You've modified the media interactions to allow for a range of moods. If you've been heavily beaten at home, can you send your assistant out there to talk on your behalf?
Yeah, you can do that in the Sim mode. In Classic mode you might get a question after the game but you'd only get one – there are no press conferences in Classic mode. And now that you've got the tone system as well inside Sim mode, what would actually be more fun is if you'd been battered at home after a game, to go out there and be really angry with the press. Before, all of the answers were given in one tone so you couldn't really get your personality across. Whereas now you've got the tone system in there, and you can really go to town on your team or you can defend them as well, depending on the personality you want to have inside the game.
Is it increasingly hard to create a balanced sim of what has become an unbalanced sport in recent years, what with all the so-called 'financial doping' that's been happening lately?
I think we're more balanced than the real football world. This year the financial market inside the game has changed because the recession's really bitten now. There are also other changes that have happened in the football world that maybe work better as a computer simulation than in the real world, such as 25-man squads. Having 25-man squad means that teams inside the game don't tend to do a QPR and go out and buy too many players for their squad, so in that sense we've always been slightly more balanced than the real world. But then we do also have the sugar daddies in there and you do get stupid sponsorship deals every now and again. I mean, I've lost count of how many sponsorship deals Manchester United have now; it's well into double figures. We have to be mindful of the fact that it happens in real life and so it happens in the game as well.
I suppose there are different targets according to how much money you have in the game anyway…
Yes, of course. The pressure on you as Man City's manager is way higher than the pressure if you take over Weymouth.
You've introduced new tax regimes and Financial Fair Play edicts - at what point does that get too much? Do you ever think perhaps you might have to scale back a little from the real thing, or is the intent always to create a totally comprehensive simulation?
It can't get too much because when we believe it gets too much for the person playing the game we will put systems in place to make it easier for them to understand it all. So this year the tax regimes is a big deal, Financial Fair Play is stricter, and you've got various other financial restraints from around the world that have been added into the game. All of which is why we now have a projection within the game so that people can actually see how everything they do is going to affect their budget – not just for the rest of the season, but for two years in the future as well. So when things become complicated, we find easier ways for it to be explained to people. You don't need an accounts degree to play the game, although if you did have an accounts degree then you would probably have a better understanding of some of it as a result. We try to explain it simply enough so that even I can understand it – and I don't have an accounts degree!
How have you changed the network game?
Well, we essentially threw away the old network game and brought it into the 21st century. We were still stuck in 1995, with people having to type in their IP address and be the host with other servers going into them. Now we're doing it all through Steam. Effectively, we've got dedicated servers, though they're not just dedicated to us – they're also used for Team Fortress 2 and various other games as well. And because of that we kept in the other mode in case people still want to use that. But this time we've also added in a bunch of new online modes, so you can set up your own custom leagues or custom cups, and you can even take your team from your saved game and use that in network games so you're not just restricted to the starter teams in the database.
Tell us a little about the more 'televisual' match engine. I gather you've been studying different camera angles during games on TV?
We have four different TV feeds coming into the office, so we watch a lot of those camera angles, particularly for replays. We try to do a lot of that stuff because of certain legal restraints there's only a certain level of the pitch that we're able to show, and we have to have a certain number of players on screen at any one time.
So are these legal requirements?
Yeah. Various licences work in various different ways. And when you're working in a world where you're covering 51 countries' leagues you've got to be quite careful about the legal and licensing side of things. So there's a certain level of zoom that we can go to, which is fixed. As well as there being a new camera angle called the rail cam, for all the other cameras you can zoom in as far as we're legally allowed to go. In other words, the cameras are a lot more configurable for the user so that they're able to get the view that they want to have. That's obviously a nice thing to have, along with hundreds of extra animations, better-looking pitches… we've just added water bottles to the pitches next to the dugouts in the last few days. There's a whole new physics engine in there, which isn't a licensed engine, it's something that we've written from scratch specifically for the ball movement. We've got improved collision detection as well, and there's also the AI – it wasn't so much ripped up and started again, but we ripped a few pages out and redid them. And that's been ongoing for the last two years with Paul Collyer and his team. Last year there were some new animations but we stayed away from changing the AI because we were already working on it for this year.
It's been a couple of years in the making and I'm pretty happy with the way it is at the moment. We've still got a way to go, and still got some things to fix with it which is one of the reasons we don't have a release date yet apart from before Christmas. But we're getting there, and we're confident of it being the best match engine yet.
So when can we expect the release date to be announced?
Basically, it will be announced once we've decided what it is. Thankfully, Sega are pretty good with us on things like that because it doesn't take long to manufacture a PC game - although it's interesting to see another publisher announce that [their game] would be coming out in a couple of weeks today [Konami's PES 2013] which they managed to keep incredibly quiet. We've got a target release date, but we won't announce the date until we know we're going to hit that date. Otherwise, sod's law is that we announce and something goes wrong, and then I have to announce two hours later that we're going back a week or something. It's just not worth it.