I had an opportunity to sit down with Jeff Antwi (Volta Lead Producer) and Shaun Pejic (Gameplay Producer) to talk FIFA 20 and the newly added Volta Football mode. We also talked about our love for our favorite teams (Manchester United is in my blood).
Operation Sports: After seeing the initial announce video about Volta Football featuring yourself, Rio Ferdinand and Chelcee Grimes I wasn’t exactly sold on Volta. I felt like it was trying to bring FIFA Street back into the FIFA world. After the presentation you gave earlier on Volta and having had a chance to play, it’s quite clear that this isn’t a rehash of FIFA Street and there appears to be tremendous depth. What was the idea and thought process behind introducing Volta Football this year at this point in FIFA’s lineage?
Jeff Antwi: One of the things we want to clarify with fans and the community is that street football is something that’s been asked of us, especially indoor football, by the community for years and years now. The thing about Volta Football we want people to understand is that it’s not FIFA Street — it’s street football. The key difference here is that Volta Football is built on the foundation of the FIFA engine for the first time ever. What this allowed us to do, for gameplay specifically, was develop gameplay on top of an already established engine and benefit from all of the enhancements and improvements of FIFA. This also allowed us to use that same intelligence to develop a really refined street football experience. The mode isn’t just about tricks and dancing on the ball and all that; it’s still fundamentally about scoring goals and still also has a good level of competitiveness to it. We’ve been able to layer on all the flair of street football on top of this solid foundation.
OS: Touching on your comment about the mode not being all about dancing, which I quickly came to learn, you still have the fundamentals of football including passing, movement and movement off the ball. How simple or difficult was it with the engine in place to build on that and then add all the street elements and street gameplay that Volta would need?
Jeff: I wouldn’t necessarily say it was difficult for us but was more of a focus for us. Because of this engine, we were able to build and put enough energy behind the mode and not worry about fundamental changes. For example, Shaun will probably speak on strafe dribbling and what that change will bring the for the [11-on-11] game. We were able to take that same dynamic one-on-one system and apply it to Volta because in the mode you’ll still need to beat your defender and navigate the tight space, as well as having the ball quickly at your feet and change directions, which are all a big deal. The transition between the gameplay improvements and Volta was a nice transition and crossover effort that allowed us to create and deliver an authentic street football experience.
OS: Expanding on delivering an authentic street football experience, there appears to be a lot of emphasis on style, personalization and expressing yourself as a street footballer in Volta, as well as a solid amount of depth there as well. What was the focus with that and adding depth so that players could personalize their character to express themselves in the game whether male or female?
Jeff: Stepping back for a second for context, when we were developing Volta we traveled around the world to various places like Amsterdam, Brazil and the UK. We spoke to different people and influencers in the street football scene, one of them being Ed Van Gils in Amsterdam, who is considered to be the godfather of street football in that location. He provided us with a lot of insight and information around not only the style of play but the cultural relevancy of street football itself. One of those things was your own personal style or personal brand. We wanted to take that information we received from Ed and ensure that, with the emphasis on creating your character, we had enough tools for people to create themselves and express their own personal style. Whether that be wearing red shoes, shirt and shorts — or all black — we wanted to have enough variety in the items that we offer you that you can create your personal style not only for yourself but for your squad as well.
OS: That sounds awesome and hopefully does carry the depth to allow true individuality for all. Moving on to the Volta story and it focusing around your character, is it going to be more driven by the story itself, or will players have choices or the capability to choose how the story for their character flows?
Jeff: So I can’t exactly speak specifically to how the story will play out, but I can say that it will be a different experience to previous Journey stories where it was a crafted character that was always meant to be a trilogy. For this, your own character is the protagonist and your own character is going through the world of street football and the authentic world of street football.
OS: I can say that after having a little of actual hands-on time with Volta I’m definitely more sold on it than I originally was when the trailer dropped. Based on the fact that you’ve expanded a bit on the depth, I think that that’s very important and a lot of the new and die-hard FIFA fans will appreciate this mode. FIFA does tend to get stagnant come January/February so this mode will expand the life cycle of FIFA this year.
Jeff: For sure. The nice thing about Volta as well is that we want to make sure it’s a live experience, so we’ll be dropping fresh content throughout the year so that people stay engaged with the experience and get to enjoy new content.
OS: From seeing the world map itself, I know it’s probably not the final product but there looks to be a lot of depth and additional things that will be added to keep fans engaged. Switching gears over to Shaun with gameplay, I’m very excited by how the game played. I’m unfortunately one of those guys that gets hyped up by trailers but then feel the need to have to play to get a feel of the product like most. Having played this build, I have very few complaints and it was surprisingly solid. Adding back the strafe dribble into FIFA 20 as well as one-on-one play, what was the focus on this feature and emphasizing one-on-one situations?
Shaun Pejic: I think what it started with was the new tackling system. Having that system implemented based off of last year’s Active Touch system, we’re using the system in tackling and defending now so it allows us to improve tackling and dribbling. Like I showed in the video presentation, when you’re successful at winning the ball in a tackle the priority should be to try and keep possession for your team. So with tackling and defending being much more improved in FIFA 20, we felt like we wanted to get the one-on-ones balanced and back into the game again. Redoing and improving the strafe dribble feature really has that competitive edge in, like you said, these one-on-one situations, and it was a vision we had at the start of the year to give fans these scenarios again to really get people at the edge of their seats when they arise.
OS: In terms of gameplay, one thing I noticed is what seems to be more intelligent AI play, especially defensively. It seemed like my AI counterparts were doing a much better job of staying in shape within my set formation and weren’t losing shape due to a broken play or bad pass. The game also plays a lot slower compared to the last few iterations of FIFA, allowing you to move the ball around set up your attack. Some fans might feel like the new pace is “too slow” but the pace in this build feels true to real football. What was the idea behind slowing down the pace this year and giving fans more time on the ball, as well as the time to set up their attack off the ball?
Shaun: This decision really came from community feedback. FIFA 19 created feedback where the game’s pace was too frantic — and the pace was really fast. In the videos I showed early, you could see the AI constantly changing their mind and being indecisive, and this added to the frantic and feverish pace. We also had the topic from the community feedback that AI was possibly overpowered and helped the player almost too much both defensively as well as on offense. This core information that we received allowed us to make it a priority for FIFA 20, in tandem with our vision for the game to allow our game to play more realistically to real football. The way that players move and look on the pitch, as well as creating more space and time on the ball to allow a player to analyze and make better decisions based on the situation, was also key.
OS: Another thing I noticed was that through balls and player runs looked to be toned down as well. I felt like in previous FIFA games players would make forward runs on their own a lot more often than I saw in this build. Was this a product of the slowed down pace?
Shaun: We are still working on the game right up until it gets shipped for launch so this may be something that could change up to that point. The one thing we really wanted to avoid was having players making a run, and you would make that through pass but he’d stop and change his mind.
Jeff: The game is so dynamic that the tuning around football intelligence, and all the work that’s been done with positioning and defending and the like, has caused the AI to make better decisions on when to take or pass up on taking up space. [This] lets them play more organically and authentic in that sense like you’d see in a real football match.
OS: That’s what I felt and saw so that really made me happy. Defending this year feels a lot better, and tying in with the ball being its own entity and the physics behind it, a lot of those terrible bounces where you’d make a tackle and the ball would go right back to the other team have been cut down quite a bit. You also mentioned in the presentation that the way you’d have to play defensively due to more onus on the player having to take command of their players — with a focus on more manual defense — will cause people to have to learn and be more cognizant of the game. What was the emphasis on this revamped defense, and its link with the ball and new ball physics?
Shaun: This once again ties back to community feedback, as well as the fact that we also play FIFA ourselves. There’s nothing more frustrating than winning, or thinking you’ve won possession on a tackle, only for the ball to go back to the opposing team. It was actually quite a difficult thing to fix with the physics engine being quite complicated. We had the time during the production cycle in FIFA 20 to work on the ball physics and new tackling system to improve these experiences, so we certainly took the core information we received at the start of the year to identify that these were areas that we wanted to fix and improve.
Jeff: Expanding on that quickly, all of the work that was done revamping the ball physics was brought right over to Volta Football. It’s a great thing because we’ve got walls and different materials on the walls, so how the ball behaves off of that is very important. It’s nice that all the work that was done on core gameplay translates right over to Volta Football.
OS: I definitely noticed that playing Volta Football as players would line up passes off the wall and could recognize where the trajectory of the ball would go based on the surface they played the ball off of. I also noticed players playing and shielding the ball in the corners, pushing defenders off to make space to play the ball off the wall or to a teammate. The physics definitely looked solid in those situations.
It was clear to me after the interview that the team working on FIFA 20 really dug into the community and its feedback. While all legacy issues were potentially not touched on, the build has a very strong foundation and could lead to a great final product that could see FIFA take a strong step forward, as I touched on in my early hands-on impressions.
What are you looking forward to the most in FIFA 20? Are you sold on the new gameplay mechanics and the potential feel that this year’s game will have? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.