We recently got to take a trip to Electronic Arts to get our hands on a pre-release build of FIFA 20. This year's entry is all about a new approach to gameplay, which slows things down and focuses on an individual player's ability to play the game. EA also introduced VOLTA, a brand new mode that's almost a hybrid between the core FIFA experience and something like a new FIFA Street. As part of the event, I got to sit down with gameplay producer Shaun Pejic and VOLTA producer Jeffery Antwi and ask them a few questions. Here's what happened:
Starting with VOLTA, it seems like EA Sports titles have brought more casual-friendly modes into its titles. Is that a theme at EA or a bunch of coincidences?
Antwi: I can speak to FIFA, specifically. Street football was one of the most requested features from the community. So obviously we've wanted to do this for a long time. We also wanted to make something that was deep, rich and fun to play. So that's what we feel like we have with VOLTA for the community. We've brought street back to FIFA, but it's not FIFA Street, if that makes sense. It's an authentic, culturally relevant and really creative and fun way to play street football.
Can you talk about what led to VOLTA being a mode in core FIFA, as opposed to a new, separate game?
Antwi: Again, street football was something the community had been requesting. So we wanted to bring VOLTA to the FIFA community. We wanted to provide that, because that's what people wanted.
With respect to gameplay, what are some of the challenges in simulating a real sport, making it feel realistic while still making it fun to play?
Pejic: It's always difficult to make the game look as realistic as possible, while also making it fun and responsive. There's always that fight with my team to make that balance correct. It's certainly a tricky thing to get right but certainly also our focus to get that "tug of war," essentially.
Is part of that balance an issue between the more professional side of FIFA 20 versus VOLTA?
Antwi: I think the beauty of what we're doing with VOLTA is that it's built on the foundation of the FIFA engine, specifically the gameplay engine. A lot of the work they're doing around football intelligence, creating dynamic one on ones, and all the work on defending and AI positioning--we're also gonna benefit from that in VOLTA.
The nice thing about VOLTA is that it's additive as a mode. We aren't taking away resources from anything that gameplay is doing or other modes. It's really a shared experience at its foundation and, since it's additive, we're able to add on VOLTA-specific flair that you would expect to see in a street football experience.
From the perspective of the kind of work you're doing, what would you say sets FIFA apart from the other EA Sports games?
Antwi: Interesting question! I can't really speak to the other games and what their initiatives are. I know with FIFA, we're always trying to innovate; we're always trying to bring the community what they're asking for. We're trying to simulate football, which is a very complex sport, and we're also trying to ensure that we're offering engaging modes, an experience people are wanting to come back to year after year. We have a great team, and our focus is delivering the best possible content.
Speaking of the community, has there been anything recently that has surprised you about how they have engaged with FIFA, and has that led to any game design changes?
Pejic: Some of our FIFA 20 feature set has been informed by community feedback. One thing in particular that came up was AI defending. The AI was doing too much work for you, and the Composed Finishing changes were also a result of that feedback. Now, the game should feel more relaxed, but also more difficult when you want it to be.
Are there any regional or geographical differences in how players respond to FIFA? Or is it generally more universal feedback relating to gameplay issues?
Pejic: Yeah, it's more of an overall feeling of the game, it comes from all over the world and different kinds of people. We have a range of beginners all the way through to the pros, we're gathering feedback from everyone. Obvioulsy that's lots of information, but we try to gather the most talked about topics.
My interview slot is pretty late in the event, so is there anything you haven't had a chance to talk about yet that's exciting to you?
Pejic: One thing I'd like to talk about is the strafe dribbling feature, that's a nice new tool you can use to take on defenders in 1v1 situations. That plus the new tackling feature really creates that one on one battle, that a to z we really wanted to get from authentic football. Those two features bring a new dimension to gameplay we haven't had in the past.
Antwi: We're excited about everything in VOLTA, but if I were to distill it into a couple features, VOLTA Tour is one we're really excited about. That's because it's user-generated content: a world that's going to be populated by living beings. People are going to be customizing their avatars and building their squads, playing against other squads. I'm also excited about some things we'll be announcing later I can't really speak to, but I'm also excited about VOLTA League and its competitive play. It's a huge world and we're really excited about it.
Speaking of competitive play, VOLTA has mechanics like wall-bouncing that change a lot of dynamics. Have there been specific challenges brought on by these new mechanics with competitive-level play?
Antwi: VOLTA hasn't been released to the community yet, so we're gonna find out what the focuses are for people. For us specifically, ensuring the game behaves in an authentic way, we're pretty confident in what we can deliver. Gameplay has done a lot of work on ball physics, and we've integrated that into VOLTA. So while you mention the wall-bouncing and the different wall types, the players will be able to understand how the ball bounces off a chain link fence versus a knee wall. It's nice to have that foundation to build on.
Is there anything new with respect to alternative/accessible play, such as Xbox Adaptive Controller features and the like?
Antwi: For sure, accessibility is always a focus for us. We have a lot of passionate people within the team and the studio who are really focusing on those things. Everything we've built to be accessible is also available in VOLTA. We're also making sure that we're servicing everyone, because we want everyone to be playing the game. You know, football's a world sport, a massive game, so we want to make sure everyone can access it.
What's new with FIFA 20 in terms of gender options?
Antwi: While we've had women's league play in FIFA in the past, one new feature I'm really excited about is having men and women on the pitch at the same time, playing competitively. I think that's really cool. You can pick your gender, customize your character, you can put different hairstyles on different people--it all just kind of works together. It all amounts to a really diverse mode (VOLTA) and experience, which we feel is innovative as well.
Are there any physical (gameplay) differences related to gender/customization options?
Antwi: No, everyone is the same in VOLTA, which I think is really awesome for us.
During the presentation, you demonstrated tangible differences in players based on their OVR ratings. When the numbers are low, the players can struggle physically. How do you maintain that sense of accomplishment and progression, while keeping from discouraging newbies with a bunch of fumbly players?
Pejic: We obviously try to balance the game from the lowest attribute, all the way up to the highest attribute. We want to make it the most fun experience for all attributes, but also at the same time you want to see the differences in players as well. It's something we try to tune and tweak every day.
Speaking of attributes, I play a lot of fighting games, and in that space stats are a big no-no in competitive play. So what's the approach or mindset in FIFA, from both your side and the community, with respect to OVR ratings and pro-level play?
Pejic: You can play the game with the worst team in the game and still have a chance at beating someone who isn't as good as you. If I'm considered a hardcore player, I can play with anyone and have some success against another team, even if that team has higher attributes than mine. The core mechanics are there to have a skill-based experience as well.
Antwi: And for VOLTA, you'll be matching up against players who are similar in attribute levels. That's part of the progression mechanic - as your character grows your squad also grows. In VOLTA World we have tournaments that are gated by OVR, so essentially it's likely you'll be matching up against players at the same kind of level.
Silly question: What do you guys think about Super Mario Strikers?
Antwi: [laughing] We're always evaluating other games and looking for context within the industry, but we can't really speak to what other developers are doing or have done. We want to make FIFA the best game we can possibly make, so our focus is on that.