How does the leading soccer (football) video game franchise continue its dominance? Take a page from another franchise that’s had its share of success.
For years, career modes in sports games have given the player the ability to put themselves into the game, simulating the life of a professional athlete where their performance on the field helped them level up and become, in essence, a Hall of Famer in that game.
The NBA 2K series by 2K Sports has taken the lead in career modes, adding a storyline to the player’s career mode where their decision off the court matter as much as their performance on it.
NBA 2K16’s “MyCareer” mode, who’s rookie year was a short movie directed by Spike Lee titled “Livin’ The Dream,” added a full-on, in-depth story to the main character “Frequency Vibrations,” aka “Freq.” The story went from his Harlem days in high school as a top prospect, college and his rookie season, adding everything from the hype of recruiting to dealing with off-the-court stresses of a top NBA rookie on, essentially, a losing team.
The story part ends after his rookie year and then the full mode takes off from there: you choose a new team and start to create your own brand.
The idea of a story-based career mode which allows for a deeper type of player connectivity is something that players of EA sports gamers (myself included) have been asking, blogging and begging for for years.
And finally, one EA Sports franchise listened.
With the new Frostbite engine powering FIFA 17, the newest rendition of the best-selling soccer game currently on the market will feature a new mode called “The Journey,” giving the players exactly what they’ve been asking for: a story-based career mode.
The brand-new feature was introduced during EA’s EA Play events in Los Angeles at the annual E3 expo and in London in a presentation that was simulcast on Sunday.
Mourinho walks on stage at FIFA 17 launch as the audience is told Guardiola, Wenger, Klopp are worlds best managers. pic.twitter.com/JVzOj0MnEY
— Man Utd Universe (@ManUtdUniverse) June 12, 2016
The story follows protagonist Alex Hunter who’s a local kid with a ton of talent with a footballer’s bloodline that plays his way into the Premier League.
“He’s the grandson of an English legend who was playing back in the ‘60’s,” creative director Matt Prior explained. “Obviously football was a very different animal back then. They weren’t the millionaires they are today. They were playing more for the love of the game. That’s a character we can use to differentiate between the modern-day game and the old game. And then his father was also a promising footballer whose career was cut short by injury. Alex is your everyday kid. Not a silver spoon or anything like that, but he does have football in his blood.”
Alex’s storyline nearly mirrors that of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, their 19-year-old kid hero who came from nothing, scored a pair of goals in his debut against Arsenal back in February and now plays for an England national team competing in the European championships.
Prior added that he met with Rashford and showed him the work that the team was doing with The Journey. “It’s an eerily similar story. He’s a good kid and it was great to get his feedback.”
Rashford’s and, even fictionally, Hunter’s stories are what soccer and sports fans love: the romanticism in their said sport — the local kid with talent who rises to the top. We’re seeing it right now with Rashford at Manchester United, we’re expected to see it with Jack Harrison at New York City FC, and in other sports like baseball with Long Island native Steven Matz and the Mets and Bay Area native Brandon Crawford and the San Francisco Giants, or in the NFL with Fresno State alum Derek Carr quarterbacking the Oakland Raiders back to relevance.
The biggest reason, as mentioned before, for the new story-based career mode is the move from the Ignite engine to the Frostbite engine, which has been featured in the upcoming hits like Mass Effect: Andromeda, Battlefield 1 and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
The engine is capable of handling a long-term story, an atmosphere around it along with the personalities and various locations from the stadia.
“As FIFA 17’s developers, we’ve never brought a cinematic style of mode to the table before,” line producer Aaron McHardy said. “It’s brand new for us. Luckily our friends at [fellow EA studio] BioWare are some of the best in the business at bringing narrative and story to their consumers. We can lean on them in a way we’ve never been able to do before.”
For those who aren’t too familiar in the gaming world, let’s just say that if the people at BioWare are even just advising this project, it’s in good hands.
McHardy added that EA Vancouver has been working on bringing FIFA to Frostbite the last two years, while both FIFA 15 and 16 were running and developing on Ignite.
“We’re putting beautiful scenery on the screen,” McHardy added. “We can get some fantastic imagery and lighting, color, tone and depth. The players really feel like they’re integrated in the environments. We get a lot from the rendering technology.”
In The Journey, players can choose which clubs they join and how they go about their career through decisions made throughout the game, much like the Mass Effect series.
The overall game itself, outside of The Journey, gets a bit of an overhaul. The AI is far more improved on both the offense and defensive sides of the pitch, however that doesn’t just mean a more physical game, especially in the final third. Instead, EA Vancouver is pushing for more creativity in the attacking third, improving the AI to make smarter runs, use more open space around the pitch and, overall, creating more opportunities.
Free kicks, set pieces and penalties have also been revamped for FIFA 17.
“You have that level of control all over the pitch,” McHardy added, “to be able to impart physicality on your opponent. That’s a shift, a change, that the physical play overhaul brings.”
McHardy went on to detail how much more FIFA 17 is getting overhauled:
“We’re tuning our first touch error this year. It’s a significant change in the way the game plays fluidly. There’s going to be less trap error on the ball, especially in easy situations. That’s not because we want less error. It’s an important part of the game.
“When you’re doing difficult things they should be difficult to accomplish, unless you have the best players in the world. But we wanted to be specific in where we apply that. We’re going to use things like our new pushback engine to give us more information about balance, to make sure that difficult things are difficult because of the game context. That allows us to make them slightly easier in more straightforward situations, which improves the flow of the game.
“That’s just one of a long slew of things we don’t get a lot of chances to talk about, things that go into our fundamentals bucket. But it’s a testament to how much is going on in gameplay this year. Even though we have so much going on outside in other areas of the game, there’s still a ton going on in gameplay.”
While FIFA 17 would’ve sold millions of copies worldwide regardless, seeing the game continue to make strides forward is definitely an amazing sight. The Frostbite engine will definitely be a positive that the game will grow from for the rest of the decade at least and seeing FIFA start a story-based career – the true highlight of this upcoming year’s version – could be something that EA’s other sports titles, specifically the Madden NFL series starts to follow.
But for now, this could be the most complete FIFA game that has come out in the franchise’s history.