'FIFA 10': Five things you need to know
ESPN's Jon Robinson previews the new edition of EA Sports' 'FIFA' franchise.
When it comes to sports games in the United States, "Madden" and "NBA 2K" rule the conversation, but worldwide, EA's FIFA series is king.
In fact, about a month ago, "FIFA 09" passed the 250 million mark in online games played, solidifying its spot on top of the online sports market.
"That's just an obscene amount of games played," laughs Gary Paterson, creative director of "FIFA 10" for the PS3 and 360. "It really puts the pressure on us as designers, because we know if there is a small imbalance in the game, it's not going to stand up to 250 million games. We have to work hard to make sure everything is tested and we don't have any exploits that we've had in the past.
"It puts the pressure on, but that's good too. To know so many people are enjoying your game, even nine months after it was released, it feels good, but we know 'FIFA 10' needs to be even better, and we're ready to deliver."
Just what do Paterson and his crew at EA Sports have up their virtual sleeves? Here are the five things you need to know about "FIFA 10:"
1. Round and Round
Dribbling the ball in soccer video games has always been about pulling off moves at 45-degree angles. As technology progressed, game producers found better ways to mask the movements, but it wasn't until "FIFA 10" that we finally had true 360-degree dribbles.
I'm excited about a lot of things about 'FIFA' this year, but the one feature that seems to resonate most with anybody who gets their hands on the game is 360-degree dribbling. This is something people have wanted for a long time.” -- "FIFA 10" creative director Gary Paterson
"I'm excited about a lot of things about 'FIFA' this year," Paterson says, "but the one feature that seems to resonate most with anybody who gets their hands on the game is 360-degree dribbling. This is something people have wanted for a long time and when we moved to the 360 and PS3, people expected it, and for us, it was something we wanted to do right away, but it was something we didn't want to do incorrectly. We didn't want to rush it, because if you rush a feature like this, you could disturb the balance of the game greatly. We finally felt like, after the great game we were able to make last year, that the time was right to dedicate our efforts towards 360-degree dribbling.
"In games previously, you could rotate the stick 360 degrees and the ball would just float around in front of the player. That's not what we have. The way we have it, the ball doesn't move unless the player touches it. It's all about making it authentic and it really opens up the game -- it opens up the fluidity, opens up the freedom, and you can do things with the ball now that you couldn't do before like shielding the ball from defenders. You have what we call wide touches where you can move the ball out wide while shielding the ball. Previously, if a defender was coming at you, you could either go straight or go at 45 degrees to avoid him, and if you went 45 degrees, that might take you into another situation that you didn't want to be in. It might take you away from the goal or into another defender, but now you don't need to do that. You can move in a subtle change of direction that keeps you away from the defender on your left and still puts you in position for a shot or keeps you away from the defender on your right.
"This is the kind of upgrade to the game that changes the way you play."
2. Just for Kicks
Set plays in "FIFA" have been a bit lackluster in previous iterations, but according to Paterson that is all about to change with the introduction of custom set pieces. Gamers will finally have the freedom to design their own dead ball moves, assigning specific roles and movements to outfield players one at a time, then working to get the timing right so when the play is called in-game, it's a play that truly is game-changing. "This really explodes the customization and variety that you get," Paterson says. "When you're in the practice arena, you pull up a menu and can take a free kick from any position or a corner and you can control the runs that the players make as you run up to kick the ball. This keeps the defenders on their toes as it gives you some freedom, some creativity, and adds a tactical nuance to the game. Then when you're in the game itself and you get a free kick or a corner, you can trigger one of these saved custom set pieces that you created in practice. It's huge because it gives you that feeling of being a manager and gives you more control over the A.I. as you create something spectacular.
"The inspiration for the feature was actually a free kick by Sweden back in 1994. Tomas Brolin hid behind the wall on a free kick from about 25-30 yards. One player ran up and ran over the ball which got the defense and the goalkeeper a bit confused, then the other players started running up to it and everyone assumed they were going to take a shot, but instead they passed it to the right-hand side of the wall. Brolin ran out from behind the wall and took the shot to score. This was the World Cup, the biggest stage ever, and it was such a spectacular goal people are still talking about it. We wanted to give people the ability to create moments like that and to just go crazy and create whatever they want to create.
"We created this one recently where a player hides behind the wall, then he comes out from behind the wall and you pass it to him. He lays it off backwards to the back of the box and this other player comes running up and takes a first-time shot. And the way the shooting system works in 'FIFA,' if the ball is moving towards you and you strike it well with a good player, you'll hit it really hard. So if you hide behind the wall and get it to him, the other team is expecting a shot, but if you lay the ball back for someone else, that other player will hit the hard shot that hopefully turns into a spectacular goal.
"When you pull something like this off, something you designed, and you were able to get the timing right, there's a great deal of satisfaction to be had.
3. Let's Get Physical
The jostling system in "FIFA 09" added physical play to the game, but it was limited in terms of possible outcomes. This year, expect the gameplay to be even more physical, but even more importantly, expect it to be more fluid.
We have a system now where the momentum really affects the outcome of each situation.” -- "FIFA 10" creative director Gary Paterson
"We have a system now where the momentum really affects the outcome of each situation," Paterson explains. "If the dribbler is strong, he'll step into the defender and push him off, so you'll have this bounce where the dribbler keeps the ball. Or maybe the opposite is true and the defender is much bigger and he'll bang the striker off the ball. And if the defender hits him too hard or too much, then there's a free kick because the defender was too aggressive.
"If both players are pretty even, they might come together and there will be a small bounce where both players will bounce away from the ball, then they'll come back together to keep fighting for the ball, and then basically, over the course of the next ten yards, one guy will get the advantage and push his opponent away from the ball.
"This just adds so much more variety to the system and it really feels great when you have this strong defender and he runs up and muscles somebody off the ball. You can really feel it and then the referee's involved, so it just adds so much more depth to the gameplay."
4. Skills to Pay the Bills
It's one thing to face a defender and stare him down, it's another to have the skills to use lateral dribbling to skip past him, setting up the game-winning goal. According to Paterson, "FIFA 10's" skilled dribbling is one of the most important improvements made to the series.
When you watch Cristiano Ronaldo play, he stops, faces the defender and starts to move from left to right. He's trying to get the defender to lean a certain way so he can beat him the other direction. That's what you're going to see in 'FIFA 10.'” -- "FIFA 10" creative director Gary Paterson
"We've got a dribbling system now where you have 360-degree dribbling, wide touches where the ball is out to the side and you can still have control, and skill moves where you pull the trigger and do anything from flicking the ball over a slide tackle to step-overs and spins, but one thing we didn't feel we had, which is used in real life an awful lot, is the ability to face-up a defender as a dribbler. Maybe you're dribbling and a defender comes in from the left, you will start side-stepping with the ball and face the defender. This gives you the ability to change momentum in respect to the defender a lot easier. It's a feature we're calling skilled dribbling. You pull one of the bumpers and it puts you into this state which is a bit slower than a regular dribble, but it's much more responsive so you can change directions -- left, right, left, right -- much quicker than you could with a regular dribble because you've faced-up your defender. Now you're doing side-step turns instead of full 180-degree turns on a jog.
"When you watch Cristiano Ronaldo play, he stops, faces the defender and starts to move from left to right. He's trying to get the defender to lean a certain way so he can beat him the other direction. That's what you're going to see in "FIFA 10" and we're hoping adding this ability to the game will add some extra depth to the one-on-one battles between defenders and dribblers.
"One of the ways I use skilled dribbling is getting down into the corner where I'm just about to cross it. I will face up the defender with the skilled dribble and move to the right. Then I'll hit sprint and exit skilled dribble to the left. Now the defender is moving to the right, I'm moving to the left and I'm beating him to where I can get my cross in."
5. From the Sidelines
Anyone who plays a lot of single-player "FIFA" knows that while the producers have focused a lot of efforts to improve the franchise's gameplay, the game's manager mode was in serious need of an upgrade. "We've been working so hard on gameplay, manager mode has been neglected a bit," Paterson admits. "But this year we're back and we're investing quite heavily in manager mode and will continue to invest in the coming years.
"One thing we're doing is really working hard on the authenticity of the mode. The authenticity of match results to make sure league tables are the way you would expect them. We're working on the authenticity of the transfer system so players move to the right clubs and clubs put the right bids in. We're making sure the values of players are correct and the wages of players are correct.
We worked hard on our player growth system this year so if you have a younger player who has a lot of potential and he plays and plays well, then he'll develop his physical, mental, and skill attributes.” -- "FIFA 10" creative director Gary Paterson
"Another big thing about manager mode is the authenticity of player growth. You can do what Chelsea does and buy success. If you have loads of money, you can buy the best players, or you can do something more akin to what a smaller club would do and sign cheaper and younger players who have a lot of potential that you can build up. If you don't have a player growth system that is authentic and consistent, then you can't have that, and you miss out on these subtle ways to play the game. We worked hard on our player growth system this year so if you have a younger player who has a lot of potential and he plays and plays well, then he'll develop his physical, mental, and skill attributes.
"Finally we worked on the authenticity of the football world. When you play the mode, we want you to feel like you're a part of this football world that is bigger than just your club. There are all these other clubs and they're negotiating transfer deals and rotating their formations to make you feel like you're a part of this living world. It really adds a lot to the game and hopefully the fans will enjoy the changes we made.
"When you have 250 million games being played, you have a lot to live up to, but I think we've really gone ahead and improved the game in ways people have wanted to see for years."