EA Sports' Dave Rutter on FIFA 10
We went along to EA's Guildford offices to get some hands-on time with FIFA 10 recently and got the chance to have a chat with FIFA Line Producer David Rutter about the forthcoming game.
We talked about the franchise's past and future, the challenges of updating FIFA each year and keeping an eye on the competition.
How difficult is it to keep on coming up with new ideas and innovations for FIFA every year?
It's not so difficult. We have a big, long list of stuff we want to do, so we can cherry pick off of that. I think the harder part for us is trying to make sure that we're refining the game as much as possible and we've generally got a good idea of what we want to improve upon from the previous year. The (even) harder part, I think is definitely responding to feedback, so when we're starting work on the game it hasn't actually been out that long, so come after Christmas time we start to gather all the information from the community guide, reality checking to make sure what we are doing makes sense and nine-times-out-of-ten, it does. Then throughout the year we spend time with some of the guys who are our community gurus - for lack of a better word - who actually give us a lot of feedback on exploits, stuff that's going on, complaints and again, that's useful for reality checking.
For innovations every year, we try to make sure we're changing the game in a way that's compelling for players rather than something that just looks good on the back of the box. And then we try to do stuff that's actually inspired by the real world of football in some way, so our new dribbling system this year came about from us wanting to make the game more fluid, more responsive and wanting to make the game look more natural and to give players the ability to express themselves more engagingly on the ball.
You mentioned the stuff on the back of the box. It wasn't that long ago that FIFA was all about the back of the box bullet point features. What's brought about the shift in moving away from this kind of thing?
I've only been at EA for the last two years, so I can only speculate on what's happened. Andrew Wilson, the guy who was running FIFA at the time and a guy called Kaz Makita, wanted to basically reinvigorate FIFA on 360 and PlayStation 3 by focusing on gameplay, which I think is a very sensible thing to have done. It's one of the reasons I felt more comfortable moving to EA to work on the game and certainly that's overwhelmingly where the focus still remains. Making a game that plays really well is definitely the mantra now across EA. We spent nearly every day with someone telling us that we've got to make a really good quality game with some really cool, useful innovations in it as well. That's what we're about now.
Can you tell us more about the big innovations you've implemented for FIFA 10?
360-degree dribbling, we believe is the first time ever you've had true freedom on the ball. You can dribble in any direction now rather than it being limited to 45-degree angles as it was last year. It's really refreshing to be able to spot a place on the pitch - perhaps a gap between two defenders - and actually run through that gap rather than having to zigzag your way to get there. One of the nicer side effects of that system is the fact that you can switch the ball from one foot to the other, which is really cool. It looks a lot more fluid, it feels a lot more fluid and the players look more natural on the ball rather than switching direction in a really unnatural way.
Other stuff includes skill dribbling, so the ability to - with your top right bumper - go into a very high fidelity dribbling system, so you can take very small, very rapid touches of the ball to jink about. It's a good way of getting around defenders when you're coming down to the final third by the corner. You can throw a defender in one direction and get round the other. There's a new physical play system, which is a lot more engaging, has a lot more outcomes. It's less predictable. We had quite a predictable system last year, so we wanted to get away from that.
The newest stuff we're talking about specifically is creating set pieces. Previously in FIFA, set pieces were a bit stale. There wasn't a great deal of variety, so we wanted to inject some variety into it. We made a tool that allows us to record the player movement off the ball, edit it and play it back and it was so cool that we thought we had to give it out to the fans as a way to generate gameplay. So, one of the things we're letting users do is record player movement from different quadrants on the pitch and then play it back in the real game. You can then assign it to your D-pad so in each quadrant you can have up to four different set pieces recorded, giving you a total of 32 set pieces, which is obviously a great way to have unpredictable set pieces in the game and that's what we want. We don't want it to always feel the same.
There are so many new features for FIFA 10, but do you still keep an eye on what Konami are doing with PES?
Absolutely. I've been making football videogames for 13 years, so it's what I do. And I've been a massive gamer since about 30-odd years ago, so I've played PES a lot and I've played FIFA quite a bit - obviously more so in recent years. I'm inquisitive about what they're up to as a gamer as much as I am because it's the competition, so naturally we're quite interested to see what they're up to this year.
A lot of reviewers picked FIFA 09 as the better game in the PES vs. FIFA stakes last year. Do you think the same is likely to happen again this year?
I hope so! (laughs) We're fully focused on making the best-playing game we can. I hope that means that we're going to be the best football game out there, but what I'll say is that I think their game and our game are different experiences. I think ours is a very simulation-based football videogame and we do a lot of work in making sure that we're true to recreating a real simulation of football. It's interesting because that's probably a switch from how we were a few years ago.
FIFA is famous for having all the big licences. Is there any missing that you'd have liked to include?
There're loads that we'd love to include and every year we try to grow that. But we're not talking about any of it at the moment. There's always a push as football fans to get as much of that kind of stuff in and we don't always get it. We don't always get what we want. We were interviewed by some guys yesterday who were from the Netherlands and we don't have the Dutch national team licensed in the game and every year that's a fight for us to try and get. Unfortunately for the last few years that hasn't been figured out and hasn't been figured out yet for this year either, so that's a disappointment. I know as an English fan how disappointed I'd be if England weren't fully licensed, so I think everyone wants their team or wants their league or nationality in the game and we do everything we can to make it the most comprehensive game we can, but it doesn't always work out that way.
Is this the kind of thing that you could look at supplying as DLC in the near future?
We could definitely try to do that if it was available. We have no plans to do that this year; because that's not the way we do it.
Will you continue to supply Live Season Updates like last year?
We did Live Season last year, which was a weekly update of player attributes and form based on their performance in the real world of football and we'll be talking more about things like that in the future.
We're experiencing quite a long console cycle at the moment. Are you going to be able to keep refining FIFA for the next few years or are you beginning to reach a pinnacle where you could become stuck?
Not really, no. Graphically and gameplay-wise this year we're doing a whole heap of stuff. We did a whole heap of stuff last year and I know we'll continue doing a whole heap of stuff for each year. We're lucky enough to have a team of extremely talented people making FIFA, so if we ever got to a point where we were limited by our own technology to do something, we'd rip it out and redo it so we could do more. We're not at that point yet. What we did with dribbling this year is we ripped it out and replaced it with a new system, so when we need to we can, but I don't see there being time in the near future where we're going to be stuck at a ceiling. There's tonnes left to do.
Is there ever any temptation to sneakily fidget with your favourite team's statistics a little bit?
There probably would be the temptation, but we have enough checks and monitoring in place for all the data that's used in the game. There's a ten-person team in Vancouver that manages the network and we've got a hundred people who put the data into our database, then we have a thousand people to reality check that to make sure exactly that does not happen. There're lots of checks and barriers, so we're pretty careful about that.
And which club do you support?
I'm a Wolves fan.
Well, there you go.
Yes. Thanks for your time!
FIFA 10 is out October 2nd across every platform known to man.