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Xaor’s Corner: Scripting

Nothing in FIFA is more culpable for broken controllers than scripting – but does it even exist?

See all previous articles here

Even though I’ve been writing these articles for well over a year now, I have never given much time to the topic of scripting. In most parts of the community though, no topic is talked about more. In fact, scripting was talked about so much on the Official Forums, and in such a negative light, that it is now a taboo topic. Posts regarding scripting (or similar concepts like momentum and handicapping) are outright banned, and topics regularly get locked on this basis.

That level of censorship seems on the surface to be a bit Orwellian, but it perhaps says it all about EA’s frustration with the (often scandalous) accusations regarding scripting. EA’s position is clear: it does not exist.

Since scripting became public enemy #1, EA have responded in some depth to the accusations (here) to little effect. Many still believe scripting exists, many will accuse EA of outright lying to their customers, and when this coincides with Ultimate Team, some might paint EA effectively as con artists, artificially weakening better teams to encourage people to spend more.

So what do I believe? You can probably surmise quite a lot from the fact I have taken this long to broach the topic. There are, quite evidently, a lot of things which irritate me with FIFA, but scripting is not one of them, because I don’t believe it exists. I’m pretty sure I’ve read pretty much every argument there is, and I simply don’t buy it.

A sheer lack of evidence

Most people bring forth ‘evidence’ regarding scripting involving anecdotal evidence of games they’ve had. Stories, screenshots, and even videos regarding scripting are not effective evidence of scripting. Typically, they boil down to something like this: “I had five times as many shots and they still won!”.

I’m actually stunned by how many people make this kind of argument – it’s such a flawed argument that you’d think they’d realise before they pressed ‘post’. The most obvious criticism is this – it happens in football all the time. The best team doesn’t always win. In fact, even the team which plays best on the day doesn’t always win. Football is not the kind of game where you win on the basis of who had the most chances, or even the best chances – it’s purely a question of how many times you get the ball across the line.

I’d go further in the rebuke though. Why do these examples point to scripting rather than any number of other potential problems? For example, it’s not unreasonable to say that what is a good chance in real life may not be in FIFA, and vice versa. This can lead to you feeling like you deserve more goals than you got, but it’s not a question of scripting.

Every player of FIFA must be pretty well aware that it’s not a particularly fair game. If you play on manual and your opponent is on assisted, and you try to play an expansive passing game whereas they just pump balls over the top to Cristiano Ronaldo, then you may well lose and it may not be particularly fair, but it’s not scripting.

Another commonly stated piece of ‘evidence’ is the high proportion of goals scored in the 45th and 90th minutes. This is easily explained by two factors. First, the 45th and 90th minutes are a lot longer than a minute, because you have the added time. The way added time works in FIFA does in essence allow the game to be played indefinitely, so it’s not infeasible that you’ll end up playing 5, or even 10 minutes of added time, making those 45/90 minute goals much more likely.

Add to that the desperate mentality of the last few minutes, and you have plenty of reason to expect goal gluts in the 45th, and even more so in the 90th.

Most things which are ascribed to scripting can be explained away in a similar manner. Every game of FIFA is dictated by a myriad of factors outside of the way the human happens to play, and the game is on some level designed to be unpredictable. Sometimes you do get really unlucky, sometimes a glitch leads to a loss and sometimes it feels like you’re going to struggle right from the off.

I can definitely relate to the feeling many have expressed that sometimes everything seems to go against you, but I find it easier to believe this is caused by the various factors of FIFA’s design not quite melding together right than some sinister script. You and your opponent’s mentality, formation, and custom team tactics go a very long way to dictating the way the game plays. I have my issues with how these things play out, but I have a lot of respect for how much difference they actually make

More than anything though, what convinces me is a combination of the lack of motive, and my faith in EA.

There are plenty of design decisions EA make that I don’t really agree with, but I can usually understand why they make them. Sometimes it’s a lack of time, resources, or different priorities, sometimes it’s because they are conscious that they are making a game for millions of people who aren’t necessarily hardcore gamers or purist football fans.

What I can’t imagine them doing is putting in a feature which purposefully makes the game unfair. It is a major issue for EA that people even think their game is scripted. The perception their game is giving off is damaging user experiences and damaging the trust between them and their consumers.

Of course, some will claim EA have already admitted that scripting exists in their game. A document produced by Sebastien Enrique regarding changes in FIFA 07 (the last generation version) boasts a variety of ways in which EA have improved the emotional side of FIFA’s football. A few key quotes are picked out as definitive proof that FIFA is scripted – the one quoted below is the only one which implies the possibility of gameplay alterations to this end.

“We can potentially affect AI through player attributes: a player prone to break under pressure, when the crowd is whistling because it’s unhappy with in-game situations, can have a bigger error curve when taking a shot [...]”

Even here though, these are being talked about as potential considerations, rather than things which were ever implemented. Even if something like this had been implemented way back then, there is no reason to believe it’s a feature in FIFA today as the next generation games were built from scratch.

To further rebut the accusation, it is even stated that the imagined system is NOT:

“A predictable system where the end result is seen as decided by the AI in place of controlled by user actions on the pitch. “

Far from strengthening the argument that scripting exists within FIFA, it actually makes the argument seem desperate. If there is any evidence of scripting, it can’t be found here. A similar batch of evidence comes from a fan written guide:

“Football is a game of momentum, and FIFA 09 captures this perfectly! If you give up an important goal, beware as the onslaught may be forthcoming. When the momentum shifts away from you in the game, your players are slower, they make more passing/trapping mistakes, and they are easier to knock off the ball.”

I have seen this guide brought up as de facto evidence quite a few times, but as it is a fan written guide it’s hard to use it as evidence of anything. A lot of the things written in the guide are opinion, not fact, about how the game works, and this mention of momentum is no more than that.

FUT Handicapping

The nastier accusation revolves around Ultimate Team, where there are many believers in a phenomenen known as ‘handicapping’, which is fairly similar to scripting. Generally speaking, the way this apparently works is that lesser teams are given a boost against better teams. According to some this works for EA because it ensures people are continually trying to improve their teams, and thus spending more money.

I don’t play Ultimate Team much, so I don’t have much experience either way. Again though, I’m skeptical of handicapping for the same reasons that I am with scripting. Would it really benefit EA to have bronze teams advantaged against gold ones? Though it might make owners of good teams keep striving for better, it would also discourage owners of weaker teams from improving, which would hardly work for EA.

If handicapping does exist, then EA would, in effect, be encouraging people to spend money and improve their squads on the basis of a lie – that improved stats would lead to improved results. I’m not sure whether that would constitute any laws being broken, but it would be immensely damaging to EA’s reputation if such a story broke, because people would certainly look on it as a straight up con trick.

Fortunately for EA, the evidence for scripting or handicapping is weak. I’ve not even seen a remote attempt at anything which would seem persuasive – something statistical, and scientific – and I have no expectation of anything like that in the future.

In searching for evidence for handicapping, I saw this Nepenthez video suggested a number of times. In it Nepenthez takes the ultimate Ultimate Team team (!), and proceeds to get trashed 6-0. I saw someone who played poorly, complained quite a bit for very little reason, and got quite reasonably pulled apart by someone who played more effectively in that particular match. To me, it wasn’t his team which was playing badly, but him.

YouTube Preview Image

I think a lot of the handicapping debate stems from an exaggerated belief about how important attributes are. Though some attributes are important, others aren’t that important and some are practically irrelevant. Obsessing over play statistics leads to a belief that they are more important than everything else, but really they are a fairly minor factor if you aren’t playing well.

Conclusion

What I don’t really understand is why so many people ascribe so many genuine problems to a ghost issue. No-one has any solid evidence for scripting, and EA flat out deny the existence of it. Whether or not scripting exists, it isn’t worth focusing on it so much, as you can be totally assured EA will ignore you.

All the same, what the large number of believers does attest to is that FIFA gives off an impression that something dodgy is going on. To an extent people accuse FIFA because they’re annoyed that they lose, but this goes further than that.

To me, it is a sign that users don’t really feel in control of what goes on in the game, leading to them being confused at why things happen the way they do, and leading to them giving that feeling a name – scripting – in much the same way early human tribes created Gods to explain natural phenomena like floods, and volcanoes.

If I had to guess, that feeling stems from a lack of direct control due to a high level of assistance, a lack of predictability when it comes to how strategy works out in the game, a lack of balance, and a game which very rarely replicates what you’d expect to happen in a real game of football.

It’s usually pretty hard to put your finger on why you lost or why all of a sudden you are playing quite well, and yes, that could be explained by scripting, or momentum, or handicapping, but it could also a reasonable explanation which precludes those things, and that’s what I believe in.

Thanks for reading, comment with any thoughts as usual, and assuming the ludicrous 2012 ‘prophecies’ are incorrect, Merry Christmas!

Join the discussion
  • ilmagodiloz

    Just played Milan – Bologna.

    I dominated the entire match with 20 shots and 63% of ball possession, but that’s not the problem, sometimes teams like Celtic beat Barcelona with just one shot, and it’s fine, it’s football. But sometimes AI really leads the match.

    I spent all the match shooting and shooting, hitting the post 3 times and watching their goalkeeper saving goals in absurd ways — a superhero.

    Well, the ball did not wanted to cross the line. Finally — at minute 82 — I scored with a very stupid goal, so fortuitous that I think the AI couldn’t prevent it.

    Then what? Bologna players became superheroes and my goalkeeper remained static letting entering their second shot of the match — a shot that was slower than a turtle, and my goalkeeper just remained standing looking at the ball.

    Final score 1-1. The AI wanted the match to finish that way and BUM, here it is. Script sometimes exists, and sometimes it’s really evident.

  • Jon

    This scripting is just a term for what lies beneath. Scripting, is not the right term. It’s something else. Haven’t you noticed in offline, the CPU, especially in higher levels, seem to ‘read’ what you are doing on your control? This is what angers me with FIFA. You press tackle and before the animation even plays out in the game the A.I players already know you pressed tackle and they do some cheesy animation such as dribbling away with insane agility and perfection (whilst the ball is morphing through their legs). Same goes with pretty much every mechanic. They know exactly when you are going to shoot the ball, they know exactly when you are going to pass it, it’s such a flawed system. I could provide tons amount of evidence.

    When every single player in the CPU team is ambitiously stretching out to intercept a pass, or putting their body on the line and throwing themselves into the line of fire, with a shot that isn’t even any where near the goal, there’s a massive problem. Taking a CHIP shot from 48 yards for example, the a.i will try to block it as if their life depended on it. I mean really? That is some crap programming.

    And don’t even get me started on user fake shots. Why does the a.i always fall for the same fake shot every single time? They defend with perfection, clamping on lose balls, punishing you for a tiny positioning error, and keeping possession as if they aren’t even trying. Yet they come crumbling down to a simple fake shot.

    There isn’t scripting. Okay. But there is some sort of shady A.I programming going on that ea doesn’t like to even talk about. Been this way for years.

  • Toby Ross

    Pretty much throughout the game, the AI has ridiculously low reaction times, and that’s something apparent with your own team let alone the CPU’s team. Pretty much every feature which relies on the computer reacting to something, rather than you doing so with a button press (let’s say, tackling) features really quick reactions. It’s not so much something which EA does to boost the CPU as the CPU being wholly dependent on those AI reactions whereas we’re partially dependent upon them.

    As for fake shots, I guess EA has implemented something specific to throw the CPU with fakes (and maybe tricks as well), because otherwise it would be outright impossible to fake/trick effectively. It’s a sort of bodge fix.

    Ideally, the reactions need to be slowed across the board, and I think that would put an end to the particular complaint you are making.

    Onto the more interesting point – scripting may or may not be a term for what lies underneath – but I think this once again illustrates why we shouldn’t use the term scripting for something else. If you go on the Official Forums and complain about scripting, your thread gets locked. Go onto the forum and complain about CPU reaction speeds, and it won’t.

  • Toby Ross

    Why do you think EA would develop the game in that way, incidentally?

  • ilmagodiloz

    No no, of course, in fact I’m not talking about scripting, but it seems that EA didn’t tune very well some situations. I mean, it’s true that in real soccer, when the result is 1-0, the team that is loosing tries very hard to score, but it seems that in FIFA your players become dumbs in those situations, they simply don’t react like two seconds ago.

    This is what I think: in order to emulate some situations of real world, EA has exaggerated and has not tuned very well the behaviors of your players. It’s cool that a team pushes hard to score in the last minutes, but this doesn’t mean that my team has to become idiot. Let me defend the best I can with the player I have.

  • http://twitter.com/FELIX1970 FERNANDO FELIX

    I really use to appreciate your texts, but this time I disagree with many points.

    When (some) people talking about Scripting doesn’t matter about victories or defeats: it’s about facts.

    It’s impossible to deny tons of goals at NEAR to 45 and 90, not exactly AFTER. Then
    forget about almost endless additional time (that’s true BTW).

    Did you ever see FIFA’s database sheet that show us how it works? http://ligakurier.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/fifa13-skript_momentum.jpg

    About “unpredictably” it’s necessary to say that football is a sport where surprises happens. But NOT ALL THE TIME like EA thinks. Not every match is a 2005 UCL Final, come on. And this match is the major example used by EA on that famous 2007 dossier.

    That document say much more things besides the phrase that you pick. And you know
    that.

    But the most important issue you didn’t discuss: WHY Madam EA needs to manipulate the game and choose this perfect strategy to control market share?

    Because it’s necessary to create a fake balance to give to new users (ex-PES fans and
    players that didn’t use to buy football games) a fake sensation they are handling the game very fast and show them that with FIFA they will have a rollercoast feelings all the time.

    Exactly for that they will never admit some kind of manipulation ingame. And if I was a EA’s staff member I should do the same.

    Sorry, maybe the ingredients are good, but the final recipe was a disaster. Unfortunately we cannot call to order for other pizza because Japanese pizza is even worst…

    Brazilian regards.

  • tomjaz

    All of this blog, where they were written, what is the worst in the FIFA gamplay would be better than NBA 2k and I hope it will be FIFA 14, as many of these innovations, where you write in blogs. ;)

  • http://twitter.com/k_RoII k_Roll

    People label these instances as “scripting” because:

    1. It is only ATTACKING players that react quickly to rebounds.
    2. Sometimes, BEFORE the parry is even made.
    3. The time in which this is a common occurrence (45th/90th)

    But MOST importantly

    4. The defending team is unable to do anything to stop this.

    Whether it be AI or the player you’re controlling…
    - AI just stand there.
    - Player you’re controlling does NOT do what you tell them to do.
    - “Switch player” mysteriously goes mental, giving you the ability to control everyone ELSE on the pitch EXCEPT that one defender who is practically standing on the ball.

    Since we are breaking the goalkeeper/parry situation down, I thought I would break it down COMPLETELY.

    So… What would you call this instance? Most people call it scripting.

    Let’s just face it, FIFA 14 NEEDS to be developed from scratch using a completely different game engine.

  • http://twitter.com/k_RoII k_Roll

    If Iain had played fifa 10 on Manual, he’d know that 11, 12 and 13 are MUCH easier…

    FIFA 13 Manual is not ALL manual

  • Eric

    Morale and Form is important, and ideally, they should be implemented. But as of now, they are implemented very poorly (as to giving players a false sense of being cheated and a sense of scripting, yes, all the grievances here are probably the adverse effects of momentum combined with other flaws of the game), in fact, it is probably impossible to realistically simulate the complexity of human mind and other factors that together contribute to “momentum/form/morale”. If EA cannot come up with a better formula for morale and form, then I’d rather see it not implemented.
    A solution to your question 1 is to simulate morale and form under the hood for CPU teams in the matches that human player does not take part in. That is, simulate form in the other 9 premier league games per se. And, when the CPU team plays the human team, morale and form are neglected. This way, seasons could be realistically simulated, and the human player is not harmed by the flawed morale system.
    For question 2, the background stories could be utilized to affect emotionally the human player’s mindset when controlling a particular player. For instance, if a player fails to score for a few games running, let the press remind the human player constantly. Also have the back-up player of the same position to challenge the human player to replace the out-of-form player and threaten with a transfer request. Or maybe let the board interfere (the abramovich-torres-di matteo situation) etc. This way, the human player would always have these in the back of his mind, and would perform awkwardly when controlling that particular player.
    These are imperfect (if not terrible) solutions, but I think they are more fair and would be better accepted compared to the current system.

  • http://www.facebook.com/efino1 Erlis Fino

    I tried to read through this whole article with an open mind and see the arguments presented, but I’m sorry I couldn’t do it because it is just so infuriating. Not because scripting makes me mad, because it doesn’t anymore. The article pushes my buttons for the disingenuous counterarguments it gives.

    Firstly, I hate, and I repeat, HATE, how you degrade people in the comment sections by saying that your arguments are bizarre or nonsense So I’m gonna go ahead and do the same here. Your arguments do not make sense and smell of someone who’s played Fifa for maybe about 3 months. Scripting is not conceding in the 90th minute. Neither is it that I had five times as many shots and still did not win. And for the record, I do not think these are the best arguments that prove scripting, like you seem to suggest. But then of course you would because that’s what everyone who’s afraid of the truth does. To my opinion you have deliberately picked the arguments you think you can counter most comfortably, and labeled the rest using broad tags like “anecdotes”, while at the same time discarding things such as videos. Now something can either be an anecdote, or it can be physical proof such as some videos are in this case. Dismissing both to begin with only tells me that you are not really interested in having this discussion.

    I agree, some videos are plain stupid and others do not prove anything conclusively. But there are some videos out there that show bang-on what scripting is. That being said I believe the best evidence of scripting is anecdotal, and it comes from people who have played Fifa for long enough to clearly understand the difference between a scripted game and an unscripted one. The most telling fact that shows you the game is scripted beyond any reasonable doubt is the fact that when a game is scripted you can feel it in the way your opponent and your players are playing from the first minute. Now before you go on and say this is how football is and sometimes you play good, sometimes you don’t, I’m going to say that I agree that is the case in the real game, but Fifa is a video game. In a video game, that follows a code, two things can happen. The first thing is the game stays true to its code, in which case you get the hang of it and pretty soon you beat it in every game. Or, since a computer is unable to generate completely random patterns, some of these patters are scripted in the code to make the game feel unpredictable. This is the reason scripting does not make me mad, because otherwise the game would be completely useless and predictable in three months time. But on the other hand, the unpredictability of the game has to be scripted, because it cannot be random and if it wasn’t scripted it would end in the players beating every opponent pretty soon.

    Secondly, a game that is scripted will go a certain way no matter how many times you replay it. Sometimes this is only in broad lines, i.e. the result is predetermined. Other times it’s even the events in the game that happen exactly at the same time or in the same order as the last time you played the same game. For example, you might be playing against a lower league team as Real Madrid, you score first, then a penalty gets given against you from which the other team equalize. Finally the other team scores the second goal in the second half and it ends 1-2. And this will happen even if you replay the game 10 times, with events in the same order. Now you are going to dismiss this as anecdotal, but you and everyone else who has played Fifa long enough will have seen this happen. If that is not called scripting I do not know what is.

    Thirdly, in a game that is scripted you get the same kind of improbable events happening. The AI will score either a cheap header which you cannot defend against or they will score from a rebound. Your strikers will almost assuredly miss any chance they get, all shots get blocked from opposing defenders, players will miss tap ins and so on and so forth. And even if you do manage to score, the AI will get back and score on you immediately from the kick-off. In other scripted games you can play perfectly the whole game, miss impossible chances and then get scored on because suddenly your defenders decide to all go forward for no reason. Or the opposition score from a 40 yard shot. You may say that these things happen in real life too, but as I said before real life is truly random to a certain extent, it’s a real ball rolling on a real field and being kicked around by real players. In a game the computer has control on everything. If it so chooses it can make one of your shots go back over your striker’s head, crossing the entire field and ending up in your own net. The difference here is that this is not a real ball, it is a computer projection of a ball. And since computers are not able to generate random patterns, than your “randomness” is artificially generated. You may also say that this is not necessarily evidence of scripting, but then neither is it evidence that there isn’t any scripting. As for your point that certain things show other problems with the game, if these problems really are as you say, then why do they tend to show themselves concentrated together in a single game, as opposed to being randomly spread out.

    Just to conclude, I am not against scripting. I realize that EA have no other way to create a sense of randomness in the game. I also realize that Fifa would not be what it is without scripting, and just like a bad decision in real football, it can leave you angry for the moment and then debating for days, but that’s one of the beauties of the game. What makes me sad is that there are people out there who will deny something that millions of Fifa players will tell you it’s there. And hell, if millions of people say it’s there, then who are you to say otherwise?

  • Wastey92

    You clearly don’t play FIFA enough to see that there is something at work in the game that skews gameplay. When the game doesn’t want you to score, it really doesn’t want you to score. Here’s a list of scenarios that happen when FIFA doesn’t want you to score and or win the game:
    1.Feels like every shot is blocked
    2.Opposition keeper makes a ridiculous amount of saves EVERY GAME
    3.Opposition keeper gets man of the match
    4. Defender tackles you from what seems metres away
    5. Game slows attackers down
    6. Game makes attackers agility terrible so they are easier to tackle
    7. Players such as Neymar, Messi , Rooney take the worst touch you’ve ever seen when in loads of space
    8. Defenders with sprint speed of like 40 (Vidic, Badstuber) keep up with Neymar etc
    9. When defending it feels as if the opposition is destined to score, every tackle you make usually misses and the ones you do make just bounce to another one of their players
    10. Your goalkeeper has a terrible game

    The list continues.. People who play FIFA a lot know there is scripting because they know how their team’s players should play in every situation. When a game actively chooses to reduce or increase the ability of one side or the other, how is that fair? Scripting may not be the correct word for it but whatever it is it’s ruining the game for a lot of people

  • nmmatt

    So how far along are you into your CS degree? You sound pretty naive about how complex software, such as FIFA, is actually implemented.

    FIFA is basically a database of animations that are chosen in response to user inputs of a few button presses and set of algorithms that take into account those inputs, various environmental variables, and some element of randomness. The more complex the animations, the more complex the algorithms have to be in order to present a seemless experience.

    To further the problem, you only have one character at a time controlled by the user. The rest of the characters need, well, scripts to dictate how they behave in response to the user inputs.

    It’s a credit to EA and FIFA that they’ve managed to make the game not completely solvable. Users do find loopholes, but there isn’t necessarily a simple pattern that they can exploit that gives the same result every time. And when those patterns do emerge, they tend to be more difficult to perform than in prior sporting games.

    One basic technique that most sports games use at this point is to change the probability of positive results based on whatever choices are being made by the developers behind the scenes. They change the speed of characters, the probability of a successful shot vs. an animation of the ball hitting the post, so on and so forth. It is frustrating to users who want a predicatable experience, but it is even more problematic for a greater number of users if the AI behaves the same way every time. It makes the game seem overly simple and they bore of it quickly.

    When EA denies that they use scripting they are insulting our intelligence. You aren’t too bright of a CS major if you buy that. I mean what do you think they are doing? Hiring a bunch of kids in China to control all the other characters in the game? What they are really saying when they have an official position that they don’t use scripting is that users should chill out because it is impossible to make a game, more complex than pong, that is based completely on physics translated from button pushes.

  • James,

    so this whole blog is sayin that I haven’t tested it nor do i play but all your accusations are baseless