FIFA 15’s Next Generation Improvements: A Match Made In Heaven

Even without more announcements and changes, the changes that I saw the last time I previewed FIFA 15 made it quite clear that, while there would be areas still to improve, this could potentially be one of those releases that people latch onto as one of the good ones. An update where you can really feel and see the difference compared to the year before.

Rewriting the ball physics so that it always preserves the ball momentum and spin through player contact, leading to more accurate deflections in particular, as well as refining the AI, letting you take control of a player in the box at set pieces and, of course, the overhauled lighting system and pitch degradation. Yet they were holding other details back, like the recent drip feed of information about the deal to fully recreate all the Premier League stadia and teams in game.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSedwXSADf4

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Speaking to Sebastian Enrique, Producer at EA Canada, he said, “I’m an authenticity freak. I love all the Premier League stuff, where all the overlays are the same stuff as on TV. The goal line technology, you might say it’s a bit gimmicky, but it’s not a gimmick because it adds to the package.

“All of the audio, where we got a lot of high quality chants that we were able to put into the game and cheering at the right time, synchronised with the crowd, all the replay stuff and the emotional aspect of the game. Being able scan all the player faces […] having all of the stadiums for the 14/15 season, it’s amazing.”

He later explained, “The amount of time it requires to do all of this stuff is not minor. So it’s on a big, big, big scale, and being able to enter the clubs, get access to all the players, to do all of this is not easy either. So I’m extremely happy about this because it means if people like it, it’s a door opener.”

The biggest thing that they held back to my mind, and certainly with regards to the core footballing gameplay, is the vast improvement to the goalkeepers in the game. Anyone that has played a FIFA game in the past has surely encountered moments of complete and utter goalkeeping folly, as they take too long to react, fail to reach for a ball that is well within reach or, as in EA’s example, goes into a full body dive in one direction as the ball curls to where the goalie’s head once was.

With FIFA 15, they look to be making great strides in this area, rewriting many parts of the goalkeeper’s systems to create something much more realistic. For one thing, the goalkeeper can now change his mind about what he thinks the player and the ball is doing. Before, when he decided to dive, that was it, but now he can recognise that he needs to adjust, and this ties in with the array of new animations and a momentum system so that, even if he dives to the right, he can still try to shift his body and reach back to the left, if the ball is going that way.

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“The goalkeeper is the most difficult AI component that exists in the game,” explained Sebastian, “or the most difficult to get right. If you have an error in a defender with a bad pass or he didn’t mark somebody closely, you forgive that because it’s not often make or break. If the goalie screws up, and it was the CPU’s fault, the only thing you want to do is throw the controller at the console, and it gets destroyed immediately!

“So it is difficult to achieve because of that. The keeper is under the scrutiny of all of us and it’s always somebody else’s fault if the keeper doesn’t behave right. […] In order to get it right, what we needed to do was add in a lot more decision making and variables and more contextual analysis of what’s going on on the pitch.”

He continued, “Then it’s a lot about the movement, something that’s related to momentum and all of that, where the keeper’s made a decision and we couldn’t change it on the fly. We didn’t have as many branching points, but this year, what we could do with all the extra processing power was basically have a lot more branching points. […] So now it’s not that he’s just committed to something, but that if they realise in between that it was not the right decision, they can start adapting.

“Then you start adding on top of that a lot more animation technology, so they can start adjusting their arms and legs to try to react better to a deflection or the ball taking spin that was not expected. All of these things mean you start to see a goalkeeper that’s much more intelligent, animations that are much more lifelike and more variety of goals, not because the goalkeeper’s stupid, but because these decisions and mechanics allow you to see goals that were not possible before.”

It’s one of those areas that quickly becomes apparent to you when playing the actual game. Almost with the first shot of the first game that I played, the goalkeeper was clearly making use of the broader variety of animations, trying to change direction and reaching for a ball that would otherwise have sailed right past him without reaction. However, he’s not suddenly an impervious wall, and they’ve taken cares to make sure that the ball can still sneak through the gaps that his body leaves, and that you can still try to send him the wrong way.

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Sadly, they won’t be making the jump back to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. While many changes, from improvements to player control and intelligence to the visual tweaks and the style of replay that we saw in FIFA 14 on the newer consoles have made the trip, some things are simply beyond what the ageing hardware is capable of, and the improvements to goalkeepers are one of those.

Stepping away from the core gameplay though, there are changes being wrought on many of the main areas and game modes. Pro Clubs and Seasons will allow you to progress straight into match making after finishing a match, cutting out those seconds and minutes of set up time. The Career sees a new more visual style to team management, where you can much more easily manually alter a formation compared to the somewhat obtuse lists of before, and team sheets so that you can switch between regular match rosters in a streamlined fashion.

“I think the last time we rewrote Career mode completely was for FIFA 11,” Sebastian recalled, “and then it was improving different subsystems, like the addition of the Global Transfer Network. This time, we’re doing more polishing than anything else, but I think that the big thing that serves the Career mode user is the team management with the team sheets aspect, because it gives them much more powerful tools like playing instructions for how they want to set up the team.”

Ultimate Team in particular sees some healthy new ideas being added in the form of concept squads. These give you a lot of new flexibility to explore and dream up an ideal team without spending any in game money, the only proviso being that you’re not allowed to take them to the pitch. It could be that you want to see how a particular player might fit into your existing squad, dropping a chalk outlined card into the traditional team view, or you could dream up a completely new team of hypotheticals. In a neat twist, you can then share this with your friends, or take a friend’s team list as a concept squad, improve it and send it back.

Beyond this, there’s also the concept of loan players, that will allow you to quickly and cheaply add a star player to your roster for a short spell before they turn back into the chalk outline of a concept squad player.

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“Let’s say that you’re new to Ultimate Team, so you don’t really know much about gold packs or silver packs, so you just get a bronze pack, open it up and get items. Some of those are players, but they’re not really star players. So that was a turn off point for some people, because it takes a lot of time to actually be able to start having decent players.

“The other one was the seasoned player who wasn’t able to get a superstar player in a pack like Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar. They crave playing with those, but they never had the opportunity. So we said, ‘OK, let’s address that with the concept of loan players.'”

It’s an interesting idea, but one that is being managed carefully, lest people try to field full teams of loaned superstars.

Seb explained, “How you get them, there’s the pre-order with Messi on loan, we’re seeing if when you start the mode in 15, everyone gets somebody on loan, and then you can unlock some loan players through the football club dialogue. So it’s not that you can go and purchase loan players with real money.” When I suggested the notion of a fully loaned team, he replied, “No, because that completely breaks the entire game mode and what the game mode is about.”

In addition to all the previously announced changes, it feels like this is adding up to what could be one of the more compelling releases of recent years. FIFA 14 was something that many picked up alongside their new consoles, but 15 adds further layers of polish on top of that and does so in quite a tangible fashion, whether it’s the more dynamic goalkeepers, the real world Premier League overlays or the footprints and marks from sliding tackles on the pitch.

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7 Comments

  1. “The goal line technology, you might say it’s a bit gimmicky, but it’s not a gimmick because it adds to the package.”

    No, no, its a gimmick. The game would never need this tech obviously, so its just wasting our time…

  2. At last they have tattooes, hopefully we can give tattooes to our created player

  3. More interested in the fut side of things but the ball reactions and goalkeeping improvements are ones to watch. Goalies could become almost impossible if you have the right one (Neuer or de gea or anyone with super reaction speed).

    The loan system is a bit shit but love the idea of concept squads. Time and time again I bought a player to realise he didn’t fit in with my chemistry!

  4. The most important question as far as I’m concerned is one they’d refuse to answer if asked, will they be removing the horrible, cheating, infuriating momentum/scripting system that’s so obviously in the game but for some reason they refuse to recognise? I’ll never buy a fifa again until this is removed.

    • Tony, they will not say it is in the game because it is a form of an advantage. but what they are doing is hiding this with there new “feature” called Momentum players / team. Pretty cleaver if you ask me

  5. I’ve played FIFA 14 to death on the PS4 and even managed the plat, I reckon that somehow I’ll end up playing FIFA 15 just that bit more. In fairness, FIFA is my go to game every year and has been since FIFA 2003.

  6. Tattoos have been confirmed?
    Been hoping for this but hadnt seen anything! Link?

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