While it might sound like EA's sucking some of the fun and spectacle out of the game, playing it reveals that matches feel faster due to the increased fluidity, and are less predictable, not more. Take shooting, with help from gameplay producer Aaron McHardy. "The way that the shooting system worked algorithmically, it could give us some results that didn't have a whole lot of variety," he points out as I manfully lose to a journalist from the Telegraph. "You'd get variety, but you'd get it in chunks, so there were areas where you could get a similar result over and over and over. We've refined the system so that each context is more independent of each other, and the variety you get in the shot error is therefore a lot more."
Besides gamers who knew the game well enough to exploit it, EA has also had to contend with players who barely knew how to operate it - or, to be more charitable, who weren't aware of how certain things could be done, or who did peculiar, non-footballing things. "The biggest challenge we have with Custom Tactics," says Paterson, picking up the thread, "is educating people to understand what they do, and that they're on by default. Sometimes people complain that there's no one in the box for crosses and stuff like that, and that's because the crossing's really low for that team." Defending's another problem, and Paterson notes that this is why players you're not controlling with the cursor or the secondary defensive-press button act independently of your actions. To combat some of this, FIFA 10 has a number of tutorial videos, partly to introduce the free-kick system to newcomers, for instance, but also to offer tips on things like defending. "I think we need to go further next year," he adds.
It almost seems a shame to leave the pitch and consider Manager Mode, but it's become an imperative for EA, and Rutter and Paterson both talk about a multi-year plan similar to the original decision, following FIFA 06, to redesign the core football over a longer period than usual. In other words, don't expect miracles from Manager Mode in FIFA 10, but do expect a few steps in the right direction. This year is about "base authenticity", according to Paterson. "Authenticity of the league table, results and stuff like that, authenticity of the transfer market, player growth authenticity, because obviously in the Manager Mode before there was a problem with some player growth being too easy..." And next year? "Well, I don't want to touch on it too much, but obviously there's a lot of things like multiplayer, or online - these are things we're thinking about building a platform for. It may not happen next year, but these are the kind of things we're thinking we can push." As for other modes, like Be A Pro: Seasons, we'll be told more about them at gamescom this week.
Frankly, though, they could take them out completely, and strip away most of the licences, and ditch the improved animations and player likenesses, and FIFA 10 would still impress. It's the ultimate testament to its transformation, in a sense, because what would be left is a similar vision to Pro Evolution Soccer during its heyday of a few years ago. It's hard to imagine that the finished game, which of course does include all of the above, will be any less revered: over dozens of matches between half a dozen cynical football fans across two days at EA Canada, there isn't a single dull game, and it's hard to recall a single pattern emerging - either as a result of the game, or of a player's lack of tactical imagination.
But then, as with the set-piece creator, appearances here are deceptive, and this is arguably the key to EA Canada's growing success over the last few versions of FIFA: the realisation that the guts of the game may not belong on the back of the game box, but that, once combined, they justify the front of it. They make the difference between a facsimile of football, and football itself, and selling football to football fans works. Five years after we expected little from the series, it's not shocking to discover that FIFA 10 is the best embodiment yet of that ideal.
FIFA 10 is due out for every system under the sun on 2nd October.