UEFA Champions League 2006-2007's associate producer Chris Coates talks about the background to the game's "Ultimate Team" mode. The game is due out on Xbox 360, PS2, PSP, PC and mobile from 23rd March.
One of our main objectives with UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 was to offer the football gamers a unique way to enjoy their favourite sport. After exploring a number of ideas we hit on the idea of capitalising on some key motivations for football fans - the desire to build your own fantasy team and the huge sense of community on making those choices.
It was from that first kernel of an idea that our lead producer, Ken Sayler, struck on the idea of a card collecting and trading mechanic which was completely unique to sports videogames. At this early stage nothing had really been decided about how this would work and that's where I and fellow producer Matt Prior came in.
The first stage of the concept was the idea of creating a team from scratch using virtual cards. The cards would represent players, kits, stadiums, training cards, staff and even gameplay cards (used during a match).
Between us we fleshed out the whole idea of not only building up your team but also including the ability to trade your unwanted cards with other gamers online in a kind of worldwide transfer market. To support this, as you play the game both offline and online in the various modes, you would earn credits to buy new packs and get better cards. Essentially we were trying to build the first ever football action game with online features beyond simply competing against other online and foster a unique gaming community.
We christened it the Ultimate Team mode and presented the details back to Ken and he loved it. We already knew that with the increase in gamers using broadband and the new online capabilities of the Xbox 360 that there were gamers out there would like the mode. Not only were we looking to create a whole online community but we were also tapping in to familiar pastimes of collecting and swapping cards as well as the dream of building up a team from scratch.
This is a completely unique proposition for football gamers. As I already mentioned we feel it's the first football action title to make the most of online. Not only do we create a community of users searching for coveted cards they want to build their team but the game also gives users the chance to earn credits playing against other gamers. Furthermore, you even get the chance to compare your team at the same time and prove who really can create the world's best team.
Are there any other areas of innovation?
For starters, your Ultimate Team is always active. By this I mean regardless of whether you're playing online or in any one of the offline modes, any injuries or suspensions will apply. If your star striker suffers an injury while you're playing with a friend in Play Now, that same striker will be out of commission when you take your team online. This crossing over between modes is wonderfully unique feature and adds a lot of depth to the game.
We've also made collecting unwanted cards a part of the overall game experience. As mentioned you can use cards to create your Ultimate Team or trade them for points online. However, you can even use the same cards to fill in a virtual Collector Book.
Better still, you can earn points from successfully completing pages of the Collector book. For instance, if you manage to fill the page in the Collector Book representing Barcelona, you'll be awarded points. The better the cards you use, the more points you'll unlock. Although other sports titles have had cards or Collectors we are the first to make them an integral part of the game.
So how does Ultimate Team mode work?
To build your Ultimate Team you must settle on a name for your new club. Then you get a Starter Pack of cards consisting of the basics to get you going. Cards can come in a number of varieties:
- Players - the backbone of your team, better players mean better results
- Staff (managers, coaches, physiotherapists etc.) - These help improve your team and apply bonuses to development cards
- Development Cards (Training, Fitness, Healing, Team Talks etc.) - All improve your team, keep them happy, heal injuries and more
- Club Info (Stadiums, Badges, Kits) - Look good, but can also boost morale.
- Gameplay Cards - Apply 4 per match and give your team a boost to attributes during a game plus other types of cards which will affect your opposition for a set amount of time.
- Unlockable Content - Boots and balls to use throughout the game.
To buy packs of cards you need credits. As mentioned, you get credits from playing any mode in game. However, you can earn more credits for using your Ultimate Team plus further bonuses for playing online or changing the difficulty level.
Packs of cards come in Bronze, Silver or Gold and denote the value of the cards you'll find in them. A pack contains 10 cards and could have any of the cards mentioned above, although obviously we had to balance this so you don't keep finding club badges or too many good players - and we're still refining this right up until release of the game.
Your Ultimate Team is limited to 24 players, so any cards you don't want you'll have to discard, send to your Collectors Album or trade online. This creates a brand new gameplay experience for football (and even sports) titles.
Silver and Gold Packs are not available from the start of the game but can be unlocked by progressing through the Ultimate Team mode. This is essentially a mechanic whereby the better you do the more content you can unlock.
As you progress through the levels you unlock better packs and better teams to play, but also at the end you earn a Golden Ticket that enables you to compete with your Ultimate Team in the UEFA Champions League tournament. You can only win one ticket for every attempt you make with your Ultimate Team so the mode is essentially endless. As you progress you can buy packs, play other modes to earn credits and tweak and tune your team in order to be the best.
But what happens if you just make the best team?
It's not as simple as that. First off all players have contracts that dictate how many matches a player can take part in. When the player has played a set number of matches, their contract expires. To prevent this you'll need to find or trade Contract Extension cards. However, your Manager also influences the length of the contract through a modifier reflecting his managerial ability. Don't forget that all of your backroom staff also have contracts that expire too.
As well as contracts there is Team Chemistry which, along with player attributes, plays a much bigger role in the game than ever before. The better your team chemistry, the better your players will perform.
To get the right team chemistry you need to look at players' preferred position, preferred formation and nationality. Match these up with other players in the team and the team chemistry improves. Match these up with your managers' preferred formation and nationality and you'll enjoy an added boost.
Having the best players isn't necessarily going to make the best team. The key is finding the best balance between the superstars and the average players.
What's more, team chemistry also effects how long Gameplay Cards will have an effect.
What about the other cards?
The other types of cards each have their own part to play in building your team. For example, players need to maintain their fitness levels to be peak condition. Playing Fitness Cards will improve their fitness and are boosted by a good Fitness Coach.
Training cards also improve attributes but to stop you from unrealistically creating a team of super players, each one has a negative effect on another attribute. This reflects real life when overly training in a certain discipline will have an adverse effect on a player's other abilities.
You'll need to get the balance and decide how best to mould your players to suit your tactics. Furthermore, all development cards are affected by modifiers to increase their effectiveness by a relevant staff member, in this case the Head Coach.
Each training card has a different level of effect. Most cards affect just one player however you can also find more rare cards that have multiple or group effects, such as Squad Training Cards, which improve your whole squad.
One of the major categories of cards is the Gameplay Cards. Unlike the other cards mentioned so far which are played before you take to the pitch, you can use these in a match to affect attributes for your team or the opposition or even influence the referee (as well some other cool variations).
Each card lasts a set number of minutes and only four can be played in the match. Once they've been used, they're gone forever and you'll have to find some more through buying new packs of cards or from trading online.
The major benefit of these cards is that armed with these invaluable ammunition you could turn your team of underdogs into title contenders. This adds another tactical element to the game when preloading your controls before a match - do I look to improve my own team or do I make the opposition worse.
The whole mode is one huge balancing act that involves strategy, collecting, trading, playing all game modes and going online. It's the first sports title that has a mode that encompasses the whole game.
Chris Coates is an associate producer at EA. His opinions aren't necessarily ours, obviously, although we're sure he's a lovely man. UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 is due out on Xbox 360, PS2, PSP, PC and mobile from 23rd March.