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Xaor’s Corner: Re:Re: Assisting Assisted

This week, I’ve taken some of the more interesting responses to my previous article on assisted controls to continue the discussion, and respond to readers.

See all previous articles here

Last fortnight I posted an article focusing on assisted controls (particularly passing), arguing that the system fell well short of an acceptable standard. That it is poor at inferring the user’s wishes. That it is subject to far too little error. That it radically constrains the user’s creativity, enforcing a strict, repetitive, and unimaginative game of football. Pleasingly, since I posted it, there were some interesting comments and reactions on the FIFASoccerBlog comments section, and in a topic on the official forum. Instead of moving on to a different topic this week, I’ve decided to use this time to respond more fully to this reaction. I won’t always comment fully for the sake of brevity, but will try not to remove any important context.

Commenter Walker questioned my assertion that “It is a huge shame that the vast majority will only ever experience [assisted]”

Why is it a shame? They choose to play on the assisted setting

I don’t think it’s exactly fair to say that gamers choose to play on the assisted setting. The majority don’t ‘choose’ the assisted setting through anything but ignorance of the other options. In fact, if you ask the average FIFA player whether they use assisted, or which control settings they use, they will likely look at you quizzically, because they don’t even know there are control settings.

Even for those that do choose assisted, they are still making a choice which dramatically biases towards assisted as a control scheme. It is inevitably the scheme they are most used to. It is inarguably the most effective, and easiest to use. You will be uncompetitive with non-assisted settings.

Those who play on manual do so because they enjoy playing with it more than the alternatives. In fact, they enjoy playing with it so much more than the alternatives that they will forgo all the advantages, stated above, of assisted. The average assisted gamer plays on assisted not knowing there is an alternative.

Those who do know alternatives exist may choose assisted because they prefer winning the game than merely playing it. These are not good reasons, but they are reasons which dictate the behaviour on games, particularly online games, for the majority. WE GETS BUZY posted a perfect example of this on the forum topic: “Assisted is horrible , but it’s the only way I can win at UT, so I’m stuck with it. At least until I’m done with UT”. He’s a gamer who clearly, desperately wants an alternative but is forced by other factors to use something he doesn’t like using. He has to choose between either playing the mode he enjoys with assisted, or not playing it. That is not the kind of ‘choice’ FIFA should be offering.

Why do gamers deserve better than assisted?

Gamers deserve better than assisted because gamers deserve the best experience possible. I suppose you could argue that it’s their fault they’ve never tried anything else – that they deserve the lesser game – but that seems a spiteful perspective, and one not really beneficial to anyone.

Gamers must be enjoying what they do, otherwise they’d stop doing it.

Just because they enjoy X, doesn’t mean they might not enjoy Y more, whether Y represents semi, or manual, or an improved assisted scheme. EA should be trying to make the best game they can for their fans. I find it very hard to swallow that assisted FIFA represents that.

A number of responses surrounded the idea of either removing assisted, or restricting the ability to use it in some way:

C-PK
I think fully assisted should be removed entirely
My friend calls it the 3 year old setting. It should only be for beginners. Once you pass a certain level maybe it should be disabled. A bit like a tutorial setting.

coolbreez999
assisted controls should be for training/offline mode only.

awcwc
I like the idea of fully assisted controls being essentially tutorial only. After a certain period full assisted would no longer be available–perhaps this could be based on number of matches played, XP level, that sort of thing.

gcooley66
clearly when you get to a certain Skill Level, the amount of assistance you need is much less (as you point out even fully assisted most players aim and power pretty accurately).

I like the idea of the sliding scale, firstly it will apply to who ever you play and secondly as an inherent part of “progression” it would feel natural and rewarding.

This is a simple idea, but one which would be pretty effective. Semi-assisted really isn’t that difficult to learn – it’s a lot, lot closer to assisted than it is to manual. It might be a little shock at first, but it would quickly ensure a more realistic, fairer game of football. I’m more than convinced that every player who can get, say, above H2H Division 9 could cope with the learning curve.

There are some questions left unanswered though: firstly, what is done about long and throughballs, for which there is no ‘semi’ option? If defaulted to assisted, then gamers still can rely on these particularly over-automated areas. If defaulted to manual, then players are going to be thrown in at the very deep end. There should always have been a semi-assisted throughball and longball option, one would become necessary if a change like this was made.

To me though, this isn’t really enough. Semi-assisted, while a dramatic improvement on assisted because it’s not nearly as easy to exploit, still shares many of its problems in terms of how well it interprets instructions. This is genuinely a change which would make a world of difference – but that just emphasises how bad the status quo is.

This change is still very much ‘inside the box’. It works with what FIFA already has – but I really think EA should be looking to improve the settings we have, rather than just removing (or restricting the use of) the most problematic one. Doing so implicitly ignores the considerable flaws of both semi-assisted and manual

CrispySudda made a lengthy response about why people use assisted

The point is the actual purpose of assisted controls which is to replicate the real life player’s abilities. Most people play assisted because they expect the players to behave like their ratings based on the real life counterpart not because it is the default or easiest. They choose their squads based on player strengths. Assisted controls not only replicates the strengths, but also replicates weaknesses. People(mostly avid football fans who know the strengths and weaknesses of hundreds of players from memory) expect this to identify with footballers or their favourite ones. Look at how many complaints about ratings we have on this forum. Fans are crazy about getting the ratings right.

It is pretty much undeniable that assisted being default is the primary reason it is most popular. Most gamers don’t know there is an alternative. They aren’t ‘choosing’ it at all.

Secondly, though there is a lot of argument about player stats, I don’t think it goes a great deal further than people arguing about an arbitrary ranking of players. If it really was about how well the game represented those players then there would be far more focus on individual stats rather than the overall one, and there would be far more complaint regarding FIFA’s lacking personality in general.

You would do certain types of passes with Ozil which you wouldn’t try with Mertesacker in the same scenario because digital Ozil, like his real life self, is more capable for that and is more likely to succeed. On manual, it won’t matter who does the pass because it is up to you.

This is a (common) misconception. It does matter who you pass, shoot, and cross with on manual. It is distinctly less obvious than it is on assisted, because FIFA’s minimal contextual error is buried amongst the far higher amount of human error, but it definitely there. It’s easier to see the player differences on assisted in the same sense that it’s easier to find a needle on the floor than in a haystack.

Some people want that replication of real life. They want to play largely based on the rating system and others want the total control.

In FIFA’s current state, I’d suggest manual regardless of whether they’re looking for a game which puts the onus on player skill, or a focus on realism. Manual may not do an especially good job of replicating player individualities, but it does a far better job of replicating general player abilities and error for passing, shooting, and crossing than assisted does. Anyone choosing assisted, imagining they are getting a ‘replication of real life’ is simply deluding themselves.

There should be a control scheme like that, but assisted isn’t it. Ultimately, personality would come across better in an ideal assisted scheme far better than an ideal manual one as, obviously, the less control the human has, the more player stats can influence proceedings.

Having said all that, where I agree with Xaor is that assisted needs to put more onus on the human player if you want to go by the rating system. Some things are just too accurate. The game needs to take into consideration context much more. 180 passes, lobs, no look crosses work a bit too well. But it’s much better in 13 than 12 that’s for sure.

I’m not sure I said that assisted ‘needs’ to put more onus on the human player, actually. Assisted ‘needs’ more contextual error, yes. Assisted needs to be better at interpreting what the human wants, yes. I suggested that the human could have more control as one way of improving the game’s ability to interpret what the human wants. The more control the human has, the less the computer has to guess.

Zack, in the comments, and DaimiaoMarco14, in the forums, suggested a more radical overhaul which seemed fairly popular. In essence, their idea is instead of having different control schemes chosen by the user, the different levels of assistance would be applied dependent on player stats.

In effect, a good passer/shooter/crosser would have high assistance on his pass/shot/cross, whereas a bad passer/shooter/crosser would have more manual passes/shots/crosses.

Daimiao’s example:
If I try to make a pass with Tony Hibbert, it will feel manual. If I try with Xavi, it would feel assisted. If I tried that same short pass as the previous 2 with Raheem Sterling, it will feel semi-assisted.

Personally, though it’s good to see a variety of ideas, I’m not altogether sure that this one is workable. It rather rests on assumption that assisted is actually ‘better’ than manual in terms of how it makes passes, crosses and shots. The problem is, that’s just not true. Assisted may better at making very particular passes, but its restrictive and unimaginative nature means that it cannot make many more ambitious passes.

This might leave us in a ridiculous situation where Tony Hibbert was able to make better passes than Raheem Sterling. A change like the one proposed simply could not occur without overhauls to the actual nature of assisted, semi, and manual.

There are further issues too. What happens when a relatively casual player wants to play with Bristol City? They are effectively stuck onto manual for the entire game? That isn’t going to very enjoyable for them. Any idea which is going to effectively prevent people from playing with the team they support is, patently, not a very good one.

awcwc posted a novel example of how FIFA commonly misreads the players instructions.


In this scenario the CDM has the ball. Defender “D2″ is closing him down (black arrow) and the CDM needs to pass out of this (skills aren’t an option for this scenario). Quick, class, where do you pass? Correct, you pass to the CM to the right (CM1), as indicated by the green arrow.

Now, suppose that, for whatever reason, you need to fizz that pass in. With manual controls, that’s easily done: hold the left stick up and to the right, put whatever power you need, pass goes. But with assisted controls, this doesn’t happen. You can aim blatantly toward CM1, but if you put a lot of power on the pass, the pass will go toward CM2 (red arrow); in other words, based on the power you chose, it selected the next player. Unfortunately D1 is in the way, pass intercepted, you’re lucky if you can stop the counter coming back at you.

This example rings very true to me. The root of the problem is that seems the recipient choice comes down far more to the weight you input than the direction you choose. It’s unintuitive, and it easily explains why someone used to manual might struggle with assisted controls. It puts so little faith in the user’s ability to aim correctly at players that it will often try to ‘fix’ their aim and end up making it worse.

On the forum, BigZombieMonkey posted about the dangers of moving towards a system which was too manual.

Go and play 20 games on assisted and try scoring a variety of different goals such as finessed shots, lobs, placed shots, long range hard shots etc and then try to get as much variety from using full manual…

I’ve played FIFA on all settings and one thing I’ve always noticed is how that if I play on assisted I score a lot more of different looking goals and whenever I have played a full manual game the large majority of goals look similar. I’ve also noticed when I play full manual players they (just like assisted players) tend to look to score the same types of goals, mainly long ranged shots.

What worries me is assisted brings a lot of the variety and when you switch to full manual you lose a lot of variety because the game because very sterile and precise.

Though I think it’s highly dependent on what you class as ‘variety’, I think there is an element of truth to this point. Manual is so difficult that some things are simply too difficult for even the most expeirenced manual users, who are, as a group, far better on average than assisted players.

Certainly, it’s very difficult to play certain styles of football. I’ve never seen someone remotely recreate Barcelona’s style on manual, for example. It’s too difficult to pull off short passes thanks to the inconsistent way that the bar charge relates to the passing weight. It’s too awkward to aim at a target who is moving quickly across you. The player switching too often gets confused with more complicated passes.

Manual’s difficulty is simply far beyond what is reasonable for a gamer to contend with and still end up playing a realistic game of football for a top flight team – don’t agree? Look at pass success rates on manual and compare to real life. Some of it is due to problems with manual that could be fixed, but some of that is inherent to it.

Manual technically allows the greater variety, but it makes it significantly more difficult to do even the relatively simple things. Manual could, to an extent, be made easier to use while still keeping it ‘manual’, but I think it will always be beyond the vast, vast majority of players to simultaneously play on manual and play good football. It is this which rings the death knell for manual as a control scheme for more than the minority, and it is why it’s critical to look at what can be done about assisted.

Whilst my wording may not be as descriptive or clear as I’d like to put it the basic point I’m trying to make is whilst assisted does take too much control away from the user sometimes it also does the opposite and allows goals and plays that would be almost impossible to pull off on full manual. For me to truly fix the controls system they need to make semi-assisted work the way you’d expect it to and make it the default option for online play.

This, for me, is basically the most obvious solution. The control schemes we have now actually need to change. So long as any proposed solution works within the bounds of the current control schemes, it’s always going to be held hugely back. Banning assisted won’t be enough. Making everyone use manual is obviously out of the question. The first step for any wholly effective solution is to get an assisted system which can tick a number of boxes: it should have a much higher amount of contextual error applied to it; it must allow a greater variety of passes; it must be better at interpreting user instruction; it must be simple enough to be used by everyone.

Perhaps that just sounds like a utopian dream, but we’ll never know if EA don’t actually try. If you look at how assisted, semi and manual work in the first FIFA games this generation and compare them to now, there are no real fundamental changes. Why this should be, when the systems are so often (and justifiably) complained about, I have no idea. In fact, the control scheme is almost unique in that regard – most areas of the game have seen many improvements and additions, or even total overhauls. This area though, which damages the overall game balance as much as any other, has remained.

Though we do have a choice with assisted, semi, and manual, it’s not much of one. It’s a choice primarily between three flawed systems. It’s a choice, which for many, is made for them due to a lack of education regarding assistance. A choice which is made out of necessity for competitive gamers who can’t compete without assistance.

It’s nothing more than a false choice which ultimately means most FIFA players only ever experience a lesser version of FIFA and a poor version of football. Though I will continue to clamour for improvements to all of the assistance settings, nothing can change the absolute fact that assisted is most important.

So, this has been a little bit of a deviation from the normal Xaor’s Corner affair. I’m interested to see how it’s received – is this an enjoyable format, and one that people would enjoy seeing in future? I’m also interested in continuing the discussion regarding assisted (and control schemes) further still, so as always, get stuck in with comments.
Join the discussion
  • Toby Ross

    Generally, I find playing against assisted users pretty frustrating. I was playing Clubs last night for the first time in a while, which has its perks, but the quality of football by our opponents was revoltingly low. The exploitation of assisted controls by the human players and CPU is just astounding at times.

    In some senses, I agree. Manual does give quite serious benefits to people who want to play properly. Unfortunately, when you venture online, there are very few people who do want to play properly.

    Ultimately though, I guess my major frustration is playing against people who want to win a lot more than they want to play football. Assisted is just one facet of that.

  • gnomesniffer

    that stuff about barcelona and passing DNA is tripe, sorry

  • http://www.facebook.com/flo7flames Flo Stahli

    Here is my customized menu in fifa career mode, I play with manual controls, I just started out! Also you can check out a cool Premier League Trailer!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/user/flotinbuzeaflotv?feature=mhee

  • http://www.facebook.com/flo7flames Flo Stahli

    Hey I just started a Youtube channel where I only use manual controls ! You can check out a Premier League Trailer and also a new Career Mode with customized menus!!!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/user/flotinbuzeaflotv

  • David Monzon

    I have a feeling that the CPU helps the assisted users online in the same way that it helps CPU teams score goals late in matches in Career Mode. The CPU not only assists the user using assisted controls to get his passes and shots down but I feel it also obstructs the manual user’s controls. It’s as if the CPU joins the assisted userss side and sets out to beat the manual user. Just my thought.

  • JB2319

    Random idea here, just from reading the part about it being impossible to play Barca-style football on manual.

    Does anyone think it would make sense to scrap the through ball button and change it to manual pass? I vaguely remember PES having one (although in those days I was too young to care about using it). EA would still need to sort out the AI and pass choice, but it would mean that you had a simple button for short sharp passing, but still had total control to play any more advanced passes that you saw.

  • David Monzon

    Good idea about the turning the throughball button into manual. That way you can have both manual and assisted readily available.

  • Dave Hart

    Late to the party, but we have a pro clubs squad that consists of manual players. The exploits we see other teams use are abysmal, specifically the “fully-assisted precision lobbed through ball with midget pace striker” and the tactic of running down the wing and cutting in (which they know the AI just doesn’t track). These faults make what should be the best game mode the most frustrating. We are good manual players and want to play football but many players just want the easy win using whatever exploits they can.

    Unfortunately I doubt anything will happen to improve the gameplay, as it seems EA want to maximise profit and, as with every other game now, they’re happy to gear the franchise to the lowest common denominator.

  • Dave Hart

    I have experienced this too. It’s not so much the manual AI being smarter, but the timing of your header or control has to be perfect. Assisted players don’t have to concern themselves with that.

    However, the ball will do things like bounce off your player and ‘mysteriously land at the assisted players feet’ a lot of the time and I never will understand why. I think the game engine does tap into the assisted controls manager for gameplay cues when it should be completely separate – but who am I to prove that!

  • Kajal Pal

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