Sol Campbell said that FIFA 2000 is the closest you can get to actually playing the game. Do you agree?
I would go along with that completely. I don't know if the term virtual reality is still in vogue, but this is the closest I've ever seen to replicating what actually happens during a game. This year, for the first time, I actually went to Vancouver to see the making of the game. What I was surprised to find out was that there are over 50 people working on the game full time, split into five groups. I spent time in conference with all these different groups, and the contribution I was able to make was that they were able to quiz me closely about what actually happens at certain specific times in the game. They don't see English football on a day to day basis, so they wanted to know things like had I seen any new celebrations lately, and how do supporters at an away match react to the game. This means that it's not only the gameplay itself that has gone into the game but all the details that go with it.
How did you go about the process of recording your commentary for the game?
I'm going into the studio in November to record the next FIFA game, which is an extra game to go alongside the Euro 2000 tournament. What happens is that I go into a studio in Soho, called the Aquarium, and sit in front of a microphone for three and a half days, spending five to six hours a day recording name after name of the players. A lot of these are obviously stored now, but we have to keep adding players as they introduce new countries to the game. I also record the name of each player in two different intonations, excited and not. In addition to recording the names of the players, I also record a whole lot of phrases, for example replying to Gary Lineker when he introduces me at the start of a game. More importantly I record lots of the phrases that I would say during normal play, such as "he ought to have done better with that opportunity". Though, obviously I have to be careful that I don't actually put any player's name in those phrases.
When playing the game it feels as if you're really there. How did you manage to keep up the same level of enthusiasm as in a real game?
In the studio I have to mentally focus as if I'm actually doing a commentary at a ground. I try and give it the same tempo as I would as if I was doing a match for a BBC. I try and think that I'm in the in the stadium, and also the enthusiasm in my voice has been ingrained over the years. That is why sometimes, after four or five hours, the producer will say for the first time "you're sounding a bit jaded" and we'll stop. It wouldn't sound right if I let the enthusiasm in my voice drop. I have to convince myself I'm there so that there's the same amount of oomph in my voice as the first piece of paper I read [the text] from.
What are your favourite sayings and phrases in the game and where did they come from?
I just say what comes in to my head, I don't try to specifically work anything in when recording commentary for the game. The whole point is that it's supposed to be spontaneous, I'm pretending to really be there.
Do you think that computer games will ever replace real football?
I don't think so. There are certain things that you can't recapture, such as sampling the atmosphere of 500,000 people in the fresh air. We're trying to get closer [with the game] but a computer game will never replace the tingle you get in your spine when 40,000 people welcome a team to Highbury.
Three times as many people will buy FIFA 2000 than Quake. Why do you think football games are so popular in this country?
Football is the number one national sport in this country, and is watched by more than any other national sport. It's a national passion and this is reflected in the popularity of the [computer] game. Before computers were around I'm sure many more people played Subbuteo than played Monopoly.
Do you have favourite stadium that you'd like to see featured in the game?
I think that most of the stadiums are featured now. Obviously I'd like to see all the best known stadiums, such as Real Madrid, Amsterdam, I could go on for every country. The more realistic the game gets the more will appear. I'm not actually sure how many times we identify what the actual stadium is.
What are some of your favourite football moments?
There are so many, but most of them would focus around the World Cups. I've been to seven so far with the BBC, starting with Germany in 1974 right though to Paris in 1998. These would undoubtedly be the highlights. The Italy versus Brazil game when Rossi scored his hat trick, and of course the World Cup in 1998, when Ronaldo's name was off the team sheet and back on again. I've also been to 20 FA Cup Finals and each of these would count.
What experiences did you have when making the game that you think helped improve it?
Before I went to Vancouver I'd been a disembodied voice for five years. They hadn't met me and I hadn't me them, so it was a bonding exercise. I got to know them face to face and got a good insight into how they make the game. I'm not a technical expert and had no idea how the game was put together until I went. It's given me an insight into how the process works from me sending my voice to Canada until the game come out. This will help improve it, as I'm more aware now of how my commentary fits. Also there's now a direct line of communication, so for example they'll call me if they want to, say, find out the names of the 20 best players in the UK. Before all our communication used to just be an email telling me when to be in the studio. I have an exclusivity clause in my contract saying that I can't work for rival companies. So I do see my role as being on hand for advice. For example, on Thursday EA had a brainstorming session with people all the way from Korea. I popped in and gave a 25 minute talk on my involvement in the game and answered questions. So my work's much more than just providing the commentary.
Thanks for your time, John
Not at all.
Take me to the Gamespot FIFA 2000 week