When it comes to sports video games, the term “player intelligence” can be quite the oxymoron.
But EA Sports hopes to change that with “FIFA 14,” a game that promises the smartest set of teammates and opponents to ever step on the virtual pitch.
“When you look at ‘FIFA 13,’ players were thinking every frame, ‘Should I do this? Should I do that?’” said Sebastian Enrique, the producer of “FIFA 14,” as he showed the game to reporters. “It was just based on one frame, what was happening that second. But now, the players are trying to predict what will happen next, and their thinking incorporates multiple frames of thought. They have much better decision-making. On ‘FIFA 13,’ the defense played so loose, it gave the player too much room to sprint and it caused the game to be in this constant state of sprint, and there’s nothing rewarding about that. So one thing we’re introducing this year is dynamic defensive pressure.
“One of the things I hate most about playing online is when you’re losing and the other team just starts passing the ball around to kill time. I truly hate that. So what we’re introducing now is this new defensive intelligence where your teammates will recognize the opportunity to attempt to get the ball back. They’ll recognize the situation and how you want to pressure the ball, and they’ll play tighter around you and you’ll have more opportunities to steal the ball.”
Enrique played a video showing a “FIFA 13” defender leaving a striker running toward the goal to guard a player on the perimeter, making for an easy scoring opportunity simply because there was no anticipation of future events in the game.
“Last year, this defender was just thinking about that one frame and how he couldn’t leave that player on the perimeter open,” Enrique said. “But in ‘FIFA 14,’ he will continue pursuing the striker because he knows where the play is going.”
In terms of offense, “FIFA 13” introduced attacking intelligence, and “FIFA 14” takes the feature to the next level.
“Expanding from that, we now have players checking defenders as well as backing in defenders,” Enrique said. “This was not possible in ‘13,’ but we added these in ‘14’ to create more realistic scoring opportunities. Your teammates in ‘FIFA 14’ will check defenders and push off in order to create these more exciting runs. We also now have players who run smarter. It’s no longer about just sprinting toward the goal. You’ll now see players run sideways along the line in order to avoid being offside. Last year, you had players slowing down so they wouldn’t be offside, but now the player will see all this open space and will run to that space in order to create a better scoring opportunity instead of just slowing down while running next to a defender.
“We also have offensive players backing in their defender, keeping their back to the net and giving you the option to kick the ball back to the midfielder. This is a key position, and this is a great change in terms of setting up plays in ‘FIFA 14.’ The gameplay just feels so much better and gives you so much more opportunities if you want to play more of a positional game.”
On top of that, a lot of work has gone into protecting the ball. “FIFA 13” had the ability to shield defenders, but gamers complained that it was too difficult to trigger. So this year, the producers tried to make shielding the ball more intuitive.
“Think of driving games, where you accelerate with the right trigger and brake with the left,” Enrique said. “In ‘FIFA,’ you’re sprinting with the right trigger; while hitting the left trigger you’ll sacrifice speed, but you’ll have better control over the ball and your body. It’s not easy for the defender to take the ball from you when you’re holding the left trigger. With this, again, people can play more of a positional game, and it’s no longer about sprinting, sprinting, sprinting.
“When you watch a game in person or on TV, scoring a goal is the climax. That’s what we wanted to bring back into ‘FIFA.’ We wanted to add that excitement and emotion into the game. How do you get rewarded for that goal? How do you build that emotion into the play? We wanted to focus on the buildup play and the actual shooting and finishing. When it comes to the buildup play, a lot of the feedback from the community was that ‘FIFA 13’ was too fast-paced. Last year, everybody just sprinted the entire time and there was no positional game. It was so unbalanced toward the sprinting side, and having so many cheap goals just isn’t fun. We want to provide a fair opportunity for people who want to play a more slow-paced game.”
To help slow the game down, “FIFA 14” is adding more variable touches. Last year, whether you were dribbling with the best player in the world or some hack off the MLS bench, they were pretty much equal in terms of ball control while you mindlessly sprinted down the field. But in “FIFA 14,” when you have players from second and third division, their touches will no longer be perfect and you can really feel the difference between them and the elite players in the game.
“Do you want to continue dribbling and risk losing the ball, or do you want to play more of a positional game?” said Enrique. “‘FIFA 13’ had such perfect touch no matter who was dribbling it almost felt robotic. But in ‘FIFA 14,’ every player has varying amounts of control, so you really need to know who you’re playing with and what their attribute points are. This truly changes how you’re playing the game when you’re sprinting with the ball downfield.”
Also greatly affecting gameplay is “FIFA 14’s” new ball physics engine, an engine that adds some amazing new shots. Called Pure Shots, everything from low-rising shots to hooks to knucklers headed toward the net are included in the game, as well as quick shots and even skip shots where the offensive player purposefully tricks the goalie by bouncing his kick into the goal.
“I’ve never seen a sport title like this before that respects biomechanics and all of the phases of footwork," Enrique said. "Last year, you always saw the same shooting animation, but players now have the intelligence to adjust not only their stride but their approach angle, and it makes a huge difference in what you see, what you feel with every kick and every goal. Now every score is more of an emotional moment, and it’s because our players are more intelligent than ever, acting more like real athletes than ever before.”