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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.


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