With the Super Bowl finished up, and March Madness about to wrap up, the attention of the world's sports fans will soon shift to the World Cup this summer in South Africa. Thirty-two teams will face off for the ultimate in bragging rights when the tournament kicks off in June. If you can't wait that long, you'll be able to get a taste of what to expect with the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa from EA Sports. The game is coming for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and PSP in April, and recently we got a chance to speak with the game's producer, Matt Prior, to learn about some of the newly announced features in the game.
GameSpot: What is Story of the Finals mode?
Matt Prior: We have partnered with Coca-Cola Zero for an ambitious feature called the Coca-Cola Zero Story of the Finals. We will re-create moments from the real World Cup during the actual tournament and will allow gamers to play them out in the game. From June 11 to July 11, as the actual World Cup is taking place in South Africa, we will select the most interesting match scenarios each day, and gamers will be able to download them for free and play them out in the game. For example, if in the real World Cup England were losing to the US with 10 minutes to go but ended up winning with two late Rooney goals, we would re-create that scenario and allow gamers to download it. It may take the form of a scenario where the gamer plays as Rooney and joins the game in the 80th minute in an attempt to re-create Rooney's real-life heroics or alternatively we may choose to let the gamer take control of the US team and try and prevent the loss.
GS: Describe the process of how the team will create these scenarios. How quickly will scenarios be available during the World Cup? How many scenarios will you be creating?
MP: As diehard football fans, we will all be watching every single game during the World Cup. While watching, we'll be taking note of the most exciting games and key incidents, and at the end of each day we'll sit down and decide which ones we want to create. The scenarios will go live within 24 hours after the actual games take place. We need testing time for each, so we can't get them out any sooner than that unfortunately. We are aiming to do a scenario for every game, but nothing has been finalized yet. I think it will be a very popular feature as it directly connects our game to the real World Cup on a daily basis, which is something we have never done before. For those disgruntled fans whose teams don't do too well, it also gives them the opportunity to vent frustration by downloading the game and showing them how things should have happened.
GS: Beyond the obvious of downloading new scenarios, will there be any online component to Story of the Finals mode, such as leaderboards?
MP: Not this time. If it proves popular, it's certainly something we could look at in the future, but I think for a first-time outing it will be enough for gamers just to have the ability to play alongside the actual tournament taking place on their TV.
GS: What scenarios will be part of the Story of Qualifying mode?
MP: There are lots, as the actual qualifying process created a lot of interesting opportunities. We actually had a tough time picking them as there were so many we could have done. I don't want to spoil the surprise completely, but there are over 50 to choose from, and they include scenarios from all of the different confederations. One of the great things about this mode is that it allows gamers to play with teams that they may not ordinarily pick, so they'll get to see all the different environments and stadiums in the game. Some of the more memorable ones we have included are Argentina's visit to Bolivia and having to deal with the issues of playing at high altitude; the historic playoff between bitter rivals Egypt and Algeria (the first time in the history of the World Cup a playoff of that kind has happened); the USA's visit to the Azteca in Mexico in a must-win scenario for the home side; and who can forget the game between France and Ireland in Paris and the now infamous Thierry Henry handball incident.
As an added bonus, completing each of the scenarios earns points which go towards unlocking the extra scenarios. The unlockable bonus scenarios are all from the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, and we all know how memorable that was. Remember the incident in the final!
GS: Elsewhere in the game, we've seen the composure meter that will be used with penalty kicks. What kind of fan feedback have you seen on this feature? Have there been any tweaks to the system based on this feedback?
MP: There was a lot of feedback and tweaks required on the new penalty kick system, as it is such a step forward to what gamers are used to. We actually ended up putting in a training mode, as we were finding gamers were missing almost every kick because they were not used to the added accuracy and control of the new system. The composure meter was all part of that tuning and feedback and is one of the features that help us emphasize the pressure of taking a penalty kick. Each player has a different composure setting in the database, and in addition to that, the composure meter will also be affected depending upon the importance of the kick. If it's simply a kick to extend a big lead in a friendly match, then there is not much pressure. If it's the kick to win the World Cup, that's an entirely different matter, and the composure meter will relay that to the user. The feedback on the new system has been hugely positive so far.
GS: What new features in FIFA 2010 will we recognize once FIFA 11 is released later this year?
MP: We have a central gameplay team that continually refines and improves the gameplay experience for all of our football titles. It's all part of continuing the evolution of the EA football games so they get better and better with each iteration. The gameplay improvements in World Cup will certainly feature in FIFA, as they make the game that much better. FIFA 2010 World Cup South Africa represent the best football game EA has ever produced, so we are not going to throw all of that effort away. Likewise, we put a lot of effort into the new penalty kick system, so we will consider carrying this over as well. In terms of modes, there are clearly a lot in World Cup that relate to just the World Cup, so they won't feature, but everything we do to improve the gameplay experience will be carried over.
GS: Tell us about Captain Your Country mode.
MP: Captain Your Country is a mode based around achieving the ultimate goal of any professional footballer and that is captaining your nation to World Cup glory and being the one who lifts the trophy at the end of it all. You play as an individual player, which creates a unique spin on gameplay. You can play as one of the real-world players, create a new player, or even bring your virtual pro in from FIFA. If you choose to create a player or bring in your virtual pro, you also have the added bonus of being able to grow your player. As you play well and move up the rankings from B team player all the way to the first team squad, your player's attributes will improve. Most of the producers chose to create a player, as we have also added thousands of new commentary names that you can assign. There is nothing quite like hearing the commentator shout your name as you score, so the created players make it that much more special. The mode is a local multiplayer mode for up to four players, and that also creates a unique spin on gameplay. As a team, you are all competing for the same prize: to take your team through the entire qualifying campaign and onto World Cup glory. The subplot, however, is that you are all competing on an individual level for the captaincy, so while you must all play as a team, the other players are your direct rivals for the ultimate prize. These competing goals create some very interesting and entertaining games and a very different gameplay experience than many will be used to.
GS: Players can use either existing stars or created players in Captain Your Country mode. We've seen this option in Be a Pro modes in other games, but I'm wondering if you have any data that shows how often people use one or the other?
MP: We do track data surrounding these things, as it helps us develop features that gamers want and ensures we focus our efforts in the areas most people use. Making created players has become more popular since we have put more features surrounding it. In FIFA 10, there were 2.8 million virtual pros created, and 770,000 of these players utilized the photo game face feature through easportsfootballworld.com.
You will always get users who want to play as their heroes, and that's perfectly fine, but using a created player has its own unique personal feel in my opinion. In Captain Your Country on World Cup, for example, we have added another 6,000 player names that users can assign to their player. If you are lucky enough to have a name that features in that long list (and most people probably will), then you can give your created player your own name and hear the commentator shout it as you score. You'll also see your name feature in news headlines in the Fifa.com screen we have incorporated in the game. It's just a couple of the things that makes using a created player that much more satisfying. Additionally, using a created player also allows you to grow his attributes, which is something you can't do with an existing player, so he'll develop as the game progresses.
We'll always support both, but as we continue to develop the created player and make the process much more user-friendly, with features like game face and so on, I think you'll likely find more and more people gravitating towards creating themselves. In Captain Your Country, if you are good enough, you get to see yourself lift the World Cup surrounded by the real-world team. How cool is that!
GS: Thanks for your time, Matt.