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Championship Manager 5

We talk to the game's senior producer Dave Rutter about Beautiful Game Studio's "faster, more user friendly and more accurate" take on football management.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

One of the great shake ups in gaming history occurred last year when Sports Interactive upped sticks from its long-term publishing partner Eidos and set up a long-term deal with Sega, leaving Eidos with the brand name, but no-one to develop it. Realising the massive brand awareness of the series, it knew that it had to do all it could to keep one of its most valuable franchises alive.

But how? It'd be like EMI trying to forge a new Beatles out of a disparate set of session musicians surely? Just how much awareness does the public have of game developers, or do they really ignore those logo screens every time they boot the game up? Whatever the rights and wrongs of keeping the brand alive, Eidos went out and forged a team roughly twice the size of SI, called Beautiful Game Studios, and is currently in the latter stages of getting out its first Championship Manager, to be known as Championship Manager 5.

Who's in the team? All manner of experienced old hands who've worked on a truckload of footy games for the likes of Anco and Silicon Dreams to name but two. But hang on, aren't they action footy games, as opposed to management games? We'll leave the doubts and cynicism aside for now and give them centre stage to talk about what they believe will be not just as good as the old CMs, but actually better, with vastly improved loading time ("about four times the game for your money" says Eidos' PR chief) leading to more time involved in the action and less time trotting off for another cup of tea, not to mention claims of a more intuitive user interface and more accurate data. Bold claims indeed, and ones that their rivals over at Sports Interactive will be especially interested in as they gear up to release their game - also in time for Christmas...

Eurogamer What's new in this version of Championship Manager?
Dave Rutter

What we've done in this version is address three of the main concerns of the ChampMan fans, which is the speed of the game, the user accessibility and also the depth and accuracy. I've selected 59 divisions from 25 nations; at this point I click confirm which generates a full detail match with all of that information in it. I should be standing up to have a cup of tea, however - that's it - it's loaded now, full detail and everything there, so that gives you an idea of how quickly it will generate it.

Now, whether those leagues are actually the ones we go with in the final game we can't quite say yet. It'll be somewhere around that region.

The other key difference is the user interface and the way that's working. We've only got the top bar and bottom bar now - we haven't got the side bar anymore. The reason for that is basically we did some research into academic user interface, and basically there was a lot of unnecessary mouse movement, so we've done away with that so it's a lot more user friendly.

Eurogamer How have you sped up the loading?
Dave Rutter

Because we've started from scratch we've come up with architecture for the game that allows us to do a lot of background processing. What we're not doing is waiting until it's loaded everything in. It's pretty much all done in the background while no-one's looking.

The other cool thing we've got at the moment is what we're calling 'Constant Gameplay', so if I click 'Continue Game', whilst we're actually processing the match, in the background we're generating fixtures. I can cruise around the front end, and conclude discussions with players. It's still processing, and I can take a look at, for example, Ashley Cole and back to the Arsenal team and do all of those things while it's generating stuff, which is pretty cool.

Another massive improvement we've made over previous ChampMans is the fact that the training has been overhauled. What we've done is look at the schedules, and get Mervyn Day, our football expert, to help do that for us. We've got quite a number here - fitness, injury, recovery, etc and all of these have been set up by one of the highest qualified coaches in the world, which is cool.

Eurogamer Will the data be as accurate as previous Championship Managers?
Dave Rutter

We've taken a three pronged approach. We've approached PFS, a professional outfit, to provide us with information and they've worked with teams like Real Madrid for example. We also have an in-house research team, and what they're doing is shaping that to make sure the PFS are happy, and also some of our regular forum users and people from the community as well contributing, so we've got lots of secondary checks to make sure that it's there. We believe it's the most accurate you can get.

Eurogamer You mentioned in the presentation that people who may have stopped playing Championship Manager for whatever reason will want to play this one. What will it be, essentially, about this version that's going to make them want to come back?
Dave Rutter

The speed more than anything. Speaking from myself, I'm a married man - if I was still playing Championship Manager at home, I wouldn't be a married man. I think that it's the amount of time that's spent playing the game - a lot of that time is spent not doing anything. Now we reckon we get 50ish per cent more time playing the game, doing what you want rather than sitting down waiting for things to happen.

Eurogamer Is that partly due to the improved loading time and the fact that you can do stuff while the match is going on?
Dave Rutter

Absolutely. It just helps that you can just get with stuff. We've addressed that and also just the finding your way around the front end and making sure it's the same.

On the training, you can go into each of the schedules and tweak things bit by bit, for example on a half hourly basis for each day of the week. Alternatively, what you can do is set up things based on light medium and intense training, and it will generate a training schedule based on that. All of this has been designed by Mervyn Day, our football expert, and so it's been a pleasure learning about base running!

Eurogamer How did you get him involved? Why was it him and not someone else?
Dave Rutter

We wanted to make sure that the football expert we got involved with was someone who not only was accessible to us and based in this country, but worked for a top club and knew their stuff. Not just old fashioned training or whatever, but was completely up to date. Obviously Mervyn, from Charlton Athletic, I think their performances this season have shown what a relatively small-ish club without the huge budget of, say, Chelsea, can achieve with experts. With his UEFA Pro License he's one of a handful of people who've got that.

Eurogamer What's the recommended spec for running the game on?
Dave Rutter

We've got a minimum spec of PIII 700 with 128MB of RAM, and that's what we're aiming at at the moment, and it's perfectly playable. It still faster than previous ChampMans loading and processing. With any application, the more RAM you've got the better, but because of the way the architecture works, it's processing stuff in the background it doesn't have as much of an impact on the game as you might do otherwise.

Eurogamer What hard disk space will it take up?
Dave Rutter

We're not sure at the moment. The big deal for hard disk space is obviously saved games, and we're minimizing the size of saved games at the moment by basically procedurally regenerating them, so rather than having to store every little piece of information we can regenerate it from the play disk reference number - things like that.

Eurogamer What games have you worked on in the past?
Dave Rutter

Everyone likes to point out the fact that I've worked on Lego games, so I worked in Football Mania/Soccer Mania. Before that I worked on a number of football titles for Silicon Dreams, so UEFA Champions League licensed games, World League Soccer, and a few others as well.

Eurogamer What's your role on this?
Dave Rutter

I'm senior producer - it's a lot of pre-production, making sure that the team's in place, the schedule's in place, and at the moment it's mostly to do with chasing up issues, looking after localisation, a lot of testing, glorified pizza delivery boy...

Eurogamer In the 2D match engine, why did you choose to slightly elevate the pitch?
Dave Rutter

We felt it gave a nicer perspective on the match. You can see the height of the ball well. It's an aesthetic choice really. We've got a number of different speed settings, 2x, 4x, 6x, 60x. One of the key improvements we made in this version with regards what you can see is the action zones which is basically a statistical representation of where play is happening and who's winning in those areas.

Eurogamer What about the tactical changes?
Dave Rutter

Within tactics, we've got a couple of choices now. Rather than just having off the ball runs, we've also got some feeds, so I can feed the ball to a particular player, or I can feed it to a specific place - so you could get him to play a ball into the box as much as possible. We've also got a lot more zones we can placed the player in.

Eurogamer Are you looking to extend this out onto the Xbox eventually?
Dave Rutter

We've got no plans currently to do console versions.

Eurogamer You're looking to release this when...?
Dave Rutter

In the Autumn.

Eurogamer Are you looking to make this an annual game?
Dave Rutter

I would have thought so. It's probably going to follow a similar release schedule to previous versions in that there will be a full review and then a seasonal update, although we're at the remit of Eidos, basically, they'll say 'we want this', and then we'll go away and think about it.

Eurogamer How do you think this will rate against Football Manager?
Dave Rutter

I hope it's rated favourably. I think there are obviously great expectations, not just from Eidos, but from the community at large. There certainly is from me and my friends and from the team as well, as we're all keen to do it well. Equally we're all looking forward to playing Football Manager ourselves and see what they've done, and hopefully they will play two great games rather than one.

Eurogamer How many people are working on CM5 who've worked on previous CMs?
Dave Rutter

We have two people who've worked on CM before. Having said that, it's a team of 30, 18 programmers. I think every single person has worked on at least one football game.

Eurogamer How many researchers have you got?
Dave Rutter

Internally, eight researchers on the team, and then we have the company PFS - but I don't know how many people work for them, and then we have a number of correspondents as well from the community.

Eurogamer Sum up CM5 - why would you want to buy it?
Dave Rutter

It's faster, it's more user friendly and it's more accurate.

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