Q&A: AFL Premiership 2007 senior producer Justin Halliday

We talk with IR Gurus senior producer Justin Halliday about what's new in AFL Premiership 2007 for the PS2, how user comments have affected the game, and more.

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Earlier this week, Sony Computer Entertainment confirmed that Australian Rules Football would once again be hitting the PlayStation 2, with AFL Premiership 2007 scheduled for release on June 28, 2007. Melbourne-based studio IR Gurus--the team behind the previous four AFL games--is back with the development duties, and GameSpot AU tackled senior producer Justin Halliday recently to find out more about the latest instalment in the AFL franchise.

GameSpot AU: This is the fifth AFL game you've worked on. What lessons have you learnt from making the previous four?

Justin Halliday: The major lesson that we've learned is to focus on the core gameplay. This may seem like a truism, but often there's a lot of noise requesting low-value features, such as different training modes or minigames and the like. For us, these features take away development time from the actual core game experience. So we've directed most of our efforts to the on-field experience and the career mode, rather than into additional game modes.

GS AU: What major gameplay innovations are you planning to introduce to AFL Premiership 2007?

JH: The largest innovation in AFL 2007 is the expansion of career mode. The changes we've made allow the player to have a lot more control over the training of his or her team. For example, the player can set up his training to concentrate on different skill areas for each player or for groups of players. These training areas include skills, fitness, or reflexes.

GS AU: What stays the same from the last game? Will basic running, tackling, and goal-kicking controls remain the same?

JH: The basic controls are the same as last year. We were fundamentally happy with how the controls in AFL 2006 turned out, so we didn't want to change them for change's sake. We have improved a few of the more advanced controls, like the tackle shrugs and evasion moves, but players who've played AFL 2006 will be able to pick up AFL 2007 and start kicking goals.

GS AU: How about gameplay modes? What's planned for this year's version? Is the mission mode making a comeback?

JH: Mission mode is back, as are quick match, season, and career modes. We didn't want to jam in more gameplay modes, because more isn't necessarily better. So we've stuck with the same modes from last year, but with improvements to each of them.

GS AU: You mentioned that gamer comments have guided some of your decisions in the new game. What specific user comments have you taken on board for AFL Premiership 2007?

JH: We have very close links with some of the online forums like bigfooty.com.au. Some of the improvements that we've implemented based on their feedback include a player editor, more stats (including match, season, and career), and improved difficulty levels.

GS AU: What's being built from scratch? Will you be using the same game engine and AI from last year's game? What sort of graphical improvement are you expecting?

JH: AFL 2005 was a full rebuild of the engine for IR Gurus, and there were a lot of challenges with that version of the game. So for the 2006 and 2007 versions we've focused on improvements to the rendering engine, game modes, and core gameplay. This year we've implemented new graphical effects including shallow depth of field, bloom lighting, and better rain effects. Additionally, we've made a huge number of smaller changes to areas like the animations, cutscenes, and stadia.

GS AU: Why no PS3 version? How about the PSP?

JH: Our main focus has been in creating the best game for PlayStation 2. We certainly appreciate the new platforms on the market and are, of course, very excited about the possibilities that they offer. At the minute though, pushing the PlayStation 2 technology is keeping us pretty busy.

GS AU: How big a team is working on AFL Premiership 2007? How does that compare to previous years?

JH: The AFL team is about 15 people, which has been static for the last three years. All of the programmers have worked on each of the last three versions, with some going all the way back to Kevin Sheedy's AFL Coach back in 2001. The art, design, and production team have been on the project for AFL 2006 and 2007. The artists and designers are huge AFL fans, so their enthusiasm and knowledge has added to the polish of the recent versions of the game.

GS AU: Who have you got commentating this year? Is Dennis Cometti back?

JH: Dennis is back--it wouldn't be the same without him--and this year he's joined by Gerard Healy and Danny Frawley.

GS AU: One last question: Who'll win the Premiership this year?

JH: I'm barracking for St Kilda, but at this stage it looks like the cup may be going interstate again.

GS AU: Justin Halliday, thanks for your time.

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