Hands on with X2 Football 2009, the iPhone footie game from the makers of FIFA DS

X2 Football 2009 is about to kick off

Hands on with X2 Football 2009, the iPhone footie game from the makers of FIFA DS
| X2 Football 2009

Tucked away in an Oxford backstreet is the most successful developer of DS sports games in the world. Little known but massively played, Exient has made every version of FIFA on the DS as well as four years of Madden, a couple of FIFA Streets and various Tiger Woods games.

It's now branching out on its own with the X2 sports brand. Unsurprisingly the first release in the series will be X2 Football 2009, which is due to go live on the App Store any day.

The most notable thing when you first pick up the game is the controls, which consist of an onscreen analogue joypad for movement and passing, and three buttons: pass, shoot and through ball. Helping you understand what you're doing is an arrow that shows where you're going to pass the ball, or where your player is going to run to.

"There was a real creative challenge in terms of the input method," explains Exient's technical director Charlie Chapman. "From one point of view, it would be much easier for players to have access to a proper D-pad and buttons but in terms of making the best of what we've got on this platform, I think we've done a reasonable job."

The impact of the controls goes deep than you might think, however. Because the touch joypad work as an analogue rather than digital system, the game - in terms of the player animations - had to be analogue as well. "In effect, we've taken a certain weakness in the input system and made a strength out of it," say MD Dave Hawkins.

Another much debated point was the number of buttons. "I was a big opponent of the third button," Hawkins reveals. "It was only introduced thanks to some good graphical design, but it gives us so much more functionality in terms of the through ball."

And the end result appears to work well. Starting out with a simple unopposed training mode, I got into the swing of the game relatively quickly. The action is smooth and fast, with the touchscreen emulation of gaming buttons (an approach also used by App Store rival Real Football), working well.

Unlike Real Football, though, X2 Football 2009 doesn't have any gesture controls for throw-ins and the like. "We decided not to take that approach," explains MD Dave Hawkins. "I don't think it has immediacy and gestures can be misinterpreted."

Aside from the standard pitch view, the other mode is a penalty shoot-out mini-game - something that was required as part of the game's basic feature set. In this, you sweep the ball with your finger to take a penalty, while moving a pair of gloves when you're the goalkeeper.

In terms of the game's setting, X2 Football 2009 is based around international teams. The main reason is the cost of buying official licenses for club teams and national leagues.

"We did the maths about going after licenses and it doesn't add up," Hawkins explains. "We know we have the technology and the production values to make a great game, so we have to build up our reputation first and then we'll can look at licences."

There are ten competitions based around regional tournaments such as the European and World Cups. Apparently you can't copyright a tournament structure. This system also keeps the gameplay clean and simple, without the need for detail such as the transfers and weekly wages that delight players of the football manager genre.

Significantly though, correct player names are okay to use in the international context, so your team won't consist of messers Roony, Gerirrd and Coll. Indeed, the quality of each team is based around the relative attributes of its consistent players.

"We make the point that the player rankings aren't supposed to be totally realistic, though," says Charlie Chapman. For example, in order to maintain game balance, the North Korean players will be more generously rated than they would be in reality. "A player who is good at the game will always overcome the weaknesses of their team. That's part of playing a football game," Chapman says.

So with the first version of the game complete and waiting to go live on the App Store, the team is now considering what features to add in future versions. "Multiplayer will be the first one," says Chapman. "We hope to have a proper multiplayer update which uses the 3.0 SDK by the end of the year."

Jon Jordan
Jon Jordan
A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.