Since their introduction in FIFA09 Virtual Pros have been some what un-appreciated by the FIFA community in my opinion. Gameplay, Career Mode and Online get all the attention these days but has any other brand new feature added as much to the FIFA series as Virtual Pros have in the last three years?
Virtual Pros have given us all a sense of identity in FIFA, something that’s unique and our own, unless silver afro’s are your thing. But what they also do is fulfil that life long ambition we all have of playing along side some of the greatest football players of our generation, even if it is only in the virtual world.
As well as advancing things for the individual gamer the implementation of Virtual Pros has also spawned a whole new sub section of the FIFA community through the Pro Clubs game mode. Organisations like the FVPA are taking FIFA Clubs and Virtual Pros to new a whole new level and the potential for further growth in this sector is massive.
However one huge question still hangs over Virtual Pros that EA has yet to provide a sufficient answer for. How does a promising young talent develop to become the best player in the world?
Currently to improve your Virtual Pro in FIFA11 you gain accomplishments through completing various in-game tasks either online or offline. Scoring a hattirck of headers will give you a nice aerial boost whilst completing 100 matches will improve your stamina. This task based system works well but what it doesn’t consider is anything else which contributes towards player development.
What we currently lack to supplement in-game accomplishments is any kind of Virtual Pro training. Training for any footballer in today’s game represents a huge part of their daily routine and continual development. So therefore it’s only right that something with that level of importance to real footballers is represented in FIFA and Virtual Pros too. But how exactly could EA implement Virtual Pro training?
Those of you that have played EAs Fight Night series will know exactly how fighter training is dealt with in that games career mode. In-between each fight you’re able to choose from a selection of training exercises which work on specific skill areas. Pummelling the heavy bag would increase punch power, whilst a stint of sparring might improve agility or speed. The levels of rewards you get from each task are based on your performance so the better you do the faster you level.
As for potential training exercises which could be applied to FIFA the options are essentially as limitless football. Penalties to improve compsure, passing drills to improve accuracy, taking on AI defenders to unlock skill moves, the world is literally our oyster. If anyone remembers the old tutorial system in PES6 you’ll know where I’m coming from.
The problem that FIFA has with this training model is the sheer volume of training that would take place in a football game when compared to boxing. There can be up to 3-4 months between a single boxing match with just one training camp completed during that time, whereas in FIFA the time between games can be just a few days. The obvious danger would be that too much forced training could become cumbersome and distract from what we should be doing in FIFA, playing football.
A way around this problem would be to have a wider array of training exercises than Fight Night and to limit Virtual Pros to the use of just one exercise per calendar week. That would keep the development steady and force you mix and match your drills depending on which skill areas you want to focus on. To be honest as long as the training drills are short, sharp and engaging I think people would take to the routine rather well.
I also think it’s a real shame to be wasting the shiny new Training Arena that we all lobbied for so strongly for FIFA10. The training arena would be a perfect fit to house this kind of activity and as EA used precious development time to implement it in the first place, we may as well be using it for the purpose it was intended.
The only place that this kind of “mini-game” training works for me is with Virtual Pros. I don’t think you should be having this with your whole squad in say a Career Mode save because that would just be ridiculous. If you start up a Career Mode as a manager then this model doesn’t apply but as a player or player/manager with a Virtual Pro I think it’s entirely applicable. There does need to be some kind of global squad based training system for Career Mode as well but that’s a whole other article entirely.
What this type of training would do for the Virtual Pro system is bring the gamer and their pro closer together. I feel there’s a certain level of detachment between accomplishments and Virtual Pros because most of the time you aren’t consciously trying to unlock them, it just happens.
Being able to choose your training for me is extremely powerful because you’re actively sculpting your pro the way you want. When you start to see great through balls coming off more and more often in game you’ll know it was because you trained hard on that drill for a whole month and not that a something appeared in the top right of the screen, made a noise and handed it to you. It would add a certain RPG element to FIFA which I think people would really go for based on the success of that genre in gaming generally.
I’m not for a second saying that accomplishments should be removed from FIFA I think they’re a good source of development and I love the accomplishment book for example. What I’d like to see accomplishments focus on more is the unlocking of traits, player customisation and the development of physical attributes. The actual football skill based attributes I think should be a 50/50 split between off the field training and in-game accomplishments because to me that makes the most football sense.
There’s no doubt in my mind that becoming the best player in the world is a combination of many, many attributes. Drive, skill, passion, performance, leadership, ambition to name just a few. But would Ronaldo and Messi be the players they are today without training? Not a chance…