It's not just Shingo 'Seabass' Takatsuka who controls Konami's PES franchise. At gamescom we sat down with PES project lead Jon Murphy for a chat about how PES will reclaim its title as the king of football video games, improved online play and why Spurs have kicked Liverpool out of the game.
Q: PES 2011 feels like PES, but the most changed PES since maybe PES 5. I think there's a chance this year's game will be something PES fans have been wanting for quite some time. It's quite exciting.
Jon Murphy: Absolutely. That's exactly what we think.
Q: Last year's game promised a lot of changes. Was that the first step to what we've got this year?
JM: Yes. Without question. We couldn't have done everything in one year, but I think last year was the team getting their heads sorted out again, getting themselves clear on how they wanted to move forward, what changes they wanted to make and to start doing that on that version. This is the one where it all starts fitting together properly.
Q: The new physicality of the players has really changed the way the game plays. PES fans are going to have to learn how to play.
JM: I hope so. I mean I think the additional tactics that you can sort out should help that as well. I think you can take on any team now and play in all kinds of different styles and decide what suits you best. It might not necessarily be Barcelona.
Q: Has the criticism of PES in recent years been hard for the PES team to take? There was a time not long ago when PES was the football game.
JM:: Yeah, very difficult.
Q: It was the pinnacle of football games.
JM: They were for many, many, many years as well. What people tend to forget is that EA has put together a couple of good titles and it's like PES has never existed. That's it, they're the winners, they've done it.
Q: It would be wrong for EA to write off PES.
JM: I hope they don't. To be honest from what I've heard I don't think they've done anywhere near as much as we have.
Q: It is difficult to see any big change from FIFA 10 to FIFA 11. With PES 11 it does feel like something new.
JM: From my understanding they've gone for refinement, which they're entitled to do when everyone has said they are the number one product. But I still think it's dangerous to do that when we... you know, we haven't been destroyed by them, much as I think they would like to destroy us. We're still a big factor in football games going forward and I think 2011 will be a big year in terms of quality. I'm not sure whether or not we'll swing opinions back totally our way, but I think it shows what we are willing to do year-on-year now to drive back to being the best football game. We will become the best football game.
Q: So the goal is to get back on top?
JM: We want to be the best football game, without question. A football game of quality. No matter what else we try and do. We have some great licenses and we spend as much money as possible on this, but as much as we try and do those sorts of things, we have to admit that when EA want to put money on the table for a license they can just kick us out entirely. It's what they do, and they've done it in other sports.
Q: There aren't that many rivals to EA's sports titles. You're still there.
JM: We're still there as the underdogs and we're hanging in. But the point is, our answer is to become the best-playing football game. That way we have a point of difference. As it used to be, if it's really important that you play every license in every game and pretend to be this player, your obvious choice is FIFA. But if you want a more serious football game that will last you for a whole year and you will play with your mates in a way that you don't play any other game, then it should be PES. That's what we're aiming to return to.
Q: There was a time when I imported a new Winning 11 because it was slightly better than our version. We didn't care it was Japanese, we just got it for the gameplay.
JM: You're not alone in doing that.
Q: EA invested in a new start for FIFA on this generation, but it felt like PES was an iteration on what had come out on PS2. This year is the first time it feels like it's the real next-gen PES that people wanted. Going forward are you going to try and stay ahead?
Q: The situation where EA got a headstart, that's not going to happen again?
JM: I think that's fair to say. I don't like to keep talking about what they've done, but you have to put it into context. What they've done is to earlier than us really rip apart certain aspects of their game and rebuild it. That's what we're doing now, so you're only seeing the start of the process for us.
Q: So you're building for the future as well?
JM: Absolutely. Although this is the biggest change between two versions of PES, perhaps even a bigger change than you see between a couple of versions. Although you see that, I think there are bigger things that we'll see in the next two to three years where we won't stop developing and we will end up with a product that is quite extraordinary.
Q: So this game is like a statement of your intent going forward?
JM: I think it's more than a statement, because at the heart of it it's great to play. This version is great to play. It's like rediscovering Pro Evo like you want to. It's like having shackles taken off, so you can play the game that you want, but with the heart of it being PES. You really feel like you have achieved something when you score a goal. You come up against people that play in a different way. The Master League Online will add a new dimension, too.
Within this product we've got a great, great PES. I think the best PES that we've had full stop, in my own personal opinion. Other people will look back to the PS2 for the purest game, but in terms of the total package I think this is the best version yet. It's more than just a statement that we're coming back.
It's also true to say that we are now finding our feet. You can see the team is finding their feet. You can see that they are now happy with the game on the platforms they are developing for, and they are getting ideas about how they want to push the boundaries that you will see pushing on.
Q: I agree that the game is shaping up to be something a lot better than what we've had for years. Realistically, can the game, even if it comes out with a 90 average, can you get near to FIFA this year or is it going to be a longer process?
JM: Depends what you are talking about. In Italy and Spain, PES beat FIFA and they always have. Germany is increasing year-on-year, even through the rough years. The key target areas have been UK and France. UK PES has never beaten FIFA. France PES used to beat FIFA, but had their position overtaken. So it's a complex system around Europe.
If you are talking about the UK, then no. We are not going to beat FIFA with this version and while the situation continues with the way that certain tactics are used to get licenses in the UK, I'm not sure that we can beat them in the UK. There's certain things that happen in the UK which makes it very difficult for us to break into the market. Then there's money of course. And money is spent hand over fist in the UK. In terms of the other territories I would hope that Spain goes on and opens up a bigger gap against EA. I would hope the same happens in Italy. I hope Germany will get closer to FIFA. And I would hope that - I'm not sure that they can do it in this version, but they can certainly start - France starts to reassert its dominance in that market too.
If you want my overall opinion then this is not the title that we are going to beat FIFA on. This is the title where we are going to convince our fans, a lot of them, to come back to us. Come back to us and start playing it seriously and when they do that they will then, if they believe what we're saying, then hopefully they will persuade their other friends to come back. We want to start that ground swell of fans returning to a quality product.
Q: You mentioned licences. You've always had a few licensed teams as well. Who do you have this year from the English leagues?
JM: The English league will only ever allow us to have two teams.
Q: So it won't be Spurs this year?
JM: It's Spurs.
Q: That's good news.
JM: This year it's Spurs and Man U.
Q: A lot of disappointed Liverpool fans then.
JM: They had a bad season. What we have to try and do is to pick the teams that will fit into the top flight competition - the Champions League. It's not a reflection on Liverpool's fan base at all. It's just that we have to try, because we are so limited in the number of UK clubs, we have to make the other areas as authentic as possible. As you know Spurs are kind of just about in it.
Q: I've got no idea. I don't even know what the score was.
JM: 3-2 to the Young Boys. It was 3-0 in the first 30 minutes.
Q: We'll claw it back at White Hart Lane.
When you don't have the license, how accurately can you model the players?
JM: Very accurately. Players aren't the problem. It's team emblems and names, and things like that. So we can do very, very accurate models of the players and their stats, and of the team they might represent. In other words the kind of way they would play. What we can't do is call them that name. We can't pretend to have the right emblem, the correct stadium. All that stuff. But we have a FIFPro license which allows us to have the player names and likenesses of whoever they are, wherever they are.
Q: In terms of the Premier League. How complete is the player modelling. Are they all accurately modelled?
JM: It's all fairly accurate. All it takes is for you to go in and do some editing for yourself and you can recreate the real life leagues.
Q: The mod scene has always been quite strong. Back in the day you used to have to patch the ISO.
JM: Now it is quite straightforward. We can't condone those mods, but they are out there.
Q: Is the PC version this year in line with the consoles?
JM: Very much.
Q: That's something that FIFA for years was never able to do. PES has been doing that for a long time.
JM: Yes, we've always done that. Our PC versions have always reflected next-gen quality and it's no different this year.
Q: So is the game almost done?
JM: We're almost there. The things that they've been working on recently have been goalkeeper problems and stuff like that. Tweaking difficulty settings, too. We're doing the Master League Online beta right now which will have an effect also. The online game itself, from what I've seen has improved massively this year. The response time is excellent. There was absolutely no warping. If there was any slowdown because someone is downloading something or they have a s!$t connection, then the game will just slow down a little bit, so you can actually still play.
Q: In recent years it has been 'is online going to work?'
JM: From what I've seen it really does.
Q: I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the final game. Thanks for your time.
PES 2011 will be released for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on October 8, 2010. Versions for Wii, PS2 and PSP will follow in October.