With the help of our readers and EA, we had an opportunity to interview Mat Prior, Producer of UEFA Champions League 2006-2007.
Operation Sports: Where did the idea for virtual cards in a soccer game come from?
Mat Prior: The idea came from the desire to come up with a brand new innovative feature that offers users an entirely new way to play the game. We wanted to give UEFA Champions League its own unique identity and card collecting and fantasy football are two things that most football fans can relate to most.
We also wanted to utilize the online capabilities of the next gen console and build a game mode that encompassed both on and offline by building an online community.
Operation Sports: Tell us about how the Gameplay Cards in Ultimate Team mode actually influence the game?
Mat Prior: There are numerous gameplay cards available in differing strengths, times and influence from a single player to the entire team.
The gameplay cards increase player attributes accordingly so a shooting boost for example will increase a players shot power and accuracy. Don’t expect an unbeatable power up that ensures a goal though; users still have to work for their reward but with intelligent use and counter use of the gameplay cards a user can really turn a game around.
There are over forty different types of gameplay cards available and you can influence everything from the referee to the crowd.
Operation Sports: Which player cards will be the hardest to come by?
Mat Prior: Higher rated players are gold cards and are initially difficult to get because they are very rare in the first available bronze packs. By building up your ultimate team you increase your prestige and earn credits and this enables you to go on and buy silver and eventually gold packs and the best players are more common in those.
Gamers can also utilise the online trading feature to search for players. It’s a great way to find that elusive player who is the key to improving your team chemistry. It’s also a great way to earn credits by selling players. It will be very interesting to see how much the likes of Ronaldinho and Rooney end up going for online.
Operation Sports: Would you describe the game more as FIFA 07 or World Cup 2006?
Mat Prior: As far as gameplay is concerned it is based on the common football engine that was first used on FIFA 07 so from that perspective it is more like that game although a lot of work has been done improving the AI.
That is where the similarity ends though. From a presentation perspective it is more 2006 FIFA World Cup. World Cup was widely praised for its excellent presentation and for UEFA Champions League we have done even more and have really taken it to the next level.
We have replicated all the features that give UEFA Champions League games that special atmosphere and the game has a very authentic TV broadcast feel. It also sounds a lot better and where previous titles have shipped with around a hundred or so chants, UEFA Champions League features over 1000 all recorded from real life matches. We have chants for all the teams in the game.
Operation Sports: What are the improvements being made to it? Can we expect something much more fine tuned with a smarter AI than we saw on FIFA 07?
Mat Prior: Absolutely – numerous facets of gameplay have been worked on and improved. Player collisions, for example, were something we felt detracted from the gameplay experience previously so that is something we fixed as well as many other things.
A lot of work was also done ensuring that player attributes worked perfectly and that differences were noticeable. In Ultimate team mode the gameplay cards and team chemistry are key elements so it was important for us that if a user had a poor team with low team chemistry they really noticed it.
As the user progresses through the game and gradually builds a better and better team with higher team chemistry they will really notice a big difference in the way their team plays. It was also important that when a user plays a gameplay card that boost or lowers attributes that the effect is noticeable.
Operation Sports: Were any improvements made that allow the CPU to use more attacking options? Last year on FIFA 07 it seemed like their attack was predominantly wing play and this year it seems that most of the CPU shots come from the top of the box.
Mat Prior: One of the key differences now is that the pace of the game is slower. Just as in real life, the ball should move faster than the players. This means that while you can still tailor your team for wing-play, you can also build a passing game through the middle of the pitch if you want.
The same can be said of the CPU team now too. You’ll see more attempts by the AI players to dribble through the middle if the team is renowned for that type of play.
Operation Sports: What has been done to improve the AI of the goalkeepers?
Mat Prior: The goalkeepers have been tweaked so that they react to situations more authentically.
Operation Sports: Will we be able to see player bios during gameplay when deciding on substitutions?
Mat Prior: Yes, when you are deciding upon a substitution the two players’ attributes are displayed side by side so you can compare and decide upon the best choice depending on your current tactic. You can also bring up the complete players bio by pressing the right stick in the team management pause menu.
Operation Sports: Will we be able to see the other team's line-up during gameplay? As it stands now, when the CPU makes a substitution you have no idea if they are bringing in an attacker, defender, or a midfielder.
Mat Prior: Just as in a real TV broadcast the players name and squad number are displayed during the cut scene showing the substitution. Both teams line-ups with complete details of position can be viewed from the in game team management pause menu.
Operation Sports: Have the ball physics been tweaked?
Mat Prior: Yes, both the ball and player physics have been improved.
Operation Sports: Has man marking been improved?
Mat Prior: Yes, we’ve tweaked the player marking too.
Operation Sports: What cut scenes have been added?
Mat Prior: We have put a lot of effort into increasing the number of cut scenes. There are over six times more than featured in previous football games. There is more content in all areas and a number of new ones have been added. You’ll now see the goalkeeper screaming at his defense when they make a mistake. Plus you’ll see players arguing when called offside. We also utilised a new form of motion capture that captures emotion like never before so you’ll see a lot more expression on the faces of the players in the scenes.
Operation Sports: Will there be more options for defense and attacking?
Mat Prior: Numerous in game tactics are available to change the way you choose to attack and defend and formations and player movement are fully customizable so there are almost limitless options for the way your team plays if you choose to change things around.
Operation Sports: Will we have the ability to move individual players in the formation?
Mat Prior: Yes. Player formation and movement can be completely changed and customized.
Operation Sports: Will player interaction be improved?
Mat Prior: We’ve made improvements in the way players interact so now the player collisions are more authentic.
Operation Sports: Has the issue with running players completely off the ball been fixed, to occasionally render an obstruction call?
Mat Prior: Yes, you will see instances when a player is penalised for obstructing a run when the player is on the ball.
Operation Sports: Will an individual player's form change from game to game? Will we be able to see what form he is in before the game? Kind of like the WE Series, how they have arrows next to the players name to show his form.
Mat Prior: Yes, morale and fitness change from game to game depending on what the player did in the game and how the team performed. This is an important part of the Ultimate Team mode. Gamers will be able to improve player morale and fitness by using the fitness & team talk cards so it is important that it works and has a noticeable effect upon gameplay.
Operation Sports: Has anything been done to improve the lag time when switching players on defense? If a team-mate is running down the field and I take control of him, he stops running. This has led to a number of crazy goals by the CPU.
Mat Prior: Player switching is fully customizable and can even be turned off and left under manual control if required.
Operation Sports: Has the frame rate been improved?
Mat Prior: Yes, frame rate is always something we try and improve and we have done many things to try and make the game smoother.
Operation Sports: Have skill moves/dummies/feints been added to the game?
Mat Prior: We haven’t added skill moves but because the ball is completely independent of player animations, the gamer can actually create opportunities to beat players by putting the ball through the legs of the defender or knocking the ball beyond an opposition player – just like real life.
Operation Sports: Will we see a "super cancel" move, similar to what Winning Eleven currently has? It's critical to be able to pull a player off the AI intended path when needed.
Mat Prior: The new engine enables you to interrupt animation cycles and make the game far more responsive than current generation football games.
Operation Sports: How many camera angles are there? Will broadcast camera be available? Can you adjust height and zoom for all angles?
Mat Prior: For gameplay we have added two new cameras including the new default camera that is pulled further back and enables users to see more of the field for improved gameplay experience. Height and zoom cannot be adjusted.
Replay cameras have been completely re-worked and utilise over 50 different views some of which get close in on the action and really highlight the detail and quality in the game.
Operation Sports: What sort of sliders will be available? Is the ‘Pass Assistance’ option still adjustable?
Mat Prior: Yes, pass assistance and auto switching are both fully adjustable and can even be turned off and left under user control if desired.
Operation Sports: Will we see a demo before release?
Mat Prior: Yes, there will be a downloadable demo available in March.
Operation Sports: We would like to thank you for your time with this interview, is there anything else you would like to add?
Mat Prior: We are very proud of the game we have created. It offers users a completely new and innovative gameplay experience with the Ultimate Team mode and the feedback we have received so far has been phenomenal.
It’s proved hugely popular with our internal testers and I hope it will be met with similar enthusiasm with gamers. UEFA Champions League also represent the best looking and best sounding game we have ever produced and I look forward to hearing users feedback.