FIFA 13: The brains behind the ball

By Cameron McMillan

FIFA 13's improved physics system is an attempt to make ball control feel less like a simulation, and more natural. Photo / Supplied
FIFA 13's improved physics system is an attempt to make ball control feel less like a simulation, and more natural. Photo / Supplied

We quiz FIFA 13 online producer Garreth Reader on the fairness of the first-touch feature, the series' rivalry with Pro Evolution Soccer and swearing at the TV.

What's your role at EA?

I design and produce the all the multiplayer game modes in FIFA. Basically anything you do online, that's what I do.

The beginning of the year, which is the October-November timeframe, is spent designing what new features and content we want to have in the game. It starts off just drawing boxes on paper and arrows, that sort of thing, and then gets into more documented blueprints of the designs of what we want to do.

Once we start working on it, it's a constant process of playing it, iterating on it, making sure it's working well and then at the end of the year it's all about bug fixing and getting it in shipshape condition. And then we launch on the 28th. For about two weeks to a month after launch we're just making sure everything is working well and running smoothly.

What's the last day you can work on the game before launch?

I think it's about a month for the game code but for the online stuff it's really just doesn't stop. It just keeps going. We're setting up servers and we're setting up game configurations. I know that the guys I work with back home are doing a lot of stuff right now just to get ready for launch.

You're in charge of the online play, how much has that changed dramatically?

It didn't even exist. When I started it was PS2 and Xbox games - there was no online play. We couldn't patch the game, we couldn't do title updates. It was literally just make the best game you can, fix all the bugs and then send it out and start working on the next one right away. That has obviously changed a lot over the last few years.

Even the modes you play offline we're trying to make it more connected. So we've got a feature called the EA Sports Football Club which has a news feed system for all your friends. So even if your friends are not playing online, they're still connected and they still show you that "Your friend Jimmy just signed a player in career mode" or "He just scored five goals in a kickoff match". Even if you're not online you're still in touch with your friends and can see their progress.

How big is the FIFA 13 team?

There is probably over 200-300 people. And that's covering multiple games, post-ship support (people who are just monitoring servers and making sure the game is working well, core team that's doing the actual game code. It's a huge team for sure.

What are the new features in FIFA 13?

We've got quite a few new features across the board but it all starts with gameplay for us. It's what keeps people coming back. So the mantra this year was to bring make authentic unpredictability of real football into FIFA. So we've got a couple of features that really brings that across.

The first one would be 'first-touch control' which is the ability for players to try and track the ball and control the ball correctly. In the past it's almost been perfect so as a player it felt a little bit video-gamey where it perfectly magnetises the ball to the player's foot. This year we tried to put in a system that tracks the physics of the ball, the speed of the ball the angle, the proximity to defenders, and the quality of the player to really recreate how real players trap the ball and control the ball.

So it sort of separates the ball from the player now. There is a lot more opportunity for the defender to come in and take possession if there is a bad touch. It just makes the gameflow a lot more open and free-flowing, and a lot more authentic.

The other feature is the player impact engine which is a physics-based system we put in last year that tries to replicate real player contact and the outcome of what it looks like, without having canned animation which tries to fake what it looks like.

This year we've been able to apply that physics model all over the pitch. So we're getting into now players jostling for position, pushing and pulling, pulling each other out to try and get possession of the ball. So instead having those canned animations for those events we'll be able to use the real physics and the size and weight of the players to do that.

I think those two features together really bring more unpredictability of football into FIFA and make it look and feel more authentic than it has in the past.

Is there a worry the first-touch feature will make it harder to play?

What I've found is that it really works both ways. It can giveth and can taketh away. I've been in a lot of positions where I'm on the offensive side of the ball and I do sort of a perfect lob through ball to my striker, which in previous games he'd get a perfect touch, go on and score, and depending on the quality of the player now it's not necessarily a perfect touch and it gives the defender or keeper time to come in and take possession. I think 'Oh I wish that was a better touch, I should have scored there'.

But then I've been on the defensive side of the ball and maybe made the wrong decision, stepped up when I shouldn't have stepped up and the guy I'm playing against has taken a bad touch which left me a chance to come in and take possession.

So it's really balanced it out across the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Even though it sounds like it might be more difficult to play it actually opens up more opportunities on both sides.

Tell me about the voice control feature with Kinect.

We're officially supporting Kinect this year in FIFA 13 and we've got a few features which are voice enabled. All the things you'd normally have to pause the game to do, like substitutions, tactics, formations, all those kind of changes, you can now just do through voice with Kinect.

If you're playing as an on-ball player and you're locked to a position, you can now tell your teammates to pass you the ball or tell them to shoot all by using your voice.

Probably the feature people have heard about the most is the referee feedback system that we've put in. This is kind of a fun thing we wanted to do, to show the power of the Kinect and really immerse people in the way they're playing.

We recognise bad words that you might say if you get frustrated, and he game will give you feedback that it understood what you said. So you can get warnings and the commentary team will mention 'Oh it looks like the manager is a little bit hot under the collar'.

There's not really a gameplay effect with that part of the feature; it's more pointing you into the world of football and giving you a more authentic feeling as the game understands what you are saying.

You have a pretty big rivalry with Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer. Do you guys play it?

We have the attitude that it's really healthy what to know what other people are doing in the industry, what your competitor's doing. So whenever their demos come out, or their game comes out we all play it and check it out and talk about it.

I think at this point with FIFA we've had so much success over the last few years that we kind of have a line that we're trying to get to and the features we're trying to make - and we don't really change that.

We're still moving forward to what we want to do but we definitely feel like in any industry it's healthy to keep up with what other people are doing and make sure you know what the competition is up to.

When does planning start for the next edition?

There are features that we've got one, two, three-year plans for, so maybe in year one of a plan we know we'll get to for certain but in year two or year three we have this sort of this master plan of where we want to get to.

The thing about that, we know what we want to do and continue to work on but definitely there is a lot of features that just come out of the feedback we get out of the community the people that play, social media all this sorts of things, all the reviews we read to see what people are saying. That changes the direction of what the next year's game is going to have.

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