But why not just go the whole hog and allow people to play as a full team? For that, if you'll forgive the overlap, we turn to what Booth said in our accompanying interview. "At this moment it's still speculative. I think until we get the gameplay balance, we won't have a sense of how well we've done, and I think we're going in with an open mind so we're not trying to position this as the main new feature of FIFA," he says. Another reason is that you have to teach people things slowly. "A lot of people only interact with football on TV, and don't understand what you have to do as a left-back, or a winger or midfielder." Be A Pro will aim to change that. "It's creating a logical system that's going to give you positive and negative feedback. And at the end of the match, it will give you feedback on how you've done overall, and give you certain Achievements for perfecting each position," Booth concludes.
One thing that Be A Pro is certain to do is bring other areas of the game into sharper focus. The AI, for example. It'll be clear if they're not up to much. Fortunately, EA's been thinking about how they think, promising "a huge amount of investment on the player brain". "We have this technology the guys have built called 'threat maps' or threat-analysis, which does a picture of the pitch and it kind of works in peaks and troughs of opportunity versus threat, and so each player interprets it depending on where they are and their situation, and that kind of leads them to decision," says Booth. "So if an attacker's coming down on a defender, rather than it just going to pick on the attacker, he may move into a more threatening space to force the attacker into safer space and then make the tackle."
"As we improve on that you can imagine it becoming more adaptive, so if one player becomes more effective then his level of threat can increase and others would dynamically respond to that." True, and that ties again into the concept of giving the player strong and accurate visual feedback. The players, for example, have to have believable reaction times when the ball rebounds or flies over them. Along similar lines, the team has adjusted the shot-power bar so that in pressured situations, it fills faster, with the ball flying off-course. Previously it was harder to tell at-a-glance why your shot had come off wrong. Other refinements are going into areas like "finesse shots", which are reserved for players of a certain calibre. Meanwhile, years of work conducted on tactics and formation will start to bear fruit in how the AI behaves off the ball.
The broad scope of FIFA 08's refinement won't lead to a shortfall in content, either. Quite the contrary. "We have all the leagues and teams of the current-gen last year, which was 26 leagues, and we've taken that and we've added four more to take it to 30 leagues, so that gets us to 15,000 players," says Booth. "That's something crazy like 13,500 players more than Madden." Madden, eh? They're just not trying. "To put that into perspective, we deal with more transfers in our last ten days of production than the total number of players that were in PES6, Madden and NBA combined." He'd been saving that one up, obviously. Unfortunately, for today, they're continuing to save up chatter about online, too. Last year though Booth worked on the PS2/PC version of FIFA 07, with its Interactive Leagues online structure, in-game developer podcasts (still running), and other initiatives, and that should give us a flavour of what to expect. "When we do announce what we're doing, it's not just going to be about features - it's going to be about other stuff as well," he says.
Much, for now, remains in the air. We're not able to play full games on the build that EA provides us access to, because LocoMotion has only just been reintroduced following its tune-up and a lot background work remains to be done before the game's September/October shipment target. What we do play though hints at the treasures of the skill-move system. Just playing with Ronaldinho, twisting the right-stick around in logical patterns, is an invigorating experience for a life-long football gamer. Close control hasn't really been tackled like this before - certainly not to the same degree - and while it will take significant effort between now and later this year to make everything interact in balanced and convincing fashion, even in its infancy it's a powerful indication of the control FIFA aims to provide; the ambition commendable. And with Pro Evolution Soccer's as-yet shadowy next-generation redux set to launch against it, we ought to be spoiled for choice when the teams square up later this year.
FIFA 08 is due out on PS3 and Xbox 360 around September/October. It'll be joined by a "current-gen" version for PS2 and PC, and a separate Wii version, and we'll be bringing you our thoughts on those in due course. So, next week. Stop nagging.