Previews

Football Manager Live

Mixing the best bits of Football Manager with a fistful of realism and a gutload of passion

The idea is as simple as it is brilliant. The pick 'n' mix playfulness of fantasy football crossed with the devilish detail of the Football Manager series. It's got such potential and obvious appeal that it almost reeks of some cynical marketing meeting: "Guys, I just want to say this: 'FML, the MMO that's a new USP for our key IP!'"

But no. Rather like the bedroom-coded origins of Sports Interactive's first title - the genre-reviving and defining Championship Manager - the genesis of Football Manager Live is something much more personal. After working for years at Sports Interactive ever since leaving school, Champ Man's co-creator Oliver 'Ov' Collyer decided to take a break from it all and go travelling.

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"When I came back," explains Ov, "I was deciding what to do next, and knew that the dev team had carried on fine without me being there. I did some writing, of words and music, but didn't find it as fulfilling as making games.

"But the team had got a lot bigger at SI on FM," continues Ov, "and I prefer working in smaller teams, so I came up with the basic concept for a massively multiplayer football management game for a more casual player, but one that the hardcore players out there would enjoy too."

Sports Interactive were more than happy to welcome Ov back into the fold with his new project. "I was really excited," says Sports Interactive MD, Miles Jacobson. "It was just going to be him and one other to get it to prototype stage, and for me, just having him back in the office was a bonus enough, let alone the possibilities that the game could bring!"

That team of two set to work and early code was up and running a couple of years ago. In keeping with Ov's aversion to big teams, there's now a grand total of four coders on FML, with another on the way, plus one artist shared with Football Manager Handheld.

By the time Football Manager Live was announced last April, a none-too-shabby pre-beta was working, with a game world of just under 100 players. Right now, there are three beta worlds, two with 500 players each and one with 1,000, and the FML that we'll all be able to play in 2008 is taking shape.

The core of the game remains true to the initial concept, giving gamers the vast database of players from around the world to fight over, then letting them pit their chosen teams against each other in the excellent match engine taken, like the database, from the always reliable Football Manager.

The fantasy element takes after the original Fantasy Football, where managers bid against each other for players - well, for Alan Shearer, when he was in his pomp - rather than the now more prevalent Sun DreamTeam approach, where every team could, in theory, feature the same 11 players.

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The dynamics of how such a game world will work has evolved as the beta testing has gone on. "We needed some kind of organised competitions in the game," explains Ov, "and also noticed that groups of people were playing at different times. So it was important to give people the chance to play competition matches at a time that suited them, so the federations were born."

These function in the same way as national football associations do in real world football, running a league structure and arranging cup competitions for its members,
as well as local rules regarding player loans, deadlines by which matches must be completed and prize money.

"A full federation with highly regarded teams will get more media money (which becomes prize money) than a federation with lesser teams," says Ov, "so we've tried to mirror real life in the way they are set up." In the game world that we've tested, there are also inter-federation competitions, pitting the top-placed sides of each league against each other in a kind of pseudo Champions League, UEFA Cup and Intertoto Cup campaigns.

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