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'Football Academy' (NDS) Developer Diary #1 - New Screens

by Rainier on March 9, 2009 @ 5:23 a.m. PDT

Football Academy offers an entertaining way to learn football strategy, positioning and technique. Players build their knowledge by completing tasks and take their improved skills onto the pitch to compete against their friends, offering a variety of mini-games.

EA Sports Football Academy features 14 action packed mini games and over 90 hours of playing experience that will test football knowledge in all areas of the game and teach more about it, from identifying players and teams to understanding formations. Performance in the mini games is assessed via a Football IQ rating, so one can really see who has the best football brain – the more you practice, the better you get. The mini games also hold the key to building up your Academy team – every time you take a mini game test, you will earn new players to add to your squad.

I’m Chris Coates the Lead Designer on Football Academy for the NDS.

This was my first ever DS title and was both challenging and rewarding at the same time to come up with an original concept on a format I’d not previously worked on.

Originally the concept being touted around was of combining a game like Brain Age/Big Brain Academy with Football, but both I and Producer Simon Humber personally felt that this would be far too limited a game experience and would soon become repetitive and easy, so I decided to take this on board and submit a concept that took on board all the facets of what works on a DS and makes it fun.
At this point I then played almost every DS game imaginable and trawled through numerous facts and figures about DS titles and came up with the notion that the following elements are key for a DS title:

  • DS Specific Controls (intuitive use of the stylus/touch screen/microphone such as Nintendogs/Brain Age)
  • Trading and Collecting and Nurturing (Pokémon/Animal Crossing)
  • Clear/bright visuals (Zelda, Mario)
  • Training and “Non-Games” (Brain Age/Nintendogs)
  • Single Player, but with ability to share and challenge other DS’s (Mario Kart/Pokémon)
  • Mario! (Obviously we couldn’t do this one!)

I then decided to see how this could work with football and my original concept was all about collecting and nurturing a team by collecting cards (similar to that in Champions League which I previously worked on, and lately FIFA09 Ultimate Team). This was well received, but the company was keen to have a football knowledge element in the game, so at this point I had to work out a way to tie in football knowledge (without it seeming like a quiz game) with creating a dream team….
And so from this I created the Football Academy concept (with some help along the way from Simon Humber, Matt Prior and the guys over in Nova Scotia, Alastair Jarvis and James Seaboyer, who helped develop the title).

The concept is as follows:

  • “Build and prove your football knowledge both on and off the pitch”
  • Enroll in the Academy and meet the Master of the Academy
  • Build up your Football IQ (similar to your Brain Age score or real IQ) via a selection of football related mini games
  • At the same time you will manage an Academy Team that is put together from real life players. You will not only need the best players, but also need to make sure they have the right Team Chemistry.
  • Team Chemistry is also boosted by your IQ score as your players will respond well to your level of football knowledge.
  • As you beat teams and reach other milestones you also get Academy Badges that track your entire progress through the Academy.
  • Every IQ test will earn you a pack of players; the better you do in a test the better those players are likely to be.
  • Players you collect also go into Your Collection – as you fill up pages in this you unlock real life teams to play against in the match (teams are from the top leagues of England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France).
  • Beat teams in the match to get badges and also unlock better packs of players to choose from.
  • Trade players with other gamers via local wireless, or challenge their team to matches for more badges!
  • Specifically designed match that allows you to play on the move, no need for fiddly d-pad controls (Simon and I used to play matches in meetings, but don’t tell anyone that! – obviously we were testing the game!)
  • Mini games that are designed for the DS and are not “trivia” or “question” based so they can have replay value.

One of the biggest Development challenges came around the match. Originally this was being touted as an Interactive Comic Book where there would be a comic book story of the match that altered based on your interactions that you could read through again at the end of the match. Now this obviously fed in to the whole art style of the game, but as we got close to finishing the game it was becoming clear that the match just wasn’t fun enough and gamers were not getting a sense of progression, tension or excitement in the match. This of course was very worrying, so this is what we did…

We obviously had to keep the comic book style images we had created at this stage, but decided to make the match feel more like an RPG/Pokémon style battle that brought to the forefront the players you had collected in unique player battles (like highlights in a match). At the same time we incorporated some common elements found in most manager titles with regards to advancing the action and leading the gamer in to the Player Battles. In the end, I think we have made something both fun and engaging that really took in to account the differences between players and their team chemistry and made you really think about which action to use – as was discovered when Mr. Humber cheered loudly once in our meeting with a fantastic comeback from 2-0 down against his beloved Pompey.

All in all we feel that we have created a game that is aimed at both kids and their older siblings and parents. The focus testing we did was all positive and although the concept may be a little tricky at first, once you start comparing your IQ scores and the moment you get Ronaldhino (or Stevie Gerrard in my case being a lifelong Liverpool fan) you are truly hooked – and I’m not just saying that because I worked on it!

I hope you enjoy playing Football Academy as much as I did during development. For some of our Marketing guys it was the only time they enjoyed playing on a DS, so I hope that this can be the case for some of you – it might even give you an excuse for playing on your little brother or sisters DS rather than getting caught playing My Sims or Littlest Pet Shop!

Chris Coates - Lead Designer Football Academy

EA Sports Football Academy will launch in Europe on March 20, 2009.

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