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Xaors Corner: Problems With Passing Part 2

If you missed part 1 of Tobys dissection of the passing model, you can read it here. If you didn’t then you can get on with reading part 2.

Problems with Passing: Part 2

In the first part I went through various issues with the passing controls in FIFA, now I want to put aside the divide between the various control settings to discuss the error model. This translates the various contexts (who is the player, how far is the pass, angle of the pass, lie of the ball etc.) into error (which will either be a case of the ball being misplaced or under/overweighted).

It is what builds a risk v reward situation with passing. With any difficult pass, there is a possibility it will not work. To make it more likely to work you have to set yourself correctly, and use the right man for the job. At the moment, this part of FIFA isn’t working correctly. This allows me to use clearances as perfect balls to my striker, or simply pressing chipped throughball to put my striker into a one on one (not every time, but far too often), or using one-two after one-two to go straight up the pitch. It’s also why players like Fabregas and Xavi, while good for their general level of ability, are not the world-beaters in FIFA that they are in real life, simply because their passing ability is not special in FIFA, or, at least, it’s not special in the right way.

The causes of error
FIFA is struggling to properly represent the difficulty of passes, and how this scales between players. The passes you marvel at in real life tend to be the brilliantly timed balls piercing a defence, or floating just right so that it lands perfectly in the path of an onrushing player, or the wonderful speed and snap of the passing that Barcelona are famous for. The difference between the best players and the worst players is not simply how well they pass; it’s how well they cope with tougher situations. Yet, all too often the places I notice the difference between my passers most are on simple, straight passes. Yet these same players who struggle with a straight pass can float over a chipped throughball with the best of them, or do a spinning 180-degree pass accurately, or crack a clearance onto my striker’s forehead.

Pro Passing, which was one of the biggest new features in FIFA 11, didn’t live up to most of the claims, but if it did one thing, it did take the sting out of ping-pong passing. There are still issues here and there, but it definitely did impress the importance of ‘taking a touch’, and that’s fine. What it didn’t do so well, was impress the difficulty of accurately hitting a long pass, or an awkwardly angled pass. In fact, assuming you do take that touch, you can more or less get away with anything you want. A lot more error needs to be devoted to passes like those, and it is these difficult passes: first time passes, awkwardly angled passes (plus back-heels etc), long balls, and balls into a players path that should allow you to best differentiate between different players.

A failure to implement such things has a profound effect on the game. To take one example, not properly simulating the difficulty of passing behind your back with a 180-degree pass, leads to the flow of the match being damaged. It removes the need to build your play up – and it removes the need for a midfield.

The illustrations below show an example of this, where a fairly common situation in the midfield in real football ends up with the ball being kept in the middle, whereas in FIFA, it gets pushed quickly, and easily, into the final third. In illustration 1, a pass is made to a closely marked man – he has support behind his back but doesn’t know where and he’s being pressed as he receives the pass. He has to play back towards the man who passed it to him, perhaps looking for support to his left or right. In FIFA though, there is no difficulty in making the pass in illustration 2. It’s a pass you wouldn’t ever try normally: you wouldn’t know where your man was or how closely marked he was. In FIFA, you can do it every time.

This is why formations like 6-1-3 work: stack the defence, and use just as much as you need up front. In real life midfield is needed for the transition from defence to attack, to cushion the defence from an attack, and to bolster the attack, in FIFA it is not needed for the first nor adequate for the second and third. For this reason, you may as well use dedicated defenders and attackers, and that is precisely the behaviour that is so often seen in the online modes.

The irony is that EA have already developed the perfect technology to simulate the difficulty of 180-spin passing. FIFA 12 incorporates Vision AI, a system which maps out what each player can see (and can remember because he has recently seen). This affects all sorts of things in FIFA 12 apparently, but it doesn’t affect the vision of the player being controlled by a human. So while it will affect the passing of a CPU opponent, or the way the AI moves and plays, it will not affect your passing, or passing online at all.

I can understand why EA did this: they think it is unintuitive to be able to ‘see’ something yourself (because we view the game from a faraway camera) but to have to remember that your player cannot. However, if it was used for human-controlled efforts, I think it would do a really good job. If a player tries to pass to a player (or, for manual’s sake, region) that he cannot see, then that pass could have its error increased drastically. It may not be immediately intuitive as a ‘game’, but as a football simulation it’s no more ‘weird’ than the effect of spin on the ball, people will get used to it so long as it’s properly explained, and not frustratingly implemented.

Add that to a string of alterations to the type of passes error is added to, considering the length, angle, and type of path a lot more, and we’d be half way to a much better passing system.

Error Itself

It is equally important to be able to represent that error in a way which makes sense to the context, and which has the correct effect on the game. At the moment, FIFA represents almost all of its error as the pass being underhit. This makes the passing in FIFA often feel slow and lethargic – it’s very rare for a pass to go significantly to one side or other of the intended trajectory, and it’s almost impossible to overhit a pass.

This is not only flat out unrealistic, the fact that error is always represented in this way means that it doesn’t do much in terms of discouraging many types of passing. While a pass being underhit and slow to get to its destination may allow it to be intercepted when it otherwise wouldn’t have been (unfortunately FIFA doesn’t do a good job of getting defenders to intercept), it may well mean that the pass, while suboptimal, still gets to its destination. To take an example, the same pass is performed in illustrations 3, and 4, where a first-time pass is intended to go through a gap. In 3, the pass is ‘slow’, and it slips between the defenders. In 4, it’s slightly off target, and it may become possible for it to be cut off.

EA seems to be trying to use underhit passes as a substitute for misdirected passes and overhit passes, but you simply can’t. It’s more than that though, because the sluggishness in passing becomes unrealistically restrictive in a lot of cases: it is really hard to hit a long grounded pass at a reasonable pace, especially with weaker players, which is completely unrealistic: there isn’t a footballer in the world who would struggle to get enough distance on a pass due to lacking of strength.

The reasons why the passing is the way it is are twofold. First is a technical issue: EA’s trapping mechanics (i.e., the way they simulate the first touch) is not especially strong, and, if receiving a ball which you’d think was too fast, they tend to actually trap it as well as they would with a perfectly weighted pass. This leads to EA being unable to make passes overhit (at least, with grounded passes) because an overhit pass would tend to be more effective than a normal pass. You would hope that with FIFA 13 EA will improve the first touch mechanics so that overhit passes can become part of the error system, because this is a very important thing to miss.

The lack of directional error is unfortunately down to EA’s fear that too much error would be highly unpopular among the wider community of fans. Whether or not that is over cautious I’m not sure, but I don’t think that having directional error is so much worse than having every other pass being underpowered. If anything, the more intuitive it is in football terms the less frustrating it will be. This is not about making passing overly difficult – you shouldn’t be struggling to string together passes but you ought to be considering where and when to make passes, as opposed to being able to make almost any pass, at any time, without any real sense of risk.

Conclusion

You simply cannot understate the importance of having a great passing system. It is critical to the way the match flows, the ability to play creative football, providing a realistic and unexploited environment for play, and for differentiating between players. Right now, the passing system leaves a lot to be desired. While what was attempted with “Pro Passing” for FIFA 10 sounded initially like it could make the difference, it may take another effort as large if the passing system is to go from one of the least solid areas of FIFA to an asset for the game.

Xaor

Join the discussion
  • shaun

    fifa*

  • TotalFootball

    “@TotalFootball
    If you want to read ‘positive’ articles about FIFA, there are hundreds of them written by the gaming media. Personally I’m using the opportunity to write things which I don’t think are written about as much as they should?”

    As good as Fifa is these days you just cannot bring yourself to say anything positive about it, For someone that does not like Fifa you dont half go on about it. While with PES i have yet to see you write a bad word about it even though PES 2011 is a half broken game and awful compared to PES 1-6.

  • Xaor

    @TotalFootball

    Firstly, your assertions about how good FIFA is and how bad PES is, are your own. They do not apply to others. While you may see PES as ‘half broken’, and FIFA as ‘a great game’, some may see it differently. Frankly, I see both PES 2011, and FIFA 11, as quite badly broken in different ways, and I have aired my views plenty. Saying “as good as FIFA is these days you cannot bring yourself to say anything positive about it” just doesn’t work, I don’t think FIFA is that great, nor do I not say positive things about it. The problem is, that the ‘goods’ in FIFA are things which have been ‘good’ for a long time: the genuine and significant improvements to gameplay are very few in the last few years and personally it shows badly.

    It is also completely false to say that I have never written a bad word about PES – I have plenty. I talk about FIFA more because I’m much more knowledgeable and experienced with it – but I have criticised PES 2011 (and PES 2012), in the places I discuss those games, which would clearly not be appropriate on the front page of FSB.

    I’m not going to go through a list of ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ about FIFA and PES here to prove that I’m not biased. There are a lot of issues with PES 2011, and a lot with FIFA 11. They are different issues, and they are there for different reasons. With FIFA, a lot of the flaws are design flaws. They are things I have little faith will be addressed unless we push hard for them to be addressed. With PES, I don’t believe that is so – the problems tend to be more technical, things which will surely be addressed in time.

    Note, how I rarely spend time lamenting server issues, micropausing, or CM: because it’s blatantly obvious, technical, or things which will surely be addressed in time. I specifically spend time on the things which EA seem to not do due to choice because that is where I believe in depth feedback is most useful.

    A simple question, TotalFootball – do you have a problem with what I have written? Or is it just the fact that it’s criticising FIFA that you dislike?

  • Xaor

    As for PES King, and Shaun, please grow up and don’t hate on people because they enjoy doing things which you don’t. It’s one of my many hobbies, and I’m perfectly happy with my life.

  • STFU

    “With FIFA, a lot of the flaws are design flaws. They are things I have little faith will be addressed unless we push hard for them to be addressed. With PES, I don’t believe that is so – the problems tend to be more technical, things which will surely be addressed in time.

    Note, how I rarely spend time lamenting server issues, micropausing, or CM: because it’s blatantly obvious, technical, or things which will surely be addressed in time. I specifically spend time on the things which EA seem to not do due to choice because that is where I believe in depth feedback is most useful.”

    Its this kind of writing and ideas that shud make him take over rutters job tbh.

    @PESking

    Ofcourse he has a life you mug, but he just doesnt want to play the same game over and over again with barely any improvments espically in the areas it is need such as passing. So he voices his opinion, and there is nothing wrong with it. Your voicing your opinion that he is a nerd, without any hardcore facts or evidence.

    Fifa is indeed a broken game but not only in the passing, but sadly none of u brain dead morans open your eyes to the flaws in this game. I have never played PES except for 03, so I cant talk about that tbh….but atleast it is making improvements in the areas that are important such as AI, and not just showing off over hyped features that in real honestly, probably wont have a huge impact.

  • TotalFootball

    Xaor why dont you get into programming? It seems you want to make the perfect football game in your mind so why not do something about it instead of waiting for EA or Konami to do it?

    ps Is STFU your little internet groupie? lol Man that guy loves you.

  • Xaor

    I’m a computer science undergraduate, so I’m ‘getting into’ programming, thanks.

  • TotalFootball

    I look forward to your football title, lets hope there is not someone like yourself ready to scrutinise every nook and cranny of it and we can just enjoy it for what it is (if it’s as good that is)

  • rhefesto

    Brilliant article and observations as always Xaor. Keep it up, hopefully one day EA will stop catering for the brain dead.

  • followthatfish

    Lovely article again, full of little observations that have a huge impact on the overall flow of the match.

    I think that the lack of directional error in passes is definitely one, if not the most critical things that are currently wrong with the game. This renders the gameplay so unrealistic on so many different ways.

    Also the problems with trapping are something that should get a lot more publicity. It almost seems like that trapping works better the faster the ball goes. It’s sometimes downright impossible to get a lobbed little through ball to the flank under control, but if you eff up a shot’s direction, sometimes a striker can just pick it up with one deft touch, even though the ball has so much more power in it than some very simple passes!

  • Nick

    Great article. agree 100 %. the biggest problem in all sports video games and not just fifa is differential between stars an nobodies. ratings are just a number. i can just as easily score 20 goals with a no namer in fifa just as easily with a guy like rooney. all sports games are the same way. if they want to do something revolutionary get away from ratings based and let the game flow on its own no scripts no ratings. while i would almost be impossible to do and almost somehow has to be done to separate the world class from scrubs.

  • ian84

    Quote from Xaor’s reply

    @ian84
    I should probably have made this more clear – ‘error’ represents a range of possibilities. High error means that it will be distributed within a large area – it could still be perfect. A bad player can still, by luck, make a great pass – a good player is more likely to make it, and less likely to screw it up badly.

    ————-

    yeah.. player stats should be incorporated well.

  • http://www.ultimatefifa.com COLE UK

    Cheers for taking the time to reply Xaor. I think we both want “football” to prevail over “FIFA” and offline I’d completely agree that it would make for a much more enjoyable and realistic experience.

    I’m just convinced that some of my neighbours would suffer controller related injuries from me launching it out of the window if EA made mistakes for me online – my blood pressures sky high playing it at the moment as it is (but I suppose that is down to “gamers” expoiting FIFA instead of playing good football) Lol.

    After playing the FIFA 12 build a few weeks ago I’m hoping for a better online experience this year. Hopefully tactical defending will mean the need for more intelligent buildup play but I’m sure people will find a way to exploit it eventually.

  • Xaor

    @COLE UK
    Well, arguably the game already makes quite a lot of mistakes for you – whether it chooses to misdirect your pass or the defensive AI goes mental. So long as the error feels logical – in that you can predict whether the pass you’re making is safe, or risky, I think it would be less frustrating rather than more.

    It’s about a predictable unpredictability. Whether there will be error should be consistent. What that error will be should be inconsistent. You should never be questioning why a pass was off target. Randomness sounds sort of bad in a game, but arguably it’s key to it being a great simulation, and it’s key to it being an exciting simulation.

    I think a bit more randomness with shooting and goalies would go a long way.

  • tim

    A great read xaor. this all boils down to the one thing that lets fifa down in spades……player individuality. i really do not feel any attachment to any specific player or team when i play fifa because nearly every match/player feels almost identical
    .As stated it could be xavi or donald duck of donald rangers sunday league playing the same pinpoint accurate pass!!.
    Dont get me wrong, i love the game in many other ways but feel that this is what lets it down the most and leads me to tire and get bored very quicky. My fifa sessions played offline agaist the A.I last no more than an hour at best because of this. It all becomes a same old same old scipted pass borefest and against friends is where i have most fun with the game as at least a small amount of randomness occurs though still not enough.
    Fifa has nearly everything except for the most important concept…….soul, the game simply has no soul.

  • dh

    This is a great article. Why are you hating on him peoples? This is obviously very constructive — particularly portions about first touch. I think a dynamic collision engine is decent, but what about really using ragdoll-type physics in first touch. The author is correct in saying either things work out great, or work out extremely poorly in FIFA — players looking for more of a simulation find an arcade game.

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  • Georgatos7

    One more awesome article!
    Keep them coming.