FIFA 08: EA Interview

Five-on-five online play, fancy footwork, and Be A Pro mode: EA tells us all about its latest FIFA game.

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By Adam Doree & Alex Wollenschlaeger

Up until earlier this month, nearly a full year after it was released, FIFA 07 was consistently one of the 30 best games at retail in the UK. This is even more remarkable when you consider that EA's new instalment, FIFA 08, is out later this week.

The FIFA series has come a long way in the past decade or so. Sports games in general get a lot of flack for being largely the same game year after year. EA is taking criticism like this to heart and it's demonstrating its ambitions by injecting plenty of new features into the latest iteration of its football franchise.

The first thing you'll notice as you start to scratch beyond the surface of FIFA 08 is that you have a lot more control over the ball. Whereas in previous FIFA games the player and the ball were considered to be one object, the ball is now separate. This is one of the key advances in recent years, following on from the work that the developer's at EA football studio in Canada have put into the new gameplay engine over the last three years.

Untethering the player from the ball sounds like a trivial thing to do, but it allows for all sorts of pitch magic of the kind that makes the top players so engrossing to watch. And as Joe Booth, the senior producer on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, tells us, it's opened up the game to some powerful play.

Pulling off the skill moves is a matter of learning how to finesse the analog sticks. Do it right and you'll be able to roll the ball, do step-overs, fake your opponents and more. It's not something you'll master immediately, but then that's sort of the point. The top players who dazzle us every week spent years honing their skills, and you'll get more out of FIFA if you put some of the same sort of effort in too.

"The idea is, these are advanced controls, and to be able to do them well in gameplay takes a lot of time to learn the context of when it's feasible," Booth says.

Any player in the game is capable of doing skill moves but for the best, EA has come up with signatures moves. These are more advanced tricks that are so recognizable as to be part of particular players' styles. Think of Barcelona superstar striker Ronaldinho and his rainbow flick.

The best part of all these special moves is that the technology behind them allows you to string them together however you want. Previous games have been hampered by the need for animations to complete, which means you're confined in how you can act on the field. That was then. In FIFA 08 you'll be able to break into animations already running and quickly jut off in another direction. "This starts to become very powerful as you string these things together," Booth says.

This gameplay system opens up the game to some seriously fancy footwork, so EA has included a video capture system that lets you show off your skills to the world. Just like in EA's new skateboarding game, Skate, you'll be able to record your best clips and upload them, YouTube-style, onto EA's site and share them with your friends.

That social element is an important part of EA's plans going ahead. The company has a goal of introducing 11-vs-11 online games by the end of the decade. The first steps will be available in FIFA 08 in the form of a new 5-vs-5 mode that PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners will be able to download around six to eight weeks after launch.

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