Unsurprisingly, last fortnight’s article on scripting didn’t see the end to FIFA’s longest running debate, but all the same I’m going to give it another try!
See all previous Xaor’s Corner articles here
So a couple of weeks ago I finally broached the controversial topic of scripting for Xaor’s Corner, and received a flurry of varied responses to my controversial opinion that scripting does not exist. I was not at all surprised at the level of disagreement: scripting is an emotive issue, and one where personal experiences are king.
I’ve already responded quite a lot in the comments section, so I’m going to use this article to add a little more to my original argument, as well as address some stuff I haven’t yet got around to.
A working definition
The first thing which became really obvious when the responses started to come in is that I should have been clearer, particularly when it came to the definition of scripting that I was going by. I was already fairly aware that it was variously defined, but I’ve been surprised to the degree which people define things to be scripting which I very definitely don’t.
When I am talking about scripting, I am very particularly talking about a concept of the game being controlled from behind the scenes in an unnatural way to affect results to some end. For example, I would regard these things to be scripting:
- The game is rigged to make goals in the 45th and 90th minutes more likely, for example by worsening goalkeeper attributes for this period.
- The game is rigged to make close and comebacks more possible.
- The game actively and unnaturally disadvantages better players, or teams
- The game boosts attributes of weaker teams for important games (eg. cup fixtures) in Career Mode fixtures
However, I would not consider these as instances of scripting:
- The CPU opposition playing more aggressively towards the end of the match when behind
- Particular types of shot almost always leading to goals/rebound
I feel much of the disagreement stemmed from a lack of clarity on what I was really talking about. In a lot of cases people described issues, which they labelled scripting, which were likely caused by design issues. There is no denying, for example, that rebounds from the keeper are a far too common source of goals in FIFA, but that isn’t some intentional script, it is just the result of a feature not being balanced quite right.
While I understand that people will always have differing opinions when it comes to definitions, I think a lot of people are not helping their own cause when they define scripting more broadly than I do. With scripting being a taboo topic, it is best to avoid using the word scripting where possible. It’s not only likely to cause confusion, it will likely be ignored. If you’re not talking about the game actually running to some predetermined or systematic script, then I’d avoid the term entirely.
Momentum – would it be the end of the world?
There is a bit of a grey area here – what about ‘momentum’? Well, I’m probably going to say something a bit controversial here – but I’m not absolutely against what a lot of people regard to be ‘momentum’.
To get the best simulation of football, EA ought to be simulating the way psychology plays out on football. This is the bread and butter of management sims like Football Manager. Dealing with your team’s mental fortitude, and the momentum during games and over a series of games, is certainly something I want to see in Career Mode.
But it has to be above board, it has to be possible to overcome, and it should never become predictable enough to become stale or exploitable. In FIFA right now though, I don’t really see much evidence of this kind of thing outside of Career Mode’s Form and Morale measures. The sense of momentum I get with FIFA never really goes further than what I would expect given the way my mentality changes.
The MatchIntensity Table
Aside from those with definition differences, there are still plenty of people who do genuinely believe in scripting and handicapping. The picture (below) of a file from FIFA’s database is often posted as de facto evidence for scripting, and was brought up by commentor Fernando Felix:
I think a lot of people who believe this is a strong piece of evidence are jumping to a lot of conclusions about what this file actually means. Though these numbers seem to relate ‘match intensity’ to particular combinations of score difference and matchtime, we know nothing about where these numbers are brought into the code which runs FIFA’s gameplay engine, if they are at all.
They may be used to inform a visual/audio feature like crowd noise, commentary or non-interactive sequences (cutscenes). Somewhere in FIFA’s code there might lie a line which reads: crowdVolume = matchImportance * matchIntensity[homeScore – awayScore][matchTime]; but we can’t know that anymore than we can know anything else about the game works. This table is just an array of arbitrary constants. We don’t know what they mean and we don’t know what they do.
Somewhere there must be something defined which relates a variety of factors, like score and time, to CPU tactics. Maybe this table is it. Maybe it’s not. We simply cannot know. What is fairly easy to say though is this – there are perfectly innocent explanations for this table.
What proof might look like
Without access to FIFA’s code, it’s always going to be pretty hard to come up with any evidence which goes far beyond the anecdotal. It might seem then, that people like me are requesting the impossible when we ask for real proof. Let me give a sufficient example:
A decent sample size (say 50-100 players) are randomly, and blindly assigned to two groups. Both groups will play 20 games of FIFA, recording as they go the match times that they conceded and scored at. Group A will play with the matchIntensity values left as is, whereas Group B will play with a modified table (it could be an inverted table, or, every value could be zero, for example).
By looking at the data, and in particular the average frequency distribution between the two groups, you could then test the hypothesis. A hypothesis to prove that matchIntensity does not affect gameplay would be to show there was no significant deviation between the frequency of goals scored at particular intervals between Group A and B.
Obviously, this is no minor task. This kind of test is far, far beyond anything that anyone has even attempted, but this would be in the ballpark for something to be considered proof, and above the realm of anecdote.
We cannot know whether scripting exists or doesn’t. Proving scripting doesn’t exist would require a full investigation of the code, and while EA say they fully auditted their code to try and understand the scripting complaints, many will never trust that. Proving it does exist would require plenty of work too – some form of statistical and scientific test like the one above could be pretty persuasive – but nothing close has ever been attempted.
On some level you simply have to be agnostic. We don’t know, and no-one outside of EA really can. Which way you really side you come down on really ends up being a case of gut feeling and trust. Typically in life, I tend to take the view that if there is no evidence for something, I won’t believe in it. I don’t know whether the tooth fairy exists, even if I can’t prove she doesn’t, and thus I don’t believe in the tooth fairy.
I pretty much feel the same way with scripting at the moment. My own experience of FIFA does not lead me to conclude that scripting exists, I still don’t see the motivation for EA to implement such a feature, and I trust EA enough to believe that they aren’t lying to us about this.
The arguments I read from scripting believers frankly do more to convince me that it’s an imagined phenomenen than anything else. Every time someone argues scripting exists based on arguments like “I had more shots but he won”, or “There are so many goals in the 90th minute”, or ascribes a simple game flaw to scripting, I become more convinced. Whether or not scripting does exist, the sheer number of people who perceive scripting based upon undeniably false reasoning is testament to the extraordinary ability of the human brain to infer sentience where there is none.
Still, I’ll reiterate that I think FIFA has to take a significant amount of the blame for the furore about scripting whether or not scripting actually exists. Some people may be complaining because they are sore about their losses, but a lot of complaints go further than that. Even if EA think their customers are wrong about their complaint, it is still their game which increasingly gives off this impression, and they should be trying to get to the bottom of that.
But from our side of this, as consumers, I think we should try to be more specific rather than less. Let’s stop with these vague, terribly misunderstood terms like scripting, and let’s focus on the more concrete symptoms we all experience, scripting believer or not.