Yo, EA Sports…Let’s kick it!
When developers talk about the new versions of their games, they talk of adding features, polished updates, and promises to fix what might’ve been broken in years prior. But this is not a year for iteration for FIFA 12. “Rather than tell you what were polishing, were coming out a bit more aggressive on revolution than evolution,” lead producer David Rutter declares as he prepares to show off a first look at the game at EA Canada’s offices in Vancouver. “Instead, this is a year for a whole new engine.” And while the game isn’t at a stage where Rutter and his team are ready to let anyone outside their circle play it, he assures me that what I’m going to see is the first major overhaul in the franchise in several years.
The overhauls can be seen in a trinity of major gameplay elements, a big tweak to last years Personality+ mode, and an aesthetic retooling. Regarding the trinity, associate producer Aaron McHardy breaks down those gameplay elements as only a Gooner could: with plenty of real-life examples of England’s Arsenal at work. The first element on display is Precision Dribbling. He shows a real-life video clip of defender Bacary Sagna charging at a line of Blackpool defenders before slowing the action to a crawl and, with a few soft touches, circumventing them. He then shows gameplay footage of players working the ball through open space, and how, as they get closer to defenders, they pull the ball in closer. Expect to see ball shielding as a fully-formed gameplay element as well.
The next element is Tactical Defending. Both McHardy and Rutter refer to the defending in past FIFA games as heat-seeking missiles, and anyone whos spent ample time on the virtual pitch knows what they mean. FIFA 12 jettisons the system of hit a button to sic your defender on an attacker in favor of a more nuanced system that combines pressing with jockeying. Now you have full directional choice over how close or how far to close down your target, and either how to get up close or to choke off his support lines.
The final feature of the trinity is arguably the glue holding all of the content together: the FIFA Impact Engine. Usually, the chatter concerning a new physics system focuses on how the ball floats. But the Impact Engine lasers in on how the players collide. Because the new engine allows for more split-second impact animations, there are more dynamic moments that can occur when players run into one another. When your defenders knee hits an attackers knee, for instance, the game registers the impact of the move. It understands anatomy and joint torque, so a series of nasty knocks will wear down on your players legs and, in career mode, youll risk an injury. Players can do a full flip if theyre tackled with enough impact, or might pull a groin muscle if theyre fatigued and reached their leg out a little too far to keep ball possession.
Gameplay producer Santiago Jaramillo is not an Arsenal fan — hence his choice to use 6’7″ tall Tottenham Hotspurs striker Peter Crouch to illustrate the improvements to Personality+, now reborn as Pro Player Intelligence. FIFA 11 gave you star players to heighten your experience, but this new feature rewires the AI to play around their strengths. The clearest real-life example Jaramillo provides is a clip of Tottenhams first 15 minutes of offensive onslaught against AC Milan during their recent Champions League faceoff. The entire strategy surrounded one thing: Cross the ball into Milans box for Crouch to head in. The prior game didnt have AI geared to notice player height or other exploitable attributes. Now theyll take advantage and reconfigure their off-the-ball tactics around your superstars.
Jaramillo next shows how the new programming can replicate real-life magic. In this case, he readies a clip of how Fabregas vision led to the goal that gave Arsenal the 2-1 win at Emirates against Barcelona back in March. In real life, the skipper performed a no-look pass to reach Arshavin, who’d started a run down the wings that led to the game winner. Jaramillo shows how FIFA 12 can recreate the same level of player perception using test bed footage — which is like the anamatic or blue screen footage from an animated movie — that demonstrates a field of vision that evokes Madden’s old vision cones, but with a depth so wide it resembles a half-circle. With that, he can reach Arshavin. Jaramillo then shows a midfielder with less vision doing the same, and the pass is intercepted by a defender.
Art director Mike Day closes out the demo with a glimpse at FIFA 12s new presentation. EA listened to fan feedback that its prior menu navigation had grown a bit stale. You’ll still pick your favorite player for the arena, but as you flip through your options — which are presented horizontally la the PlayStation XMB — you’ll see them performing pre-rendered moves, from dribbles to tackles to shots on goal. Expect TV broadcast-like overhauls to both the kit selection screens and pre-match cut-scenes, as well as the camera angle for kick-off, which will heighten the physical differences between players even more.
They’ve also fine-tuned their facial scanning technology, which Day describes as EA Game Face on steroids. It now allows the team to travel with it and set up photo shoots at various clubs around the world. When the tech debuted in FIFA 11, Day and company captured 137 superstar players; they’re aiming for over 200 in FIFA 12.
From the demonstration of new features to the real-life moments that help exemplify them, its evident that, rather than coast on their lead and give their rival another year to gain ground, the team working on FIFA 12 has really taken the offensive this year, with a whole new engine. Its not unlike the (admittedly oversimplified) best defense is a good offense tactics of Barcelona. Sports fans worldwide can see how far that ethos took the Blaugrana.
PARTING SHOT: While most sports games are content to add a little spit and polish, FIFA 12 is going all-out with a massive revision to the core engine that should really enhance action on the pitch.
Source: EGM, Vol. 248