FIFA 15 Preview: How EA is bringing feelings to the football field

The next frontier for EA Canada’s FIFA series isn’t photorealistic grass or emergent ball physics or convincing fan riots. It’s feelings. In FIFA 15, every one of the 22 players on the pitch has an emotional state that the game tracks and tweaks in real time.

It sounds a little silly, but it makes a certain amount of sense. How many times have we seen a pro sports player — any sport will do — cry tears of joy after a nail-biting victory? React with animal rage to an unfair call? With the help of EA Sports’ Ignite engine and the power of a new generation of gaming hardware, FIFA 15 aims to capture that.

At the start of a match in this year’s release, every player on each team starts out in a neutral emotional state. We see this first hand  during a pre-E3 preview session in a series of screenshots snapped in-game, with a debug mode turned on to demonstrate how emotional links play out behind the scenes.

Colored dots over players’ heads give a general sense of how they’re feeling and lines connecting them demonstrate the focus of those feelings. In our video example, the game opens with the ball immediately sent downfield to one of the keepers, who proceeds to fumble the block and help the ball into his own team’s net.

Immediately, a series of red lines snake out to the keeper from all of his teammates, still in mid-field. They’re furious. It’s barely seconds into the game, and their own keeper’s lousy hands resulted in an own goal. It’s an extreme example, but it demonstrates a point.

In another example, one player shares words of encouragement with a teammate who misses an easy shot early on in the game. The same miss in the closing minutes of a losing game would bring a different, more negative reaction. These interactions cross between teams as well, with rival players locking eyes as they pass one another on the pitch.

All of this translates to gameplay. Angry players are less cautious, more reckless. High-spirited players, more in the zone. That’s the pitch, anyway. The promise of new hardware and a game engine designed to utilize the more capable processors. Our brief hands-on time isn’t enough to highlight how more emotional players foster something closer to a real-life experience, but it’s something to watch for later this year.

Our play time was good for highlighting the amped up presentation in FIFA 15. There’s just more of everything. More realistic light and shadow effects. A livelier crowd, with animations and routines specific to the team they’re cheering for. Celebratory 10-player pile-ons.

The added realism extends to the moment-to-moment action on the pitch as well. The ball is now a fully realized object in the 3D space. In previous years, a collision with some obstacle, such as a player, rendered the ball dead on contact. In FIFA 15, momentum is maintained. If a shot ball grazes the backside of another player, its course is adjusted as it continues to sail onward.

Players also just handle more like human beings. The real-life dominant foot (left/right) of an individual matters when it comes to dribbling the ball. They’ll stutter their steps to prepare for an incoming pass, then position themselves to protect it from the opposing team. The play is pure FIFA, same as it ever was, but even after just a few minutes of playing, it’s evident how much smoother everything is.

As with any sports sim, the key changes this year are minor, iterative enhancements, the sort that only invested fans really pick up on. That said, FIFA 15 feels as polished and accessible as it ever has thanks to another year of work on Ignite. Look for it this fall when it comes to PlayStation and Xbox consoles, as well as — for the first time — PC.

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