With the furore of E3 2013 now starting to fade, the reality of what we saw has really began to sink in for me, especially the content related to the next-gen version of FIFA 14. I wrote this article, on the challenges EA face releasing FIFA 14 across two console generations side by side but after this week’s news, my worries have turned to resounding optimism.
Our first glimpse of next-gen FIFA 14 actually came at the Xbox Reveal a few weeks ago, but because details were sparse and EA openly admitted the assets weren’t “in-game” it was hard to digest as anything other than marketing rhetoric.
With this week’s next-gen screens, the first trailer and the live streams EA have been the polar opposite with their communications, almost fighting to convince people that these assets are pulled directly from gameplay, albeit not all shown from the gameplay camera. It’s always bemused me that EA don’t show us early footage of the game, as we see it day in day out from the tele camera because although the trailer looks flashy, you just can't get an idea of how things flow until you see them from a live gameplay perspective.
The argument that EA don't want to show open gameplay because of bugs and imbalance in early code doesn't hold much weight either, because in the E3 Live Stream they were prepared to show the Ignite engine zoomed in to the highest degree of detail, warts and all. If you're willing to let people dissect, on a frame by frame basis next-gen FIFA 14 that close up, why worry about the gameplay camera? All EA need to do is show an uninterrupted match from start to finish and the community would be in raptures, it's really that simple.
Much of the next-gen FIFA 14 talk has been about the graphical enhancements but these alone don’t get me excited for next-gen and they never really have to be honest. What’s much more exciting for me are the noises EA have made, without really fleshing them out properly, around Artificial Intelligence. As someone who almost exclusively (aside from FUT) plays FIFA offline, the way I and many others experience FIFA could be about to take a much needed leap of faith.
The most exciting element is something EA have dubbed as “Pro Instincts” which injects all 22 players on the pitch with “human-like” awareness and the ability to instinctively react to the play happening around them. Drop out the buzz words and underneath you could have the answer to FIFA’s biggest offline issue, predictable CPU AI. FIFA 13’s CPU routines and behaviours are easily decipherable after mere hours of play time but with this system adding situational behaviour, in theory it should make every AI decision unique. The same way Precision Movement has dropped “canned” animations in favour of step by step analysis.
It’s of course speculation at this point but at least EA are focussing their attention on the areas that the community are demanding improvement from most. What’s absent from the Pro Instincts announcement is anything team based though, which is a worry. Whilst it’s pleasing that EA are pulling out all the stops in the pursuit of making players feel individual, their behaviour as an eleven man unit, is infinitely as important. If EA can make the same kind of impact with Pro Instincts that they have with Precision Movement, the variance we crave at team level should follow suit as a by-product of better individual player decisions but all the same, I’d still like EA to nail their colours to the mast on the topic of team styles once and for all.
There’s also a mundane side of playing FIFA which next-gen should remedy and it’s up there in importance with the likes of the fancy new graphics. Things like load times, which if you’ve ever played FIFA on PC you’ll know are almost instantaneous compared to consoles. No more laggy menu navigation, waiting to download squad files, all things which are somewhat unimportant, but waste valuable time that we could be spending on the pitch. The raw horsepower of next-gen consoles and their multi-tasking capabilities should eradicate these annoyances and the impact will be huge to everyday FIFA players, however unglamorous the actual changes are.
There is another thing which everyone seems to have forgotten amongst the next-gen console reveals and E3 madness, modes! We’ve heard nothing, aside from a few screens of a sexy new Career Mode UI, literally nothing on game modes. What will EA do with FUT, what Career Mode features will be added, how will FIFA Seasons evolve, will there be brand new modes all together? The next-gen version of FIFA 14 does need something extra special beyond graphics and AI to really sell it and I fancy the modes arena to be where that happens. Could EA evolve the World Tour and Expedition mode experiments from the Street and Euro games to soften the lacking Champions League licence perhaps? Will Lounge Mode come back as a fully-fledged online mode for you and your friends to create leagues and challenges? The possibilities are endless.
I’ll be honest, I was very sceptical about a next-gen FIFA 14 which was releasing so close to its market dominant equivalent but now more than anything I’m just excited. Excited for what next-gen consoles can bring to FIFA. A breath of fresh air in to a genre which has stagnated somewhat over the last few years due to hardware slowly decaying alongside spiralling community expectations. Perhaps EA have wanted to improve FIFA’s AI for years, but just didn’t have the resources in our homes to do it with PS3 and Xbox 360? Now with the technical shackles off, and the resources that EA have at their disposal it’s frightening what they could do to football simulation as we know it over the next few years.
With new game engines and new hardware comes its own subset of problems of course and until we play final next-gen FIFA 14 code, how big that generational leap will be is unknown. But this year’s E3 has been one of dreams and forward thinking and as a community we need to follow suit by remaining as critical but constructive as ever. Change is coming whether we like it or not and if FIFA 14 on next-gen consoles ends up being the best game ever or the worst, it will be something different and boy am I ready for that.