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Career Mode: The Road To Success Part II

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Progression, progression, progression…

Ok, here we go Part II of our Career Mode: The Road To Success article series and as always lets us know if you agree, disagree or if you have any bright ideas of your own for Career Mode in FIFA 13. If you missed it be sure to check out Part One which was released a few weeks ago.

Squad report

One of the major problems with FIFA 11’s Career Mode was the lack of a high level overview of your squad and how your players were developing and performing over multiple seasons. It’s surprising then that the largely excellent Squad Report in FIFA 12 hasn’t received a great deal of praise or approval from the FIFA community.

The design itself is simplistic but when conveying information on this scale that’s exactly what’s required. The split screen view showing morale, form, OVR progression, attribute growth and statistics with just a single trigger for navigation is a shining example of usability which should be replicated in other areas of Career Mode.

My criticism is that the Squad Report isn’t prominent enough throughout Career Modes design and being tucked away under Team Management on the main menu doesn’t help. I’d imagine quite a few people are missing out on the Squad Report entirely because they just don’t know it exists. Squad Report’s influence should be weaved more deeply in to the fabric of Career Mode and a direct link to team tactics seems like the most logical option going forward.

I’d really like Squad Report to give us the ability to compare players too and I’d also like to see the attribute hexagon famously used in PES, but also in FIFA’s own Creation Centre to be part of the report. It’s again, brutally simple in design but that’s the beauty of it, because once hexagons are overlaid the differences in player abilities are immediately obvious.

Its rare that you see such success from a new Career Mode feature on its maiden outing and my only disappointment is that the Squad Report isn’t utilised prominently enough. For that reason it feels tacked-on right now rather than being integral to the day-to-day management your squad.

Scouting

After an unexplained period of absence scouting has made a very welcome return to Career Mode in FIFA 12 albeit this time under a slightly different guise. The scouting system plugs solely in to the Youth Academy system this time and it’s here that the water becomes slightly muddied.

I understand EA’s reasoning and I agree that it is a waste of time scouting Lionel Messi, but with a database of players and teams so vast I think it’s asking an awful lot of the FIFA community to have football knowledge on that scale. You could of course use the Transfer Search to scour the unknown players within FIFA’s player database but that doesn’t provide the same feeling of achievement you get from signing a player you’ve scouted over weeks and months.

There’s some work to do on the reporting end too because whilst the information about a players potential rating is great, the detail on the type of player you’ve scouted isn’t always readily available. Just a one-liner about whether they’re an attacking fullback, a play-maker, or a target man would suffice and information about how they compare to existing players within your squad would also be very welcome.

Scouting is back and that in itself is a great thing for Career Mode in FIFA 13, but there’s certainly a discussion to be had about how far scouting’s reach should extend and whether the licensed player database ought to be considered in scope. Personally I think it should.

Youth Academy

The last thing we were probably expecting to get in FIFA 12’s Career Mode considering the failings seen in FIFA 11 was a working Youth Academy. Most people would have prioritised a fully functioning reserve squad over any youth offering, but in FIFA 12 the new youth development system is one of the stronger additions.

The Youth Academy itself is a little thread bare options wise in FIFA 12 and once you’ve scouted and signed a player they essentially sit in the Youth Academy until they’re old enough for first team selection. It’s only when the player actually leaves the Youth Academy that interest ramps up because then you start to play them in matches and find out whether their early promise was well judged.

The Youth Academy itself needs to become more than just a holding pen for 16 year old boys (easy…) in FIFA 13 and there needs to be much more to youth player development than sporadic match experience. Squad training isn’t something Career Mode currently caters for so maybe there’s an opportunity to use the Youth Academy as a testing ground for a new training system? Youth players need to be viewed as unfinished products and as managers we should to be able to utilise training to help guide their development, moulding them in to the type of player the team requires.

One thing I really like about the Youth Academy setup is the monthly reports which update you on how player development and new scouting is progressing. The reports act as reminder as much as anything to continually monitor your Youth Academy and the data within the reports is almost always useful. What I’d like to see though in addition to this report, is a monthly report for the first team squad as well, possibly produced by the Assistant Manager. Just to let us know which players are in form, who’s playing poorly and who I should consider giving a run in the side.

The Youth Academy system is in its infancy in Career Mode and to my knowledge it was a fairly late addition during the FIFA 12 development cycle. For that reason it can be absolved of some of its shortcomings but with a full development cycle in front of it we should certainly expect to see much greater things in FIFA 13.

Customisation

Making Career Mode feel fresh and exciting for 15 seasons is a very difficult task and CPU Team Individuality (see part 1) will be at the forefront of any major improvements for FIFA 13. What Career Mode doesn’t currently provide though are the tools to extend some of the variety ourselves in terms of the way players in our squad are visually represented.

If Career Mode had a self-contained edit mode which allowed you to tweak player customisation (even if it’s only for the squad you are managing) I think it could be a real longevity winner. Modern day footballers change boots, kit styles and haircuts like they’re going out of fashion, which makes Career Modes fifteen season, uniformed player models a contributing factor towards multiple season burnout, which a lot of Career Mode enthusiasts experience.

Career Mode needs to feel different on a game by game basis tactically, but it also needs to differ visually purely to add variety to each seasons campaign. Handing this aesthetic freedom over to the community would be a great move in my opinion and as it only affects the personal offline experience it carries zero risk for EA to include it, and it goes without saying that we should be allowed to appear on the Career Mode leader boards with aesthetic only changes.

Where this edit mode would probably have the biggest impact is for the youth players that arrive from the academy. Currently we don’t get a say in their styling, or the god awful selection of generic EA boots they get assigned by default and for that reason they feel very manufactured. With just a small touch of customisation to compliment the type of youth player you’re developing, the already compelling bond between manager and player could be even further enhanced.

Again it comes down to choice; some people won’t care for, or even use a Career Mode editing suite but I know for a fact that most of the community would embrace the freedom to visually overhaul their squad season by season. Even if it only improves Career Modes longevity by 5% it’s still worth doing because invariably the best things are always found in the finite detail.

Match Simulation

If you’re a battle hardened Career Mode purist, the thought of simulating a match will probably be enough to make your blood boil but if the option to sim is going to be in Career Mode it needs to function and perform properly.

The most glaring omission really is the ability to amend Team Management after you’ve chosen to sim a match, which to me makes no sense whatsoever. Your default line-up may indeed by your preferred setup, but with fatigue and injuries taking their toll over a season it’s very unlikely that you’ll be routinely unchanged.

Another frustration is that once a simulation has started you’re unable to interrupt it to make your own substitutions. The CPU does an “okay” job of handling this but it only tends to swap players on a  like-for-like basis which doesn’t help your cause if your team ever find themselves a goal behind.

Perhaps the biggest issue of all though is the way results are determined when simulating. If the engine decides the match outcome before we see the highlights play out in real time (a question for EA?) then there’s no point in showing it to us at all. In fact if the result is scripted I’d argue that there’s no point having the simulate option in Career Mode, just remove it entirely and make Career Mode a genuinely pure management experience.

What EA decide to remove from Career Mode is just as important as the things they decide to improve or implement from scratch and I think match simulation is fat I’d instantly trim. If the results are indeed scripted, the frustration this rather poorly constructed feature brings to Career Mode  just isn’t worth the hassle.

The Media

An incredible amount of depth has been injected in the media aspect of Career Mode this year and the volume of new text especially has caused EA plenty of technical headaches. Complimenting this added depth are the Player Stories which have finally given FIFA’s superstar cast some personality and a feeling that they have their own personal agendas as well as routinely taking to the pitch each week.

Usability can be an issue at times though and oddly when Career Mode is advancing you can’t read the news articles in your feed, when it’s arguably the most appropriate time to read them. Any time Career Mode spends loading is our time wasted and making news articles seamlessly readable during the game week advancement would represent a major step forward for immersion.

The content of the news articles is largely excellent but for me what they lack is user interaction. For example, if a news article pops-up about a player handing in a surprise transfer request, I should be able to click on that news feed and jump straight to the transfer negotiation for that player. But because the news articles aren’t linked to the body of Career Mode it makes the media pane feel like a separate entity rather an embedded part of modern football culture.

The “talk to the press” feature is disappointingly lightweight in FIFA 12 but I’m glad Career Mode does allow us choose where and when to talk to the press, as being forced before every match would rapidly become tiresome. I think there’s certainly a place for some dynamic press conferences though, which could launch to mark a new signing, or an upcoming derby game. This would definitely complement the chosen media interaction well and it would give the perception that the Career Mode media are actively interested in your club rather than it being a one way relationship.

The options within “talk to the press” also need to be expanded because having just three conversation streams makes it feel really limited. I also don’t like the option “unsettle” because what I say should unsettle an opposing manager based on context of the dialogue, rather than me making a conscious decision to unsettle them. It’s the wording that’s a bit odd and considering EA (rightly) mask the knock-on effects produced by talk to press, it’s a bit hypocritical to describe the desired outcome of a conversation stream so blatantly.

With some added variety to player story scenarios, a wider selection of images to accompany media posts and hopefully some of the above suggestions, we could have a living, breathing media centre in Career Mode for the first time. A massive step forward this year but as with each and every feature, room for improvement.

Part III of the Career Mode: Road To Success article series will cover “the little things” which could be changed for FIFA 13 and will be released very soon so watch this space.

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