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Xaors Corner: Problems With Passing Part 1

As we recently announced, we’ve enlisted the services of FIFA truth cannon and FSB comment section sex symbol Xaor. The purpose? To bring lively discussion to the comments and let him get a few things off his chest. The first mechanic to go under the knife is passing. Enjoy.

An in depth look into the passing mechanics in FIFA, what’s wrong, and how this can be improved

If anything was to be the ‘bread & butter’ of football, it would be passing. Without it, football simply wouldn’t be football. Equally, without a good passing system, a football game cannot recreate football.

FIFA’s passing system can, at once, be described as breakneck and lethargic. It doesn’t reflect personality well, and, it is a primary reason why FIFA doesn’t flow as real football does. It’s a system which will often punish one for the simplest pass, but has no problem in allowing players to use clearances as accurate long passes, or spinning behind-the-back passes as deadly throughballs. The assisted setting allows overly precise, but obvious and repetitive passes – and to get any freedom you have to jump all the way to the very difficult, and inaccessible manual setting. It isn’t the root of all of FIFA’s problems – but it is a root of many of them.

This part shall go over issues with the control system. The control system governs how the game interprets the context, analogue stick angle, and button press into a pass. FIFA’s control system is made all the more complicated by the fact that it is in fact three control systems, assisted, semi-assisted, and manual. Each one of these has a different way of translating what the user does into which pass is made. With this piece I will look into three particular areas – the lack of a true middle ground setting, the problems with manual, and the issue of balance.

Note that things discussed below apply to FIFA 11 primarily, but unfortunately all too much to the early FIFA 12 builds I have played so far.

Out of Control

When choosing your control settings in FIFA you are caught between many rocks and hard places. It is hard enough to break away from assisted because it’s much easier, and more effective than the more manual side of things, but it’s harder still for the lack of a good middle ground set.

Assisted and semi are mostly very similar, one giving a minor amount more control but still being constrained by the same structure as the assisted set up which always has a singular pass in mind. Semi grants you a lot more ways to fail, but no new ways to succeed. There is also no ‘semi’ setting for long passes or throughballs, so, if you want to free up your football, you have to take the plunge into manual where you will be hit by extraordinary difficulty, and some nasty quirks which make it very hard to play top level football. What we need then is something truly in between assisted, and manual.

This could give us control over the decisions which passing presents all the time: how far do you want the long ball to go over the defence, how close do you want the ball to the touchline. Allow us to take some control of the risk vs. reward scenarios that passing brings at every corner, yet, do not allow us to fail as manual allows us to fail. Use our analogue stick and button press to find a good pass which will work, rather than just using it to work out which player we are trying to pass to.

Ideally, we should be able to dictate between a direct pass to feet (orange), and, a lay off (light blue) as in illustration 1. Or, as with illustration 2, when playing a through ball, be able to dictate the gap I’m playing it through, and how hard I’m playing it though that gap. There are a whole host of other scenarios where you have these choices: which side of the player do I want to pass it to? Do I want to hit the ball long over the top and risk the keeper sweeping it up, or closer to the defence and risk it being intercepted?

It is this median level of control that could differentiate between assisted and semi: give the player control to do better things, balanced by the ability to also choose to do foolish things. If this was rolled out to semi passing, as well as creating semi throughballs, and semi long balls, then FIFA could have the half way option which many crave.

The Price of Freedom

Aside from the difficulty of actually aiming and weighting a pass accurately, the difficulty of manual, relative to assisted/semi, is increased hugely by the amount of time it takes to charge a pass. If you need to quickly play a pass, you can do so on assisted and semi with a tap of the button, and even though the minor user-weight element of pro passing will slightly punish one for this, the pass will still get away, and probably get to the target too, even if it’s a 50 yard pass. On manual, to do a lengthy pass takes a good second of charge time, which is (especially due to the pressure in FIFA 11) usually long enough to see you tackled, the pass blocked off, or the opportunity disappear.

Short passes are also very difficult as there is a lack of sensitivity on the bottom end. Doing a small enough tap to produce a delicate lay off is in no way easy, and this makes Barcelona/Arsenal style football horribly difficult, because the inability to weight passes softly necessitates a level of precision with short passing which is extremely difficult, if not impossible to master.

The solution, I think is one which can exploit the fact that manual passing by design means that there is essentially no difference between the way that the through ball pass works and the way that direct pass works. Illustration 3 shows the current situation – blue representing through ball, and orange representing normal pass. You can see that there is an enormous overlap between the two – and more or less that means that most of one button is redundant. The obvious solution is to split the purposes of the buttons, altering it to match illustration 4, so that one does short passes, and one does long. This would grant more control at both close, and long range, as well as reducing charge times for lengthy passes.

Other issues with manual revolve around some unpredictability in how the button press relates to the resultant weight. It seems that on first time passes, and (half) volleyed passes in particular, there are situations where a tapped pass will result in the ball going 50 yards, or a held down pass results in a tiny lay off. These are little more than bugs – but the fact that exist after years of complaint bolsters complaints about EA’s neglect of manual. It surely cannot be that difficult for EA to actually get to the bottom of these small problems, and it would mean a lot to some of their most fervent fans.

A Balanced System

The argument over what should be done about the gap in effectiveness between assisted, semi, and manual is one which has raged in the community for years, and it’s one that EA have so far not resolved. Some look to offer options to users so that they can avoid users of different sets, as with the manual filter, but this has so far not been successful, nor is likely to manage the sheer number of combinations and separations that FIFA already offers. Other solutions involve redesigning the control system, or deciding on a single group of settings for all.

Personally, I see balancing as being the solution which most will find satisfactory. At no point should this be about hurting the more assisted setups so that the more manual setups can be better than them: it should be a case of doing everything possible, to help the setups meet their description (like the things discussed in the two parts above), and at the same time meeting the same standard of realism.

One way to do this would be to have differing levels of contextually applied error on assisted, semi, and manual, to make up for the difference in human error/analogue stick infidelity (none on assisted, a fair chunk on manual. So, a pass with minimal error would have no error for any set. A pass with a small amount of error would have a bit of error for assisted, a minimal amount for semi, and none for manual, and a pass with a significant amount of error would have quite a lot for assisted, some for semi, and a bit for manual. Through this, they can all be balanced with each other, and they can all be similarly realistic.

So, as with illustration 5, the red would be the contextually applied error to manual, red+orange to semi, and red+orange+yellow to assisted (note that this is not remotely to any kind of scale/is highly arbitrary, and is just to illustrate roughly the concept). This works towards meaning that each system has roughly the same amount of likely error when contextual and human error is combined, red, yellow and orange.


As the way that we interface with the game, the control system is incredibly important. EA have indicated with the assistance settings that they want to provide a solution for everyone to enjoy, from the most casual or least dexterous, to the hardcore football purist or energy-drink consuming Pro Gamers. Right now though, the control systems don’t achieve this. With assisted, they provide a setting for the most casual gamers, and those who care for winning more than anything are satisfied too. For those looking for something deeper, they will no doubt find themselves frustrated – hopefully FIFA 12, or FIFA 13 can start to put these issues to bed.

In the next piece I’ll go through the perhaps more pressing issues of the error modelling which affect all three settings.


Join the discussion
  • Matt

    Good article. My only problem is that you barely mention how easy it is to chip the ball through in FIFA11. When playing on ASSISTED, you can have Terry chip the ball over the top to a flanking Torres or Drogba with ease. Literally, anyone on the pitch can chip the ball over the top and have it land directly into the path of anyone making the run. It really is the hardest pass in real futbol so it really doesn’t make sense why it is so easy in FIFA. In my mind, chipped through balls are easily the biggest problem FIFA11 has with passing.

    Also, it would be great if you could write a piece on how easy it is to score headers. Majority of the goals scored online in FIFA are headers. Especially in competitive play for money and prizes, which is where I play my FIFA. If you don’t believe me, watch the FIWC 2011 grand final. EVERY goal but one is scored on a cross. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GpZG_HEjo8

    Just some food for thought while you are thinking about what to write in the future.

  • Xaor

    Thanks very much for the overwhelmingly positive response, and to FSB for facilitating this series, hopefully I can continue/improve with the following articles.

    @Pacheco – Not sure whether it makes a huge amount of difference whether you use a modifier+one button, or two buttons, other than that it is slightly more wasteful. Maybe slightly less easy initially but certainly something you’d get used to.

    @Jaz Manual’s difficulty depends on the person using it. It’s not impossibly difficult to play, but it is arguably almost impossible to play Barcelona style football. Manual has multiple issues which are not right, and most importantly manual should not be the way you have to play. Manual is the closest to being right, and that’s because the amount of human error and passing, and the longer chargeup times, force players to be more thoughtful. Thing is, it has the same flawed error model as the other two systems. Those wishing for manual to become standard are going to be wishing for a long time.

    @Bender FIFA is maybe too fast, or too end-to-end. Passing is quite an important issue to that. There are a lack of reasons to not go very quickly into attack.

    @theirfan38 I think most people would like to see that on some level but EA has indicated that they’re going down the sliders route as opposed to the full on split route.

  • Xaor

    @Matt The over-accuracy and lack of error on passing is the focus of the second part. This part is purely about the control systems assisted, semi, and manual.

    As for heading, I’m sure that will be got to at some point.

  • Matt


    Sounds good, thanks for the response.

  • Matt


    My apologies lol

  • Pixy

    In my opinion, there is another bad design in the pass part of FIFA 11. Like your picture 1, if there is also a player at the end of the blue arrow, and the player at the end of the orange arrow is close enough, it will be very hard to choose the one you want to pass to ╮(╯▽╰)╭ Sometimes even there is more than 20 degrees, the computer still ” assisted” you to the wrong guy, that’s made me mad ╮(╯▽╰)╭

  • Guilherme

    I am glad to see Xaor’s post here, one of my main gripes with FIFA 11 was this and every chance I had I wrote here on FSB about it (when FSB would ask us to post comments or areas they’d like us to have EA be made aware).

    Unfortunately I’ve never seen any piece covering any of my comments but seeing we have many similar views of this game, I feel very confident that more focused gameplay feedback will make its way to EA. I have very little hopes of it being addressed on FIFA 12 but I do hope EA really tackles it by 13.

  • ShakesUK

    Nice article. Really like the idea of splitting the use of through pass and normal pass buttons for power purposes. I’d probably agree, with all fifa’s problems a foundation does seem lay at the hands of the control schemes and how error is handled.

    I’d just like to see EA treat all it’s control schemes as less of an after thought. IMO manual really took a step backwards this year and as a result I’ve rarely used it, which is a shame, because I’d swear by it in 10 despite it’s problems.

    I’d also say the erratic first touches is not a problem of manual alone, it often happens in assisted and semi too, just not as much. Maybe it’s a deeper lying problem with controller reading/feedback all round.

  • I Am

    Manual is the best way to play this game, and I don’t really feel like it took a step backwards as said in the post above. The only problems I see are is the a.i not being smart enough for manual, and positioning. but that’s on the manual point of view, in the assisted world, there a massive amount of them.

    I really want to make a manual FIFA montage of me playing on manual just to show how much level of control you have. Although many point out its negativity, it’s not as bad as everyone says. That’s just my opinion on the subject.

  • RaticusSimian

    Great write up as usual Xaor, but I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t mention that in manual you do not have the mid to high range of powered passes that semi and assisted do. Do you not find this an issue? Its drastically unrealistic and game breaking for me. Any thoughts?

  • walks

    Great aticle.
    We need to start a revolution, all assisted players (i will hold my hands up) need a new start with fifa12, we need to pledge that with the new game we need to play and learn the game at least on semi manual and stick with it. You will promise to set all controls to semi-manual or manual from the start before you even kick that ball in the arena.
    Feel free if someone would like to take this to the ea forum.
    I promise i will be doing this with FIFA12

  • shaun

    fifa is only a game everthing cannot be perfect and players would just get angry if they had a different passing system even tho i agree it stops the game flowing a looking like a normal football game. i know if nearly every pass was over weighted and went out of play becuz we were controlling the power and the placement mistakes wud be made and fans wud just complain and complain as per usual. aslong as every year new features and improvements are made who cares if u dont enjoy fifa just play the real game for fun

  • dejilinho PSN

    Good job mate. Manual Rocks

  • Director247

    I have played Manual for two years and my main gripe is how little error there is with Assisted, if there is tbh youre poor. When playing Manual Clubs, me and mates worry when they are on Assisted and their shot accuracy is under 50%.

    The way I see it Manual has two problems, both of which you mentioned. First Time glitch and over charging, I feel that should be contextual to the player e.g. Xavi and Vidic making the same pass but Vidic should take longer.

    In regards to Barcelona tiki taka playing style it is very difficult but possible, I have a Manual Pro Club of 20+ players and the other day we managed 80% possession against Assisted players,we just lack the consistency but once we have it will post some videos up. You just have to master the bugs and know when they are coming!

    But the quicker they fix it the better!

    Cheers, Director247.

  • anthonyOA

    i beg EA to read articles like these.

  • http://ssswin88.com/sbobet.php sbobet

    Great aticle.
    We need to start a revolution, all assisted players (i will hold my hands up) need a new start with fifa12, we need to pledge that with the new game we need to play and learn the game at least on semi manual and stick with it. You will promise to set all controls to semi-manual or manual from the start before you even kick that ball in the arena.
    Feel free if someone would like to take this to the ea forum.
    I promise i will be doing this with FIFA12 SBOBET

  • Marcello

    Awesome article! I hope Rutter & co. sorts out or ads a more “natural first touch and turns” accompanied with the player personality….. not a drastic change it just needs to be more apparent….. either way FIFA still rocks at all times of the day

  • Tim VDB

    EA is providing us to much options to modify the controls: long balls, short basses, through balls, shooting, analog runs, assist on moving etc… all there options from auto to manual. its to much.

    They should just allow us the 3 basic settings: manual, semi and Auto and keep the 3 competitions separated.

    Btw try to find players online who play on semi or manual…

  • http://ssswin88.com/sbobet.php sbobet

    But the quicker they fix it the better!

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