Earlier this week, Sega Europe and Sports Interactive announced that Football Manager 2006 will be arriving on European PCs and PSP handhelds this winter. The announcement detailed a number of exciting features for both games, so we got in touch with Sports Interactive CEO Miles Jacobson (currently loving God of War) to find out what else he could tell us about them.
GameSpot: Football Manager 2006 for the PC and Mac... What are the most significant improvements you plan to implement over last year's game?
Miles Jacobson: We've announced a few new features so far, but the ones getting the best reactions at the moment seem to be halftime team talks, interaction with unhappy players, manager contracts, and the new training module. We've never really felt that we've got training "right" in the game, with the balance between it being overly complicated versus too simple always being a problem, but we're hopeful we've got there this year with a new, fresh approach. The interaction with unhappy players makes you have to deal with your players closer, as do halftime team talks. The players' personalities are able to play a more important part in the whole management experience.
On top of these and the other features already announced, we'll be announcing a few more things in the coming months that should certainly make FM's fans happy, and which are certainly exciting me at the moment!
GS: Can you tell us how you've gone about revamping the player training aspects of the game for 2006?
MJ: We've had one of the lead testers, Neil, working closely with Kev, the lead coder on FM, to do something completely different! The whole training module is now controlled by easy-to-use slide bars, and it now has you telling your coaches what you want them to do for each player or for the team as a whole. The coaches you hire are now going to be a lot more important, as their stats are a lot more like they are in the main database. So you need a good balance of defensive and attacking coaches in there. It's going to add an extra element for those that play in lower league management and also for those that play in the higher leagues. It's easy to use, it's a lot easier to track the improvements (or not!) for the players, and, for the first time, I can safely say that the vast majority who are playing the game will use it, whereas it's been a "niche feature" previously.
GS: And what about the match engine? Any chance of us seeing Sensible Soccer-style players replacing the numbered circles that currently kick the ball around in the near future?
MJ: The match will look slightly different, but no Sensi style for the time being. The match engine is evolving over time, and both Paul Collyer and Ray Houghton are very happy with the progress with the match engine so far. I think that FM 2005 was the best simulation of a football match thus seen in gaming circles, and FM2006 will be as close as we've ever got to the perfect simulation.
GS: With so many new features being added to Football Manager every year, you're obviously catering to your hardcore fan base. But how do you plan to keep the game accessible for newcomers to the series?
MJ: I actually don't think that we are only catering to the hardcore. We're trying to make the game more accessible without "dumbing down" anything, and that will be seen by the extra information available in the game. We are determined to not just rest on our laurels by improving as much as we can each year; we also want to grow the market not just for our game but for the genre in general.
GS: Anything else that you'd like to tell us about the PC and Mac versions of Football Manager 2006 before we talk about the PSP version?
MJ: It seems that the newly announced features have really got people excited, but there is still more to come. So watch this space.
GS: So, Football Manager 2006 on the PSP? We certainly didn't see that coming. What made you decide to make a PSP version rather than, say, a PlayStation 2 or Xbox game?
MJ: Because, with the PSP, we are able to make a real handheld management experience. We want to see people who are taking the bus and the train alleviating the boredom of those journeys, and we want to see people on the beach getting tanned whilst realizing their dreams of taking Watford on to European glory! The PS2 and Xbox, for me, give gamers different kinds of experiences from handheld gaming, and handhelds simply aren't powerful enough for what we would want to do with a console version.
GS: OK, that explains why you're doing it, but now we have to ask how you're doing it? Presumably a lot of features will be dropped for the PSP game?
MJ: It's not a case of features being dropped; it's a case of creating the ultimate handheld experience. The PSP team has approached from a different angle, as none of us would ever suggest that FM on the PC or Mac is a pick-up-and-play kind of game. So we've had to be careful with the design of the game so that people can enjoy playing for 10 minutes or for a few hours. For those reasons, there will be old-style "radio commentary" rather than the two-dimensional engine (mainly for memory and processor reasons), but it's perfect for the gaming experience we are trying to create.
GS: Do you plan to take advantage of the PSP's wireless multiplayer capabilities at all?
MJ: It's too early to talk about that kind of stuff. We'd be mad not to be looking at it, but we need to get the gameplay balance spot on before we start looking at the flashy stuff! It would be nice though, wouldn't it?
GS: Thanks for your time.