FIFAM.info - Polska Scena FIFA Manager
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Written by Lukasvista - Saturday, 08 May 2010 14:13  |  Skomentuj artykuÅ‚
kulisy_produkcji_fifamA lot of people starting to play a game don’t realize how much time and effort are necessary to make it. In this article I will go backstage and show you the whole process of making FIFA Manager 10 from preparing phase to the release of final game version. I hope this text will be very interesting for all who play this game and also for others who don’t know this title.

Pre-production

This is the most important phase before game production and lasts from November to December. The whole content you’ll see in the final version is described in a documentation called “design document”. We will find here the division into milestones which means division of works into few phases. The number of milestones and time necessary for fulfilling them is defined by game producers (in FIFA Manager 10 there were 4 milestones in total, each of them lasted about 6 weeks). Talking about FIFA Manager game, two persons from Bright Future (Cord and Gerald) worked on the design document. Among the other things this documentation contains information about innovations which were planned to be introduced in the game. Each of the new elements has to be precisely described and the time of implementing these things has to be set. All these elements has to be consulted in the meantime with programmers, designers and QA (Quality Assurance) to guarantee the best possible development for each option. The good example describing pre-production phase is creating an Online mode for FIFA Manager.

Before BF started to create this mode, there were numerous internal consultations in the studio in order to determine the character of competition. Decision on simplifying the online mode in relation to offline mode, was caused by the fact that there was a huge number of data to be processed and transferred between users. Due to this fact the appearance of interface had to be also simplified into four categories which should include the most important manager options. We reach here the next important point in the process of creating the game – concept art, which is graphic illustration of interface. Before the final appearance of 96 screens was achieved, there were 5 other conceptions showing only the menu structure. You can see how it looked, clicking on the picture located on the right side.

 

 

Design menu is not everything, projects of other game screens has to be elaborated as well. In order to ensure equal chances for all users, a competition model was divided into the following categories: main menu, weekly progress, transfer market and match day. Thus user who has quickly finished his actions in the main menu, won’t be able to act on the transfer market without his opponents presents in this area. To vary the competition, game authors decided to add such elements as a bonus race or manager of the month to the game. Bonus race option was a necessity because the game cannot be continued if at least one of users is not ready for next actions. Due to this fact we can see in the online mode a time limit and bonus points for quick actions, which leads to gaining additional transfer budget.

 

Interesting Detail: Database

FIFAM 08 Playable countries: 49, thereof 35 with original data, Leagues: 135, Clubs: 3,257, Players: 24,267 (release status)

FIFAM 09 Playable countries: 56 thereof 41 with original data, Leagues: 151, Clubs: 3,524, Players: 28,564 (release status)

FIFAM 10 Playable countries: 61, thereof 48 with original data, Leagues: 168, Clubs: 3957, Players: 37,398 (release status)
However more important decision was to determine player levels. Although in FIFA Manager series we have 0-99 level system, in the online mode it wouldn’t be successful. Preliminary conceptions assumed 1-10 system, but in this case most of players levels would develop on the same level (depending on countries). It would lead to a problem in training area, I mean players would develop too fast and reach the maximum level in a short time. That’s why game designers made a compromise and decided to implement 1-20 system. Additionally, basing on some values from original database, there were 11 special skills added as well, in order to emphasize players diversity (in the basic version there are 43 special skills). Transfer market was the next area where game authors had to make important decisions. The main guidelines referred to possibility of quick carrying out of the transfers and interactions between users. Basing on above mentioned criteria, there was implemented an auction procedure, where you have to make your suitable transfer decisions within the bounds of time limit. The final element which had to be discussed was the issue of presenting match day in online mode. Due to technical reasons (huge number of data to be processed) it was assumed in advance that match day has to be presented only by text mode used in 09 edition. In this way the preliminary design document describing the main guidelines for online mode was created. Of course this document includes offline mode as well. The main elements referring to this game version were the new graphic layout and introducing HD resolution. When the main guidelines are ready, the team goes into the next phase called...

 

Production

In this stage all criteria included in design documents (which is developed all the time, the total time is about 4 months) are implemented. Production starts in January and lasts until the half of July. During this time the main programmer orders his team to realize respective objectives. After that, the transformation of described option into respective source code or script take place. All this is created with the use of internal studio tools. What kind of software is it and which languages are supported is an official secret. Due to this fact I am not allowed to describe you the process of creating the source code. However it is not a secret how the next production phase looks like, so I will try to describe it to you. When the respective script or source code is elaborated, it’s tested in order to find most obvious bugs. All inaccuracies in feature’s working are reported back to programmers via the QA department. When bugs are eliminated, an option can be added to the game build. Build is a process of files compilation with source code into object code. In other words, everything which is written by programmer is useless, because computer working in binary system (0, 1) doesn’t understand anything. That’s why a compiler is used for changing the code written in programming language (human) into a machine code (computer). The game engine, which takes care of game elements interactions, is responsible for working of all parts of codes. Each new build version means the next stage of game development and is tested inside the studio. Obviously production phase means also other elements such as collecting data and graphic, so it’s high time to describe you another element deciding about final game appearance.

 

Graphic

Nowadays it’s one of the most fundamental elements deciding about purchase. Game, which appearance is monotonous, doesn’t achieve such successes as game which focuses on broadly understood quality. That’s the way that FIFA Manager series follows, the game which try to satisfy users not only by gameplay but by graphic as well. During the process of creating the game, interface is a very important element, too complicated will disgust users whereas the intuitive one will be encouraging. Trying to retain a structure known from few recent editions and simultaneously add new interface elements, game authors decided to put into use the conception of virtual desk which brought two benefits. The first one was to give to experienced users a possibility to organize information displayed on the screen thanks to 20 widgets. The second one was discretionary change of virtual desk look with the use of small objects such as e.g. club scarf or a cup of coffee etc. Conception works concerning the interface last mostly from 4 to 8 weeks, and during this time 885 game screens (counting with statistics, there are over 1000 screens) are converted into a new design. The same as in online mode, here we can encounter few designs and only one is chosen. Different designs of the start menu taken into account during works, can be seen on the picture placed on the right side. The structure of each game screens boils down to distributing respective options on particular screen. With the use of x and y coordinates graphic, icons and text position are established on 1024x768 background (excluding menu start elements). There are created so-called “active zones” which means places which cause performing particular actions (e.g. switching on an automatic line-up change) after clicking on them. Now it’s time to have a closer look at the most developed graphic element in this game, which is 3D mode.

 

 

Let’s begin with discussing the most important issue, which is closely related to 3D graphic - the graphic engine. This is the part of application code which is responsible for creating 3D graphic on monitor. FIFA 10 engine is responsible for rendering (process of generating an image from a model) in FIFA Manager 10. Studio (EA in this case) work out special tools for each engine, tool which are used by graphic artists in order to create figures or faces etc. without intervention into engine code.Bright Future studio uses elements already created for FIFA in most cases, however it’s worth to describe you this process. Everything begins from building the three-dimensional model presenting human figure. This model is composed of various geometric figures, mostly of triangles, each of its apex are so-called face, which means visible surface where texture is put on. In the event of very developed models, the number of components may reach over a thousand.

In order to keep actions (such as a tackle or pass) as realistic as possible, it is necessary to use a motion capture technique. Everything begins from dressing the real human with a black attire which have special markers attached in particular places. These sensors transfer data describing accurately every human move to all cameras distributed inside the studio. The picture of each action is automatically generated on screen in the form of figure model. This process is checked up on by group of technician and a director, who decides what kind of actions player has to do. There is also performance capture technique used to reflect face mimic. In this case there are much smaller markers which are placed around mouths or on eyelashes etc. Thanks to this we can see during cut scenes realistic player reaction after scoring a goal or receiving a yellow card etc. The next technique used in graphic subjects is a laser scan of the whole face together with a part of trunk, which result in creating so-called grid. It reflects shaping of face of particular player and is used in case of famous players such as Kaka or Ronaldinho etc. When a model is ready, textures (such as eyes, skin colour, hairs and other individual characteristics) are put on it. Appropriate parameters (e.g. reflection of light) are set for each texture.This process is illustrated on above picture from FIFA 10, presenting Rooney before the phase of putting the texture on. In order to keep the game smoothness, 3D match uses textures with a lower quality than in cut scenes. I described only models however in the game you can obviously see other elements such as trophy cups, stadiums, stadium surroundings etc. These elements are also created with the use of graphic program, where particular sets of points are combined, using various geometric figures such as triangles, lines, curved surfaces etc.

As a stadium lump depending on complexity is difficult to do as an entirety, the whole model is divided on so-called layers, which in connection gives complete lump which you can see on a picture beside. Each of this kind of „construction” has to be obviously created in an appropriate scale otherwise we could encounter a problem after adding a lawn texture (part of lawn could be seen under stands). The next stage is adding textures and establishing additional places for “variable” content. Variable content means elements which we can add individually (e.g. flags). During loading 3D match, the graphic engine checks in determined localization established by programmers if for example there are no files with identifier which is currently needed. If that kind of elements is available, engine load it and distribute it in places established by graphic artists. Otherwise the default texture is loaded. Permanent cooperation between Bright Future and EA Canada and other departments, guarantees us the biggest possible quality of 2D and 3D graphic in the game. It’s time to describe now the next phase, which is equally important...

 

Data

I will start from the most important issue in manager games that is database. Each club logo, player names, cups etc. are under FIFA or respective league owner’s license. Without licenses all materials cannot be used in the game. EA Sports is responsible for gaining licenses.Interesting Detail: Text mode

Localization file for text mode includes total:

5,277 different text lines in the original version
5,300 different text lines after Update1
5,400 different text lines after Update2
Altogether, about 250,000 different conditions and statistical effects are set.
here are 48 countries with licenses in FIFA Manager 10. On the basis of them it was possible to start working on database, in German studio there are two people responsible for that: Adrian Wahl (Worldwide) and Oliver Tunkel (UK and France). They have a team which is composed of so-called researchers, that is people responsible for creating game database. They start to work at the end of July after receiving valid version of database editor. In such countries as England, where are as many as 6 licensed leagues, few people work on it, they divide work among themselves. From time to time works are sent to coordinators who analyse them and point out errors without delay.

Complete database without errors is sent to the studio at the beginning of September and immediately after verifying is added to build version. Database works are still continued in order to fix found bugs; improvements are included in official updates. At the end of February the whole team starts to work on Update 4, the last official patch which includes winter transfers. It has to be mentioned that our Polish database was created by two people from FIFAM.info, Liber and Marcel. In the meantime there are also created other elements such as historical results that is games statistics dated back even to 1960 (Bundesliga). Currently historical results include 23 seasons, 8 860 matchdays and 77 742 single match results. Together with start of production, game localizations are created (currently there are 6 localizations in the game). The main localization file is composed of 6 parts such as help, text mode, website, newspaper, e-mails and the main translation. All new texts first are added in German language and then are translated into English. When it is known that every option is implemented and described in accordance with design document, files are passed to the rest of translators. The main translation file is the most developed and includes 26 612 lines of text at this moment.

It has to be mentioned that German localization and from two years also the Polish one (created by FIFAM.info), have additional localization file adding at the end of each game post matches comments from coaches, fans and players. At this stage there are also other things which have to be done: creating instructions and projecting covers (the special department of Electronic Arts is responsible for that). During the whole production process the special group for technical compatibility checks the game on different configurations looking for problems with compatibility. This action result in creating the list of system requirements and supported chipsets. Obviously the game engine is being optimized all the time in order to ensure the biggest possible game smoothness and reliability.

When all guidelines determined in design document are realized, the game production passes on alpha status which is a small milestone and last usually two weeks. During this time the game is checked in terms of finding other bugs. These bugs have to be eliminated before the next important stage in making game process...

 

Beta tests

Everything you will read about beta tests phase had to be approved by Bright Future studio.Interesting Detail: Pictures

Game includes:

More than 10,000 player pictures
393 XXL-player pictures
233 city pictures
160 stadium pictures
50 cup graphics
553 original badges (+1,416 generic badges)
Many of you will be astonished but it is due from beta test agreement which I concluded with Electronic Arts. Beta test is the last but one milestone bringing the game closer the final version. The first tested mode was the Online which was put at beta testers’ disposal at the beginning of August whereas the Offline was made available at the beginning of September. There was a forum with a special topic created, where particular issues were discussed by all people responsible for beta tests.

It’s universally known that each game on this stage includes bugs which have to be eliminated before release. To report found bugs we were using online program which was indicating what was already reported. Every detected bug had to be described as follows: what I have found, what is a result, step to reproduce and what I expect. The third step was particularly important which means how to repeat found bug. Sometimes after detecting a bug I had to analyze my doings, because at this stage it was very important. Sometimes someone forgot to mention that he switched a specific option and it resulted in the situation where programmers couldn’t reproduce a bug and didn’t really know where to look for it. To emphasize the significance of each bug, we were describing them using four letters (from A to D). Bug marked as A signals serious error resulting in crash, on the other hand B means minor error e.g. found in localization. QA marked every report with a special ID and after reproduce attempt a bug acquired a status of confirmed or returned. When a bug is marked as returned, beta tester is asked for additional information (e.g. software configuration or save game etc.). Every problem which was solved by the studio, appeared on a change list, we had an access for it via the program. After each few weeks studio supported us with a collective patch eliminating reported by beta testers bugs. Then we were reproducing previously reported bugs with confirmed status. If it was impossible to reproduce it, a particular report had been closed after a short message from tester. At the beginning of October the game achieved RTM (Release to Manufacture/Ready to Market) status and most of you may think that this is the end of this stage. That’s not true, beta tests team was still focused on detecting the bugs which were fixed in one of official updates. The work of the whole beta tests team ended after releasing Update 3.

At the end of this article I would like to thank all who to a greater or lesser degree contributed to this article. First of all I want to thank the following people: Cord Westhoff - for a help in describing online mode, Bernhard Maiberg – without his help I wouldn’t be able to present you screens showing conceptional appearances of online and offline modes and Sören Stöß who coordinated my work. I want also thank my FIFAM.info mates Bart6qx, Kily and Piterson for their suggestions and proofreading. I hope this text brought you near the making a game process which is very complex.

 

 

Translation: Kily

 
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