2010 FIFA World Cup with Simon Humber
World Cup games are normally a cynical, money-grabbing exercise to exploit an existing football game engine with a quick re-skin, and in the past, EA Sports has been guilty of following this trend on more than one occasion, with Road to the World Cup games preceding a fully-fledged World Cup tie-in 2002 and 2006.
The World Cup is a license that will always attract the die-hard fans, and with FIFA 10 demonstrating an already robust engine, it's encouraging to see that EA Canada are refusing to take the quick buck, looking to create something more meaningful than the usual rushed fare we're used to seeing when a major football tournament arrives.
During our hands-on at Stamford Bridge, we got to sit down and chat with the game's producer Simon Humber, who is keen to emphasise that 2010 FIFA World Cup is much more than just a lazy update.
What were the central priorities that you set out to fix upon starting work on 2010 FIFA World Cup?
The key things for us were, obviously to deliver improved gameplay over FIFA 10, continue the journey we've had since FIFA 07 with next-gen gameplay, then how can we be authentic to the tournament in terms of having an authentic qualifying competition and the finals itself, and having as many teams in the game as possible.
And then how it looks and feels in South Africa - when you come to watch the broadcasts from mid-June onwards and see the game - they're similar. Then finally, how can we craft new ways to interact with the game, so we have new modes and new ways to play the game.
Onto the game itself, and it feels a little bit different to FIFA 10. There's a slightly weightier feel to the gameplay. Was this an intentional thing?
Probably, at the moment you've not had sufficient time to play it, but your initial perception may be different to someone else's perception. We've made a number of enhancements to the game in loads of different areas. But...weighty. Can you explain?
Well, it could be extra animations perhaps. Are there extra animations in there?
There are a few extra animations in there to cater for some circumstances where it didn't handle very well before. Responsiveness has definitely improved, so there's a number of occasions where you're able to preserve a player's momentum, where a player might have stopped to chest the ball, bring it down with a couple of touches in the air before they turned and it was a bit sticky. The way they play it now is improved, making the game seem more fluid.
I had comments this morning saying that it felt faster. The core game speed and the top speed of the players has not been taken into consideration, but there's aspects of responsiveness that have been improved that make the game feel more fluid and therefore it's been perceived as being faster.
And perhaps it's a by-product of the enhanced physicality. What have you implemented there to improve that particular aspect of FIFA?
The whole physicality system came in pretty recently, so there's plenty of scope to tweak it and make it fairer for players. I think one thing we need to do a better job of is with the players that have a low centre of balance like Messi, who aren't perhaps physically that strong, but they can survive challenges with physical players because they've got great balance. That's as opposed to someone like Mr. Emile Heskey, who probably doesn't have great balance - he seems to fall over for most of his career - but he's an absolute beast, so we want to be able to solve both problems and get the best of both worlds. So, for players like Heskey we do a good job of at the moment - play as England with Heskey and you'll find he's an absolute animal and he can just steam through challenges.
Messi - I think there's room for improvement there, but we can do a good job with those kinds of players. The whole system's got plenty of scope for improvement over the next year or so.
There's more than just a few visual upgrades in FIFA World Cup 2010. You've got the improved pitch textures, player likenesses and that whole carnival atmosphere with fireworks, streamers and what not. How massive an undertaking was it to implement all of these cosmetic enhancements?
It just got bigger and bigger. We had a plan to do a certain number of things, but we just kept adding more and more. It's usually a bad idea in game development to do that. If something goes wrong, you end up missing your release date, which is just horrible and it's not an option for us.
We've just got a very proactive art director on the project, we've got a really great team of renderers and the presentation artists just wanted to do justice to the game, so they created art design that really engaged, which makes the product. I just think we're really lucky to have a talented bunch of people who were really motivated to help make this game.
Was there any optimisation the team had to do to the engine to pack all of that extra visual stuff in? There's quite a lot of activity.
That's an interesting observation. What we had to do is... the actual stadia in South Africa are all rendered using a lower memory budget to what we had in the past. It's one of those things where experience means you learn how to do things better and cheaper. Previously, when we were making stadiums, they were this big - "holds arms out this wide" (holds arms out wide) - and now it's the World Cup, we've made them this big - "narrows arms" (narrows arms) - and with the memory we save from that, it means we can chuck in a bunch of visual features that wouldn't be possible in a conventional FIFA stadium.
What additional game modes are you introducing for FIFA World Cup 2010?
The only two we're talking about today are the offline and online versions of the World Cup tournament. So, the online tournament is the whole finals with all 32 teams, with whichever team you want to play as from the 199 available. You start in the group stages and play your first group game against someone playing their first group game. You go to the second group match, then the third group match, by which point you'll think to yourself, do I need to win this match, draw this match or am I through already? And as you play through that third game and get the score from the other third game in that group, that might alter your mentality of what you need to achieve in that game on the fly.
Then there's the four knockout rounds, where you'll finally get to lift the trophy. It's a bitesize piece of gaming, which I think is very important now, because we've got days and days dedicated to something that resonates really well with people in that you can win the World Cup playing against other like-minded gamers from around the world. It'll be really exciting to see how that plays out.
Is there going to be any cross-compatibility between FIFA 10 and FIFA World Cup 2010 for people who own both games?
Nothing we're talking about today, but at a future date, we'll talk about other features, which may include something along those lines.
And possibly DLC as well?
We'll see in due course.
Earlier you showed the tournament ending in-game with England beating Germany to lift the World Cup. How much fun was it to create that cinematic and how much fun did Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend have commentating it?
We were determined to have a much better outro than we normally do for the end of the tournament - the trophy lifting. We've never done a very good job of that due to various factors, so it was a challenge for us. All of the visual effects you saw in that video: we had to get them done really early, so we could put that sequence in the can, ship it over to Clive and Andy where they did the commentary session recorded to the visuals.
That was a tough period. We were working long hours to get that done on time, but it's made a hell of a difference because they could just record their speech while looking at the pictures. The video we showed today has got a few problems, some timings are slightly out, which we're working on, but it should all pay off for all that time and effort you put into winning the tournament.
A nice little reward. Final question - with the game's April release looming, what are the final elements you're currently working on, or is it purely polish now?
We're just fixing bugs really. We've been deep in bug fixing for the last few weeks. And we're all about the new features, just refining and making sure what we've got works as designed.
We have to go back to the game footage of England winning the World Cup. I actually thought to myself, that's the only time I'll probably ever see England win the World Cup in my lifetime and I almost got a little choked up...
That's why I showed it to you today. Just so you can see what it would look like, because we're not gonna see it, are we?
Probably not, sadly. Who's your tip to win the 2010 World Cup then?
If England can't win, I'd like to see Spain win. They've played so well for the past two or three years and I think they deserve it above everyone else. Brazil have won it too many times and Spain have never won it and they have one of the best teams around right now.