Producer Sam Rivera passes on essential learnings for FIFA 18

Nathan Lawrence 29 September 2017 NEWS

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FIFA 18 producer Sam Rivera tackles some of the bigger topics for what fans should expect from FIFA 18.

It doesn’t feel so long ago that EA Canada was interchanging between ‘evolution’ and ‘revolution’ to describe a particular release in the yearly-iterating FIFA franchise. FIFA is, after all, the biggest sports game on the planet, and if you talk to the developers at EA Canada, they’ll tell you about whiteboards filled with wish-lists for features to include. The trick is, with a year between games, picking the features that should be prioritised over others isn’t an easy task. Obviously, certain features might have to wait a year (or multiple years) to be integrated into the series.

Last year, one of FIFA’s biggest tricks was shifting the game to EA’s beloved multi-genre Frostbite 3 engine. As it turns out, the shift away from the tried-and-proven Ignite engine caused some hurdles, which EA Canada is gunning to iron out in FIFA 18. We recently had the chance to sit down with FIFA 18 producer Sam Rivera to chat about some of the more important learnings that EA Canada took from the biggest points of feedback for FIFA 17.

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Balance is obviously an ongoing concern for the FIFA devs, especially with gameplay tweaks and changes between games, so we were keen to start there. As far as we’re concerned, there’s no better way to start a conversation about balancing than to ask how EA Canada balances cover athlete and godlike footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.

Read on for our full interview with Rivera.

Is Ronaldo the best player in the game, and how do you stop him from becoming too overpowered? Because in real life he’s kind of godlike.

So, well, in my opinion, he’s the best player in the world and he’s also a very good player in FIFA. How do we stop it from being overpowered? So, it takes a lot to balance the game. It takes a lot of different play tests, basically, that we have in FIFA in terms of players. We bring pro players, professional FIFA players to play and try to exploit it, see if it’s overpowered or not. Yeah, if it is, then we tune it down. But the balance of the game, Ronaldo, some other players may be overpowered, something else, obviously it’s very important for us. Testing and testing and testing, that’s how we balance the game, basically.

Can you talk about some of the player feedback that’s helped shape other parts of FIFA 18 that will be evident in what might have been seen recently to what will be seen at release?

Totally. For example, one of the main concerns in FIFA 17 is AI defending. A lot of people don’t really defend by themselves. They let the AI defend for them and then they just follow the player with a mid-fielder and let the AI-controlled defender do their job. So, what we wanted for this year was to react to that and do it more skill-based. So, instead of the AI doing it by themselves, you need to control the defender, otherwise he’s easier to beat. They still do cover, but not as well as before. So, with that, that forces you to defend, and the better defender you are, the better player you are. So, it’s a skill gap. We really care about skill gap and that’s one of the things we changed based on the feedback from our fans.

We were reading up on some of the feedback from fans of FIFA 17 and one of the things that came through was an input delay in FIFA 17. Has that been something you’ve been able to improve in FIFA 18 and in Frostbite, and what other improvements have you been able to make in Frostbite that you weren’t able to do in FIFA 17?

Totally. So, yes, input lag is very important. It’s one of our main complaints. So, yes, with our dedicated people working on making online connections better, we’ve fixed a lot of problems to fix that input lag. So, it’s pretty much a smoother version of the FIFA team when you play online.

Are there improvements to the Frostbite engine?

So, this is important, for example in career mode, we’re using Frostbite and the interactive transfer negotiations, which is a cinematic experience in career mode where you negotiate in real-time players for your team. So, instead of sending an email and waiting a few days for an email back now, in the same time you negotiate in the game and tell them, ‘I want these players, I need to go to the club and talk to the club,’ and then the club is going to say, ‘$5 million is not enough. We need more money,’ right? You need to answer. ‘Okay, I will offer you $6 [million].’ Now, okay, the deal is over. So, having that real-time, I think that’s thanks to the power of Frostbite. We are able to use it more and better, and the quality of the visuals in FIFA 18. It’s our second year on Frostbite , which allows us to polish everything more.

We were having a bit of a dive in to Reddit, which must sometimes be a scary place for developers, and we saw some people talking about the defenders feeling slower versus forwards that felt too fast. Is that a deliberate gameplay mix-up, or is that something you’re addressing in a different way?

It’s basically that it’s a closed beta and we had plans to improve that, so we kind of knew that that was going to happen. Obviously, with a lot of feedback from that, we spent more time making sure that it’s balanced. But, yes, there were cases where the ball was close by, I need to chase it, but my player would take a long time to turn and go. It was giving you the feeling that my defenders are reacting too slow. If you play it now, it’s much better, and there are still some changes on the way, so we’re taking that feedback seriously and changing and improving it. But we are not changing the way FIFA plays. We are fixing the kinks that were broken: that player was not turning. So, we’re keeping the vision and idea of FIFA 18, but fixing those problems.

Are you approaching goalkeeper AI in a different way this year? Are they a little bit more fallible, a little less godlike, are they more prone to human error? Or are they better, perhaps, at stopping goals?

Do you mean the goalkeepers controlled by the users or the AI?

Both.

So, AI-control of keepers, regular keepers, in the closed beta there were some bugs that we fixed afterwards, with reaction time, so it’s better. The user controlling the goalkeeper, what happened was we rewrote that system and put a little bit more assistance, we just didn’t have time to put it in the goalkeeper. So, people recognise, ‘Hey, it’s super hard now.’ Yes, that’s because it was work in progress. But for the full game expect to have a better experience by the user controlling the goalkeeper.

Do you think a lot about the idea of putting a human-error factor into the AI so it’s possible for them to make mistakes in defence and attacking?

There are already some behaviours [that] try to emulate the errors that players do in real life. Why is this? It’s not that we want to make defenders dumb. No way. We identify, what are the behaviours, what are the mistakes that players sometimes make? Sometimes they don’t properly evaluate their run, a defender. It happens in real life. We have to do it for one reason, which is having a realistic game where you can score goals. We could, in theory, create the perfect AI, nobody scores a goal. They are so good. But that’s not football.

Football, there’s sometimes mistakes and everything. So, we don’t create mistakes. We don’t say, ‘Okay, in this case there should be this mistake.’ We just program the players to real behaviours. So, basically, I need to be able to look at you to understand. If you’re running behind me, I have a sense where you are, but I don’t know exactly where you are, so I might miscalculate a little bit of a run, and maybe I’m a second late on the through-ball pass. So, perception, that matters. We took all of those behaviours from real life and put them into the game. Organically, those behaviours create some mistakes in the world.

Because you don’t want players finding that one angle they can kick at the goal that will score every time.

Yeah. We want variety, not always the same angle, no, no, no. It’s all about the variety and the fact that if you run to my right, if I am not looking at you, well, I know you’re there: I can hear you; I can see you. But the next time you may run to the left. The next time you may not run. The next time you may come to my back. So, we have variety and the fact that the player needs to look at the player to understand creates a marriage of behaviour where you’re basically trying to put real-life concepts into the game and automatically it gives us the outcomes that you see here.

Thanks so much for your time.


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