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Career Mode – The Road To Redemption Part 2

In my first article of the series I had a look at some existing Career Mode mechanics and you can catch that one here, if you haven’t had chance to read it yet. For part 2 it’s time to take a look at the Player portion of Career Mode which actually received some positive upgrades in FIFA 13 compared to the non-event that was FIFA 12.

It’s probably this generation’s most interesting concept within the football gaming genre, the idea of controlling only one player be it in CM or with afro donning companions online in Clubs. But the one thing that prevents it being something I can truly fall in love with is the lack of individualism, both on the pitch and through decisions the game doesn’t allow you to make.

Player Positioning

The entire logic around player positioning in BAP (Be a Pro) has annoyed me for a while, mainly because there doesn’t seem to be much logic to it. One minute you’re rewarded with that heart-warming green plus and then the next it’s the red minus of doom, seemingly for no reason.

Overall I think the negative side of the positioning system needs softening somewhat so that only being caught wildly, or persistently out of position receives punishment. So if you do pull wide, or drop in to midfield as a striker because the situation calls for it you can, just not persistently.

The other major gripe of mine is that where the game thinks you should position yourself is a complete mystery. At no point does the game/manager say “I want you to play here” so how are we supposed to know which is a good or bad area to position ourselves? What actually happens is that over many, many games you begin to learn where you can and can’t stand based on trial and error. That’s fine to a certain degree but what it does is destroy any sense of football intelligence that you apply to positioning yourself. This leads me neatly to…

Heat maps

Post-match as part of the match details you can now view heat maps for every single player enabling you to see the areas of the pitch they covered during the 90 minutes. Studying them can be really helpful to improve your general play because you can see if you routinely cut inside with your wingers condensing space, or that you push your defensive midfielder too far forward.

But as an individual player wouldn’t it be great to see a heat map before the match, so that the manager could show you the areas of the pitch he wants you to play in? Being told what’s expected of you in BAP is one of the modes weakest parts but with this system, the great positional mystery would be solved instantly. Based on the opposition you’re facing this heat map could change slightly if different tactics were needed and you’d then be scored on your adjustment to that new system. Potentially it could give every single BAP match a slightly different feel or objective rather than the repetitive drudgery we get now.

The actual tech already exists in FIFA, it just needs to be altered from recording movement, to instructing movement.

Manager Instructions

Which leads me neatly on again (I’ve ordered this well haven’t I?) to manager instructions which in FIFA 13 certainly moved in the right direction. I wrote this last year outlining my thoughts on short, medium and long term objectives for Career Mode so I won’t go in to it again in detail but EA’s decision to add seasonal and four match objectives are a big step up. The objectives need more variety for sure, especially the four game set which remain the same all season but you’d hope this would get some attention naturally over the next development cycle.

What BAP lacks though is any form of managerial instruction before, during and after the match. As suggested above, the heat maps would help with some of this pre-match but I’d also like to see some text to accompany it as well like “they’re a fairly small side so I want you to get plenty of crosses in” (for a winger) or “Iniesta is the danger man, it’s your job to man mark him” (for a CDM). You could add any number of different scenarios to BAP around that basic concept to be honest but the key point is that as players we both want and need instruction from a manager.

Football as an unpredictable beast as openly expressed by EA in their latest motto, so if the game plan isn’t working what’s the manager going to do? At the moment he makes like-for-like subs and maybe changes the tactics to “defensive” but that’s it. Wouldn’t it be great though if at half-time (a natural break) the manager actually came up with some thoughts about your individual performance so far and if he wanted you to change anything? Perhaps adjust your position slightly or ask you to focus your movements on a particular area of the pitch, etc.

As well as being a good thing for the individual matches themselves manager instructions would also add a lot to the believability of BAP. The notion that there is actually an AI manager there assessing your performance that has his own ideas about how he wants his team to play. That’s a feeling you just do not get from BAP right now and the mode would be so much better off if EA could add find even more ways to create a genuine relationship between player and manager.

Player Choices

The other side of the coin to the player/manager relationship is the side which we control as the player. Much of BAP’s focus is on activities on the pitch, which is of course the priority but what about life away from inside those four white lines? At the moment you can request a loan or transfer which were a couple of huge community wishes for EA to tick off their list, but beyond that your VP is pretty much bound and gagged.

The main area I’d like to see added to the player arsenal is the ability to talk to the press. Either to respond to rumours, comment on your performance or to simply rock the boat a little yourself. So for example, you’re playing really well and rumours circulate that a big club are interested in signing you. Your club don’t want you to leave and retort with exactly that. But then perhaps you invite the offer in the press yourself, your club and the fans get the hump with you and one big transfer saga unfolds over perhaps months maybe even years. Think Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasir, Alex Song… can you spot the theme?

It’s kind of a merge between the Player Stories and “Talk to Press” systems the latter itself needing a huge amount of work from EA going in to FIFA 14. For BAP to truly shine as Career Mode’s biggest draw though we need to be more in control of our own destiny as players and whether that’s being an unruly little shit, or a devout servant to the club it doesn’t matter, as long as we get to make that choice.

Player Traits

EA simplified the offline player accomplishments in FIFA 13 with focus on a more regimented scheme compared to more “fluffy” accomplishment book. I’ve got no issue with the accomplishments themselves on the whole, they make sense and well, they work. But when they’re all written down like that in one big list it’s far too easy to target particular challenges, which whether consciously or not, do alter your natural play style in-game.

Our players do need to develop though, by one way or another so to rip the system out is perhaps more trouble than it’s worth but one area EA could look at to be more fluid are the Player Traits which need to play a much more significant role in our player progression.

Earning these little badges of honour could represent a really great moment in a VP’s life but at the moment it’s kind of a bit drab. Ticking a box to enable them makes it feel like homework than progression so maybe it would be better for the game to award them to you based on hidden criteria? There could be perhaps two Trait Reviews per season, the first in January and the second at the end of the season which you’d carry over to the next. So if you scored a hat full of headers in the first half of the season you’d get the “Power Header” trait. But then if you didn’t score any in the second half of the season maybe you could lose the trait?

It would act as a sort of secondary form system in many ways rewarding outstanding performance (based on the criteria) but also different levels of performance with bronze, silver and gold versions of each trait available to earn. It would also be much more applicable to the way you naturally play rather than looking at a list and saying “I want that one” and manipulating the game to get it. Traits need to be fluid and celebrated as significant milestones in your career, not just another tick in a box.

Substitutions

I’ll keep this one short because I’m sure EA have heard this one too many times to mention. In FIFA 12 EA added the ability for your Virtual Pro to be substituted which resolved the god awful frustrations of hobbling around for the last 20 minutes of every match but what we all want is to be subbed in to the action whenever the manage calls on you.

You could be 3-0 up, 2-1 down and have any amount of time left on the clock but as a substitute it would be your job to draw your team level, extend, or protect the lead. I can’t stress how brilliant this would be for the BAP portion of Career Mode, but there are some huge technical obstacles for EA to hurdle before this one see’s the light of day.

Right, that’s your lot. In Part 3 I’ll be looking at some new ideas for Career Mode in FIFA 14. As always hit the comments with your thoughts and suggestions on the above.

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