Producer Sam Rivera on coding human error into player AI in FIFA 18

Nathan Lawrence 27 September 2017 NEWS


Producer Sam Rivera talks about the tricky balancing act of ensuring that player AI in FIFA 18 feels realistic but doesn’t feel too smart or too stupid.

FIFA used to have a dive button. Bring it up in an interview, and devs usually don’t want to talk about it. But that doesn’t change the reality that FIFA 2001 had a ‘dirty move’ button that let you, among other things, perform a dive: an infamous part of real-world football. It was the first and last time the feature was included in the FIFA series, and having asked about it in recent years, it’s a feature that’s unlikely to return.

The reasoning is simple: despite being based on the real-world sport, the FIFA game franchise wants to offer an idealised version of football. Yes, players intentionally taking a dive is a part of real-world football, but it’s not something that has to be in the game. In fairness, there aren’t too many people clamouring for its reintroduction to the series.

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What FIFA fans are quite vocal about with each yearly entry of the game franchise is player AI, in terms of friendly players, opponents and goalkeepers. For developer EA Canada, the trick is creating AI-controlled players that are believable. This means not straying too far down the path of opponents that are too easy to bypass, goalkeepers that wouldn’t survive beyond their first match or the opposite: godlike opponents and goalkeepers that never make a mistake or provide players with opportunities to hit the back of the net.

We recently spoke with FIFA 18 producer Sam Rivera about the kind of AI tweaks that can be expected from the latest entry in the yearly sports franchise. For Rivera, it was important to him that he clarified the fine line of making AI-controlled players smart enough to be competent, but not so Ronaldo-like that it’s impossible to stop them. On top of this, he’s quick to clarify that EA Canada doesn’t create AI that intentionally makes mistakes. Interestingly, he also mentioned it would be theoretically possible for EA Canada to create the perfect AI that would make zero errors.

Read on for Rivera’s full thoughts on how AI is handled in FIFA 18.

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.

For more insight into the design process of FIFA 18, check out Rivera's explanation of how criticisms levelled at the game's recent beta are being addressed, and how player feedback has shaped the game during development.

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