It’s a great time to be a football fan.
We are in the midst of the World Cup in Brazil. The excitement of transfer mayhem is in full swing. And EA has lifted the lid on FIFA 15.
Everything is pretty peachy over at EA, too. FIFA 14 is now the best-selling entry in the series’ history and scored a record 12-weeks at No.1 in the UK, toppling the previous achievement by FIFA: Road the World Cup 1998. It hasn’t fallen from the Top Ten since its launch last August and is even joined by a World Cup tie-in. So it’s pretty safe to say that FIFA is more popular than ever.
“It is. I mean a lot of people play the game. I can’t share a number with you but it’s outstanding. It really is just unbelievable,” says Sebastian Enrique, producer on FIFA 15.
“I’m a developer, and even though I lead the team, I don’t consider myself a business guy. So how I understand it, what satisfies and rewards me, is when I go to tournaments, when I head to conferences and when I walk into a shop. I see friends getting together on a Saturday night, having a few beers and playing FIFA all night long. That’s what satisfies me. Building something that people can have fun with and can connect with. It’s amazing for me.”
STAYING ON TOP
Having a franchise that sells in the millions year-in-year-out, and one that has two titles entrenched atop the UK chart, is sure to keep the figureheads at EA happy.
But this success alone doesn‘t make the task of creating a new FIFA every year any easier on the EA Sports dev team. Far from it.
“It’s difficult,” admits Enrique. “You always have people asking what’s next and there are so many things. There is so much that we have in our heads, that we have put down on paper and want to achieve. Working on our build we end up with enough content for around four or five FIFAs.
“It’s about understanding the community and listening to what they really want. So even though you can’t satisfy everyone we make sure to choose the right things. That’s key for us.”
Of course, any developer or publisher would love to have some of the ‘problems’ that the FIFA team has. But the developer has set itself a very high bar.
We don't build anything diminished just because it needs to be on older platforms. Forget that. The other platforms don't exist.
Sebastian Enrique, EA
“It is difficult enough to get to the top and it’s even more difficult to stay there.
“When you have such a massive community like FIFA, any changes to a game that’s used so competitively will create polarisations and negativity. Why? If you’re a No.1 gamer then you want to keep being No.1. Anything that changes the way you play the game and forces you to re-learn something where somebody can be better than you, you’re not going to like that. A lot of the risks that we face are when introducing innovations and game changers.”
EA’s bid to stay on top of the sporting pile has seen it place much of its FIFA 15 focus on the new consoles – PS4 and Xbox One.
Gen3 versions will be handled by one team. A different studio will handle FIFA on mobile. Meanwhile, Enrique and his crew are working strictly on the next-gen version. It’s a setup that Enrique says allows his team to lead the creation of FIFA 15 without the limitations of the weakest platform.
“When I started on the team, my message and direction to everyone was that for anyone who buys a Gen4 console deserves a Gen4 experience. We don’t build anything diminished just because it needs to be on other platforms. Forget about it. The other platforms don’t exist. What we build is Gen4. Let the other platforms worry about how they take the cool stuff from our game.”
Enrique himself admits how that might be a selfish mindset to have. But from a man that’s worked through both Gen3 and Gen4 development, it’s an understandable one. He’s served his time on the older platforms, limited by their outdated hardware. Now, he’s relishing the opportunity to truly lead the way with FIFA 15.
“As a developer you want creative control of everything. It is difficult in the sense that you’re not the one setting the direction. I did Gen3 last year, even though I worked closely with the Gen4 team. This year I have no other team saying ‘we want to do this’ and I had to implement it. It’s more like we set the direction and everyone else needs to follow.
“That said, one of the goals we had when we started with FIFA is that we wanted to deliver an experience that was good and was tailored to the platform. So if you’re playing with mobile then you have the touch controls. If you’re playing FIFA World then you have mouse controls. That’s the plan. It’s about creating things that are tailored to that particular platform.”
But all this talk of freedom and no limitations will inevitably generate quite lofty expectations for FIFA 15 amongst fans.
Many of the improvements in the game focus on its visuals, which producer Nick Channon says ‘speak for themselves’. Body rigging and new character models make players more like their real-life counterparts. Living Pitch ensures the turf is a more realistic playing environment than ever before that reacts to the match, players and weather – heck, there are even LED ad boards now.
But it’s not just visuals that have undergone a makeover. Emotional intelligence has players accurately respond to key moments in the game, from harsh tackles to poor decisions by the ref. There’s a lot of new content for players to get their head around come September. But how much of this was only possible with the new console hardware?
“All of it,” jokes Sebastian.
“I’m going to make up some numbers. Let’s say on the previous gen you have 100 whatever memory. 80 of that goes towards gameplay, ten for graphics and ten on presentation.
“But with Gen4 you have 1,000. And in FIFA 15 we’re not using it all. That’s the beauty of it. So when we got Gen4 we saw a lot of doors open for a lot of things. Now we can do all of this shit and it allows us to really unleash ambition.”
Most of these improvements and new additions are the brainchild of the developers. Yet some are at the request of the FIFA community, which has proven to be one of the most vocal around, unafraid to voice their desires on what they want from the next entry.
“There are things that aren’t a priority, but because so many people are asking for it, then it becomes a priority. There are things that were out of the blue and we wonder ‘why would you want that?’ It absolutely changes the things that you’re working on.
“PC was a focus. We wanted it to be a Gen4 experience. Visuals and presentation are something that, if you have a next-gen machine, then you really want stunning visuals. You might not say it but we know you want it.”
Emotional Intelligence One of the flagship additions to FIFA 15 is the new emotion and intelligence system. All 22 players on the field now have individual attitudes and personalities. Athletes now respond pro-actively to events on the pitch. These vary from poor decisions from the referee to other players who repeatedly make aggressive tackles. Over 600 potential emotional reactions have been built into FIFA 15.
DYNAMIC MATCH PRESENTATION
Changes to Match Day have made it an even more authentic experience for gamers. Crowds will now display region specific behaviour and perform chants specific to their club. A packed-out Anfield will respond differently to Real Madrid’s loyal following at the Bernabéu. Elsewhere, coaches and players on the bench have been equipped with new reactions whilst goal scorers have ten new celebrations to choose from.
The world’s greatest players will now take to the pitch as a more accurate representation of themselves. The new physically-based lighting system has players look more realistic. Meanwhile, the newly introduced body rigging has athletes respond more accurately to the pitch, ball and other players.
It’s not just the players that have undergone a facelift in FIFA 15 as the playing surface itself has been a major focus. Living Pitch will see the turf become increasingly weathered as a match plays on. Slide tackles, boot marks and debris are all more visible. Corner flags now react to the weather whilst the goal frame will shake when hit by a powerful strike.