Electronic Arts could very well have an opportunity to recruit new soccer fans to its FIFA 16 game. Based on an early look that I’ve gotten, FIFA 16 has a trio of new developments that could lure more newbie gamers than usual to the series.
The first is that the women’s FIFA World Cup is happening this summer. That means that there will be more eyeballs on the sport in the U.S. than usual. EA also announced that FIFA 16, coming on Sept. 22, will have 12 women’s national teams for the first time in the 22-year history of the soccer video game. Lastly, EA has added a new “trainer mode” to the live gameplay on the pitch, enabling new players to figure out what to do with the ball at any given moment. The publisher announced this new feature today at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the big game trade show in Los Angeles. I’m not a FIFA player, but I enjoyed playing in the newbie-oriented trainer mode.
Women are half the population, and they’re largely untapped as fans of soccer video games. Women’s soccer is becoming increasingly popular, and more women are playing games. The Entertainment Software Association says that 44 percent of U.S. video game players are female. My own girls are soccer fans, and they get excited about watching women’s teams play on the TV. But they don’t play FIFA video games because they don’t want to be the men.
EA is incorporating the animated likenesses of some of the best women soccer players in the world. The decision is a sign that female video game players are becoming a larger part of the market, and diversity of content has become a more important issue on the radar screen of the male-dominated game industry.
“When we added women to our game, we wanted to make sure it was done properly,” said senior producer Nick Channon in an interview with GamesBeat. “You don’t want to get into a situation where you just add a woman’s head to a man’s body. We’ve had to do quite a lot of work to get to that point. Quite a lot of technology has been put in place in terms of body types, making sure we had a female body type that looked authentic and realistic. We had to change some of our technology to do that.”
To create the likenesses, EA had to capture a sample of the women from the teams through its 360-degree motion-capture process, and then it created animated versions based on the real players at its EA Canada division in Vancouver. The players’ movements helped to build new locomotion models for women in FIFA 16, including female-centric walks, runs, sprints, and horizontal movement.
“This is going to allow everyone to play at a higher level. It’s one of the most important additions we’ve ever made to our franchise,” he said. “We found with this is everyone has learned something, including our core players.”
EA’s is adding women’s national teams from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and the U.S. The women’s teams’ gameplay will come with modes such as Kick Off, an offline tournament, as well as Online Friendly Matches.
As for grabbing new players via trainer mode, I’d bring up my kids again. They would love to learn how to play, but they’re not familiar with game console controls. With the trainer mode, you still control one player on the screen at any given moment in FIFA 16. But you’ll see button images appear above the player, showing you the options for the moves you can make, such as “pass” or “dive” or “block.” Many of these moves are fancy, and the player might never think of doing them. But the trainer offers a tip for what you can do in real-time. You can just press the button that makes the most sense, and your player will do something semi-intelligent.
The buttons change as you pass the ball to another player, and it takes whether you are on offense or defense into account. So the suggestions from the trailer are dynamic, allowing you to make a move quickly without pausing the game to figure out what to do. And if one player knows how to play, they can turn off the trainer mode, even as the other player uses it.
“We get lots of people coming in and playing for the first time every year,” Channon said. “There is no better way to learn than to sit with someone sitting next to you. That’s the concept of learning by playing. But everyone who has used it has learned something new, like terminology like ‘lob through ball.'”
Channon also said that the game is much stronger on defense this year, with new moves that improve the agility of the defenders.
“It makes defending feel more balanced with the attacking,” Channon said.
EA has also improved the animations for interceptions and passing. You can dribble without touching, by holding down the left bumper on the controller. You can move forward alongside an already-rolling ball forward without touching the ball. This effectively slows down a player in possession of the ball, without going around a defender.
FIFA 16 debuts on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and Origin.