EA: ‘This is the biggest FIFA we have ever made’

There’s a lot to talk about with this year’s entry in the FIFA series.

The developers added in a single player story mode – The Journey – that tells the tail of an up-and-coming footballer and features Mass Effect-style dialogue choices. Then there’s the small matter of the studio opting to move from the Ignite engine to DICE’s Frostbite.

This is the biggest FIFA we have ever made, we have a new engine, which is two/two-and-a-half years in the making, and that’s allowed us to do a new mode,” senior producer Nick Channon says.

The reaction has been universally positive.”

The decision to switch engine was not one that EA took lightly. After all, just three years ago the publisher was pushing Ignite as its next-gen sports engine. But the move to Frostbite has allowed the developers to try new things. It’s let them collaborate with other EA studios using the tech.

Any time you go to a new engine it’s never easy. With new technology, be it a new console or a new engine, it’s always a challenge,” Channon explains.

A lot of it is learning the new tech. The great thing about Frostbite is the fact that as a company we have lots of people using it. We had a lot of help from DICE, mainly that studio’s Frostbite engine team.

I won’t lie and say it’s easy. We have been working on it for two years, but what was great was a lot of different areas of the company came together to help us make FIFA 17. Ultimately the reason we did it was it’s a great game engine but it also means we can collaborate more. Within the company we always talk to the different teams, we have great relationships when it comes to sharing ideas but now we’re on the same tech, those ideas can now be much more useful; we can talk about how to do various aspects of the engine.

We actually asked the team at DICE for help on techniques involving lighting, what elements it uses and so on. We’ve added a lot more atmospherics to the game and much of that comes from the techniques DICE uses.

Clearly, DICE dominates an entirely different genre [first-person shooters] so you’d think there’s not much that we can share, but just the philosophy of how they do things has given us a lot of food for thought about what we can do, both this year and beyond.”

"All we can do is make a great game and that’s always our focus. But it’s hugely gratifying to be such a big part of Xbox’s European strategy."

Nick Channon, EA

Story Mode and the change in engine were announced during E3 this year. At Gamescom, the publisher unveiled the next big change for FIFA 17 – additions to the series’ Ultimate Team mode.

We wanted to do a few things,” Channon says.

Squad Building Challenge is an interesting addition – you don’t need to use the main game; you can use the companion app for it. That was something different: people wanted to have an experience that didn’t just involve playing the main game.

It has core mechanics where you can really use the players that you wouldn’t normally use within your club to fulfil a challenge and be rewarded for it. It’s a very different take.

We then wanted to create a mode that enhanced the depth and engagement of playing and give our core
players something beyond Seasons – they’ve been asking for that for a while now. They talked about doing an extra level or five divisions for elite players. We looked at that and really thought about creating a mode that everyone could play and enjoy but also rewarded those elite players. There are daily tournaments where you can go in and play five days of the week and there’s criteria to win that carries you do to the weekend.

Once you qualify everyone comes to play as many games as you can and go up onto a leaderboard. Those are aggregated into a monthly and we are starting to add a lot more depth into more competitive aspects. There will be some live events as well.”

In addition to this year’s FIFA boasting a wealth of additions, Microsoft announced at Gamescom that the title
was going to be bundled with its new Xbox One S console. Speaking to MCV, marketing chief Aaron Greenberg said that FIFA was core to the firm’s push in Europe.

As a development team, we don’t really get involved in bundles and things like that. But it’s cool any time your game is thought of in that way,” Channon says.

If you see someone wanting to bundle your game with their machine, that’s pretty cool. For us to be seen in that light and for our game as to be seen as something cool, that gives us a lot of pride.”

He continues: All we can do is make a great game and that’s what we’ll always focus on. But it’s hugely gratifying for us and we take it as a compliment. But it’s also something we don’t take for granted.

We have to keep innovating and developing and make it the best FIFA we can.”

One of biggest football releases of 2015 – in terms of headlines at least – was Psyonix’s Rocket League, a title that took the beautiful game, made it five-a-side where the players were cars.

The title was a big seller, making more than $110m so far, and showed there was an audience for more arcadey non-simulation football titles. EA has in fact released titles like this in the past, such as its FIFA Street.

FIFA will always be the sim game,” Channon says.

We don’t want to be everything to everybody. FIFA is an authentic 11 vs. 11 football sim. As for arcade mode or FIFA Street, that’s a franchise that is important to us. We have released it a number of times in the past. Right now it’s not something we’re talking about, so we have nothing to announce or say, but it’s certainly a franchise we like and has done well in the past. But beyond that, there isn’t much to say. All I can say, if we were going to go down the arcade route, it wouldn’t be within FIFA.”

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