Another year, another FIFA, but, given the spectacularly brilliant virtual football fest that was FIFA 09, it's hard to see how EA can nail that magical 90 per cent review score average EA Sports boss Peter Moore has demanded. The man given that thankless task is David Rutter, line producer for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game. Here, in an extensive interview, he tells VideoGamer.com just how he's improving upon what many consider to be the greatest football game ever made. And what Peter Moore's like as a boss.
VideoGamer.com: Why are chip shots cheating?
David Rutter: Because we've not balanced them yet. In that build out there it's too easy. We've done a lot of work on the goalkeepers coming out. At the moment we've not done all the work on the goalkeepers going back. I had to shout it out because yesterday we did a presentation and did this in France. Some French guy went, "Some dude's just scored four chip shots against me! What's wrong with your game?!" I said, "It's not finished yet". I forgot to tell them, so every time now I've got to remember chip shots are cheating.
VideoGamer.com: How will it work in the final game?
DR: We've done a lot of work, to get around the lofted through balls and 360 degree dribbling, balancing. We've done a lot of work on the goalkeeper aggression coming out. We've not finished the goalkeeper backtracking. I showed you the second save stuff we've got in at the moment. We've not finished the running back and scooping off the line, although we did have some pretty good videos of that.
VideoGamer.com: What was the number one complaint with FIFA 09?
DR: Initially it was crab walking in FIFA 09, which we fixed with an update shortly after launch. We didn't realise it was quite as bad as it was, so we fixed that pretty quickly. Lastly after that the number one complaint was probably lofted through balls, which we've pretty much fixed this year. We managed to fix about three or four things to that. One was introducing the appropriate amount of error on lofted through balls for players under pressure. You shouldn't be able to play those ridiculously long lofted through balls over the top unless you're in a position and with a player that should be able to do it. Secondly, we needed to make sure that, like if John Terry went up for a corner, Michael Essien would hang back and cover his position, and they wouldn't just switch, which they currently did in FIFA 09. They'd just run at each other so as the ball came over the top you had no-one in defence. So that's our defensive position priority work. Lastly we needed the keeper to be more aggressive coming out, which we've done as well.
For online, the number one complaint was the use of custom squads in matches. We've fixed that in our single-player mode. I've just discovered that there's an exploit in clubs at the moment where you can still do it. I doubt we'll manage to fix that before we launch 10. But this year, Orlando (Lewis, of FIFAINFORMER.COM) and Suffwan (Eltom from FIFASOCCERBLOG.COM) and all of those guys who run our community stuff, they've all got my phone number and email, so if there's anything that crops up we're on it straight away now.
VideoGamer.com: I found ten versus ten online was great, but sometimes ended up like chaos, where people just did their own thing. Is there anything you can do about that?
DR: Not a huge amount. The way we described it as we were working it out, and it has worked out this way, is the cream will float to the top and the other stuff will drop to the bottom. So if you are in a club, depending on how good a club manager you are, you can recruit people in who are good at it. There are some phenomenal clubs. If you have a look around on YouTube and at some of the videos people have taken of their clubs playing, I never believed there would be such skilled people all playing together in organised clubs. A couple of the FIFA Interactive World Cup winners, or nearly winners, are in a bunch of clubs, and they're frightening.
VideoGamer.com: So basically keep yourself away from certain people?
DR: That are idiots. And we're doing a lot of work this year with our online game modes to allow it to be more selective, allow you to find appropriate people. As someone who lives on the west coast of North America, one of the complaints I have is the fact that when me and all of the guys from work turned up in clubs it was difficult to find a game. There are not a lot of online team play players in North America. We were scratching around sometimes, but we're figuring that out.
VideoGamer.com: You mentioned in the presentation that this is the fourth year you've used this game engine...
DR: As in the gameplay engine, rather than the graphics engine.
VideoGamer.com: Which culminated in FIFA 09, a game we said in our review was the best football game ever made. How long has this engine got before you have to reboot?
DR: We've been very careful about how we've made this game. We've got some phenomenally talented individuals working on the gameplay. We were really happy with the reviews last year, we did really well, and we knew it was a good game, but we're not complacent, for want of a better word. I was playing 09 on Sunday night in Paris, because they had a pod in the hotel. We were playing that and I was like, "God, did we really let this out?" You play it so much that eventually you get to the point where you can rip it to shreds. I'm pretty certain that by this time next year I'll be saying pretty much the same thing about 10. We are hyper critical of ourselves. It does make it slightly depressing because we don't get to savour the success of the game so much. We will keep going at it. I'm guessing, for future consoles, when they start turning up we'll start working on the newer versions and take it from there. The bigger work, it's now the devil's in the detail. Getting right down to the nitty gritty of it - there'll always be stuff we want to fix. I've been doing this for 13 years. I think it's 13...
VideoGamer.com: Does it grind you down?
DR: No it's good! I love it. I've got the best job in the world. I have!
VideoGamer.com: Since it looks like the life cycle of the consoles is going to be a lot longer this time, you've got longer with this particular gameplay engine to refine.
DR: Yeah. If there was something that we couldn't get to because of what we've currently got, we'd rip it out. Last year we totally rewrote all of our trapping stuff and a lot of our positional stuff. This year we rewrote nearly all of our dribbling. It's a case of, okay we are limited by what we can do so we rewrite it. But the vast majority of our 360 and PS3 game is based on stuff that was started nearly four years ago now. It's a case of we are now benefiting from the work we did then, rather than having to do it all now. We're lucky like that.
VideoGamer.com: In terms of the graphics, can they get any better on current hardware?
DR: Yeah I think so. This year we've done a heap of work. We've got all new lighters and shaders. All the lighting's new, all the shaders are new. All of the player animations, the walk, jog, run, sprint, with and without the ball, are new. We've got player breath in cold conditions now, which looks really cool. We've got new snow and new rain. Weather isn't dynamic, but if you have a game in cold weather in England in Manager Mode, it might snow. In wetter climes it'll rain. We're currently doing that stuff. The stadiums are much nicer. I've seen it, I'm hoping it makes the final game - we've got a new crowd in Vancouver at the moment which looks amazing. We're always at it. The thing is it gets to the point where you almost become blind to the improvements. The screenshots we sent out, I still look at and go, "Is that really a screenshot?". They are because I've seen the captures. We've got nice depth of field on some shots now. It looks good.
VideoGamer.com: What's Peter Moore like as a boss?
DR: He's all right actually. He's quite funny. I get on pretty well with him. He's an interesting character. He's a massive footie fan, well he's a massive sports fan, but he's from Liverpool so he's a massive Liverpool fan. Last year or the year before, the first time he came to visit the studio we got him out on the football pitch. He's a very good footballer.
DR: Yeah. I think he played semi-pro. He's a left back or a right back. So we did the hit the Crossbar Challenge like they have on Soccer AM. Three people did it, and he hit the crossbar on his second go, from the centre.
VideoGamer.com: Is that bullshit?
DR: No honestly. Honestly. He's a very very good football player. He's always ribbing me, because I run marathons occasionally and he's run marathons as well. He's a pretty sprightly old dude. He'll love me saying that!
VideoGamer.com: It's his job to push you guys as far as you can go. Is it a pain in the arse?
DR: No. I'm a massive football fan. I enjoy playing football as much as watching it. I'm also a gamer, which probably makes me a double-dipped competitive person. We have a team of 18 different nationalities who are double-dipped competitive personalities. That's the way we're built. I don't think he puts any more pressure on us, because we're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves anyway. That said it's not fantastic news that publicly you get called out for, "I want 90". That's then a curse. If someone doesn't like me or Peter Moore or EA, that's a very good way of getting me personally in trouble. Those extra three per cent are possibly the hardest extra three percent you could get, and then beyond that point it becomes almost impossible. I am less concerned about the actual score and more concerned about whether I'm going to be happy that we did the absolute best we could for people who play our game. At the moment we are.
VideoGamer.com: It's not like you're all going to get fired if you don't get a 90 per cent Metacritic rating.
DR: No. I hope not! Shit that would be pretty bad wouldn't it? I think I'm okay. Hopefully.
VideoGamer.com: Peter Moore's been quoted recently as saying he had a look at Microsoft's and Sony's motion-sensing technology that was shown at E3 a while back, and it's got potential for EA Sports titles. He didn't go into specifics. Have you had any thoughts about how it might be used for FIFA?
DR: Quite a few.
VideoGamer.com: One thing that strikes me is the danger that it will be like fresh air shots. Without some kind of feedback or resistance, you're just kicking fresh air. Can it be fun without a controller?
DR: It's early doors on all that. It's funny. He said that and I think John Riccitiello said you'd never want Natal to control FIFA (he said: "I really don't know if you're going to want to play FIFA with a motion control device. First off, a 75-minute session would be frigging tiring, jumping all over the place. And frankly the traditional controller is pretty fun."). There are a few things we could do, which we're thinking about doing at the moment. But it's not something that's suddenly going to manifest itself in FIFA 10.
VideoGamer.com: But maybe the next version?
DR: Possibly. We'll have to see. I'm a big fan of, and I've said it a number of times and I'll say it again, if it's not good enough it won't make it in. I don't think we just want to put something in because it's something we're asked to do or it's something people think we should. If it doesn't add to the overall thing, then it's pointless. And I don't want it to be just this distraction, to be quite honest.
VideoGamer.com: But your personal opinion is it can work?
DR: I think there are a few things we can do, definitely, but we've not really started on it yet.
VideoGamer.com: Final word on PES. Konami's been confident with its PR this year. Do you care what they say and do? Does it register?
DR: Oh yeah. I'm massively interested, for two reasons. One, I'm a massive football gamer so I want to play it. I'm very interested to see what it is. I've played PES for years and years and years and years, so I'm not going to stop playing it. I'm quite intrigued about it. I have a suspicion about a few of the things they're doing based on their promo video. It sounds to me like they're doing something similar to custom team tactics that we did last year, which is good. I'll be interested to see what they do. The second part of it is, as a competitor, yeah absolutely, I'm very interested in what they're up to because it will affect my day to day life.
VideoGamer.com: Last year when I spoke to you, you said you expected Konami to come back strongly. Last year's PES didn't get us particularly excited. What was your reaction to it?
DR: It's a good enough game. There's nothing overtly wrong with it. It's a different type of game to ours. We're very much about authentic simulation of football. I don't think that's what their game is about so much these days. I still expect them to come back with a very good game. They're clearly a very talented bunch of people. They make a very good game. It's good to have a competitor; it keeps us on our toes. That said, if there wasn't a competitor, we'd still be doing exactly what we're doing. As I say, we're all double-dipped competitive personalities that want to do a fantastic job.
VideoGamer.com: It's interesting that you say that Konami's going for a less authentic game these days. The PR material it's released for PES 2010 suggests it's trying to get back to a more authentic experience. It's said: "PES 2010 will look better, will play better, and will recreate real football as closely as the current hardware will allow."
DR: To get to where we've got, it's taken us four years on that gameplay engine. So if they're going to suddenly try and do it I wish them all the best of luck, but it's bloody hard.
FIFA 10 is due for release on all leading platforms on October 2, 2009.