A year of two halves for EA’s blockbuster franchise Fifa

The 21st edition of the bestselling game is set for next generation of games consoles

For EA’s popular sports franchise Fifa, 2013 could be considered something of a landmark year. Not only is it the 21st edition of the series, but it will also mean a step on to the next generation of games consoles, even more powerful than those that went before.

The game, which went on sale yesterday, will have another release later this year when the next generation of consoles, the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 are available in November.

The team had a challenge: to give existing consoles an updated game that they felt was worth buying, but also creating something new and exciting to accompany the next generation games consoles.

“It was quite a difficult challenge to start off with. We wanted to make the best possible game on the current generation consoles, but we also wanted to take advantage of all the processing power and the memory of the next gen hardware that we have at our disposal,” Fifa gameplay producer Kantcho Doskov said.

“So what we tried to do was take advantage of key areas, for example all the extra memory that Xbox One and PS4 had. We’ve added tons of new animations to the game; almost 10 times as many animations are in the next gen consoles as are in the current generation.”

That means a lot of new shooting animations, dribbling animations, even 3D crowds – an area that previous Fifa games needed to improve on.

But as far as the team is concerned, the on-pitch action is of the same high standard on the current crop of consoles as it is on the more powerful successors.

“We didn’t have to forget the current gen consoles. Xbox 360 and PS3 are still full-fledged, full-powered versions of the game,” said senior gameplay producer Aaron McHardy.

“We’ve been able to do cool things like develop advanced features with an eye to the next gen of consoles and use that technology in the current generation, with something like Precision Movement.

“It’s something we’re really designing for the next gen of consoles, but then we discovered we were able to bring it back and use it with the current generation to make that game even better.”

Getting the right level of realism into the football sim is something that EA and its gameplay producers have tried to improve on continually.

2011 saw the introduction of the Impact Engine, which dramatically changed how players reacted to collisions, making it more realistic when your player went in for a rough tackle or body-checked a rival.

It's not a high bar that is set solely by fans; gameplay producer McHardy, like many on the Fifa team, is a football player himself, having played for Jamaica, and even making it into a World Cup friendly.

Doskov, meanwhile, is a freestyle football expert, reaching the final of the Canadian Freestyle Football Championships in 2008. So the team’s opinion carries a lot of weight.

“I think we’re quite conscious when we’re building our team here to make sure that we have football passionate people and, where possible, people who have played football,” said McHardy.

Game engine
On the updated platforms, Fifa 14 will get an entirely new game engine, the more powerful Ignite engine. Precision movement is a big factor too, mirroring the real world players' pace and movement.

“The other big piece of the puzzle on the next gen consoles is the idea of the living world, and what we’ve done with cameras and replays, and the presentation of the game,” said McHardy. That includes the action on the sidelines, from subs warming up to the officials.

The rest of the details that makes Fifa great – the player statistics that helps influence form on the pitch, collected by EA’s teams of database updaters – remain in place.

And the producers are confident that its improved graphics will shine through, with crisp detail in high definition.

“I’m only hoping we can top it next year,” said McHardy.