Football Manager 2022 is less than two weeks away from its full release, with fans that pre-ordered the game getting the chance to play early through the FM22 Beta.
The reviews have been immensely positive so far, and we sat down with Sports Interactive's Nic Madden and CJ Ramson to discuss some of the brand new additions to this year's game, focussing on how the match engine has received some long-overdue TLC.
Aims and Challenges
Whilst Football Manager 2022 has been an overwhelming success so far, that doesn't mean there weren't some obstacles to face along the way.
Nic: "We tried to do a lot this year. We reversed pressing, we changed our accuracy, and then actually overhauled that system, adding a new role, and all the intricacies that come with the wide centre back. It was definitely challenging but very rewarding."
CJ: "I feel there were things that could have gone wrong really easily. Pressing was something that could very easily break the balance of the game and ruin the immersion.
"Things like pass accuracy were something that could have easily broken the immersion and put us in a position where it's really difficult to come back from."
Player Animation Engine
Football Manager 2022's brand new player animation engine is easily one of the most impressive additions in this year's game, with matchdays feeling authentic and exciting.
Here's what the guys at SI had to say when we asked why the new player animation engine was such an important inclusion.
Nic: "We've been wanting to improve the animation engine for so long. Our old system wasn't up to scratch, it wasn't scalable and was very restrictive. Now we have so much freedom. We've expanded and added more fluidity in there so the animations really can guide the AI and make it better. Things like defensive shape, little details, but that's football and that's our game, it's full of the little details that make the big picture."
Nic was quick to point out that animation had been on the back-burner for a while, and he also stressed just how important this new addition will be moving forward:
Nic: "This is the start. This is us trying to make even more of a dent in that 3D sphere because we've had 3D since Football Manager 2009 and this is now our next level. We're really invested in it and hopefully, the fans can see that. We're still quite a small team so we're slowly growing and we're slowly trying to improve the realism."
Striking a Balance
We all know Football Manager is a game that grows year on year, and Football Manager 2022 is no different.
The introduction of the Data Hub and other in-depth features can be overwhelming to casual fans, so how do the team at SI strike a perfect balance?
CJ: "I've played Football Manager since I was a kid. We don't really look to put things in the game that will just look good, or that will just be a good feature, we really want to implement things that will improve the gameplay.
One big thing with my job is everything you fix will break something else, that's a big part of game development. Being able to find fixes and work on fixes that don't break the balance of the game is a difficult thing to do. Overall, we try and find a balance that will make the community happy and address the issues that are genuinely quite annoying for people."
The Matchday Experience
Whilst they may be employees at Sports Interactive, it's very clear that Nic and CJ are also massive fans of the Football Manager franchise.
We wanted to find out what their favourite elements of a matchday are in Football Manager 2022.
CJ: "Seeing your tactics play out in the game. You have something you hope will work and then after months and months, you finally see it come off. That's always a really good feeling. But of course, in my role, it's about finding the balance because you can't have that happen every time. And in football, there's always a winner or loser too. It's always about the match and the balance. So a lot of that's always about the margins of what the player wants to happen and I love seeing that replicated in the game."
Nic: "I always get off my seat when I see a player dink the goalkeeper. I also go wild if I score a long-range effort, and I think the variety is something that we always try and strive for."
Sometimes it's difficult to remember just how much work goes into a brand new Football Manager game.
With all the new features arriving in the matchday experience, we wanted to know how Nic and CJ were feeling ahead of the game's full release.
CJ: "It's emotionally draining working on a game all year-round and then having that release at the end of the year. You'd imagine a music artist releasing an album and you finally get that release and the world gets to see what's been going on. I think we've done a really good job this year. If you put your mind back to where the match engine was in FM21 and compare it to where we are now, it's a feeling of satisfaction."
Nic: "You need to know that you're on the same wavelength as the fans. We don't approach it as ourselves a lot of the time, we're asking how the fans are going to react to this. We're fans of the game first and if it's great for the fans, it's also great for us. We care when it's great and we also care when we read the horrible comments. People are really appreciative, but constructive criticism is always good because it fires us up for the next game."
The Future of Football Manager
Football Manager 2022 has only just arrived, but that doesn't mean we can't look ahead to the next game.
We asked Nic and CJ for a glimpse into what fans can expect moving forward.
Nic: "There's so much improvement that we can still make. We have a development roadmap that we go towards. We're really trying to push the boundaries but this is also the foundation for the future. I would love to push as much as we can to work towards our vision of really making the simulation look and feel authentic. That's what drives us."
CJ: "I feel we've made massive steps in the last two or three years implementing the tactical instructions into the match engine and how it feels and how it plays out, but there's further we can go with that and even more depth we can bring to the tactical side. I think it's in a really good place but I think there's even further we can develop in the future."