Konami talks Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 for mobile

And whether it might transfer to iPhone

Konami talks Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 for mobile

We've reviewed two of the autumn's Big Three mobile football games – FIFA 09 and Real Football 2009 – so there's only one left to come. Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is due out this month, published by partner Glu Mobile.

We caught up with the game's producer, Axel de Rouge, to find out about some of the new features and improvements in this year's version, while also asking him about the chances of it transferring to iPhone.

"We had two tasks: to improve on last year's version – evolution – and to try to innovate, which is difficult on the mobile platform, thanks to its many constraints," says Rouge.

Put simply, there are two main innovations in PES 2009, and a further batch of improvements. The biggest new feature is Bluetooth multiplayer – a feature the game shares with Gameloft's Real Football 2009.

"It was a big risk for us, because we knew that we could start working on it, and three months later realise that it doesn't work," says Rouge.

"Thankfully, it did, and with absolutely no lag either. We have some really talented developers who made it work cross-manufacturer, so as long as your phones are Bluetooth-enabled and the same screen resolution, you can play.

Rouge says that Konami has made an effort to make games easy to host, too, with a Bluetooth match set-up process that's quick and simple. He expects the mode to go down well with PES 2009's core audience of ten- to 20-year-olds, many of whom will be playing in school or college.

"Testing it has been really funny," he says. "You've got the lead developer and lead artist playing, and screaming at each other across the room whenever one of them scores!"

We can attest to this competitive streak – Rouge practically does a lap of the room when he scores a late winner against Pocket Gamer, while we (almost) fling our phone through the nearest window.

2D and not 3D
One thing that isn't in PES 2009 is fully 3D graphics. "3D was on the roadmap at the beginning of this year, but we realised that we have this really identifiable ISS-like view in the game, even though it's 2D," he says. "And we really wanted to put multiplayer in, so we made that the top priority."

The second innovation for the new game, though, is its Challenge mode, which has three elements. There's a penalty kick contest, a 'fastest goal' challenge – you have to score a goal as quickly as possible, believe it or not – and then a free kick challenge, where you have to score 20 free kicks from various positions.

"It's something really specific to the platform," says Rouge. "We know our users often play for three to five minutes, which sometimes isn't even the length of a match. So we wanted to bring something they can play for a few minutes, and compare their scores with friends. You can start, shoot four free kicks, then save and come back later."

This new free kick mode also led to one of the more iterative improvements in PES 2009 – the addition of swerve and curve effects on the ball, without which the free kick option wouldn't be much fun. Besides free kicks, it can also be used to whip curving crosses into the box.

Otherwise, the game has kept the one-button control system from last year's title, although there's still an alternative that uses more keys for experienced players. However, Rouge says the game's AI has been significantly improved, in response to gamers' feedback on last year's PES mobile game.

"People expect a certain behaviour from a team," he says. "Users asked for stronger AI, both in terms of individual players' positioning, and the overall formations. If you play 3-5-2 and you never see the two midfielders running down the wings, you'll wonder why you chose that formation in the first place. So we've been tweaking individual and collective behaviours to have a more realistic and difficult level of play."

Better AI, goalkeepers
Oh yes, the game's a bit harder this year – Easy level isn't quite as easy, Hard is a bit harder, and so on. "I still lose some games on the hardest mode, even though I'm the producer," says Rouge. "You can't do whatever you want in this game, even if you were in charge of the development!"

Rouge also says the goalkeeper AI has been improved – a bugbear for many a football game in the past on both console and mobile.

When we meet, at Konami's European PES tournament, Rouge is wielding a PowerPoint presentation on PES 2009 for mobile, complete with several slides on the game's AI. While the Bluetooth multiplayer and the new Challenge mode are the most visible improvements, it seems what's under the hood is seen by Konami as an equal strength in the mobile battle with FIFA 09 and Real Football 2009.

"It's hugely important," agrees Rouge. "If you put the wrong comma in the wrong place when coding the AI, the game is dead! I am almost not exaggerating."

Other improvements are new stadia, and the official European Champions League licence – something shared by this year's PES console game. Plus there are new animations, such as a diving header, and the addition of the stadium shadows on the pitch. Rouge says this is one thing that, while it doesn't affect the gameplay, does make the game look a bit more like its console parent.

The little touches are clearly important to the PES mobile studio. "I wouldn't play a game now if there was no net moving when I score," says Rouge.

"Even though they're details, I think it's those that make the difference. Our game feels more modern and more finished now. We were proud of it last year, but we've now gained experience, got comments from users, and acted on them."

Rouge is pretty straight-talking when it comes to PES 2009's prospects against its rivals on mobile, too.

"I cannot be objective about it, so I won't tell you we're the best, even though we think we are," he says. "I will just say I'm very proud of it."

PES on iPhone
There's only one obvious question left to ask, then. With PES 2009 now finished for regular mobiles, what about taking it to more advanced mobile platforms like N-Gage, Android and especially iPhone?

N-Gage doesn't seem to be in the cards, but iPhone in particular makes Rouge's eyes light up. "I can tell you that we are interested, and we would be stupid not to be," he says.

"But iPhone belongs to the mother company, Winning Eleven Productions, so they are the ones deciding what their baby is going to become. But I would be happy to do the iPhone version – we have done some touchscreen versions for PES 2009 this year, and it would be a logical extension of that."

Stuart Dredge
Stuart Dredge
Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)