It seems like only a few months since EA Sports released World Cup 98. Er, hang on a minute, it was just a few months ago. What are they playing at over there in Canada? Three football games in just 12 months just doesn't seem possible. Have they been taking some kind of machine coder's Viagra? Ah, but apparently this game's different. Well, okay then. But exactly how different can it be?
Associate producer Nic Malaperiman has the answers: We actually started work on FIFA 99 when we finished Road To World Cup at the end of last year. Whereas World Cup 98 was designed specifically for this year's tournament, FIFA 99 features over 240 European and American club sides. As well as playing in up to 12 different leagues and three new Cup games, for the first time you can set up and take part in your own leagues and tournaments. We've even come up with our very own European Super League (see panel on opposite page) for a bit of fun.
Okay, so no national sides. What else is new? Everything, really, says Matt Brown, the man in charge of the artificial intelligence test bed, though you might not realise exactly what until you've played it a few times. With football games it's always a case of realism versus reality -should it be a real simulation or should it just be fun? The thing is, Creal' isn't always fun. It's fine for flight sims and stuff like that - though you wouldn't catch me playing them. You have to exaggerate or adapt things to suit your requirements. We always start with Creal' and then take it from there, and that's why I think we're better at it than other people. We look at the stats, how fast a player can move, how hard and how far he can hit the ball etc, and then alter or adapt it accordingly. In most football games, the amount of ground a player can cover is quite amazing, but it's also totally unrealistic. We actually timed how long it takes a real player to run down the wing with a football, and it's a lot longer than you might think. If it took that long in our game, people would just get frustrated.
So what are the most significant changes? Well, we've played around with the camera a lot and have been trying to get the frame rate as high as possible - that was the main criticism we had from you guys and the public last time round, states Matt. It just wasn't quick enough.
It's Not Soccer'!
So how have you gone about this? Again, it's always a compromise. Soccer... Sorry, can I call it soccer? Will you guys get upset if I don't call it football? Okay, football is all about movement and making the right pass. When you zoom in on the players, they may look nice, but it limits how you can play. When you zoom out there's more strategy involved, because you can see more of your players and more of the pitch. This is why we try and keep the camera out -the further back the better - because it makes the game a lot more strategic. However, pull back too much and the frame rate really starts to suffer. We said to ourselves before we started work on FIFA 99 that the most important thing was the frame rate. It just had to be better. Consequently, we've been tweaking everything to make sure it stays much higher than before.
Sipping from a massive 24-ounce cup of diet Coke, I sit down and play FIFA 99 under the watchful eye of Eric, one of EA Sports Canada's technical guys.
After about two minutes into a game, I'm convinced. It at least appears to be better than World Cup 98. It's certainly a lot faster and a lot more fluid (you can still alter the speed). The fact that you can chest the ball down means that you can control it a lot quicker, which speeds up the game immeasurably. You're no longer forced to wait those extra nano-seconds that seem like years and leave you so vulnerable to tackles. Also, thanks to new Cinterruptable animations' you're no longer banging the control pad in frustration waiting for your player to change direction when he's in the middle of a 360-degree Rocastle.
Altogether, it plays a lot smoother and is less frustrating than before. That said, the fact that it's so easy to make a successful tackle means that it's still a bit of a battle in midfield -more like an Arsenal versus Chelsea game than, say, Liverpool versus Ajax. You still don't get much time on the ball and are forced to pass it almost as soon as you get possession; either that or risk pegging it down the wing and hoofing it into the box. When you're in possession you should have an advantage over your opponent. You should be able to shield the ball from him and sell him dummies before you decide what to do...
You Gotta Practice
Eric immediately scribbles something down on a piece of paper and then takes hold of the other controller. We play a six-minute game and he runs rings around me, executing little fakes and jukes (well that's what he calls them) almost at will. The game ends seven-nil. Like every other FIFA game before it, it's pretty obvious that if you want to get good at FIFA 99 and get the most out of it, then you're gonna have to practice.
The burning question as far as gamers are concerned is obviously: Should I buy it?' Well, we'll leave that to the review. Suffice to say that FIFA 99 appears to be better than its five-month-old predecessor. But then those of you who have only just shelled out 40-odd quid for World Cup 98 a few months ago might feel more than just a little bit cheated. It is a different game, but then it's also very similar. Personally, I can't wait to get hold of a copy.
FIFA 99: Your In-A-Nutshell Guide To What's New
EA Sports say FIFA 99 is better in every way, and we tend to agree with them. So what exactly have they been doing over the past few months to make the game play even better?
Faster Frame Rate
The primary target of this year's Al Improvements was to improve the frame rate. By modifying the Al code, removing some unnecessary code, optimising existing code and adding new, more efficient code, the net result is a much faster, smoother, more playable game. Which Is nice.
Improved Cpu Tactics And Al
You can keep ya fancy graphics - a football game Is only as good as the artificial Intelligence that runs It. The Al In WC9S was Impressive, but It's been improved no end tor FIFA 99 There are two elements to the CPU tactics in FIFA 99. the opponent Al and team-mate Al," explains Al guru Matt Brown.
The opponent Al has now been Improved In many areas, and we've spent a lot of time improving the marking model. Defenders now play more dynamically depending on the attacker's position. For example, near the attacker's goal the defenders mark loosely. At the other end of the held, defenders mark tightly, Cdrawing a line in the sand' and defending It strongly. We've made Improvements to the team-mate Al too. CPU-controlled team-mates now support their colleagues all over the pitch. For example, when a player is attacking the wing, the last thing he wants to do Is cross the ball into the box and not have any team-mates ready and waiting.
The goalkeepers in WC9S were completely CPU-controlled and therefore prone to standing still when they should have been making a challenge. Thankfully, in FIFA 99you now have some limited control over their actions. Pressing the right shoulder button now activates a Cpanic mode' that causes the keeper to come screaming off his line to retrieve the ball. It doesn't always work out, but it does put the willies up strikers in one-on-one situations, and therefore doesn't leave you feeling totally helpless. Keepers can now also trap the ball and pick it up (as long as it's legal).
WC98 gave you more control over your players than ever before, but it was still a little on the slow side. In FIFA 99 you can now perform directional chest traps, slide hooks (for one time shots) and dummy moves. It may not sound like much, but the fact that you can now receive the ball a lot quicker seriously improves the speed at which you can pass and run It. If there's one single improvement that makes FIFA 99 worth buying, it's this.
New CIntemiptable animations' enable you to execute directional changes in the middle of turns (previously, if you started a 180-degree turn, you had to complete it before you changed direction). Like the new moves, this makes the on-pitch action much tighter and a lot more fluid.
New Bounding Logic
Ball control improvements were another key target for the developers. Matt Brown explains: Given that digital controllers offer less precision than analogue controllers, controlling the ball along the pitch boundaries was often difficult and frustrating. New Cbounding logic' helps the player keep the ball inbound and aids the retrieval of balls that end up near the sideline. We've implemented a much quicker 'stop' which also facilitates better ball control. Players can stop almost instantaneously now.
In real life, a soccer player has an acceleration curve to his sprint, explains Matt Previous FIFA games had this model. For FIFA 99 we've stepped this up and made the acceleration curve a lot steeper. The result is a much quicker feel to the players' movement on the pitch.
Real-Life Player Heights A Other Graphical Stuff
To increase the realistic look of the game, each player is now a different height depending on the stats held In their database. There are now 60 per cent more animations, rather cool on-pitch incident Ccut-scenes', realtime lighting effects, more detailed players, a comprehensive player creation facility and 19 accurately modelled stadiums. There's also a new Quick Start feature - just two clicks and you're in.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode