We've just found out this week that Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo will be on the cover of FIFA 18, but we recently went to Chelsea's Stamford Bridge in London to see a bit more of the game for ourselves, as well as witness a presentation as part of the European Producer Tour from creative director Matthew Prior and lead gameplay producer Samuel Rivera. Here we heard about some of the biggest changes and tweaks that EA promises should make the series even more realistic and responsive than it's ever been before.
One of the biggest things Matthew Prior was keen to point out to us in the presentation was that this is the second year of FIFA being built in the Frostbite engine, and the visual jump is pretty noticeable, especially in terms of lighting. FIFA 17 was by no means a bad looking game, but when you look at FIFA 18, you can tell that just a bit more polish has been added with that extra year, and faces especially have a lot more detail and depth to them, helped in part by the improved lighting i.e. the shadows on the face are far more noticeable (buzz phrases like "ambient occlusion" and "dual shadowing" were touched upon by Prior, although not elaborated on).
Gameplay is the most important thing when it comes to a football game, though, and there's a number of changes coming this year, all built around four pillars Rivera outlined to us: responsiveness, explosiveness, fluidity, and personality. A big thing that helps with all of this is the new Motion Technology system, likened by Rivera to the step taken between HD and Ultra HD televisions. To outline what this does, in FIFA 17 each step was an animation, and in FIFA 18 each frame is an animation, so instead of doing a number of different exercises with players like Ronaldo when motion capturing, which can take a few days, EA only needed far fewer movements to then map them onto frames, rather than steps. We were told that this would help with responsiveness, allowing players to change directions quicker by not having to wait for step animations to finish, and fluidity, by moving from one frame to the other seamlessly without jolting in different directions.
How did this new animation system feel when we played it then? Well, we had two writers playing the game at two different events, and one thought it was noticeably more responsive, as Rivera said it would be. The other didn't feel it was as noticeable, however, although that's not to say that they felt there was no change at all, just that it wasn't as much of a leap forward as was implied. The little clips we were shown regarding transitions between movements, however, did show a marked difference, becoming less jagged in FIFA 18, and we did feel there was a touch more control, because a big appeal of the frame-by-frame movement is that you can now change directions much more quickly.
The personalities of big players is something that was undoubtedly noticeable, however. Using the example of cover star Ronaldo, we were told that the different running styles of players would be incorporated into FIFA 18, and we could certainly tell just by the movement of the arms that the player we saw was Ronaldo. This also applies to Manchester City's Raheem Sterling, playable in our build, as his distinctive running style with his arms close to his body was also clear to see, as well as Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben.
This doesn't just apply to big players, though, but also to archetypes that all players fit into, of which there are six: short, medium, and tall in terms of height, and skinny, medium, and stocky in regards to body size. For example, taller players will now take longer strides, but less often, than a short player, so all the players in the game have distinct styles of movement based on the category they fit into.
In regards to personality and distinguishing players from one another, we were also told that related animations will be slightly faster for players who are better at dribbling, i.e. Lionel Messi or Eden Hazard, compared to players who aren't as skilled in that department. We did think in our early builds of the game, however, that the dribbling wasn't particularly polished, and we found our players moving around the ball quite often rather than taking a touch or playing a pass, which wasn't particularly responsive (the same movement you'd expect when circling around the ball to block off defenders). We were assured no-touch dribble will be made better as well, but we didn't get to sample that in our time with the game. Also, explosiveness in regards to dribbling happens in FIFA 18 when you move from jogging to sprinting, and the animations show players leaning into the explosive touch very clearly, a key part of visual feedback showing you that what you're commanding is being translated into the game.