The Special One

EA's Joe Booth on what the future holds for FIFA.

As you'll read elsewhere on the site today, being all in love with us and everything, FIFA 08 is taking shape, and it's a shape we like. It's taking ball physics and simulation to new levels of fanciness, introducing a control-one-player-only mode, and developing a skill-blending system that could rival the best beat-'em-ups for versatility of gaming expression. Among many other things. Having shown us the game and let us play around with it, producer Joe Booth sat us down in one of EA Canada's swanky boardrooms and answered some more of our silly questions.

Eurogamer: What are the best and worst things about having the FIFA brand?

Joe Booth: The best thing is that stamp of authority - I think that's the best thing and that's the worst thing, actually, in that it can make us appear businessy, the guy in the suit, predictable. That's one of the things we've been trying to shake.

Eurogamer: Do you ever get emails or phone calls from footballers demanding you make them thinner or taller or anything?

Joe Booth: We haven't. Some of the North American sports [games] get into some argy-bargies. We haven't had it yet.

Eurogamer: Do you think there are better solutions waiting to be found for things like pressing the ball and making that feel interactive, or are you comfortable with the direction you've taken?

Joe Booth: I think we'll challenge ourselves to always innovate on that. If you break football down into micro-challenges, especially when you're on the ball there's very few. There's dribbling versus defending, there's passing versus defending, and shooting versus goalkeeper, so. We need to continue to refine those micro-challenges and reinvent how we approach them.

Eurogamer: What kind of tools does the recent technology shift give you to attack that?

Joe Booth: It gives us the ability to be more organic in the animation system so rather than being constrained to something that we've motion-captured we're now able to organically branch and to adapt that. And I think we'll get better and better. We're starting to see some new technology. We have this system here called "Anne", which was the animation system the guys first built for FIFA. What we've seen is that other teams have taken it and they've innovated that in new ways, so we had NBA Homecourt do the branching system for their product, and then we're starting to see some more subtle way that that gets... it kind of uses physics, but within an animation, so we'll definitely see some more innovation with it.

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Eurogamer: Do you ever feel restricted by the need to make the games look more realistic, and feel like going the other way?

Joe Booth: I'm not sure for FIFA itself. I think what we've seen is that every time we've brought a new product to market in the football genre it's been successful, so there seems to be more and more appetite for football games. And the market seems to continue to grow and surpass our expectations. I think for FIFA when I look at art direction I'm trying to look in a different way rather than just reproducing broadcast or reproducing real life. I'm trying to ask how that art direction affects the emotion we want someone to feel at that point. The more we can shift things and make them a bit more dynamic, that will please me because I'll be able to use it more artistically.

Eurogamer: One of the things talked about during your motion capture session in Barcelona last week was the "uncanny valley" effect - in essence, that the more humanlike something is, the more you notice the things that aren't right, and the more you're put off. How close do you think you are to overcoming that?

Joe Booth: I still think we've got some way to go. Just because of the cameras that we use, and even the new cameras - the "Be A Pro" [over the shoulder] cameras - you're still behind the player so you're not necessarily seeing what's going on on their faces. What we find a lot of the times is that when we freeze and really go into stuff it can look great in one frame but it can look weird the next. The things I would like us to get to is how to use the player animation to provoke emotion; to use them as actors as well, so when you see a celebration that's more organic on the way they express themselves, or you see them running, feeling fatigued, or frustrated. These systems are more into the animations we have and increasing the facial animation system to be able to do that.

Eurogamer: Were you ever tempted to just back away from the faces?

Joe Booth: We're [literally] much further away from faces than other games anyway, and the system that we use - we call it "non-interactive sequence", like when you score a goal - that's still scripted and we'd like to get to a point where that can be organic in the game engine, and can tell more of a story of what's going on as opposed to something we capture in the motion-capture studio.

Eurogamer: Moving on to the subject of your competition, do you talk to the Konami guys?

Joe Booth: Yeah, Kaz [Makita - one of the FIFA developers] does when he goes over to Tokyo, so he was over there a couple of weeks ago and he had a name of someone that worked... one of the producers there, so he gave them a call and his counterpart that does the gameplay for Seabass, they went out and had a coffee.

Eurogamer: Did you bug him?

Joe Booth: It was sort of like the KGB versus the CIA, yes. A very caged conversation. But yeah, I think there's a bit of mutual respect there. We have huge respect for Konami.

Eurogamer: Master League remains one of its most appealing hardcore elements of Pro Evolution Soccer. Does FIFA have an answer to that?

Joe Booth: In terms of this year, the Manager Mode that we have will get to the depth of having the 30 leagues. We're also bringing back the tournament mode, being able to create tournaments. We're not doing something as such to try and do Master League. We may find ourselves going into that direction a little bit. My sense is that we'll probably try and do something that's more connected, or online, long-term.

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