FIFA 13 is set to release soon and I talked to Nick Channon, who is the Line Producer of the game, about the improvements in this iteration of FIFA along with some interesting things like competition from Konami. The game is set to release later this month for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
Kartik Mudgal: Loyal fans will buy FIFA 13 as they do every year, but tell us what makes this iteration so different to convince non-fans to give it a shot?
Nick Channon: Whilst FIFA 12 is seen and lauded as the absolute best in the series, at times it lacked the excitement and out of chair moments that FIFA 09 and 10 had. We’re putting those moments back in with gameplay features such as First Touch Control and Attacking Intelligence that will completely change the game so it’s as unpredictable as real-world football. But I think the feature that will appeal to new players is EA SPORTS Football Club Match Day. This year FIFA 13 and the real-world football season will be completely connected.
We’ve restructured our Kick Off mode around your favourite club. Football fans talk about their team and the games non-stop and what we wanted to do was capture those conversations and inject them in to the game. So we are going to update our database on a regular basis to reflect what’s happening in the real-world. We’ll look at form, injuries, suspensions, who’s playing well, who’s not, league position, goals scored… and all of that will then be reflected in your game in Match Day. And what’s cool is the commentary will reflect it too. So at the beginning it will talk about the teams’ league position and the importance of the game. If it’s a big game, the commentators will talk about it. They will mention how many goals a certain player has scored, if somebody’s on the transfer list or if someone’s been left out of the team for a reason. We’ll be doing this on a regular basis for the major leagues.
KM: Recently the news of FIFA 13 career mode getting internationals has been met with a positive response, what other career mode features has been added to provide a satisfying experience?
Channon: Besides adding Internationals – which is the biggest feature we’ve added to the mode in this generation of consoles -, we’ve also managed to re-write the transfer system. Players’ value will now change based on a variety of factors, such as how well they are playing, whether they are leading the league in scoring, assists, etc. You will also see more realistic transfers because now managers will be more intelligent about what players they want to buy and sell. For example, you won’t see the problem we had last year where big players would leave big clubs all the time, creating too much of a churn.
We’ve also added some new cool features to transfers, such as the ability to specify how much you want for a player, and also the ability to offer players as part of a transfer negotiation.
On top of that, we’ve looked at other areas of the mode and improved those too. We’ve rewritten the player growth system so that you can now build your club in a more satisfying way by buying young players and giving them enough playing time. We’ve added the ability to ask for additional transfer funds from your board; a bunch of new storylines; another in-game commentator that will give you updates on scores around the league during your game, and much, much more.
KM: The career mode was always something of a weak link in most FIFA games so far, do you think the one in FIFA 13 is something people should spend more time on compared to online?
Channon: I don’t think it’s been a weak link in FIFA for several years now, it’s just that it had to be re-written and that comes with lots of growing pains. In fact, Career Mode has always been our most popular mode. It offers something different that our online game modes. Online you get the experience of playing against other people in the FIFA community, but Career Mode is a more immersive mode with multiple competitions where you have to deal with other aspects of the football world, such as transfers, youth academy, team management. I think they tailor to slightly different demographics and they will both be vastly improved in FIFA 13.
KM: Talking about the online, has the netcode been improved?
Channon: The online code in FIFA 13 has changed drastically from FIFA 12 of course. In addition, our server code is constantly changing and improving for all EA titles, and FIFA 13 is no exception.
KM: Exploits are something that are regularly used online, what were the big ones that was annoying to fix?
Channon: The biggest change is moving our online Virtual Pro growth to the server, instead of storing it on the console in FIFA 12.
KM: Will this year’s iteration be the most balanced one yet?
Channon: Yes. I am really happy with the way that Attacking Intelligence and First Touch Control effect the balance of the game this year. Attacking Intelligence creates a lot of new looks for you in attack, but First touch control makes you think about which is the best, and if you play it poorly, can create a lot more opportunities for a battle for possession and dispossession. Throw in the improvements to the effect of push and pull and the ability to use your body in defense, and it really feels like anything is possible in FIFA 13 on both sides of the ball, and I think that’s the sign of a well balanced game.
KM: Coming to the visuals, there’s always a limit to how much you can improve that due to the aging consoles, but still the game does look fantastic. Tell us what does FIFA 13 do better than the last game in the graphics department.
Channon: One of our primary graphics features on FIFA 13 was implementing a new runtime environment lighting feature. In previous years, time of day, and weather conditions were baked as part of the stadium environment. Many of the environments had a limited number of options for time of day and weather. In some instances, some stadiums had only one time of day. This made it difficult for us to authentically reproduce the varied start times of matches in various leagues around the world.
On FIFA 13, the new runtime lighting for environments not only allowed us to add important times of day we were missing, but also allowed us to offer smaller half hour increments to the visual appearance of the stadium environment at kick off. We were able to re-light approximately 80% of the stadiums in the game to take advantage of the new runtime lighting features. I think it’s an achievement that we were able to maintain the visual fidelity of our stadium environments with previous versions of the game, while vastly increasing the variety of lighting and weather conditions available for most of the stadiums. It also opens opportunities for future versions of the game.
Our presentation has always focused primarily on the players and action on the pitch. For FIFA 13 we wanted to start extending the presentation visuals outwards, to more accurately reflect the life and atmosphere of a match day around the pitch. As such, we have added animation to sideline characters such as managers, substitutes, stewards, cameramen and photographers. This has allowed us to add a lot more authenticity and variety to our intro sequences to every match, and also has a very noticeable impact during gameplay, where you can see the manager walking around the technical area, giving instructions and reacting to what is happening in the match, as well as substitutes warming up along the sidelines or end zones later in the match.
KM: Will the PC version be on par with the console one? It’s something the PC gamers have always asked, especially when it comes to the physics engine.
Channon: Last year FIFA 12 brought the Player Impact Engine over to PC so that the game was identical to FIFA on the X360/PS3. It is the same this year. For FIFA 13, PC gamers will be happy to know that they will be able to play using their mouse and keyboard. This is something we are trying this year for offline games. We have also introduced a new feature for PC called Teammate Control that enables you to use the mouse on attack to draw running paths for teammates, essentially directing them into areas you want them to exploit. Defensively, you’ll be able to use this feature to man mark attacking players. All you have to do is use the mouse to select at an opponent and your nearest teammate will go over to defend him.
KM: Competition from PES should be an exciting thing for you guys. The PES team is raring to go, do you guys feel confident in your team and your product to maintain the vast lead once again?
Channon: Our goal each year is to make not just the best football game but the best game, period. That means each year we have to bring our best. This year is no different. We are going to continue to push the boundaries of innovation and quality to make one of the best games in the world while looking over our shoulder to keep an eye on what Konami is doing. The competition pushes us to make a better game.
KM: Thanks for your time, but one last question. How are you preparing for next-gen?
Channon: Right now we are putting the finishing touches on FIFA 13, finalizing the best football game we have ever made. Once we bring this game to our fans we will begin to look ahead to the future.
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