Momentum, Fluidity and Next-Gen Dominance (E3 2013)
At E3 2013, I spent a couple hours with the developers of the four next-gen sports titles from EA SPORTS: FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, NBA LIVE 14, and EA SPORTS UFC. While these titles are obviously quite different from each other, they have a common element that binds them all together. That wondrous glue is the brand new Ignite engine. This new toolset allows the developers to rid their games of frustrating relics and concentrate on what makes each of these sports so special.
For those of you footy brats out there who have grown up playing soccer video games, you’ve most likely switched back and forth between Pro Evolution Soccer and FIFA. These franchises are well known for both their greatness and their faults. Generally, PES has had better gameplay and FIFA better realism thanks to its licensed content. Starting with FIFA 14, however, it finally looks like we’ll get to experience both great playability and jaw-dropping realism in one package.
Speaking with FIFA 14 producers Nick Channon and Santiago Jaramillo, it quickly became clear that this is no minor iteration in the FIFA franchise. Thanks to a combination of Ignite and the sheer processing power of Xbox One and PS4, the devs have been able to add layers to gameplay that were previously impossible. “True Player Motion” is the game’s mantra, and it’s evident throughout gameplay. Because so many more calculations per second can be made by the new consoles, animations are 100 percent physics-based. Every step, every touch of the ball, and every pass is real.
In FIFA 14, both attackers’ and defenders’ movements are constrained by real-world physics, so the development team has created a host of new animations for every aspect of the game in order to accommodate this new layer of realism. From multiple passing animations, which incorporate different parts of the foot more readily, to glancing headers and “Pure Shooting,” which finally brings micro-spin to shots based on foot and body position as well as player momentum, FIFA 14 is a much more organic, flowing experience.
According to Nick Channon, players can expect the “feeling of inertia” in every play, “realistic ball physics” with every pass, and a shooting experience that has “never felt so good.” Some of the most impressive additions to FIFA 14 include a new trapping system that takes into account player position, awareness, and momentum so that the ball can be played into good spaces with the first touch. Sometimes, players will even let the ball run, preserving their momentum and allowing the beautiful game to flow like it should. Attacking players can also ride challenges rather than getting needlessly dumped over by innocuous challenges. On the other side of the ball, you no longer have to use the tackle buttons to wrest possession away from attacking players. In fact, it can frequently be less advantageous to do so. Simply positioning your defender between the attacker and the ball, as you would in real football, is the best way to gain control.
During my time with FIFA 14, the developers kept using keywords such as “unscripted sequences,” “human intelligence,” “pro instincts,” “elite techniques,” and “contextual animations.” All of these terms being bandied about seemed to point to one key precept: fluidity of motion in all facets of the game. Indeed, despite the pre-Alpha hiccups, FIFA 14 seems to be a much more enjoyable gameplay experience thanks to the natural way the players and ball move, interact with, and even react to each other.
Outside of gameplay, attention to detail will be even more crucial to FIFA going forward. For example, the developers have been arduously working on “a full 3D crowd to help tell the game’s story.” Fans in the stands will be reactive to the game, more intelligently following the on-field action. The eye toward a realistic setting has also been lavished upon the stadium structures. Want to see what Camp Nou, Etihad Stadium, and Old Trafford look like from outside? Now you can. The devs have even gone so far as to tweak the default and replay cameras in order to deliver a more immersive experience to players.
The developers have really keyed into a number of areas where the franchise needs improvement, and only time will tell how good this first Ignite-powered FIFA title ends up being. Currently, there are no plans to bring the next-gen version of FIFA 14 to PC; a major blow to arguably the series’ most diehard fans. It’s also quite possible that FIFA 14 on PS4 and Xbox One will be too ambitious; implementing such widespread changes is daunting, especially for an annualized IP such as FIFA. Regardless, I have no doubt the FIFA series is on the right path thanks to Ignite.
Cutting his gaming teeth at Aladdin's Castle and on the Commodore 64, JC entered into video game journalism in 2008. Helping run GameDynamo as its director is both a dream and a rewarding challenge.
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