FIFA 15 Preview - E3 2014
Hit the pitch with a new level of emotion
When it comes to sports video game franchises, FIFA from EA Sports is easily one of the best selling and most played worldwide. Year after year, the publisher continues to create a new football experience that fans crave. Although not all yearly editions offer monumental changes to the formula that has worked so successfully for many years, the development team at EA Canada continues their pursuit of perfection. With the dawn of a new generation of consoles, the team now has more power than ever to work with, and new opportunities to push the genre forward with FIFA 15.
At E3, we had a chance to hear about what the team is focusing on, as well as play the game. As demonstrated by the debut trailer shown during EA’s E3 2014 media briefing, FIFA 15’s mantra is Feel the Game. This goal is represented by two main design focus areas – making the players feel the emotion of a big game, a big goal, winning the title, and so forth. The second aspect is making the players feel the gameplay, by offering a new feel and level of responsiveness for anyone who picks up the controller.
The main new technological improvement in FIFA 15 is the emotional intelligence system. All players on the pitch now have a state of emotion that changes during the course of the game and is based on the events on the pitch. Everyone has an opinion that’s specific to every other player on the field, on both their own team and the opposition. In a special dev view, we watched the start of a match between Barcelona and Manchester city, and saw that every player was neutral towards one another. But then to demonstrate the results of an event, the Manchester goalie decided to put the ball into his own net. Immediately, the opposition rejoiced while teammates become rather hostile. These emotions were reflected with new animations of players expressing their joy and disappointment.
In another example case, the top striker of a team takes a poor shot that is easily saved. We watched as the defense of the opposition became more confident in themselves and each other, while the striker’s team became uneasy after the missed chance. A specific player on the flank even became very upset because he was open for a clean pass and perhaps a better opportunity. Fast forwarding to the dying minutes of this crucial game, the striker once again misses a big chance, by shooting way too high and over the bar. At this point, his teammates are upset because he has been missing chances all game long. Their once again make their feelings known with new animations and less sympathy.
Another case showed a harsh tackle, and as both players got up they exchanged words and got real close and personal. Moments later, the referee awards a yellow card to one of the players – in the distance, we see the opponents cheekily applaud the decision of the ref, while teammates run towards him with appealing gestures. The other player that was involved in the tackle flashes a smirk. These kinds of emotional reactions to the events, along with players remembering their relationship towards others, creates scenarios and interactions not previously seen in sports games.
To help further immerse fans in the game, FIFA 15 offers new levels of visual fidelity. The lighting model has been tweaked, with physics based effects such as goal post rattling, animated hair, and dirt collecting on kits adding to the more accurate look. The pitch now wears down over the course of a match, accurately tracking all footsteps and tackles to produce effects where events actually happened. It all looks realistic, but feels over the top in the demonstrations we saw – a pitch in the top flight of the game should not look like it’s barely been maintained after just one match. Work has been done to make players more athletic and powerful, and better reflect the physicality of the sport with new model rigs and especially shoulder areas.
This feeds into the other major area of focus for the developers, responsiveness. This being one of the most demanded areas of improvement by the fans, the developers took steps to ensure that picking up the controller allows you to feel the game and the players. New animations have been added to make players more agile and explosive; for example, running in a circle was previously a string of 3 or 4 animations that looked disjointed, whereas now it’s one smooth transition. There are more dribbling animations and mechanics as well, feeding into the ball now being a truly physical entity. Each touch and dribble factors into how the ball will respond, and the game’s engine takes into account not only how the ball will react, but also what direction and speed it was traveling at before contact. With our hands-on time, we felt this change clearly, with more precise and realistic passing, shooting, and powerful headers.
When it comes to defense, various issues have been addressed as well. When making a sliding or standing tackles, players will now attempt to win the ball on the spot and keep control, whereas in the past you’d simply watch it bounce off in a random direction and have to chase it again. FIFA 15 promises that top defenders making a clean tackle will be able to stop their opponents and actually carry on with the ball themselves, right away.
Finally, changes have been implemented to address how CPU opponents behave on the field. In the past, AI players only concerned themselves with the immediate analysis of the situation and played in much the same way wether they were up by many goals or down at the last minute. In this year’s game, the developers say that the AI will make intelligent decisions with short, medium, and long term goals in mind. If the team is down by a goal and the match is winding down, the AI will attempt to boot the ball up field in hopes of creating chances in the box. It will take more risks, for example when faced one on one with a player controlled defender. Instead of aimlessly dribbling in the midfield while being pressured because no good passing opportunities are available, the AI will actively attempt to take advantage of their dribbling skills and try to get past the player for a chance at goal. We saw this decision making occur frequently during our demo matches, and it does indeed feel much more like playing a human opponent.
With significant changes to how the game looks and plays, and through our hands-on time with a demo build, FIFA 15 looks to be on track to achieving its goal of making fans feel this digital football experience. The emotional systems do add a new level of interactivity and personality to every match, and the improved visual and AI systems help the game feel more distinct and different compared to last year. The developers say that there is more to come – including more reveals of gameplay changes, modes, and other improvements. We are certainly looking forward to hearing more, before FIFA 15 ships on PC (first year running the Ignite Engine), Xbox One, and PS4 this Fall.