EA Sports seems to be planning a lot for this year's iteration of its long-running FIFA series, with FIFA 09 supposedly coming packed with "250 key additions and improvements." We spoke to FIFA 09 PS3 and Xbox 360 producer David Rutter about what the big changes will be, and tried to confirm whether Australia's A-League will be back as a playable competition. For more on FIFA 09, check out our new preview.
GameSpot AU: First of all, can you confirm whether Australia's A-League is back in the game?
David Rutter: Yes, Australia's A-League is in FIFA 09. It debuted in FIFA 08 because Australia is an important football nation and one of the hallmarks of our franchise is our authenticity.
GS AU: How many different national leagues/nations have you got planned for this year's game? Any significant additions?
DR: We have 30 leagues and around 40 national teams in the game this year, including the Australian national side which is fully licensed with correct kits, badges, and player names.
GS AU: How significant an upgrade is FIFA 09 from last year's game? Can you take us through some of the highlights?
DR: We spent a lot of time reflecting on the community and press feedback from FIFA 08 and we managed to distill it down into 250 key additions and improvements to focus on for FIFA 09. The three biggest areas of gameplay improvement you'll see are in responsiveness, physical play, and their effect through attributes, plus the AI.
We've revamped our animations and animation technology to make sure every gamer-controlled action, including dribbling, running, tackling, heading, passing, and shooting, are much more responsive. Physical play and attributes were top of our agenda, too. For example, the team really felt that there wasn't enough difference between small, pacey players, and large, strong players. This year you'll need to become more familiar with the individual strengths and weaknesses of the players you have at your disposal and what they are capable of in real life. Fast players can nip in and out of tackles much faster than hulking defenders, but the little guys are much easier to muscle off the ball. Tackles are crunching-–and we can discriminate between planted and trailing legs, so if you contact a player in the right spot he'll go down or skip out of it authentically. We've also put in some midair collisions and stumbles that add a fantastic sense of realism.
For intelligence, we've massively improved positioning, goalkeeping, reducing the frequency the ball is intercepted in certain situations, through-balls, and enabling skilled players to curl passes and crosses. Furthermore, keepers can change their mind mid-dive when they realize they've made a mistake.
GS AU: How about new gameplay additions? Are there any new modes in single-player and multiplayer that you're introducing?
DR: One of the new modes that we are all very excited about is what we are calling Custom Team Tactics. The goal for the feature was to distinguish the teams in our game by making each of them play differently according to how they play in the real world. In the process of building this feature we figured out that this is something that should also be exposed to the gamers so that they can adjust the way that the team plays to suit their own personal style too. We put in a set of "sliders" so that you can tweak and tune the way your team plays as if you were the first-team coach or manager. There are 11 sliders and options in the game, broken down into "Defending" and "Attacking" sliders. Attacking is then broken down further into "Build Up" and "Chance Creation" sliders.
There are roughly 140 attacking and 40 defensive options. One example is to adjust the Defensive Mentality--in a high setting you'll have nine players pushing into your opposition half trying to cut-out play in much the same way as in the team pushing for a win, desperate to get the ball no matter how vulnerable that leaves you defensively. To counter this, the opposition could play a long, lofted ball over your last man and your striker will probably have 30 yards of space to run into between the last defender and the goalkeeper. The opposite example is low Defensive Mentality. Choosing this option means your defensive line is deep, leaving very little space for the attacking team to play in your half of the pitch. An attacking team is going to be met with a 10-man defense--so they're going to need to use some pretty inspired quick passing and movement to get near goal.
We have also expanded our popular Be a Pro feature into a career mode. You'll get the chance to choose or build a football player, control them for four seasons, and grow their abilities using the experience points you gain on the pitch. Hopefully you'll be good enough to get spotted by your national coach, with the ultimate aim of being your countries captain, and winning the International Cup to become a Legend.
For the first time in Be a Pro we'll be allowing fans of the mode to play unlocked, so if you fancy a change of position you can still gain experience for your player, whilst playing as another pro. And if your mate pops over they can join in--either playing along side you or trying to spoil your progress as your opponent. We are also going to reveal some additional new features in July and at the Leipzig Games Festival in Germany in August.
GS AU: What about online? Last year you introduced 5-on-5--will we see that again? Or perhaps an improvement on that?
DR: One of the features we are going to be talking more about later this month is Be a Pro: Online Team Play. Check back with me later this month and I'll be able to discuss our online features in detail.
GS AU: FIFA is obviously EA's sim franchise, with the arcade soccer left to Street. Do you ever worry that the realism in ball physics and tactics will become too much for gamers? How do you balance that realism in FIFA titles while still being a fun game to play?
DR: We spend a lot of time playing the game to make sure the realistic animations, ball physics, [and] intelligence of the players doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the game. At the end of the day FIFA is a football video game so we need to make sure we balance off what looks great, feels great, and sounds great with what is fun to play. By focusing on making 250 improvements to core gameplay this is all about creating a realistic, authentic, and playable game but we've also added some options to make sure football fans coming to the franchise for the first time will pick up a controller and have a lot of fun.
GS AU: Will there be any differences between the PS3 and 360 versions of the game? Which one was easier to work on?
DR: There will not be any differences in the way the game plays on PS3 and Xbox 360. They will be identical-playing games. However, PS3 will have a game mode exclusive to that system which we'll talk about later in the year.
We have an extremely talented group of individuals who work on each platform and there are challenges to overcome on any platform to make sure the people who purchase the game have the best experience possible. So I wouldn't say that one console is easier to work on, I would just say they are different.
GS AU: David Rutter, thanks for your time.