FIFA 14 Preview: Improvements Breed Variety

 

Being a FIFA developer must be frustrating. When it comes to adapting the beautiful game into a faithful, fun video game, there’s always something to fix, something to improve. The yearly launch schedule makes this process mandatory; when one game ships, the process of analyzing its failures begins. Nor is it a matter of simply ticking items off a to-do list. In a complex system like a video game, changing one aspect can have unintended consequences; fixing one problem can create many others.

The various innovations in FIFA 13 were well-conceived and well-received. But when the dev team unveiled FIFA 14 for the first time at the EA campus in Redwood Shores, Calif., they admitted to frustration. Last year’s changes to attacking AI, dribbling, and first-touch control resulted in a game that felt one-dimensional — too focused on rapid attacking play. Players spent all their time sprinting in straight lines.

Having created this problem for themselves, the developers resolved to fix it. They wanted to represent the full spectrum of soccer possibility, changing the dynamics of their game to encourage midfield possession and build-up play. FIFA 14 will allow for rapid, multi-directional cuts at speed that preserve player momentum, alleviating the straight-line problem. Using last year’s unpredictable first touch system as a template, the FIFA team also refined the dribbling system to make each touch more unpredictable and organic. Players highly rated in dribbling will take consistent, measured touches, but if you try to dribble upfield with a defender, there’s no telling what might happen.

 

Dribbling has also been augmented with an important new mechanic: protecting the ball. In FIFA, right trigger has always been tied to sprinting and acceleration. Next year, left trigger will have the opposite effect, slowing a player down but allowing him to fend off, push back, and block defenders from the ball. It’s a system that the developers describe as “intuitive,” and it’s designed to create midfield battles, promote build-up play, and put the brakes on the frenzied attacking soccer so common in FIFA 13.

Wisely, these changes to attacking play are matched by improvements on defense. The AI’s marking system has been overhauled, and computer-controller defenders now make decisions based on multiple frames of animation, enabling them to react to changing circumstances on the field. They track runs better, and provide dynamic defensive pressure, recognizing opportunities to close down opponents and deny them passing options at crucial moments. Improved defense will do its part to change the pace of the game, forcing players to guard possession carefully and exercise more passing creativity as they build attacks, instead of simply exploiting AI weaknesses.

AI offense has also been improved. The FIFA developers identified real-world techniques that they wanted to incorporate: checked runs, runs along the backline of defenders, and backing in defenders. These were cleverly illustrated at the presentation last week with clips featuring superstars like Robin Van Persie and Lucas Podolski, and computer-controlled teammates can now employ all three.

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