FIFA has enjoyed a solid dominance over the football genre for years now, thanks to its new engines, licensing deals, vast animation library and the introduction of 360 degree dribbling. But as a massive FIFA fan, I’ve got more of an eye on Pro Evo than usual this year - there's just one risky feature that makes me uneasy: Random player motivation.
Perhaps you feel differently, but I look at this year’s FIFA and think it’s a little weak. No matter how good your marketing phraseology, it’s hard to make additional shooting AI and better crowds sound like a complete feature upgrade for a football franchise. With the huge updates of recent years, it was already a tough bar to stay above.
That’s what has me looking over at the Pro Evo bench this year. It’s catching up in terms of FIFA’s features, it has a few of its own snazzy animations, and after playing it with the PES AUS community leaders at PAX Aus, I was getting the hang of switching between automatic and manual pass control without having to change any settings.
In terms of pacing, both games seem to have taken a more realistic approach, slowing down the speed in which players can stop and run the other way. This makes one think more carefully about accelerating to full speed, and gives some much needed emphasis to nimble players who can burst out of the gates with surprising speed.
But Pro Evo 2014 includes a “Heart” feature - a system including both the player and the crowd, with the latter pumping up the former - that equates to a motivation system, deciding whether players perform well, or poorly. It operates on a scale from one to five, depending on how motivated you want players to be in that match. Some specifics aren't clear yet, such as whether you'll be able to turn it off, but I'm told there’s a sixth “random” option, in which each player will have their own personal, random motivation.
But randomness is bad for competitive play, because you need clear, fair contests of skill. I don’t know too many people who jump into a game of FIFA or Pro Evo “just for the fun of it”. Sure, we play games for fun, but a common thread with football gamers is competitiveness - the fun comes from the win. And in competitive games, random elements are almost always a bad thing. Some games include a small, “manageable risk” amount of randomness, but the word “random” is even used in a derogatory sense amongst competitive gamers. “He’s random”, used in Counter-Strike, would assert that a player just sprays a gun and hopes for the best. “That game’s random”, says there’s no point delving into that game’s finer mechanics, because the random element will decide the outcome too often. It’s not worth it.
FIFA tackles this by including so many physics calculations, it’s impossible for the human mind to comprehend it all in the moment. The way a ball bounces off a mistimed kick will include it’s velocity, spin, and literally dozens of other factors that players will just have to react, not predict. Just like real football. It’s a consistent philosophy across every aspect of FIFA: Make the game as realistic as possible, update opposing aspects in tandem (such as offence vs defence), and the game will balance itself out.
I kind of get the random option - that’s football, right? Real life players have good days and bad days. Perhaps Ronaldo has been spending insane hours perfecting that free kick. Perhaps van Persie had a bad sandwich. There could be additional strategy in recognising who’s having a bad day, and players would utilise the bench more often.
For those reasons, I can see competitions happening with the random setting. That, or settling on a particular number (3, 4, or 5) as the competitive standard. But there’s an argument for professionalism here, too. These players are where they are because they don’t let outside factors affect them. They selectively let big occasions like a Champions League final pump them up, but the block out the abuse of Away supporters.
Plus, not to get too meta, but that player randomness is already there - in the player. As in, you, the one playing the videogame. Maybe you had the bad sandwich. Forcing the tools you work with (i.e. the in-game players) to function sporadically is akin to telling real life players they have to work with balls that might not be inflated some days, or goalposts that are occasionally closer together.
Good or bad, you have to admire the balls. For a franchise that’s been a follower for the last few years, it deserves kudos for doing something FIFA isn’t. I’m not too sure how the Pro Evo scene will react to it, and what stance competitions will take, but I’m keen to see whether or not the feature can be turned off. We’ve asked Konami, and we’ll update this post if they come back with that information.
It won’t change my interest in the game. In fact, even though I don’t agree with the feature, I’m really interested to see what effect it has on the genre.