GDC Europe 2011: Electronic Arts' Sebastian Enrique talks about introducing goalkeeper controls to the best-selling football franchise.
Who was there: Sebastian Enrique works across production, game design, and software engineering at EA Sports' Canadian development studio. He has worked on the FIFA series since its 2006 iteration, and he was in charge of implementing goalkeeper controls into the series for the first time in FIFA 11.
What they said: While the goalkeeper may be only one member of an 11-person team, he must act and move in a very different way to the other members of the squad. So while it was a long-anticipated feature to get goalkeeper controls into the series, it took many years for EA Sports to acquire the technology and knowledge to realise this vision.
The man responsible, Sebastian Enrique, explained how it all came together at GDC Europe 2011. It started in November 2007, when a free patch for FIFA 08 was released that allowed five-on-five online play. From there, the number of online players got bigger with each year, until finally the series' online functionality was robust enough to theoretically support the full 22 players on the pitch.
The game to receive the feature was FIFA 11, but as Enrique revealed, he actually tried getting it into the World Cup game just months earlier. However, both in terms of functionality and marketing, it was held over for FIFA 11, as EA's marketing team really latched on to the feature and its role in the tagline for the game that year: "We Are 11."
The goalkeeper control system was prototyped many times before making it into the series. Among the key findings from Enrique and his team was the behind-the-keeper camera position, which made the action easier to see, while also building immersion and anticipation. Enrique and his team also turned a real-world goalkeeper skill into a feature--their ability to anticipate the trajectory of the ball, which made it into the game via a visible trail.
Other additions were made to aid gameplay, such as a dot on the pitch that showed you the optimal position to be in and a red dot under players to signify when they were about to shoot. However, these features could be turned off in the menus if they made the job of goalkeeping too easy for the player.
Despite all this effort, Enrique and his team knew that, like in real life, not many people would want to play as the keeper. In a straw poll of the GDC audience, he asked how many people had played FIFA, with about half the room raising their hands, which fell to only a few people when he asked about who actually played as the keeper.
Quote: "It was originally unplayable," said Enrique of playing FIFA as the goalkeeper, which was initially based around a control scheme where movement was on the left stick and saving was on the right stick.
Takeaway: Goalkeeping was a long-anticipated feature for the FIFA series that took some time to get right. While the take-up of people playing in this position was low, that was anticipated by the development team based on behaviour they saw in real life.