Recently we had the chance to chat with Aaron McHardy, FIFA 13's Gameplay Producer, to talk about changes being made to this year’s game. FIFA is a huge franchise with a large international presence, so the expectations to release a great game every year are sky high. Aaron was kind enough to shed some light on the development process, inform us about the FIFA 13’s new features, and share his opinion about who is the top football player in the world today.
Xavier Griffiths: So how is development going?
Aaron McHardy: It’s pretty good. The game is coming together a little bit. Some of the bugs and things that are usually there during development are being eradicated and we’re getting more polished everyday, so it’s kind of that fun time of the year when we’re making little tweaks and changes just to make the most fun game we possibly can.
Xavier Griffiths: What exactly do you do in your role as gameplay producer?
Aaron McHardy: Oh I don’t know if you have enough time for me to answer that question [Laughs]. I think the crux of what I do is when we start the year, me and a couple of other producers that work with me on gameplay will be in charge of coming up with the designs for what we want to do in the next year creatively. That can be anything from us sitting in rooms brainstorming, to trolling the forums and looking what our community has to say about last year’s game, to reading all of the reviews, any which way we can to come up with the inspiration for the next year’s game. We just basically get all of that stuff down on paper and that’s kind of the early stages of what our job consists of. Then once we’ve gotten it all down on paper we figure out exactly how much and what is the best possible game we can do in one year. From there we work with the engineers and the animators for the rest of the cycle making sure we can build all those ideas we came up with into the game.
Xavier Griffiths: What are the biggest additions or improvements to FIFA 13, in gameplay terms?
Aaron McHardy: We’ve been talking about five big changes that we’re making this year that I think have the most impact on the game. Those changes are called Attacking Intelligence, Complete Dribbling, First Touch Control, our new version of the Player Impact Engine, and another feature called Tactical Free Kicks.
Starting with Attacking Intelligence, the number one feedback we got from FIFA 12 is that people wanted improvements to the AI. That can take its shape in a million different ways but when we read in between the lines, what we decided on doing this year is improving our attacking intelligence in the game. We’ve done some technological changes to our positioning system so that players work harder and work smarter to go on runs and decide where to go, analyze space a lot better than they used to do in FIFA 12. We’ve given them new behaviors like being able to curve around defenders, to keep plays alive by staying on-side, to opening up passing channels when there is a passing channel available to slip the ball through, your teammates will now change their run to open up space so you can pass the ball to them. Also we’ve given all the players on the pitch the ability to think two plays ahead so they are analyzing the game to think who is the most likely player to receive a pass and deciding should I stay here trying to support the ball possessor or should I take up a new position because I know this guy is going to get the ball next? I think all of these things have come together to improve the flow of the game and make you feel like you have a plethora of options going forward in FIFA 13.
Xavier Griffiths: How long are some of these changes in the works? Do they get implemented the very next game after you come up with them or are there things you work on knowing they won’t be implemented until further down the line?
Aaron McHardy: We implement some things we know aren’t going to be there right the year we start working on them. It is challenging for us because we have one full year to actually get the game out every year. There are some things that we do want to do that really can’t fit into one-year cycles. So we have to make steps to actually build those features otherwise we’re robbing our fans of something that might be bigger and better than just one year. A great example of that is the Player Impact Engine last year in FIFA 12. We actually took a couple of years to be able to bring that feature around collisions and stumbles into FIFA 12. And this year what we’re doing in terms of the Player Impact Engine is an extension of the work that we did last year, so when you look at it in that regard it’s a multi-year job to bring features like that to the table. Expanding on things like push and pull, allowing defenders to be able to use the body, and find new ways for defenders to try to win back possession.
Just Messi being Messi.
Xavier Griffiths: There has been a lot of chatter surrounding the unpredictability present in FIFA 13. Could you explain exactly how this will affect games, possibly giving an example?
Aaron McHardy: I think the term unpredictability is something that we focused on in the beginning of the year that we wanted to achieve in FIFA 13. We feel like Football in the real world is very unpredictable. I think this year if you followed the Premier League or if you watched the Champions League it really came to life at the end of the season; you know things like Manchester City coming back two goals to beat QPR to win the championship. Nobody really expected Chelsea to be able to do what they did.
Xavier: I did. I’m a Chelsea fan.
Aaron McHardy: So you know exactly what unpredictability means to football. We wanted to key in on those things and figure out how we could fit that into the game. Now what it absolutely, unequivocally, does not mean is random. That’s something that we don’t like in Fifa gameplay. I think a great aspect of that is if you look at our First Touch Control feature, it’s a big new feature for this year and it’s all about how players control the ball. How they receive passes. If you go back and play FIFA 12 you’ll find that a lot of the players have a near perfect touch every time they receive the pass which is a little bit unrealistic. In the real world a lot of elements go into how a player controls the ball. Not just how good they are but the conditions, how fast is the ball played, is the ball bouncing, is it falling from the sky, is the player running while they’re doing it? There’s a lot of context that goes into each touch of the ball and we wanted try to harness all of that information and bring that into our tracking system for what we’ve brought into FIFA 13’s First Touch Control feature. So what you’ll see this year is a little bit of unpredictability in that players will not take a perfect touch every time they control a difficult pass but what it isn’t is random. It’s predictably unpredictable because you’re playing the game and you see situations that are difficult and you don’t really expect the player to take a perfect touch but the touch that he does take Is understandable so you don’t feel like it’s robbing you of the situation, it just feels more organic, more natural, more realistic and ultimately creates a deeper experience for the gamer.
Xavier Griffiths: FIFA is massively popular in Europe but it has also grown more popular in North America so each new release feels like a truly global phenomenon. Does developing for a global audience at all effect how you approach the game?
Aaron McHardy: Well it makes you lose a little bit of sleep at night I guess. I think we have a very passionate team here, because it’s a global phenomenon, who love and come from all over the world. I think that definitely affects the way we construct our team. We have people from North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America all working on FIFA. I think knowing that this game is received by so many people around the world gives all the people who work on the game, especially the people I work with on FIFA gameplay, incredible drive to make the best possible simulation they can make every year. We work hard, we work long, we work tirelessly to do that in the amount of time we have every year. I think all of that is a result of just what you’re saying, there are so many people around the world that get so much enjoyment from our game so it’s a sense of pride for us and we’ll continue to do that.
Xavier Griffiths: With FIFA being the only officially licensed FIFA game on the market, do you have any plans to expand upon that by acquiring the licenses for the European Competitions in the game?
Aaron McHardy: We always try and do the most we can to bring authenticity to the table, especially in terms of licenses. Teams and stadiums and leagues all of that stuff we have a department whose whole year is dedicated to our bringing the most authentic content to our football fans. They are working tirelessly to get the most of that in the game because obviously it has an impact on things like career mode, wanting to have international competitions and inter-league competitions in career mode are things that we want to do. While we haven’t talked about career mode just yet, there will be some announcements around that kind of stuff in the future so keep your ears attentive.
Xavier Griffiths: I most definitely will. With the game launching on so many platforms, how do you manage to keep the feel consistent so that people recognize they are getting the quality FIFA experience no matter where they play it?
Aaron McHardy: It’s interesting. We work tightly with a lot of the teams that make FIFA for whatever platform it is. I think the key thing is that we know what FIFA is for our fans and we try to maintain that core experience across as many platforms as we can. However, we don’t forget the platform at hand. For instance, if you’re using a Kinect console, that platform brings something unique to the table and we want to try to leverage that as best we can. We understand that there are different benefits for each different platform so we try to tailor the game as much as possible to whatever device we’re working on. So we work closely with all of those other teams but also give them enough freedom to take advantage of the platform they are working on the best way they see fit. That’s how I feel we maintain the quality across platforms you’re speaking about.
Xavier Griffiths: How does EA’s Origin platform factor into this year’s FIFA?
Aaron McHardy: I think digital is a motivation for our company for the future. We want to make our games more connected years down the line and I think Origin is essential to being able to do that kind of thing. Having that direct connection with our consumers so that we can offer content at the fingertips. As we’re getting into the digital age we want to be right there as a bleeding edge company to be able to distribute our product in a way that benefits the product itself. Origin is essential to that. When you think about the plans for FIFA in the future offering live content and other things like that is definitely motivation for years to come.
Xavier Griffiths: Are there any plans to bring the game to the Wii U? If so, what do you make of the device?
Aaron McHardy: Yes, I think there are plans to bring FIFA to Wii U. I don’t directly work on that project. Like I mentioned there are separate teams all around the studios making the game for different platforms. I work mainly on the PC, PS3, and 360 games so I can’t comment.
Xavier Griffiths: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want to get across to our readers about why they should be excited for FIFA 13?
Aaron McHardy: Just again that the motive for our game this year is bring a revolution of game-changing features. FIFA 13 is going to be as big a game as FIFA 12 was but with those big five innovations that we have with Attacking Intelligence, Complete Dribbling, First Touch Control, our new version of the Player Impact Engine, and Tactical Free Kicks so it’s going to be a great one and we’re excited to see what everyone thinks about it.
"Don't leave Robin Van Persie out of the equation"
Xavier Griffiths: Finally, maybe you can shed some light on the question everyone seems to be asking at the moment; who is the best player, Messi or Ronaldo?
Aaron McHardy: I thought it was Robin van Persie, no? [Laughs]. I don’t know, it’s a hot debate, 'who’s better? Messi or Ronaldo'. I tend to lean in the Messi direction. I think it’s funny, Ronaldo was all over the TV recently with Euros trying to score some goals, meanwhile Messi was quietly scoring a hat trick. I love what Messi does, he’s incredible to watch so I’m definitely on that side of the fence. Having said that, don’t leave Robin van Persie out of the equation even though I feel like he is struggling a little bit to re-sign with Arsenal.
Xavier Griffiths: I appreciate that you’re extremely busy, so thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions.
Aaron McHardy: Thank you so much, Xavier. Any time.