EA’s wildly popular FIFA series is once again hitting PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch this September with FIFA 19. This version of the game comes with its fair share of notable improvements, including the addition of Champions League, an entirely reworked Kick-Off mode, and vastly improved animations. Last month, DualShockers attended an EA Sports event and went hands-on with this brand new soccer game.
Afterward, I sat down with FIFA 19’s Creative Director Matthew Prior and Gameplay Producer Kantcho Doskov to talk about the revamped Kick-Off mode, improvements to the animations and Nintendo Switch version of the game, and the recent transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo, the game’s cover athlete.
Tomas: Cristiano Ronaldo recently transferred from Real Madrid to Juventus. Will EA be reworking promotional materials and the box art for FIFA 19’s release?
Matthew Prior: Yes, it will. We wouldn’t put him on the box with a Real Madrid uniform if he’s not on the team. Authenticity is obviously a big thing, and I doubt very much that there’ll be a bigger transfer during the transfer window. It’s obviously huge news. It does create a little bit of work for us, but these are things we have contingency plans for. It’s part of football and one of the reasons we love the sport, these transfers are part of the fabric of interest in football.
It comes with the territory. We’ve had it happen in the past on the last day of the transfer window, so this has actually come reasonably early. It’s not a huge issue because even though it creates a bit of work, it’s part of the territory.
T: So did you anticipate it was going to happen?
MP: Well, there was some speculation. With the players that are prominently featured throughout the game, there is always some potential. With continual changes in management and owners, I don’t think any player is bulletproof on any team, so it could always happen. So with that talent, there are always thoughts of “What if?” Ideally, we won’t have to put them into practice, but it’s something we have contingencies for.
T: EA has just acquired the rights to include the Champions League in FIFA 19. How long have you guys been working on that deal? For those who aren’t familiar with the sport, why is that such a big get for FIFA?
MP: We haven’t really been working on it per se due to the fact that it just comes up for renewal during a certain period and lasts a certain amount of time. We always wanted it in the sense that authenticity is a key thing for us. If you look back at last year and the year before there’s obviously a missing piece of that authenticity. We had to represent it generically in the game, we didn’t ignore it. As a team that prides itself on authenticity, we knew that we wanted to go after it.
It’s such a prominent competition. If you ask any professional footballer what competition they want to win, the Champions League would be at the top of most lists. It has grown to prominence over the past decade to such a level where it’s hugely important. So for your readers who don’t know, the Champions League has the winners of the domestic leagues, and depending on which league you’re in the second third and fourth place teams, go into this separate competition to compete with each other.
It’s a great competition in the sense that teams that don’t meet ordinarily on a week by week basis face off, so you get this different set of tactics and style of play. It’s a very broad spectrum of many styles of football and it’s very interesting because you get to watch teams play that you never normally see together. It creates a very unique and interesting competition and ultimately the team that wins the Champions League is considered the best in Europe because they not only competed at a high level within their domestic league, but they had to face the best of the best to get to and win the finals. It’s a huge deal.
T: Why did the development team decide to revamp FIFA’s Kick-Off mode this year?
MP: There are a number of reasons. We know that it’s often a gateway to the casuals, and it’s important that we consider the casual fan because every FIFA fan that has ever lived was a new user at some point. They could be people that don’t know much about football or never played FIFA, so we see a lot of people engage in Kick-Off. So the thought was that, well multiple thoughts to be honest, but the first thought was that we wanted to give that mode a little more meat on its bones. That would drive the engagement of those casuals and get them to broaden their view and look for engagement elsewhere in the game.
The other part was offering different ways to play. Previously, Kick-Off was just a one-off match between any two teams and quickly disappeared into the ether for most players as there were no real results based on that. One of the things we wanted to do was track the stats between users because, and this happens to us at work, Kick-Off is a very social mode, and you’ll have many people come in a play for a bit with you, it also happens a lot in dorm rooms and that kind of thing. A lot of people would track stats on a whiteboard or notepad and would have to keep their own league tables.
This mode now kind of takes that off the user as its tracking in-game. This now makes every game much more meaningful because it all feeds into your stats, and it’s also a good way to learn to play with the stat analysis as you can see where players are scoring goals or attacking. Stats are an interesting window into the world of football and what’s important and what’s not in it. The other two parts of it were the ability to play during a specific competition.
We pour a lot of effort into creating unique atmospheres for things like the FA Cup Final, but a lot of people ended up not engaging with that if they didn’t enter the Premier League in Career mode or don’t play tournament mode. So all that effort for a lot of users went unnoticed. Now you can play a Kick-Off match as the final of any of our authentic tournaments within the game. For example, I can play a Kick-Off match as a final of the MLS, and you get all the pomp and ceremony of that and its atmosphere.
T: I also saw you guys have many different rules and small modes that players can set.
MP: Yeah, we have the House Rules, which is a whole new way to play FIFA. This is a variation on the real world rules, for example, you can do things like No Rules and slide tackle and Survival Mode, which a lot of people have been liking, where one of your players is ejected randomly every time you score. You can set for there to only be long range or headers and volleys as goals. It gives a different spin on FIFA and how you play it and people who have played FIFA for many years have told us that it’s such a cool spin on it.
There’s the advantage settings as well. There’s a lot of different users out there with different abilities, and previously it was hard to have competitive games with people of different skill levels. Now with the advantage settings, you can level the playing field by setting things like goal advantage or setting the AI of the team higher or lower so you can compete. There’s a whole bunch of new reasons and ideas that made us want to revamp Kick-Off, and I think people will have a lot of fun with it.
T: It definitely seems like you are adding a lot to make the game friendly to newcomers. Are you guys also adding things so people returning won’t feel out of place?
MP: Absolutely. There’s an internal balance because there is such a diverse nature of FIFA users, so you have the super hardcore players. When we look at the game as a whole we make sure we cater to each of those. I think Kick-Off is a great example of doing a feature which caters to everyone. It connects to casuals but then we hear from events like this that the core guys really love it because it gives a different spin and gameplay experience.
T: Were the improved animations also a big thing to improve upon during the development of FIFA 19 as well?
Kantcho Doskov: With our Active-Time System, we have a lot more animation variety and things feel more responsive when you press the pass or shot button. We also have the Real Player Motion technology, which we introduced last year, and now we’re building upon that. A small example, like a player slide tackling and then having to get up, is now within the user’s full control. If the ball goes in a different direction while you’re in the middle of that animation, it will transition to going the other way.
We never had that before, so you would just get stuck in one animation, but real players are agile and can change their mind partway through. So now it just feels like from one motion to the other things are more responsive.
T: The Nintendo Switch version of FIFA 19 is on a different engine than the other versions, so will it see the same animation improvements?
KD: From a gameplay standpoint, we have added a lot of new animations to the Switch version as well and new features like time finishing are there too. So for shooting and for passing there are new animations there for sure. It’s not completely the same scope as what’s on PS4, as those are more powerful platforms that have more memory for animation, but we’ve definitely added animation for the Switch version too.
T: FIFA is once again gracing the Nintendo Switch this year, so is it a platform you plan on continuing to support every year?
MP: We can’t speak too much about the future, but I think that the Switch has been a huge success and think that it offers a different kind of experience, on the go and casual. One of the key things for us is when we covert FIFA to the Switch we do so as not just a blanket copy of the other console versions, as there are technical limitations, but we still created a Switch experience that was unique to the platform.
The uniqueness of the Switch is its forte, and there are features on the Switch that are unique to it. The Switch has done very well, and while we can’t speak to what the future holds, FIFA has been a great success on the Switch.
T: Is there anything else you guys would like DualShockers’ readers to know about FIFA 19 before it releases in September?
MP: We will be announcing other things as we come up to Gamescom, but I think it’s a great year to get into FIFA with the addition of Champions League and how we’ve proliferated that throughout the game. It’s Career mode, it’s in a standalone mode, it’s in Kick-Off mode, so I think FIFA 19 is the most authentic game we’ve had. It’s a huge year for gameplay, and you notice it as soon as you pick it up. It’s also a great year to get your teeth into it if you’ve never picked up FIFA before with the casual slant of the new Kick-Off mode. It’s a very good year to get into FIFA if you’ve never got into it, or if you’ve skipped a year or two it’s a good time to come back and get a sense of how good it is.
KD: From a gameplay perspective, we’ve got quite a few features that make things easier for casuals. We have a new control scheme called One-Button were you just have to press one button and the right option depending on the situation will happen, so that’s an easy way to get into it. There’s also a lot more depth with hardcore features like the user skill it takes to time your finish is there for the competitive players.
There are even other features that just help the more regular players like an indicator now showing who you are switching to on defense when you press L1. Features like that have never been in FIFA before, but once you’ve played FIFA 19 and then go back to older FIFAs you’ll miss that and question how you ever knew who you were going to switch to. Something simple like that, like knowing who you are switching to, is now in FIFA 19 and I think people are going to love it.
FIFA 19 will release on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on September 28. You can currently pre-order the title on Amazon. If you want to see DualShockers’ thoughts on the new features and the addition of the Champions League, you can check out our preview.
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