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Xaor’s Corner: Goalkeepers

This time, I’m exploring the flaws with FIFA’s keepers. To see all previous articles, click here.

One way or another, the goalkeeper is involved in every goal, and almost every failure to score a goal in a football match. The goalkeeper is the most important person on any team — therefore it is absolutely paramount that the goalkeepers in FIFA work well. If they are represented unrealistically, it is detrimental to FIFA’s believability; if their mechanics are unbalanced, it is tremendously damaging to FIFA’s balance as a whole.

I’ve believed for a long time that FIFA’s goalkeepers are neither realistic nor well balanced, and I think that this is one of the core factors behind the unfairness of FIFA’s gameplay that I elaborated on here. I also think that this failing is a major contributor to the muted excitement of goalscoring in FIFA.

Reactions

Like with much of the AI in FIFA, the goalkeepers in FIFA react inhumanly fast. This is a problem I highlighted briefly as an example of the lacking anticipation within FIFA’s AI:

There is no sense of an ‘anticipation’ save in FIFA – keepers are always reacting to what happens as opposed to working on what they think will happen. We all know how this is balanced out – keepers have lightning reactions which all too often mean they save shots which they wouldn’t have got to, but then struggle with much easier shots. It would be better if keepers actually did anticipate shots when closer in. If the striker is really close and he pulls back his leg why shouldn’t the keeper react to save at that point, rather than reacting to save it after the ball is hit?

It’s a small generalisation, but keepers in FIFA react too fast to almost everything. It’s most obvious when you are hitting a laces shot from close in, where typically the goalkeeper will react immediately as the ball is hit to make a superb save.

It’s particularly noticeable when playing on manual, as you get a much greater variation of shot placement. It seems that there is almost a flat out guarantee that shots which aren’t towards the very corner of the goal will be saved, and this simply isn’t how football works in real life.

This problem is pretty apparent at almost all levels, but when playing against the very best keepers it can become almost impossible to cleanly score a laces shot.

To solve this problem, the reaction speeds of the keepers need to be dropped. A number of measures would be necessary to counterbalance this: first, as suggested here, true anticipation saves need to become part of the goalkeepers arsenal, and second, the accuracy of assisted/semi-assisted shooting needs to be toned down.

Together, these changes would mean that more goals in FIFA are scored cleanly, without rebounds, as well as decreasing the reliance upon cheap goals such as the pass-across. As an added bonus, the variety of goals scored in FIFA would increase too, because it would be much easier to score goals which aren’t perfectly placed.

Finesse Shots

I said above that keepers in FIFA react too fast to pretty much everything. Sometimes though, this doesn’t seem like the case. It’s often the slowest shots which creep around the goalkeepers reach, whether they are badly hit but well aimed laces shots, or finesse shots. I don’t think this is actually down to reaction rates though, I think this is down to how the keeper moves if he’s not close enough to dive. As opposed to a mad dash launched into a dive, I’m treated to my keeper slowly waltzing across, and often then pausing briefly before diving.

EA need to speed up the keepers movement across the box, as well as make the transition between moving and diving more fluid. It’s possible that in doing this, finesse shots in FIFA will become too difficult to score. If that was the case, I’d suggest increasing the maximum power that can be put behind a finesse shot, while reiterating that accuracy for shooting on assisted/semi-assisted absolutely must be reduced.

Parrying

Rebound goals are very frequent in FIFA, and have been for a long time. I think there are a few different reasons for this, and to some extent, reducing the reaction rates as suggested above would solve much of the problem. Because keepers get to so many shots which they shouldn’t do, they parry a lot more difficult shots than they probably ought to, and this leads to a lot of the rebound goals.

However, I don’t think that is the end of the issue, as even then I don’t think keepers (particularly better ones) hold as many shots as they should. In addition, when keepers do parry, they don’t seem to parry very well. If a keeper has to parry in real life, they will intend to make sure that the ball is not put back into danger, and so they will attempt to parry the ball around/over the post, or otherwise to safety. That type of intelligence is either missing, or very much understated in FIFA 12.

Loose Balls

A totally separate area where goalkeepers could be improved is in how they come out (or don’t) to get loose balls. The first thing is that EA ought to ensure that the goalkeepers make their own decisions on whether to come out or not in these cases. Typically, you cannot actually see your goalkeeper when you need him to start moving, and so it’s not really fair to expect the user to make this decision.

Secondly, I think EA should make it so that the keeper can be switched to in this situation. The current system often puts you in a very difficult situation when it switches at the last moment, leaving you no time to react. If you were switched on as the goalkeeper is running out, you could then react to clear as you would with any other player on the pitch.

Conclusion

The keepers in FIFA have been quite bad for a pretty long time, and though there are small improvements each year, I see no reason why they couldn’t improve a lot for FIFA 13. Issues like positioning, which I have not covered, may be more difficult to solve, but improving the balance of how keepers react and deal with different types of shot shouldn’t be.

Between the suggestions I’ve made above, I think FIFA’s keepers would be improved immensely, having a significant effect on the enjoyability of playing FIFA: improving its credibility as a simulation, reducing how frustrating the experience is, and also increasing the variety of goals that are scored.

Join the discussion
  • http://www.soccergamesblog.de Stephan

    Absolutely spot on. I hope someone at EA Sports gets to read this. Especially the part about reacting to the shot and not anticipating before the shot is taken! It would make a huge difference in the variation of goals being scored if they would get the keepers react more human.

    Another thing that should get a mention in this context is the ball physics which could be a lot better.

  • theirfan38

    Generaly I completely agree with Xaor! But on this point I do not share his point of view, I mean, keepers reacting like human???!!! It is for me impossible at this stage of technology!!!
    Sometimes I just think we want too much from EA!
    The thing they can do is to ad a tonnes of animations concerning keepers, it is realy rare for me to have this feeling of seeing something new, an new animation concerning the keeper, it is allways the same animations, but maybe by adding 50 or 100 new animations even for simple fact, it could improve a lot our feeling!! The way they jump, they stop the ball, they punched the ball…sooo many animations that could be implemented!!
    I mean look at the keepers in a football match they save the ball from hundreds of manners different

  • http://www.fifablog.be Nicolas Van Hoorde

    EA Sports did a good job on goalkeepers. It isn’t 100% realistic, your remarks are certainly valid but sometimes you have to acknowledge that some things are too much to ask. The developers can only do what they’re capable off, and I’m 100% certain that in regards to goalkeepers there has been a lot of work put in and they did the best that they could.

  • http://www.youtube.com/ClutchHunter ClutchHunter

    @theirfan38 What a load of nonsense! Artificial Intelligence is down to the coder at this point, not the machine. Our current gen consoles, as old as they are, are perfectly capable of producing realistic AI. Also, you want more animations as opposed to generally better and more realistic gameplay? Suggestions like this are what ruin FIFA IMO.

    Again, the AI is FIFA’s downfall.

  • mfmaxpower

    “The keepers in FIFA have been quite bad for a pretty long time”

    There’s certainly room for improvement but I think you’re overly harsh on the keepers Xaor – up until the last couple years, keepers in FIFA, yes, were quite bad but now they’re pretty solid by comparison.

    More variety and realism is needed, yes, but considering how atrocious keepers once were, and considering PES failures with keepers, credit ought to be given to EA for significantly upgrading the keepers to the point where they no longer have major moments of unrealistic bullshit that ruin a match.

    That all being said, I agree with your recommendations. For me, the biggest issue is variety, or lack thereof as it pertains to keepers making saves, making mistakes or misses, batting balls aside, etc. I’d especially like to see many more goals come from keepers getting a touch on the ball but it still going in.

  • Simon Rutter

    I find Fifa since 09 Fifa games have had the best goal keepers in any football game. Usally keepers are awful in football games but i’d say it’s one of Fifa’s main strengths.

    I honestly cant think of a football title that has had better keepers? Can you?

  • z0ki

    BIT OT here, But does anyone not really enjoy playing fifa street 4? The game should’ve been a PSN or Marketpalce exclusive for $15-20..

  • theirfan38

    @Clutch, and codes are relatives to the technology…It is not nonsense!! SO obvious for me. I do not have the Suprem knowledge mate, I can be wrong of course
    I doubt that our curent consoles can actualy mimick the human behavior. I would love to

  • Gui Cramer

    I am so glad to always read these nice articles here, I wholeheartedly agree with everything in this one. I’m glad you are part of a small team that gets to give feedback to EA Sports, you say everything I think about saying.

  • Toby Ross

    @Nicolas + @theirfan38

    I don’t really think any of the things I’ve mentioned would be particularly testing to implement. We’re talking about minor tweaks with significant ramifications in most cases. The addition of true anticipation saves would be a bit of work I suspect, but, even here I don’t think it’s asking that much. PES has more genuine anticipation saves for example, and their keepers are shockingly poor overall.

  • Toby Ross

    @mfmaxpower:

    I suppose in the sense that they are much less prone to acts of supreme stupidity, the goalkeepers in FIFA 12 are pretty good. It’s pretty rare for a bizarre goalkeeping error to cause you to concede nowadays, for instance, and that, you’re correct, should be praised. Aside from that though, they don’t do anything particularly impressive. It’s really only the crapiness of PES’s alternative that makes EA look good. Judged on merit, the goalkeeping mechanics in FIFA are only adequate – they aren’t realistic, nor balanced, they stifle variety, they lack personality, the list goes on. That’s why I’d say they are quite bad ;)

  • Toby Ross

    @Simon Rutter:

    I’m not sure I can think of any football title which has had keepers which appear to play as realistically as FIFA’s, and nor can I think of a title which had keepers which were as reliable as FIFA’s. Then again, I don’t think that’s saying much. When you actually look at what they save and what they don’t, there are some quite serious balance issues, and I think these are quite damaging to FIFA as a whole.

  • Q

    Completely agree with your article and responses to other people, I actually prefer pes’s crappy keepers just because of the variety it provides, Fifa’s keepers are just solid, mechanical and consistent (which takes away from the action imo because you know which shots will go in and which will be saved pretty much as soon as you shoot) whereas pes has keepers full of life, even if they are really crap it just looks and feels more realistic. Basically when a keeper makes a save in Fifa I never think wow what a great save, whereas in Pes there are some amazing saves.

  • Simon Rutter

    “Completely agree with your article and responses to other people, I actually prefer pes’s crappy keepers just because of the variety it provides”

    That’s just mental, you would rather have crap keepers to good keepers just so you see different variety of goals from keeper mistakes?

    I really hope EA dont start going down that route!!!!!

  • Toby Ross

    @Simon:

    Obviously, he’s not suggesting that EA worsen the good aspects of the keepers. It’s just that in some sense, however annoying it is when the keeper causes you to concede, some people would prefer to get the more exciting goals that PES’s keepers provide when they work as intended. Note that it’s not the bugs which make PES’s keepers more exciting to play against – it’s the intentional features of them. More reasonable reactions, more variable saves, etc.

  • Simon Rutter

    Pes keepers are abysmal and that’s an understatement how anyone could prefer them over Fifa’s beggars belief.

  • Toby Ross

    @Simon:

    It’s his preference — personally I agree with you though. The keepers in PES 2012 are nowhere near up to scratch. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t aspects of them where they better FIFA’s keepers.

  • Gui Cramer

    I liked old PES goalkeepers, I just wished they had more range and a better jump.

  • Q

    Simon please don’t put words into my mouth, I don’t like the crapness of Pes’s keepers I would just put up with it for the sake of other features, like Toby (respectfully) said, it’s the intentional features which I like and it’s just my preference, I play football games to have fun and I feel Fifa’s keepers are too consistent, bear in mind in real life there aren’t as many shots as you would take in a video game- it just takes away from the magic and spontaniety of scoring imo. Understand that I do not believe Pes has the better keepers (overall) in the same way I don’t believe Birmingham city are better than Man Utd, it’s just preference. I like what I like

  • Simon Rutter

    The only variety that PES keepers have is the huge variety of mistakes they make, If Fifa’s keepers are to consistenttry changing the sliders, im sitting at 38 for keepers and the superhuman feel has totally gone.