FIFA 12 Mega Interview With Lead Gameplay Director Aaron McHardy

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Our UK correspondent recently had the opportunity to conduct an interview with FIFA 12’s lead gameplay producer, Aaron McHardy. We asked him a lot of questions, and got a lot of great information! Check out the entire, megaton interview below, and tell us what you think via your comments!

Transcribed by Shubhankar Parijat and Pramath Parijat.


This is George Reith from GamingBolt.com, and I am speaking to Aaron McHardy. Aaron, what’s your exact job description, then?

I’m the lead gameplay producer for FIFA 12. So I’m in charge of making sure all of our designs come to fruition in terms of what the players are actually doing on the pitch when you’re got the controller in your hand and knocking the ball around. All that stuff is what I do.

Fair enough, sounds like a pretty heavy burden to be honest. So anyway, let’s drop right into the questions. I’m curious about the kind of competition that the FIFA series has to go against, if you know what I mean, in the market. Do you measure yourself against the kind of Pro Evolution Soccer games, for instance, in terms of playablity?

Yeah, I think it’s a good think to have big competitors like ourselves and Konami in the same space. We’re always pushing each other, and we’ve always got one eye on what they do. They’ve been making fantastic games for years. And, you know, we’re watching what they do and they like to watch what we do, and I guess the two big games in the same market really push each other to really not relax and keep pushing the boundaries of what can be done in a football game. So it’s good to have the Konami guys around. And I’m sure, like I said, they’re watching us and we’re watching them and we’re pretty conscious of each other.

Yeah, you get two better games in the process, I’m sure, with a lot of competition. So, I’m just curious about specifics to do with that. I mean a lot of new features in FIFA 12 look set to give the players a lot more control. So how’ve the recently announced Pro Evolution Soccer 12 features, like off the ball control and teammate control… have they concerned you at all, or…?

No, I don’t think they’ve concerned us. I think we have forms of those things but not to the same extent or the same way that Konami have done them. But we really wanted you to be expressive and be creative on the pitch and do what you like to do with the ball. And we wanted to build features that would allow that expression, and that level of control. That’s kind of where we’re taking it. I know that they’re taking it in a different direction, and being more specific about things like player runs and all that. But I think what we’re doing is better for our game, so we’re not concerned about the features they’re doing, but I’m sure they’ll fit perfectly with their game.

Yeah, kind of different directions, I guess. Fair enough! I’m just thinking back to like, you know, the old days when I was a kid, playing soccer games, and you didn’t have sensible soccer and this “pro” stuff like that. And you know, they’ve come so far, and now we’ve got three hundred and sixty degree movement, and we’ve got free ball control. What, in your opinion, is the next big step that football games need to make? You know, the next “holy grail” they need to get, so to speak.

That’s a good question. Something that we’ve struggled with every year is trying to come up with “what is that new innovation?” And I think that this year we’ve got a few features that are trying to push the boundaries of what can be done in a football game. I think the big one, off the top, is our Player Impact Engine. I think it’s probably the biggest change we’ve made for a game since we rewrote the engine for the next gen consoles. It’s a massive change and what it is, is that it’s putting real world physics into the game. The players, when they come together and they collide, they feel like they’re interacting and are understanding the impact that happen on the body, and it gives us a lot more realistic behaviours in this year’s game. But going back to your question, I think what it does is, it builds a new foundation for us to build cool, interesting features for years to come. I think the true injuries features, because we’re harvesting information on physics and contact, we wrote a system that helps us understand how much trauma the human body can take, and that when this stuff happens in the game, the video game player should be injured just like the real world player would. So we’re getting towards this realistic behaviour to take that realm of what’s possible in a video game one step higher.

Aside from this true collision feature, what else has changed in FIFA 12 for players who enjoyed FIFA 11? Like, what kind of new features do they need to buy FIFA 12 for? I mean, what’s the big new one?

I think there are a ton of changes. I will talk specifically about the gameplay and what I know. I don’t know if you’ve heard David Rutter, our producer, speak of the trinity of gameplay features. What that is, the big three features we’re doing this year, are the Player Impact Engine, which I told you briefly about, and the other two are a feature called Tactical Defending and a feature called Precision Dribbling. And again, going back to evolutionizing vs revolutionizing, they really change the way football games are played. I think Tactical Defending is big. I think it’s a bit difficult to describe in words or in videos, but you really get to notice it once the game’s in your hands and how different it is. And what it is that we’ve changed the way we fundamentally defend in football games. For many years, the functionality has been, both in our game and the Konami game, that you hold down the pressing button, and what that does is that sends your defender toward the dribbler, towards the ball and when he gets close enough, he launches an automated tackle. We thought it took half of the game away from the gamer because you only really have the deep, rich, engaging experience in the game when you’re attacking. Equally important is the skill involved in defense. So we wanted to try bringing some of the back into the game this year. So what we did was, we removed the pressing button functionality, something that fans call the heat thinking missile, because of the way it behaves in the game and it’s a little bit out of balance with the attack. So we’ve removed that functionality, we’ve put in a new functionality called “contain.” So what that is, is that your player will automatically, now, position himself in a good spot and wait and be in a good position to intercept potential passes or pick up a ball that the dribbler’s given a bad touch, or put yourself in a good position to make that decision to go in and commit to a challenge- which is the second piece of the puzzle.

We’ve also, actually, put all of the standing tackles onto a button press this year. And, I think that’s quiet neat. What it does is it introduces the element of timing in defending, which again, going back to what I was saying earlier, will bring in that skill and that art form of real world defending into the game. Now you can make the decision of when to go in and commit to making that challenge, which is what real defenders in the real world are thinking about constantly. “Do I need jockey, do I need to back off? Can I go in and defend all the way?” So now we’re putting that element of timing into the game and it really changes the dynamic of the way the game plays.

Could you explain to us the “Precision Dribbling” as well?

So, yeah, again, we’ve talked about the “holy trinity” of features, because the three of them are very nice together. And you have a new way level of control on the defending side of things. We wanted to, also, sort of changed the way you think about attacking and the way you bring down the opposition. A lot of people just hold the trigger and run as fast as they can along the sideline.  So you have that sprint pace that people stick to. So we had a job, that people don’t keep doing that. So now we have that one more level of pace, that slower, close controlled pace, which is what we’ve added this year, called Precision Dribbling. So it’s a new way to dribble, and you’ll be able to keep closer control of the ball in traffic and be able to hold that play and dribble well, shielding the player. So what we’ve done is, added, based on context, when we understand situations when a player on real world wouldn’t take such a big touch.

To give you a little idea about the inspiration of the feature- I was watching a game one day and Diaby had the ball at the top of the box for Arsenal. I watched him, and he made one, two, three, four, five touches, and he only moved about… maybe a yard. With five touches of the ball, you’re probably gonna move half the pitch, because that’s how far the touches go, and that’s the fidelity of touches you have. So we wanted to introduce that close control so we could spend time at the top of the box, dribbling the ball without traversing too much of the pitch, so you could spend time in that interesting are of the pitch, where a lot of goals are created, a lot of chances are created in football. Just that area at the top of the box.

Normally, in FIFA games, in football games of past, if you get into that area, there’s somebody covering you with our old pressing functionality with two players closing you down, with all attackers covered. It’s so difficult for you to spend time there, you immediately pass the ball out, and you try and find another way to dribble it down the opposition. So what we’ve done is changed the way the game plays, changed the way the game’s balanced, allow you to have a lot more time on the ball to think about your decisions, with the addition of both those features- Tactical Defending and Precision Dribbling. I feel that when they work together, you really get a new experience out of FIFA.

Yeah, it sounds like all the new features are working well together to create this kind of new football experience. But if you had to break it down, what would you say of the three is the big new feature? Like if you could only tell people about one feature to get them into FIFA 12, what would it be?

That’s a really tough question! I think the immediate impact, the immediate thing that people will pick up on is how different the collisions feel because they’re fluid. They’re organic, they’re almost living in themselves, and what you see in the game is what you would have imagined you’d see in real life. Things like clipping not really being as much of an issue this year because we’re doing things all in real time, so a player leg will bend according to how it is kicked and impacted. So you will see this when you go into a replay, and when you watch the collision. This just makes you feel like momentum is preserved a lot better. So I think immediately people will pick up on that.

As for what is changing the way we play video games, play football video games, I think Tactical Defending is quite a big feature because it really makes you think about the defensive side of the ball in a way that you haven’t had to do in football. I think it allows people to think about defending. Before they just turned off their brain and held that pressing button until they got a chance to get back on the attack. So it really doubles your engagement in the game. It makes you think tactically, it makes you think like a football player when you’re playing the game to find success. So, I think, fundamentally, that one’s probably is a very big change as well.

A few months ago, some other features like Matchday Atmosphere, Player Backstories, and the inclusion of dug-outs, these kind of other features were revealed. But they haven’t really been mentioned much since then in any of the press material or anything I’ve seen. Are these features still in the game? And if they are, can you shed a little light on how they’re gonna work?

So, the other features we are announcing are around career mode. So we have ton of stuff in the game. I think this is one of the biggest games we’ve put out in a single year in a long time on this franchise. So it’s difficult for us to cover everything. But I think the other big area we’d like to touch on is the Career Mode stuff. We’ve done a lot of work in Career Mode to make the mode a lot deeper and more engaging, but also make it translate more into the backend of the game. So we’ve got additions to things like team chemistry being played off your successes, having good morale for your players – they’ll understand how well your team is doing, they’ll understand their squad well, they’ll understand their contract and what it means to them, they might get pissed about their playing time, or they might get happy that they’re actually in the game. All these things well affect their morale, and it will be up to you as the manager to manage those kinds of things, because that will have a real tangible effect in the backend. So if they’re upset, they may not react to situations as quickly, or maybe not make that extra run, because they’re upset. Whereas if they’re all fired up and happy, they’ll be bustin’ their gut out there for the team.

I think you touched on match importances. Again, this will affect the game in the back end. So, for big matches, the guys will be getting up and doing everything that they can to make sure the team succeeds. The animations for when they’re playing in out of place situations, they’ll be like clapping teammates, or angry because they made a bad pass… you’ll notice the difference on the pitch.

There’s also form – form’s another big one, so we’ll be tracking the match to match performances of your players, and we’ll be giving you this information, so as manager, you have to make that decision, because there will be a real impact to their attributes in the backend. So do you want to play somebody who’s out of form? Maybe a striker who hasn’t scored in eight weeks, and he’s out of form… do you want to get him onto the pitch and out of the swamp, or do you want to go to the third striker and get somebody else there to get the job done? That transition between the career and the pitch mode is becoming more enriched, they’re tying up more tightly together, to make you feel like your decisions are having an impact on the team. So that’s one aspect.

The other aspect of what we’re doing in the career node is along the lines of news stories. All of it is dynamic, and it’s based on the intelligence of the player. So, say a player is out of form and then taken off the team, and he’s angry with the club, and he doesn’t want to play anymore, and he wants a transfer… before you know it, news stories are being generated around this, and other teams are expressing interest. It really makes you feel like you’re immersed in this whole world around you that’s operating all the time.

We’ve also done a lot of work in a lot of the fundamentals of career mode. I won’t go into much details on them, but things like the CPU picking up on players you haven’t listed, it creates this interesting environment where you might not have as much control over your team. So if a team like Chelsea or Man City comes tapping up, and they want a player, they can offer you something even if you didn’t list the player for transfer, which is kind of how it works in the real world. I’m an Arsenal fan, so I know very well when Barcelona tries to get Fabregas from us for the last year and a half(laughs).

So yeah, you don’t really have that same control as before, plus the way the CPUs of other teams are, they may overbid or underbid for a player, so you need to make an assessment of the value of that player is… to really make you feel like that person, that that club is out there, and it really wanrts your player.

Sounds like there’s a lot going on in there apart from just the match to match core football playing experience. Sounds like there’s a lot going into the world as well… which is great to hear. But just in terms of actual game modes, are there going to be any new game modes, online or offline?

I can’t tell you about everything just yet. If you come and check in in around a month’s time, I’ll tell you a little bit more about some of the cool new things we’re doing with the online. As for the offline mode, we’re focusing on the career mode and the pitch experience today, but we do have some cool new things for you too, so check back in a month’s time!

Well, it’s good to know people have something to look forward to then. And we recently found out there will be pre match build ups in FIFA 12 as well. Will these be just for the big matches, or will these build ups happen for every single game you play? And just how detailed will these be?

So I think what you’re referring to is the new presentations we got in the prematch. So what you’ll see there is a lot higher production value, so the overlays have been redone, you’ve got intro NIS’s, and badges coming in, showing the league you’re playing in, and the team logos and all these sort of things. So it’s just about a higher production value of what you see prematch, which makes it seem like you’re watching a broadcast of a match you’re about to play in.

I just wanted to go back to your previous question a little bit, because I think we were talking about new game modes, but I think there’s one thing that’s worth mentioning, it’s like an all encompassing thing that happens in FIFA. It’s something we call EA Sports Football Club, and what this is us tracking everything you do in the game. So it’s not exactly a game mode, you don’t select EA Sports Football Club from the menu, it’s just something that’s there all the time. And what it is is that it’s tracking how you do all the time in career mode, it’s tracking how you’re doing in the matches, it’s tracking how you do in everything you do in the game when you buy it. And what we do, we want to do that, and have a leveling up system for your player, so you can see how well you’ve done in FIFA just for yourself, you can see how you’re leveling up and progressing, but also you can compare how your friends are doing, and how you guys are doing against everyone else in the world to see how much you’ve actually accomplished in FIFA. And some other cool things that are going on is, we take that information and we apply it to your favorite club, because we want this kind of atmosphere like in the real world where we have this allegiance to a club, and everything you do in FIFA is contributing to that club. So it’s all about you, it’s all about your friends, it’s all about your club. And EA Sports football will also be injecting new ways to play the game and new ways to experience the game. So for the entire twelve months following from when you bought it, we’ll be putting in little challenges, trying to get you to accomplish new things in the game, and get more points and progress further through your EA Sports Football Club avatar. So, it doesn’t fit into a new ‘game mode,’ but I thought it worth mentioning as a cool thing we’re doing.

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