Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fifa 17 - New engine, New story mode and 5 more key additions



This, of course, happens every year. The producers at EA Sports in Vancouver have to travel the world evangelising the latest Fifa title to journalists who are used to being told that this is the most exciting, innovative installment the series has ever seen. And then we’re shown a new heading mechanic.

But this year, there are two genuinely game-changing additions, and a whole host of supplemental tweaks, updates and evolutions. Of course, marketing and sponsorship remain a big part of the pre-release hype, so we know that Fifa 17 will have four ambassadors to help with its authenticity: James Rodriguez, Eden Hazard, Anthony Martial and Marco Reus. Apparently they’re not just faces on the box – they’ve been consulted about new additions to the game. We’ll see.
That’s not the big news, however. Here are the seven key additions to the Fifa squad.

Fifa gets Frostbite

Frostbite is a game engine developed by EA Dice, the studio behind the graphically impressive Battlefield series of first-person shooters. It’s the technology used to build many of EA’s recent and forthcoming releases including Battlefield 1, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst and Mass Effect: Andromeda – and now it’s powering Fifa.
“We’ve been working on this transition for over two years – it was a massive undertaking,” said the producer, Aaron McHardy, during a recent demo of the game. “It allows authentic, true-to-life action; we’re one step closer to making the game look real. Frostbite comes with a brand new rendering engine and a new toolset, allowing us to really bring the visuals to life.”
The obvious result is more expressive lighting and animation during matches, but that’s not the only upshot of the move. While previous Fifa titles used a specific football simulation engine, Frostbite is a more general purpose tech, meaning that Fifa 17 can move away from the pitch and into completely different locations – just like a first-person shooter or action adventure.

There’s a new story mode called The Journey



McHardy calls this “the biggest new Fifa mode since Ultimate Team”, and it’s certainly the most intriguing. The Journey is basically a role-playing adventure, set within Fifa, with the player taking on the role of rookie signing Alex Hunter as he starts his career with a club of your choosing. Between matches there are scenes from Hunter’s life, as he fights his way into the first team alongside friend and rival Gareth Walker. At key decision points, you have to guide what Alex does and says – is he going to be a modest team player or a cocky upstart? How will he react when he’s sent out on loan? These choices shape the narrative and affect Turner’s relationships with his manager and squad mates.
Furthermore, everything you do during matches has an effect on the plot. Get sent off and the manager calls you in to his office to explain yourself; score the winning goal in a tense league match and you star in an ego-boosting post-match interview with a television pundit. Throughout the mode, you earn ‘Trait Points’ which can be used to improve Hunter’s attributes in 15 areas such as shooting, passing, defending and dribbling. Also training in specific skills will affect the player’s development.
Apparently, the Fifa development team consulted Dragon Age creator Bioware on the logistics of narrative-based games and also spoke to professional players such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford, to get the feel and content of the story right.

New active intelligence system

EA has improved the positioning technology so AI teammates make better, more incisive runs. A key part of this is that players now have a nuanced understanding of space. Before, they’d just automatically think that gaps nearer the opponent’s goal are the best to run into, and that they should stay away from spaces where teammates are. In Fifa 17, they may put on the brakes to create gaps behindincoming defenders rather than automatically heading forwards; they may also get in close to teammates to pull defenders out of position. “Your teammates are going to work hard,” said McHardy. “They’ll make more runs that are better and more specific to what your side is trying to achieve. There won’t be as many defensive stalemates.” AI players will also make longer runs, even if it means slipping out of position, and they’ll use diagonal runs depending on the incoming passing angle.
In our short hands-on session, AI players definitely looked busier, signalling their intentions and bobbing in and out of the 18-yard box. It was difficult to work out from a few matches, however, if this will result in genuinely useful runs, or if the animation will be obvious enough to flag up more complex intentions.

New attacking techniques



Fifa 16 added a ‘pass with purpose’ function that let midfielders perform a zippy forward pass along the ground. That idea has now been extended into keeper throws, through balls and, most importantly, shooting. With the new driven finishes and downward headers system you can build up the power of a strike by holding the button, then tap it again to keep the ball low.
The idea is to allow those low, turbo-charged Steven Gerard-style shots into the corners. But during the hands-on, we discovered that it’s also useful for powering a shot while your back is toward the goal, then quickly turning and letting loose a powerful strike.

Set-pieces are being re-written

A new freekick mechanic lets you move the player around in front of the ball, providing a range of new possibilities including the ability to strike it with the outside of the foot. The camera also stays behind the player so that you can properly judge the trajectory of the strike. Penalties too have been overhauled, with a new kicking mechanic and the ability to vary the run up; you can approach at a slow pace like Neymar, or even curve your run to mislead the keeper.
Elsewhere, corner kicks have been “completely rewritten” according to McHardy. The taker now gets an aiming reticule that provides greater accuracy, and you can also switch control to the receiving player to put them in a better position. “We’re seeing more scrambles in the box now,” said McHardy. “We’re seeing goals like the one Ramos scored in the Champions League final, with the ball played in from a distance, a little flick on, then someone gets a toe to it right in front of the keeper.”
Finally, throw-ins now allow your player to run a short distance up and down the touchline, and to perform a fake throw to mislead opponents.

Physical play has been overhauled

The players now feature a new “pushback” technology, which governs their sense of balance during skirmishes with opponents. Instead of using two-player canned animations for these tussles, the system apparently utilises real-time physical interactions, meaning that every contact is unique and has realistic outcomes for the character models involved. For example, the player on the ball is able to push back on an opponent, gaining extra balance in the process and fending off their tackle.
Okay, this sounds similar to the old player impact engine but McHardy says it offers a new level above the basic collision detection, making physicality much more a part of the control system. Now physical controls are all on the left trigger replacing the discreet shielding and jostling mechanics from previous titles. Also, there’s a new shielded dribbling system, which gives you 360-degrees of movement while shielding the ball. Shoulder-to-shoulder tackles, step ins and seal outs are all on that trigger too, and they’re contextual, so whether you have the ball or are trying to get it, the system knows and responds correctly.
That useful left trigger also allows players to control and bring down contested long distance balls rather than automatically heading. “Up until now, if the ball was in the air, as long as one player pressed header, both had to go in and head it, you weren’t able to bring the ball down to your feet. It brings a whole new element to our in-air play. If you have a big string player upfront, you can take advantage of that and try to bring the ball down to start the attack from there.”
It’s now also possible to collide with goalkeepers – and if you do it hard enough they’ll sometimes drop the ball, although this will likely result in a freekick rather than a sneaky scoring opportunity.

Individuality is a focus again



EA Sports wants Fifa 17 to reflect the variety of player skills and personalities in the real sport. Consequently, the game is using full-body performance capture on major players, as well as a new facial animation technology, which brings in more life and emotion to faces. There are going to be new skill moves, and new tackles including special high-skill tackles that only certain defenders are able to pull off. To increase the fluidity, both in terms of gameplay and visuals, there are three times as many animations as Fifa 2016, and the development team has reduced the number of first-touch errors.
“We’ve been working a lot on the fluidity of sprint dribbling,” says McHardy. “We want to make sure we bring back the edge of players like Christiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, players who have a lot of pace. Last year we felt we lost the edge of those players, we’re bringing it back, but we want to do it in a way that we don’t break that midfield build-up.”
There are plenty of questions remaining. EA says it will reveal more about the future of Ultimate Team and other modes later. The short hands-on that we were given certainly hints at a more graceful and multifaceted simulation, but everyone needs more time on pitch, and most elements are still being tweaked.
The big question is whether people are going to want a narrative campaign in a simulation. Electronic Arts tried this before with the Need for Speed series, and it was something of a disaster. But in terms of making the player feel more personally involved in the action, it may just work. Playing that rainy mid-week fixture against Hull may well take on a new dimension if you know your player will be sacked if they mess up. Or it could just be an annoying sideshow. At least no one can say this instalment is just a glorified stats update.

1 comment:

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