are European, South Central American, Japanese, Korean and a very small proportion are actually North American bizarrely, for a North America studio. So everyone has a different taste and flavour for what we should be doing. And all of them are football game and football fans so there isn't anything else they want to be doing. And thankfully we've got a hugely vocal community, a very open press and a great deal of people who play the game and let us know what they think. Ultimately the ambition is to create the most accurate simulation of the sport that's also fun to pay. I think there's a number of different directions we can go in the future.
VideoGamer.com: I wanted to ask about the PS3 version. Last year some EA sports titles struggled on the PS3 in comparison with the 360 version. What did you think of the PS3 version of FIFA 08 and how is the PS3 version of 09 shaping up?
DR: We were cognisant of the fact that regardless of how well PlayStation was doing at that time, it was a new console and we were convinced it would be a success. We needed to make sure we were doing as much as we possibly could to support that. So we were 60 frames a second on both consoles, which is pretty rare whether it be in EA or around the world. We really made an effort to make sure we did it and it was a huge task to do, but we did it. This year we've done a heap of work to make sure that the actual visuals of the game are at least as good on PS3 as 360, to the extent we've had meetings with executives that have basically been fine tooth comb almost, a microscopic look at what's going on to make sure they are as good as each other and they are. There's no graphical features or level of rendering or anything else that's different between the consoles this year.