Interview: What next-gen means for footy

Football games are bigger business than they ever were and with the arrival of all three next generation consoles, we spoke to Andrew Wilson, executive producer of football at EA, to find out what the next-gen can do for football games.

We might be coming to the end of the current football season, but EA and Konami are both busy preparing next season's football games that should be with us in time for the new season kicking off in August/September.

But what will they offer that we haven't seen before? Surely it's not just a case of better graphics and more stats than we actually give a Klaxon about? To find out we grilled - and we do mean grilled - the man almost in charge of FIFA for EA, Andrew Wilson.

What does next-gen really mean for football games?

Andrew Wilson: The thing we saw on current-gen was a lot of limitations with technology and processing power. There were a lot of things we wanted to do on current gen that we wanted to do but couldn't.

Like what?

Wilson: Well the intelligence of the football player and the amounts of levels in which they make decisions. On current-gen they had one or two different levels; so they're in the box, in comes a cross, what do they do next? That's it.

On next-gen machines we can process so much more data. We can run more data in terms of giving them decision-making options about how they come to those decisions.

We're starting to see levels of decision-making options that we never saw before and this will make the game far more realistic. You'll also see less repetition on the field. Our aim is to get 100/200 hours of gameplay where you are constantly seeing different things and different decisions being made even if you're in the same context.

Why haven't we seen this in EA's first two attempts at next-gen football on 360 with FIFA 07 and Road to the World Cup?

Wilson: We launched our new engine for FIFA 07 and that was the first year of a new engine. We saw a few things with the new engine that became the foundation for these new ideas.

We saw a different level of athletic ability in the player, so how the player moved and how they interacted with the ball. We also gave the ball its own level of physics. But we started to see the different levels of decision-making on the pitch with depth and context to what's happening.

The thing with writing artificial intelligence is that once you build the infrastructure you can start building on top of it. And year on year we can build more attributes on top of this.

The World Cup game didn't use that engine, it used an old engine. FIFA 07 was the first and 08 will be the second run of that engine.

We were very happy with where we got to with 07 and the launch of a new engine because they're a risky manoeuvre. If it all goes bad, it's not a great thing for us. The player-ball interaction felt very next-gen and we want to capitalise on that with 08 in terms of animation, AI, physics, decision-making. That will give us a level of gameplay that we've never had.

Are we ever going to see AI in the crowd, so they affect players' performance?

Wilson: We had one of our engineers at GDC who started last year what we termed 'Emotion Engine' which was about building a foundation for driving crowd reaction based on little micro-trends within the game.

So different things happening within the crowd will have an impact on how your team plays on the field. If you're getting booed constantly it will have a mental affect on your performance. We started this last year and we're continuing development of that feature. We don't know where it's going to end up or what it's going to do but if we do a good job, you'll never notice it.

  1 2