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Made in Britain: How Konami UK is building a better PES 2015

By Andy Robinson on Tuesday 8th Jul 2014 at 1:00 PM UTC

With FIFA now dominating the football genre for its seventh straight year, Konami's rival PES team has had much time to reflect on past glories and analyse its failed comebacks.

Much like EA had done when its own series was languishing behind, Konami has spent years evaluating what made PES the de facto football sim, and why it lost its lead.

Though PES in recent years has entered into a cycle of over-promising and under-delivering, overall much progress has been made. PES 2013 was a particular breakthrough, having achieved the series' best critical response since the PS2 glory days.

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Last year, in the twilight of the last console generation, the franchise introduced its biggest shake up yet, with the disruptive implementation of Kojima Productions' Fox Engine ensuring cutting-edge visuals and meticulously detailed animations - but at a cost.

PES 2014 was a bold and distinct instalment of the nineteen year-old series, but even Konami admits that its laser-focus on realism caused many fans - historically unmoved by authentic kits and players - to question the direction that the series was heading.

Freshly-promoted EU brand man, Adam Bhatti, was community manager at the time, and gives a refreshingly blunt assessment of where PES 2014 went wrong:

"Last year we tried to do something drastic and change the game with Fox Engine; make the visuals absolutely amazing, but maybe not capture that gameplay feeling that fans wanted.

"We sat everyone down to earmark the perfect era for PES... It was really easy"

"In PES 2014 the goals were all similar... you knew when you couldn't score from somewhere. Then there was the actual one-on-one between players; PES used to be all about using the left stick - not a second 'trick' stick. That's something we used to frown upon."

Fan backlash to the previous game's technological push - a strategy meant to give the series a much-needed kick start - caused a crisis meeting at Konami. The result, says Bhatti, is a philosophy focused entirely on the 'feel' of gameplay.

Skim across the PES 2015 feature list and you'll see a raft of bullet points designed to instil the feeling of classic PES, including improved response times, dribbling, shooting and no reliance on trick moves.

"The first thing we did was sit everyone down to earmark the perfect era for PES. It was really easy, actually; PES 5 and PES 6 are still regarded as great football games. But it's not just about making those games HD - we had to capture the feelings.

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"When I played PES 6, I felt like I had full control over my player at all times - it was very responsive in a way that PES 2014 wasn't. There was a relationship between the striker and the goalkeeper... it's that feeling that no one goal is the same.

"When PES was good there weren't any licenses - it was Man Red vs. Man Blue - but the gameplay was amazing and you'd tell your mates about it. That's what we want to recapture and get people believing in us again."

Senior creative producer Naoya Hatsumi agrees with Bhatti's assessment, telling CVG that in future his team needs to find a tighter balance between technology, realism and gameplay.

One way Konami plans to rectify this is with its latest gamble: the creation of a second PES development team in the UK, situated just outside of London. PES 2015 will be the first instalment developed between Japan and Europe.

"Creating PES games in Japan has given us advantages and disadvantages," Hatsumi explained, "and the disadvantages lie in overcoming the cultural differences.

"How westerners view football is very different from easterners, in terms of feeling and things you can't describe in words.

"We want to incorporate that European style of football and value that as much as we do our own view of football, in terms of presentation, design and also technological advancements. All of this becomes much more possible when we collaborate."

"How Westerners view football is very different from Easterners, in terms of feelings you can't describe"

With the PES UK studio currently housing just twelve employees, Hatsumi stressed that the partnership is at an early stage and "constantly evolving".

However, one place Britain's influence is immediately apparent is in PES 2015's presentation, which has adopted a more modern, tile-based form.

The PES UK team tells CVG that UI was an "obvious" area in which it could broaden the game's appeal. When it comes to gameplay however, UK studio head James Cox assures his team is respectful of Japan's heritage.

"We have total freedom to design and suggest ideas, but of course we are working cooperatively with another team," he said. "The Japan team has ideas and concepts as well. They respect us and we respect them.

"We have total freedom to discuss and suggest, but of course what gets decided and actually ends up in the game... there are differing blends."

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For PES 2015, Cox's team has focussed on overhauling the various game modes, including a new myClub online Master League, training mode and a 'social' control option, which allows groups of two or three players to operate a single football team.

"The modes are things we've been more involved in this year, but we've also fed back on various aspects of gameplay and the Japanese have been very open," he explained.

"For example, the social control mode is something that we suggested. They initially said, 'that's interesting, but we're not sure'. So we did a prototype, showed them in Tokyo and then they said, 'OK, we see what you mean now'. That's going to be the same with any two countries.

"There are things that we have been able to do faster. That social gameplay I think would've come up in Japan, or Canada, or anywhere else but I think we helped get their quicker. Our particular take on training as well, I would say we got to quicker.

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"We tried to make sure that all of those features were very accessible, but we learned from Japan that we must not forget the depth as well. It's quite tricky at times to blend those two together."

According to Cox, Pro Evo's geographical expansion will ensure a more globally appealing game. With EA's FIFA series predominantly developed in Canada and PES previously in Japan, this injection of European flair could provide the crucial differentiator.

"I can't speak for our competitors, but I think we have a great position [being in Europe]. We have easier access to the European football culture and stadiums.

"Anyone can travel around the world and go to football matches, but we can do it a little more easily. We've been to see Fulham and Arsenal train, the Champions League final... it's a good position to be in.

"That was part of the decision to put our European studio in the UK," Cox explained. "We've deliberately built a team of European game developers; we've got guys from Italy, Spain, Norway, Belgium... and as we continue we'll try to expand that.

"The idea is to naturally inject European football culture into the game. The Japanese guys are well aware of worldwide football, but just like I don't know Japanese football as well as them, they aren't going to quite know English or Italian football as well as us.

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"This is a deliberate strategy to make PES more global - because football is a global game. Hopefully the end effect is that we can improve PES faster and keep making it more attractive to a global audience."

With such significant investments on and off the pitch, it's not difficult to believe that PES could one day soon be a real contender once more.

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