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Career Mode: The Road To Success (Part 1)

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Managing expectations…

Career Mode did an awful lot of things right in FIFA 12 and it’s without doubt the most engaging simulation of football management EA have produced this generation. But the road to success for Career Mode is long, and as well as fresh ideas to continue the gathered momentum, it’s important that issues from this year’s iteration are not lost or forgotten.

You wouldn’t slap “fixed transfers” on the back of the FIFA 13 box but the continual improvement of elements that already exist within Career Mode, should rank just as high on the priority ladder as any powerful new innovations.

With that in mind, here’s part one of our top areas for Career Mode improvement.

CPU Team Individuality

For FIFA 13’s Career Mode to take a substantial leap forward is there really anything more important than CPU Team Individuality? It’s a problem which blights several of FIFA’s existing game modes but it undoubtedly causes the most upset during Career Mode seasons.

EA can continue to cram Career Modes features full of depth and intrigue until the engine is fit to burst, but without a varied and intelligent CPU opponent to compliment that back-drop, Career Mode won’t ever fulfil its vast potential.

There are hints of individuality and team style in FIFA 12’s Career Mode, but for once this is an area where subtlety and refinement are not appropriate. In some ways team styles need to be a bit brash and “obvious” to really drive that feeling of differentiation home and across 15 seasons it’s not an easy task.

As a really basic starting point, expansion of the home and away tactics system seen in Euro 2008 would be a really welcome addition because having the AI respond to the context of a match be it, league, cup, derby, 2nd leg is essentially step one on the Team AI ladder.

On top of that EA then need to overlay the way teams play and how that variety scales between individual teams, leagues, nationalities and how styles evolve and change over time. I don’t think the existing Custom Tactics suite offers anywhere near the depth of options required and widespread issues of game save corruption resulting from their use, has damped community trust.

FIFA’s vast team roster doesn’t help Career Mode one bit when it comes to individuality which is shame, because the number of clubs FIFA caters for is one of the series strongest attributes. Trying to make hundreds of clubs individual is nearly impossible, which is why EA need to focus their attention on a league by league basis, making those 20 or so teams perform with their own purpose and sense of style.

Team individuality has to be priority number one for Career Mode going forward because it under-pins absolutely everything the mode tries to offer. Without it, advances elsewhere will be inhibited; this is the number one area for improvement, bar none.

Team Management

If you’ve ever read any of my articles in the past you’re probably already aware of my feelings towards the existing Team Management system in FIFA 12 and how as a community we have endured, rather than enjoyed its presence over the last four years.

A lack of tactical options is at the core of Team Management’s problems but usability is what’s killing it from the inside out. Changing a player’s base position requires a frightening number of button presses as does altering player work rate, or choosing kick tackers. It’s not so much improvement that Team Management needs; its overhaul.

Any new design must provide the wealth of tactical options we crave but critically, it must be innovative from a usability perspective. Adopting the “three click” web design rule would be a good start and beyond that an intelligent layout will be the most integral part of any success.

Having the screen split in two works well for a lot of FIFA’s menu structure but in Team Management I’m afraid it just doesn’t. There’s no need for me to see that my opponent is “ready” and there’s certainly no need for it to take up half the screen. Give us a full pitch to work in; with a free cursor for moving players, trigger based snap-ins to overlay tactics and behaviour, team stats, results, form and morale all easily accessible under one roof.

How FIFA deals with the management of tactics, formations and players doesn’t matter so much in say an Exhibition match, but in Career Mode any faults are amplified tenfold. Career Mode is supposed to be the managerial Mecca for FIFA fans and not catering for an area of management so fundamental, is a big problem which must be addressed.

Transfers

Transfers have actually come on a great deal from FIFA 11 and a certain stealth change by EA has resulted in a dynamic and changeable transfer market for the very first time.

I know a lot of people perceive the overly active transfer market to be a weakness, and in terms of the frequency of big name deals I certainly agree. However I’d much rather the transfer market was too active now, and have EA naturally refine it over time, than have something in-active which we’ve never seen work.

Where transfer can improve immeasurably is in the options available to us as managers. The community’s want for player trade and player plus cash deals is well documented and we know from earlier in the year that EA are looking at a system which will get this working.

A couple of other big misses are the ability to enquire about a player’s availability or asking price, rather than having to take a wild stab in the dark about how much the club want for them. On the flip side of that I also want the ability to tell the CPU that someone is either not for sale (no more negotiation) or set an asking price I deem acceptable.

The other area I’d like to see fleshed out are the contractual options as Career Mode takes a very black and white approach to negotiations currently and if you offer a transfer fee, wages and a four year deal it’s pretty much job done. In reality contract negotiations couldn’t be more difficult with appearance bonuses, staggered transfer fees, image rights and signing on fees all adding to the complexity.

Transfers have come a long way in one development cycle but some really crucial options need to be brought to the negotiation table for FIFA 13 as well some much needed refinement which I’m sure will occur naturally over the next 12 months.

Email

First of all it’s worth mentioning that I have no problem what so ever with EA using email as the primary method of commination in Career Mode; I think it makes total sense. But there is still a lot of room for improvement in the current system.

Probably the most obvious change would be to give us a reading pane on the inbox screen rather than making us open emails in a new window each time. There’s always a huge amount of dead space at the bottom of the screen once all the new emails have arrived and it makes sense to utilise that space and keep us on one coherent page.

I’d also like to see the auto-deletion of emails removed, because at the moment it doesn’t feel like a living, breathing inbox if it’s permanently emptied on a daily basis. When you view emails instead of the “back to inbox” option there should simply be a delete or save button, allowing you to maintain fond memories of those big transfer moments if you wish to.

The other major issue with email is that it can disrupt the flow of Career Mode as it advances through game weeks. The engine stops unnecessarily at times to show you fairly trivial information and it can become a bit stop-start during busy periods. If I get an email about a transfer negotiation in progress then sure, stop my game because I want to deal with that. But things like fixture changes, injuries, scout reports and board information could probably wait until the mode naturally halts for a match day or on a pre-defined “admin day” once a week to mop this content up.

An extra coat of polish to email presentation to compliment the above and we’ll be glad to receive our emails in Career Mode rather than at times cursing their existence as you move to the next match.

Be A Player

It’s to EA’s credit that they admitted very early on in the FIFA 12 development cycle that the Be A Pro portion of Career Mode wouldn’t be seeing any attention this year, as addressing some of the modes fundamental problems were the teams focus. It was a bold decision to make and looking back it was certainly the right one but there’s no way a similar stance can be taken for FIFA 13.

The most fundamental problem with Be A Pro is the lack of intelligence in your team mates, especially their ability to be able to create chances and defend properly without your exclusive control. Part of the draw to Be A Pro is the feeling of being a small cog in a big wheel, but when the wheel won’t shoot or pass, it’s difficult to find enjoyment as an individual.

The mode also suffers from a crippling lack of managerial direction as you’re never really sure of your role within the squad, or what’s expected of you by your manager on a game to game basis. A manager should always provide tactical insight about the opposition, the way he wants his team to play and your role as an individual and until Be a Pro finds a way to capture that and feed it back to our Virtual Pro’s it will never be worthwhile taking to field alone.

The other thing which I know annoys a lot of people is the fact you can’t be substituted if you’re playing badly or are fatigued and you’re also never dumped in to a match as a sub to try and make an impact. These are things which should be a staple of Be a Pro by now as they add a feeling of progression which makes that big first team appearance a moment to cherish and not an oddity before you slam back to the reserves.

Be a Pro right now is a blank canvas in FIFA 12 that’s just waiting for someone to grab it by the horns making it truly special. In a way it’s a bit of a no risk venture for whoever gets lumbered with it because there’s no way it can get any worse to be honest. Be a Pro has a massive amount of un-tapped potential; all it needs is someone with the vision to realise it.

Part 2 will cover Squad Report, Scouting, Youth Squads, Customisation, Match Simulation and the Media, but until then hit the comments and add your own thoughts on where Career Mode can improve for FIFA 13.

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