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Page last updated at 14:05 GMT, Friday, 25 September 2009 15:05 UK

Recreating realism for Fifa 10

By Richard Taylor
Editor, BBC Click

Still from Fifa 10 game
You can manage, play and foul your way to success in Fifa 10

Of all the places which lay claim to being the home of football, Vancouver definitely is not one of them.

This western Canadian city is synonymous with the great outdoors, and it likes its sport, but soccer barely gets a look in.

Unless that is, you come to the development studios of the world's biggest videogames publisher Electronic Arts (EA), based in Burnaby, not far from Vancouver.

Here the game of football is being played - and with a first-class team no less.

Its state-of-the-art campus is home to the training ground of the Fifa 10 development squad.

Organic experience

After a year of blood, sweat and tears, they are putting the finishing touches on the latest instalment of an annual franchise which could see its way into as many as 10 million homes over the next 12 months.

Jeff Macpherson explains the process of getting the in-game commentary right

The game they are developing pits you against your mates wherever in the world they happen to be.

As well as adding new game play modes, this year the focus has been on refinements - for example a new set-piece creation mode, making it feel more natural.

"It really is starting to feel like a true game of football when you're playing it," says Matt Jones, Fifa series art director.

"You've got lots of accidents happening, the ball is bouncing around, the ball's genuinely free of any of the players, and it just feels like a very organic experience," he adds.

Motion tracking

As you would expect, the Fifa 10 outfit is made up of more than your standard squad of 25. Significantly more as it goes.

"I deal with around 60 people on the game development team. Then there's PR, marketing, operations, qualitative analysis, into the many hundreds of people at times, then we have a data collection network which is ten people internally, 100 researchers and 1,000 reviewers," says Dave Rutter, Fifa 10's lead producer.

"I talk daily to members of the community about what they like and what they don't like and I feel that a number of those people are a part of the team," he adds.

These days a large part of recreating realism in modern games is done by capturing the actual motions of the real-world protagonists - by getting them to dress up in a motion-capture suit and play out their actions in a virtual studio.

Richard Taylor in the motion capture suit
Multiple cameras direct red light onto the reflective balls on the suit

During my visit to the studio, I got to have a go myself.

To prepare for my starring role, a number of photos were taken to help the software build a virtual skeleton from my sylph-like form, using the dozens of balls adorning me as reference points.

Out on the pitch yet more calibration. Multiple cameras directed red light onto the reflective balls on my "mo-cap" suit - and as I performed some basic moves, the light bounced straight back into the camera.

Then after some software jiggery pokey I was magically transformed into the muscular build of Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano.

Not my first choice but still, I found myself really starting to quite enjoy the experience.

Sadly management took a different view and for the finished game I will not be in midfield after all but where I belong, in the stands.

Language issues

The 15,000 footballers who do make it in-game do not just have more snazzy moves than ever, they look almost-lifelike too.

But though the beautiful game is undoubtedly looking more beautiful than ever, Fifa's developers say it will be some time before the videogame looks like the real thing.

Dave Rutter talks about the balancing act of creating a successful soccer simulation

"If just one thing is out of place you're going to key in on it, because it's a survival instinct, right? You have to recognise these little intricacies," Matt Jones says.

"It's the motion more than anything else. That's a tough challenge to overcome. It's a great challenge and a very interesting one but it's a challenge nonetheless," he adds.

And the quest to truly mimic the real-world experience is not always desirable. For example, there is no foul-mouthed chanting from the terraces - though one or two have inadvertently slipped through in years gone by.

"We're all native English-speakers... we were unaware of some of the content that was going out there into the games, so we've made sure that there's a more rigorous process around screening these chants so that no parents out there are going to be upset with us," says Jeff Macpherson, Fifa 10's audio director.

The new generation is there - and this is an opportunity to teach them, advise them, this is fantastic
Pele

And what of that real-world staple - the incompetent referee? Well, he be banished too?

"Some days I wake up thinking we should have referring mistakes in the game, we should have diving in the game," Dave Rutter says.

"But for me... if something happens in the game and you're penalised for it, and had nothing to do with it, that's not fair," he adds.

When the new game is released it will square up against Konami's Pro-Evolution Soccer franchise.

Pro Evo fans will be hoping for a return to form after a couple of disappointing seasons.

However, the verdict in the latest instalment of this turf war will have to wait until both games' release, next month.

Watch Click on BBC News Channel, Saturday 27 September at 11.30 (BST).



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