Gameplay has always been the most important aspect of any videogame, especially for the sports simulators. As far as the FIFA Series is concerned, the gameplay was always the most delicate part of the game and EA Sports is yet to find the ideal formula and implement a balanced and realistic gameplay that reflect the real football game we all know.
As an EA Sports FIFA gameplay modder for the past 12 years, in this article we will take a look at the recently announced FIFA 22 gameplay features and offer insight into what these features entail and an in-depth analysis on how they will impact the game. I will also go into what my gameplay mod has done for offline players over the years and decide whether it would be a good idea to incorporate them into the actual game.
Overview of Features
| What is HyperMotion Technology in FIFA 22?
HyperMotion is a fancy word for a brand new animation system brought into FIFA 22. What it is, is EA Sports’ new technology of “Xsens suits” (motion capture suits to you and me) that allowed them to track top level players playing an actual match and then import the animation data into the game. EA suggest that the game will then use Machine Learning, an algorithm that suggests what to do and when, rather than programmed to do so, to determine whether it will use certain animations at points during the match.
In theory, this is a huge step forward. This would mean EA would not have to program an animation for every scenario, which as you could imagine in football, there are a lot. The Machine Learning will determine which animation suits the player height/weight, their attributes, where the ball is, whether they are being challenged and then pick out the correct animation to play. Moreover, this will include an enhanced IK (Inverse Kinematics) system which will make animations even more fluid than before.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) July 15, 2021
EA have always pushed the boundaries of animation systems and their sport games are ground breaking. I specifically remember watching a showcase in University by EA back in 2008 where as these technologies were really shaping up but systems didn’t have the power. With the new consoles on the market, EA have made that final jump to something that could be great.
The HyperMotion technology is limited to PlayStation 5, XBOX Series X|S and Stadia. So, if you are a PC or old generation console player, you are losing out.
| A Goalkeeper Rewrite
Goalkeepers have been given a “rewrite” in FIFA 22, with EA suggesting that it needed to happen after the multiple mistakes they would make in FIFA 21. The most notable Goalkeeper issue was surrounding the dive animation that would play if the goalkeeper would see the shot late or if the attacker was close in and the keeper had no time to react. A lot of people did not like this, especially FUT players, when they desperately needed their goalkeeper to help out after the opposition had burst through their defense.
We are unsure whether this is limited to “new-gen”.
| Tactical AI
EA have decided the Tactics and AI positioning needs another update after what can be classed as a disaster in FIFA 21 where your midfielders would not defend, even when using “Drop Back”. In their blurb, they say “Deeper player intelligence driven by the power of next-gen consoles gives each individual the ability to better understand both attacking and defensive formations and movement, creating a new level of tactical realism.” This means that they have added additional functionality for the gameplay developers to decide when the player should attack, defend or fill in the gaps.
A key note here, this has been limited to the PlayStation 5, XBOX Series X|S and Stadia version of the game. Once again, if you are on “old-gen”, you are missing out.
| Kinetic Air Battles
EA have improved the heading and in air interaction between players. EA’s blurb, “Enhanced two player interaction technology syncs player animations, creating greater realism and responsiveness as they fight to be first to the ball. See defenders and attackers push, pull, and jostle as they rise to meet crosses, clearances, and long passes, increasing quality in headed situations and creating cleaner outcomes.”
This a huge positive for the game. Heading and in air battles have always been an issue in FIFA. FIFA 21 has significantly poor in air battles, with the most notable issue is that defenders 9 times out of 10 win the battle. Even if the attacker is in front of the defender, the defender’s head would magically glue to the ball, to clear it. This comes with huge praise. Thank you, EA.,
We are unsure whether this is limited to “new-gen”.
| Composed Ball Control
EA have made a big change to Agile Dribbling and First Touches of the ball so it takes longer to collect the ball and do something with it. The blurb says, “Longer two-touch animations make controlling the ball more natural and fluid than ever before. Take down aerial balls with more technique, get more agility when trapping ground balls, and enjoy more strength in shielding situations to give you new ways to drive forward in FIFA 22.” This should be a good new addition as the number of times, even in a modified FIFA 21, that you or the AI would lose the ball after taking the first touch is pretty enormous.
We are unsure whether this is limited to “new-gen”.
| Player Humanization
EA have added more behavioral and contextual animations based on what each player is doing and what is happening within the match at that time, this would mean fewer generic animations whilst moving around the pitch. EA’s blurb says, “Powered by Advanced 11v11 Match Capture, new off-ball player animations and ambient behavior help bring on-pitch characters to life. See opponents talk, point, and direct each other based on the action, while updated locomotion matches players’ urgency on the pitch to make FIFA more realistic and immersive than ever.”
From what we can tell, this is unlikely affect gameplay directly and more of an immersion feature. This has been limited to the PlayStation 5, XBOX Series X|S and Stadia version of the game. If you are on “old-gen”, you are missing out.
A worrying result for “old-gen”
You may have noticed that a lot of the new features suggest they are “next-generation” only. Here is the list so far of missing features from PC, PS4, XBOX Series S, that we know of and judged from EA’s website. There could be more or less.
- HyperMotion animation system – and all the improvements to gameplay that comes with it
- Tactical AI – Better awareness of attack and defensive positioning
- AI decision making in attack (the 6x more decisions is limited to next-gen)
- AI decision making in defense
- Kinetic Air Battles (two players going for a header without a scripted winner) – not confirmed
- Player Humanization
Why are EA not giving PC users the “next-gen” version?
EA’s Executive producer Aaron McHardy said that they took the decision to keep the PC specs low. “We can open the doors and be inclusive to everybody who wants to play FIFA. When we looked at what generation to put the PC game on, we looked at our fans and what capabilities they had with the hardware they have and we have that information to understand what the power of the PCs out there in the world are. And when we looked at that, in order to run the gen five game, our min spec would have been at a spot that would have left a lot of people out in the cold not being able to play the game. So, we made the choice to keep the PC version of the game on the gen four version of FIFA so that we can open the doors and be inclusive to everybody who wants to play FIFA.”
When you look at FIFA 21’s current minimum specification, it will scare you. The graphics card minimum spec is a Nvidia GeForce GTX 660, which is almost 9 years old at the time of writing. The PlayStation 3 era. This would suggest that according to EA’s data collected through monitoring, likely through Origin’s Hardware Monitoring that everyone turns off, they have come out at an average PC is using hardware that is 9 years old. That is incredible!
Consoles are the biggest market share of the FIFA player user base. With roughly 5% of the player base being on the PC. Most of the FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) players are on consoles which is why they put so much effort into the console version. People often overlook that all consoles share the same hardware. Which makes it easier to program for, problem solve and support. A PlayStation 5 would have the latest technology in them while a large majority of the PC players would have graphics card that came out in 2015-2020 or using a laptop graphics chip, which is significantly less powerful.
Put this together with the fact that the minimum specification is currently a dual core CPU, comparing that to the very powerful octo-core CPU in a console. You can see a huge gap in support. Machine Learning is a very demanding technology to use and those with old hardware would not stand a chance in running it.
Is the game ported to PC?
No. All games are developed on high-end PCs and then ported to consoles.
Hypothetically, how could EA make the PC version “next-gen”?
The issue with FIFA is that EA Sports do not develop any system for the PC Platform to “downgrade” if the PC is not good enough. If you compare to other games, you tend to see that games brought from console to PC or PC exclusive games have many graphics options to handle the demand.
What EA would need to do is either 1) have an automatic downgrade of features dependent on hardware, which is how it currently works or 2) provide options in a settings screen.
They will then likely have the issue of people arguing that their specification “should be good enough” to run it, when it really isn’t. EA would not want that, so it is just easier to turn it off for everyone.
What disappoints in the new features and what is missing?
If you compare to what I try to achieve every year with my Gameplay Mod, which is all about having a mix of fun and realism. EA do not tend to follow my trend, instead working towards an all-inclusive, slightly “arcade” style of game. I for one would fully accept that not everyone will like the style of gameplay that I go for. I fully understand why EA would not follow suit. Although, I feel EA have missed a few key elements from the sport, some of them are very obvious omissions too.
| Fouls, Tackling and Physical Battles
The game of football is a contact sport with all kinds of battles across the pitch. EA have always been averse to this side of the game, instead going to for the skill, dribbling and timed tackled approach. I for one would want this changed so players will battle each other for space, pull shirts, throw elbows and push each other.
This would then remove the “perfect tackle” that always occurs in vanilla gameplay. Instead resulting in a more scrappy affair more akin to “real” football, especially at lower levels. It would also open up the opportunity for less skilled players of the game to use aggressiveness as a tactic against the skill move players in FIFA Ultimate Team.
The art is shooting and finishing your chances is an extremely complex one in real life but EA never really use their fantastic system to add this to the game. Instead, the game’s shooting system is incredibly dulled down so that there is very little error in your shots, no matter where, when or how you take them.
I would rather EA use their system much more aggressively, forcing to user to use positioning, skill and timing. In terms of a gameplay mod, I change it so you have to think about where the ball is and your movement speed before shooting, this results in user skill as well as the attributes of the player to determine the outcome. It makes it so satisfying when you do get it right and some users of the mod find it very intuitive. It turns shooting into a hard-to-master skill, rather than just simply pressing a button.
| Artificial Intelligence (AI)
EA have seriously neglected the Offline vs AI side of the game for many years. As much as they have added the new tactic options, team traits, player traits and new AI objectives. You never see the AI actually use these options, often resulting in boring one-dimensional games.
In FIFA 20 and FIFA 21, there was a significant drop in the AI’s ability to attack, often with them:
- Run to a corner, then pass it back to the full back
- Run to a corner, then dribble out of the corner
- Run to the edge of the box, then pass it back to the defensive midfielder
- Obsess over keeping possession of the ball, often passing around in circles in the middle of the pitch
- Not use a through pass when a player is open and has a free run-on goal
- Not see open space toward goal and dribble towards it
- Not shoot when outside the box
- Not cross the ball
- Not use ground crosses at all
As a gameplay modder. I found the AI was deeply tied to the assisted passing algorithms of the user. If I tweaked assisted passing, the AI would start to attack more and with more variety. On top of this, there are many broken AI Objectives, which cause the AI not make the correct decision for the scenario. For example. If the player is outside the box and has the attribute of 90 long shots (i.e. Kevin De Bruyne), the player never looks for the shot, as there is no objective to do so. Instead opting to either “killer pass” it or pass it back to the holding midfielder. Turning off certain objectives helped the AI a lot and EA need to get back to basics of what football is ultimately about, scoring goals. Instead making them more assertive, attacking and aggressive, especially at hard difficulty levels.
In conclusion, I feel that EA are trying to make great strides in terms of overall improvement of gameplay using the latest power and technology. It is just very unfortunate that, as a PC user, I do not get to see these improvements. This will be the same for all the users of the PS4 & XBOX S and with market still very limited on “next-gen” consoles, it comes as a bit of a surprise EA have decided to make this step, so soon. I just hope that the “old-gen” has had some of the improvements and fixes that were desperately needed for FIFA 21, especially on defending and goalkeepers. We will find out more on these gameplay features on July 20th via the Spotlight Series.
Like the rest of you, I eagerly await the release of the game and I will be getting it earlier through EA Play Pro on September 22nd. You can follow me on twitter for more gameplay, career and modding talk.