At the recent unveiling of FIFA 15 in the UK, we sat down with producer Nick Channon to discuss what happened with the PC version last year, and what to expect from this year's now fully 'next-gen' version.
PCG: Why wasn't [the next-gen version of FIFA 14] released on PC last year?
NC: It's kind of hard to do a new console, right? The transition is not easy. So we put all of our efforts into making as good… We had to bring out a new game on two new consoles. It takes a lot of time and we want ed to make sure it was right. We didn't have the bandwidth and the time to move it to PC as well. We had a great PC game. Obviously our gen 3 game is really strong too. But now, with that code base that we're used to, we felt that we could add that extra platform. Moving to PC isn't easy either. It doesn't just happen. There's some work there. It was just a timing thing.
PCG: I thought these new consoles were just like PCs in a box and you could press the 'port' button.
NC: [Laughs] Not quite that simple.
PCG: So for PC gamers who are fans of the series, what's the main message?
NC: Ultimately you're getting the next-gen game. You're getting everything that's on PS4 and Xbox One coming over to PC. It's a stunning game. We're really excited about what's new this year. You're getting FIFA 15, you're not getting FIFA 14. Everything's there.
PCG: Arguably the leap will seem particularly pronounced on PC then, given that we've effectively missed an iteration. What do you will think will stand out for players who come to it fresh?
NC: For everyone it will be the look. It looks dramatically better and different from last year's gen 4 [next-gen] game. The leap from gen 3 [current-gen] is massive. Presentation is night and day different. It's a completely unique system. The variety in the gameplay and the animation and the fluidity this year. That leap is a very big one. We're really excited about it. There was a lot of feedback about why we couldn't do [the PC version] last year, and to be able to bring it out fully featured is really cool.
PCG: Did you get hate mail? People can be quite aggressive.
NC: [Laughs] We get lots of feedback on lots of things. At the end of the day we have to respect the fact that people are vocal about the game. Generally people like the game, they have feedback, and we want the feedback and take it very seriously. Some of these things we'd already planned to work on anyway, but it's reacting to that feedback too.
PCG: How confident are you hitting the 1080p at 60fps benchmark, because some multiplatform games struggle.
NC: Last year we were 1080p at 60fps right out of the gate [on next-gen]. So, for us, from a console perspective it's not a concern at all. We're already there. From our perspective that was never an issue.
PCG: Do you have a sense of the specs you'll need to do that on PC?
NC: Yeah, it's going to be a high-end machine. I'm not going to lie—it's going to be a good machine. We wanted to make sure it's a gen 4 [next-gen] experience. It's what people were asking for. Obviously with the release of FIFA World, which is in open beta now, that's our gen 3 [current gen] platform if you like. So we had to make sure that the PC version was high-end, because that's what people seem to want. But yeah, you'll need a good PC for it. [You can see the minimum and recommended specs here .]
PCG: Is there anything unique to the PC version?
NC: No, it's exactly what you'll get on console.
PCG: Going back to the gameplay, I noticed there was actual shirt-pulling happening now. I thought there was an edict from FIFA that you couldn't include deliberate foul play?
NC: Obviously we're careful how we do it. Y'know, we've had the push/pull mechanic in there for a while, and it's just an extension of that. Using the new technology, you would expect the other player to react, and the likelihood is it's going to be a foul, but we wanted to have that level of authenticity.
PCG: But you aren't able to have linesman get decisions wrong are you?
NC: No, but that's not for that reason. With our game, we don't want to make it wrong. If it's clearly offside, I think players would get pretty frustrated if you were scored on. In that sense it wouldn't be human error, it would be a videogame [getting it wrong]. That's why they're right.
PCG: I like the new contextual animations, but how far do you think you can push that aspect in terms of even more esoteric examples?
NC: Yeah, I think with all the features we do, we build them to be the best they can be that year, but also with the future in mind. 'Player Impact' was released in FIFA 12, and we're still doing significant innovation on it every single year. The presentation system was built last year to give us the flexibility to add this kind of stuff. In terms of adding emotion to our game, we're going to have some really great examples this year, but it's clearly something we can build on as well.
PCG: What I'm asking is would you go so far as to have Diego Simeone storming off the bench in the Champions League final—that sort of one-in-a-1000 moment.
NC: Well we need to be careful. You might see certain things in the heat of the moment that you won't see in our game, but we feel that if it's a natural reaction you seen in the world—we obviously have a limit—but it will feel very dynamic and emergent, which is what we like.
PCG: How about those new 10-man bundle celebrations—is that something that's contextual or are players able to trigger them in the same way they do other celebrations?
NC: It's contextual. You can still do your usual user-controlled celebration at the beginning of it, but the 10-man part is contextual, based on the kind of game it is, and how meaningful the goal is.
PCG: As an Arsenal fan I want to know if the Stoke fans will still be booing Aaron Ramsey, or have they got over it?
NC: There's a chance they might. That might stay in there. [Laughs] Those are the things we like, in terms of little nuance. Again, it's that authenticity side of it. Whether we'll say they've got over it this year I'm not sure. I'll have to ask the audio guys.
PCG: I know you can't talk about specifics in terms of mode, but can we expect substantial changes in terms of how career mode works—or do you tend to focus on one big area per year?
NC: What we do is look at the feedback we get from the community in all areas. So not just gameplay, but career mode, the online modes… What are people saying? We make changes based on that. There are a number of things we've still got to talk about, but there are definitely innovations.
PCG: A few years ago a FIFA producer told me that if his game didn't get 80%+ on Metacritic, he'd be sacked immediately. What pressure does EA put on you now?
NC: I don't think it's EA, it's us as a team. We've ultimately been successful over the last five or six years in particular. I think we put more pressure on ourselves. The judge that we have in our industry is Metarcritc. For us, we're very proud of of the number we've achieved in the last five years. We don't want that to go away. So I think most of the pressure is from ourselves. We weren't number one a while ago, we were number two. We're all pretty competitive in terms of we want to make the best game that we can, and to maintain the quality that we have, we have to innovate every single year.
PCG: Last year the game reviewed very well [on next-gen], but whether it's because people are complacent or cynical, there was still this assumption that because FIFA is an annual franchise, and it's iterative, a certain type of grumpy online gamer would still say: “Well, it's always the same.” What would you point to as the key innovation this yeart to prove them wrong?
NC: That's a really good question. I'd like to give you three or four.
PCG: Sorry, you can't.
NC: I will! [Laughs] Obviously the visuals are a huge leap forward for us. I think that's noticeable out of the box. But for me the responsiveness of the gameplay is a big change as well. The fluidity of the game, not just in how the stick feels, but the bringing together of the ball physics and the tackling—that feeling of control is really strong this year.
PCG: Whenever I go to see football games, the feedback I end up giving is “it's heavier” or “it's quicker”, which are such nebulous, subjective descriptions. It must be hard for you to parse that kind of response from testers. It's not like a first-person shooter where you can easily tweak how many bullets an enemy can take before dying. It seems almost more… Artistic?
NC: There are patterns, right? Are you getting consistently similar feedback? Because if you are then you know you've got an issue. These [press] events are great. We've done five of them in a week, in five different countries. Apart from it being tiring. The game is about 50% complete. We know there are some issues to be balanced out, and that's what we fully intend to do, but it's really good to get 50 people playing your game and you start to hear similar feedback. It's like: “Yeah, we knew that one, but actually that's a good one…”