Career Mode or Manager Mode as we’ve previously known it is something of a sore spot for a lot of offline FIFA players. When Manager Mode was binned and Career Mode emerged from the ashes I, along with many applauded EA for taking such a bold step to try and move the mode forward, rather than continuing to build on clearly flawed technology.
If there’s one thing that the new Career Mode in FIFA11 proved though is that you cannot build a credible management simulation overnight or in this case in just twelve months. What they could have done though was lay a solid base of foundations for the future but with the Career Mode bug list as full as it’s ever been some will be questioning that strategy too.
So where do we go now for Career Mode in FIFA12? Well there’s no doubt EA will have a master plan for the mode spanning many years and many development cycles. But to quell the current state of unrest amongst the community some big changes are going to have to be made and publicised starting with, immersion.
When playing any kind of simulation game feeling immersed is vitally important. Whether it’s FIFA or Fallout the amount of success achieved will ultimately be reflected in how much you feel a part of that world. The football world is diverse, surprising and astounding so it’s important that Career Mode stretches its own levels of immersion to meet such high demands.
On the pitch we’re occupied by playing football and dealing with the range of scenarios that throws at us, but what actually makes you feel like you’re playing in the Premiership, La Liga, Serie A, the MLS or the Bundesliga? At the moment there’s very little differentiation between these vastly diverse football cultures and besides some different menu colours the boundaries I’m afraid are very blurred.
What EA don’t need to do to solve this problem is to come up with a big hitting, tag-line slogan which can take pride of place on the back of the box. Immersion is much more subtle than that and any attempt to turn it in to a marketing ploy would render it useless. It’s about the finest of details which when viewed individually may seem irrelevant or pointless but when combined as an overall package can produce truly spectacular results.
Earlier I mentioned Fallout which is a series I have very fond memories of indeed. But in its most basic component parts all Fallout really is, is a barren wasteland with congregations of buildings spread throughout. Not much to get excited about then? What turns Fallout from bland and empty in to a rich and vibrant world you can become lost for hundreds of hours, is the mind boggling attention to detail. Every item of 1950’s memorabilia is meticulously placed, every character is alive with history and intrigue, every scrap of wasteland feels sculpted and defined. It’s an immersion wet dream.
Obviously FIFA and Fallout are very different beasts but that doesn’t mean EA can’t go about adding that kind of detail to FIFA in its own way. If any inspiration is needed then just sit back and watch any live football match on television. The pre-match interviews, the excitement of the team sheets being revealed, the players warm up, the pre match team talks, the coin toss, media reaction, the atmosphere. There’s a real theatre to live football which EA need to capture better by utilising footballs biggest strengths many of which are hidden in the finest of details.
I’ve spoken a lot in the past about EA implementing features which provide good “bang for buck” so only spending time on things which they know will have the biggest impact for FIFA. Sadly none of this comes under that banner. Adding club crests to corner flags, league specific emblems to replays and adding a coin toss might take up more development time than EA feel appropriate for such features. But it’s the impact these things can have as a collective which EA must place more emphasis on instead of seeing them as individual or a “nice to have but…”
Immersion isn’t really something you can script, code or quantify. There is no golden formula or scale for achieving “immersion” as many studios have found out to their peril. The way immersion is achieved is through the studio dedicating itself to the depth and subtleties that these worlds posses and actively implementing them. From crowd noises, to advertising boards FIFA needs to consider the footballs world’s tiniest of details and jam FIFA full of them. Only then will EAs dream of a persistent FIFA world become a reality and only then will it become representative of the real thing.
EA must tread with caution however because once that difficult connection between gamer and football world is made, it can be just as easily destroyed. EA’s bug track record for FIFA is less than glittering over the last three years and this for me contributes most to the games immersive down fall. Winning your first league title, at a packed home ground with a roaring crowd behind you can be the defining moment of your entire FIFA year. Yet in one stutter, or console crash you can be slammed back to the reality of your living room, alone, slightly overweight, balding, with controller in hand. Not a pretty sight.
It’s a fine balancing act getting these immersive elements to feel natural and in no way forced but fine is the exact level of detail EA must now go in to with the FIFA series. If EA act now and begin this admittedly arduous procedure of detailing our football world then the good times for Career Mode and FIFA as a whole will come. But if they continue to push this kind of detail to one side in favour of big features, the size of the mountain EA may have to climb in a few years may only be comparable to that of nuclear fallout.