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Fifa 13 [Interview] – What’s new to the game? Part 2

30 May 2012  by   John Robertson
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Part two of our interview with Fifa 13’s gameplay producer, Aaron McHardy, focuses on the iteration process and which boundaries are left to be pushed, the PC edition and the series’ long-term focus.
If you missed part one of this interview, you can find here.

Yesterday also saw the publishing our first hands-on preview of Fifa 13, you can read that here.

IncGamers: I came here today with a list of problems I wanted to see addressed from FIFA 12, and… actually, in theory, it seems like most of them have been, which is…

Aaron McHardy: …Which is really cool! [Laughs]

IG: But what now? Have you made the perfect football game? What does that mean going forward?

AM: I think it’s up to us to keep pushing the boundaries. There’s no end to what we can do. We’re gonna build all these things this year into the best game we can, then as soon as we ship it we’re gonna stop, we’re gonna break it down, and we’re gonna analyse what we can do better. We’re not going to stop innovating. We’re not going to stop pushing the boundaries of football videogames.

Messi doesn’t stop pushing the boundaries of what he can do. Just two years ago Christiano Ronaldo figured out how to take a free kick in a completely different way than anyone had done before, with his turbulent shot, and now you see Drogba doing it too, and other players are struggling to do it… They’re continuing to innovate how they play the game, and we’ll continue to innovate how we make the game, and together we’ll keep advancing football to a happy place.

IG: I guess you’ve got to keep one eye on the real game and one eye on how people are responding to what you’re doing – it’s an iterative process, doing an annual franchise.

AM: Yeah, you’ve nailed it. Definitely, getting feedback from our community is huge. When you look at the fundamentals that we’ve done this year, a lot of them are addressing some of the major concerns.

When you look at Attacking Intelligence, that comes from our consumers. One of the biggest points that we got from our consumers this year was that they didn’t feel the AI was doing enough for them to create opportunities. So we went back and we rewrote our positioning technology to change the way that players analyse space on the pitch. They can now make more convincing, decisive runs in many circumstances to give you a better outlook so that you can find the end of that run and find success.

We’ve given them new abilities of how they can run around players, curving into space outside, curving into space behind, opening up passing channels when there aren’t passing channels there, and working smarter for you to be able to create those opportunities. And of course, taking things to the next level, getting them to think like professional footballers, and not just getting them to think, “Here and now, should I support him, should I run?” but thinking, “What’s he going to do? What’s he going to do next? How can I help my team by thinking two plays ahead?”

Taking the AI to the next level, that all came from the feedback that we got from our fans. They didn’t think it was up to scratch, so we took a hard look at it and said, “Well, what can we do to make it better?” And like you say, it’s very iterative. We looked at FIFA 12… I think we had one of the best positioning systems out there, but you look at it, and you can always find something that you can do better, just like  these guys on the football pitch outside can always find a new way to be better.

We’re no different. Iterating, iterating, iterating, putting out our product, listening to what fans say… hopefully they like it, and then the things that they don’t like we take back, figure out what was wrong, and how we can make it more fun for them next year. You’ve really nailed the process.

IG: Is it the same graphics engine as last year?

AM: I can’t speak too much about the graphics at this time – we’re only talking about the five big features in gameplay – but if you come back in a few months we’ll maybe be able to talk about other parts of the game.

IG: Are you allowed to talk about graphics more generally?

AM: You can try… I don’t know if PR would like that…

IG: Basically, are we reaching the stage of the current gen where things kind of look as good as they can on this hardware?

AM: I think our rendering team more generally is all about trying to make it look better at every turn. And I think they’re going to continue to push the boundaries the same way that we do on gameplay. That’s about as much as I can say at this point… but I don’t think we’ve reached that point. I personally thought we’d reached it when Super Nintendo came out, and then they blew my mind with the next one. That’s kind of how it goes. With every iteration, games seem to get more and more realistic on every level, and I don’t think anyone on our team at EA Canada is taking their foot off the gas pedal.

IG: Until last year – for a few years before that, anyway – there didn’t seem to be a lot of focus on the PC version. It was very much console-centric. And then last year, of course, the PC version was in line with the console games. Is that going to stay the same this year?

AM: Yes. So the main reason why it wasn’t in line was that the average PC that was out there didn’t keep up to the capabilities of a console. But in the last couple of years, they’ve sort of come into alignment. There were gaming PCs out there that hardcore gamers would use, but it was a very small section of the market – I’m talking three or four years ago – that could keep up with what the PS3 and the 360 could do. Now, there’s a little bit more of an even playing field, so we can run our game easily on PCs. So the focus is there for that market, because there are the people out there with the PCs with the capabilities of running the game. That’s basically why we made that decision to bring the PC game to next-gen gameplay, and we’ll continue to iterate and treat the PC the same.

IG: I think a lot of fans who had previously played on PC were kind of angry…

AM: Yeah, years ago that was the case.

IG: But I think it was that it felt like purely a business decision.

AM: Well back then, like I said, without the PCs having the power to be able to run it, it was a business decision, because only a very small set of people could buy it. We do operate in a business where we have to make business decisions. But over the last couple of years, especially once the common PC was able to keep up with the consoles, we started building the PC game on the next-gen platform, and that took a couple of years to be able to get the full experience on it.

IG: I take it you can’t talk about commentary…

AM: You are correct. But if you come back later, then we’ll talk.

IG: I ask because Alan Smith was kind of annoying last year.

AM: [Laughs]

IG: You say there’s always room to improve. Do you have any long-term ambitions for FIFA? Is there an ultimate goal?

AM: I don’t know if there’s an ultimate goal where we say, “That’s it! We’re done.” But we do have long-term plans. I don’t think we can think about it in terms of one year, so we do have ideas for the future… unfortunately, I can’t tell you what those are at this point, but we do have plans.

And they will change. We see how things go and then we adapt our plan every year. That’s kind of the way we do things – you nailed it with the iterative part. So we do things three years into the future, maybe more in some cases, maybe less in some cases, but we do constantly think about the future, and what we’re going to do down the road.

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