"So that was why you could only turn 45 degrees," FIFA producer Dave Rutter tells me, brow furrowed, while sliding two mobile phones around a table. He's trying to explain - aided by whatever was in his pockets - how the animation system had to change to accommodate the introduction of 360-degree control.
"It was a limit in our own animation engine, so we rewrote all of it for this year. When we say we're going to do something we do it," he adds, somewhat unnecessarily. But this sums up the mentality of the FIFA team. Desperate to impress, reeling off figures, bullet points, feature lists, improvements almost apologetically, in the hope that we'll like their game a little bit more this year.
Dave, old chap, do calm down. We love FIFA 09. It's the best footy game of this generation. Not that you'd think so listening to the man in charge. "It's horrid," he cries, describing his experience of going back to it from FIFA 10. "If you play it and you go back, it's horrid." I did. It really isn't.
But, yes, what he's getting at of course is: when you first play FIFA 10, 360-degree control may not smack you around the face with a stick of obvious. It's only when you go back that you notice. "It's like getting a good haircut," Rutter suggests. I wouldn't know. "If people haven't noticed, great."
Anyway, back to FIFA 09 slamming. What else wasn't good enough, Dave? Manager Mode, set-pieces, lofted through balls, goalkeepers and more, apparently. There's a serious point here. Having overtaken PES in both critical and sales success, the biggest threat to the continuation of FIFA's hegemony is complacency. You can argue that complacency is what's done for PES so far this generation. But there's not a shred of it in evidence here; nor cockiness; nor arrogance. Just a desire, tinged with possibly hard-wired paranoia, to be better.
This is Eurogamer's second kickabout with FIFA 10, having been treated to a practice match at the Emirates a few months back. The code is more advanced now, naturally (75 per cent complete), but most notably there's a New Feature Announcement: Create A Set-Piece, an editor that allows you, amazingly enough, to design your own free-kicks and corners for use in-game.
The inspiration for this, apparently, came from Tomas Brolin's sneaky goal for Sweden against Romania in the quarter-final of the 1994 World Cup. Sweden's move was straight from the training ground. But it was impossible to replicate in FIFA 09. So they've built an editor to do just that and more.
Accessed in the current build by hitting the back button during the pre-match practice sequence, the editor splits the final third of the pitch into a number of square zones, covering the corners, and the outskirts of the 18-yard area. You can create set-pieces for each zone (up to four), with a maximum of 32 that can be saved to your profile.
It works like this. Highlight a player you want to move with the right stick, hit record, and then manoeuvre him in real-time exactly where you want him to go during the move. His motion is tracked by a thick bluey-white line as a visual aid. You can repeat this with as many players as you like, slowly building up the set-piece to your exact specifications. All the while you can test it out against an AI defence at the push of a button, easily delete and re-record anything that's wrong, then save it to the d-pad for easy access in-game.
You can, of course, still take free kicks the regular way, but for the perfectionist, the tools are now in place to create elaborate works of choreography. Or, as I discovered within moments of trying it out, a giant white-line pair-of-testicles-and-penis shape in the penalty area (two players performing a mirrored semi-circle then parallel charging towards goal. Completely ineffective, but delightfully immature).
"Well done. I applaud your creativity," Rutter deadpans at my creative flourish. Well, he brought up nob-drawing in his presentation, I suggest. "I said you could draw funny pictures, I didn't say that!" Nevertheless, it's official: FIFA 10 lets you draw massive nobs. I digress.
Sadly, it's looking unlikely you'll be able to unleash your set-pieces against the real world. "Will we let people use them online? I'll be open about that, it's up in the air at the moment," he concedes. "[With] custom team tactics last year, we didn't anticipate the levels to which some individuals would go to exploit the systems. I think I was probably a little na´ve about some of our fans. And I'm not so na´ve now. So I don't want people to exploit this feature and then ruin the game for the vast majority." Exchanging set-piece data with friends, meanwhile, is completely ruled out for this season.
That's the surprise out of the way. Now, having previously been promised improvements to Manager Mode, some details. It's the "most popular mode outside of exhibition," says Rutter, but last year was "marred by a number of authenticity issues and wasn't particularly engaging". More bashing. Take that, FIFA 09! Moreover, in private the FIFA team will tell you the one aspect of PES they fear the most is the depth of Master League. "It's about time Manager Mode got some attention, really," Rutter notes. And so it has.
Predictably, the focus has been on improving authenticity. Transfers have been overhauled to reflect a player's "ambitions", so it's no longer just a case of the bigger and richer the club, the more attractive. If a team's already cheek-by-jowl with midfielders, it's harder to buy another, however much cash there is to throw around.
Additionally, AI matches are resolved on a per-player basis for greater realism, and player development has been tweaked, so precocious youngsters aren't guaranteed stardom "just because they play for Man United". Elsewhere, you can now get a game of five-a-side going in practice mode, which is now also multiplayer should you wish to share in such fleeting larks. No loading, no fuss.
And if you're wondering about Ultimate Team, well, carry on wondering. "Not talking about it at all," insists Rutter. And then proceeds to do just that, adding: "What I will say is we were very pleased with the success of Ultimate Team this year". It'll be back, then.
The final pieces of the FIFA 10 puzzle will be revealed at Gamescom next month. "Everything will come out in Cologne. An all-singing, all-dancing FIFA show." A figure of speech rather than a new feature hint, one hopes. Which leaves time to reflect on the latest build with a few quick matches.
Rutter's right about 360-degree control. Having the full range of movement at your disposal is subtle, yes, but offers a distinct, refreshing sense of liberty. Which, yes, only truly becomes apparent when I return to 09. Critically, it just feels right. And the bulletpoint "freedom in physical play" the game is said to offer evolves from this. The ball, as Rutter explains, is "never 100 per cent under the player's control". And with players now darting in literally from all angles, it's now possible simply to take it off the player without even tackling if timed correctly.
Other changes are harder to gauge over a short playtest. Finesse shots seem tougher to pull off, and the refs are needlessly punitive, with far too many questionable fouls disrupting play. "Refs aren't fully figured out yet," Rutter reckons. Nor yet are the players, all of whom are currently undergoing final tweaking and balancing.
Berbatov, for instance, is slower in FIFA 10 than last season's game, after his impeccable turn as the can't-be-arsed striker. Ronaldo, meanwhile, is still with Man United in this build, though his greedy Judas bags are doubtless being packed by EA Canada coders as I type.
I am also delighted to report that the absurd, irritating and completely unnecessary spectacle of that monstrous EA Sports logo that exposed itself like a corporate flasher during every replay has also been toned down considerably. "There is a lot of that that goes on at EA," Rutter nods, with as much diplomacy as he can muster. "It's a little bit more tasteful."
Right now, FIFA 10 is solid, smooth, satisfying and scoring in all the right areas: an already stellar experience getting a smart makeover in all the right areas, with appetising new features and the promise of more to come in Cologne. I'm excited. Even if Dave will probably hate it this time next year.
FIFA 09 releases for all major formats on 2nd October.