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Xaor's Corner: Manual Just Isn't Good Enough

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See all previous Xaor’s Corner posts in this link.

One of the greatest innovations FIFA has made this generation is to offer a choice when it comes to control settings, and most of all the manual settings which have given us all a chance to play football games in a totally different way to what had been the norm for over a decade. Replacing the restrictive assisted settings was almost unbounded freedom to play your own brand of football, as well as one which tends to provide a more realistic and challenging balance than the assisted alternatives.

But there have always been problems:  the balance between the assisted controls and manual controls created a tear in the community, understandably given that using assisted controls gives considerable and often not especially realistic advantages over a manual user. But while manual’s biggest problem always has been assisted, manual has a fair share of problems – some of which could be solved and haven’t yet been, and some of which run much deeper.

A couple of years ago I would have been one of manual’s greatest proponents and preachers, but while I still support and use manual and still prefer it to the alternatives, the more I play the more I see manuals flaws and wish for improvements and alternatives.

The assisted, semi, and manual control settings have more or less been in their current guise since FIFA 07, a total of 6 years and 9 games. Some small alterations and balance tweaks have been made, generally for the better, but for the most part the systems, warts and all, are the same now.

If a little more effort had been applied perhaps the little niggling issues would have been got rid of long ago – manual users still have to suffer with erratic, unpredictable manual pass weight bugs, and the general awkwardness of both very short and long passes topping the list. These things can and should have been solved long ago and therefore can and should be solved for FIFA 13.

Nonetheless, this will not solve everything, because like it or not, and for many it is a tough pill to swallow, but manual is not and can never be the final word in football game control schemes.

Manual is good for the freedom it offers and, coincidentally because it improves on the general level of realism on the more assisted settings: for whatever reason the difficulty of aiming a pass on an analogue stick and weighting it properly is a better estimation than the error calculations in assisted passing, for example, which says more about the softness of the error calculations than it does about manual’s prowess at recreating realistic football.

Manuals sheer level of difficulty when it comes to doing even the simplest things means that the importance of other factors becomes less noticeable: battles between manual players invariably come down to how good you are at aiming an analogue stick around, particularly in the ultra-finicky shooting. When playing on manual the importance of which players you use is reduced, as is the importance of intelligent football or good strategy.

While I have long argued that manual has stat based error to the same extent as any of the other control settings, it’s undeniable that player based stats are diluted in importance when the majority of error comes from the user. Certainly, it’s pretty much impossible to consistently pass like Xavi or Fabregas on manual – and the same is true for crossing and shooting – and arguably the difficulty means that almost no player, however skilled, can achieve football akin to that of Barcelona, or even a mid-table Premiership side.

In some cases, user-dependence outright takes over from any logical reality: manual for the sake of being manual. Take manual player move assistance and manual player switching, where the user is forced to switch and move his analogue stick to force a player to do something rudimentary to even the least skilled player – running towards the ball. At times this will often lead to players who should get the ball not getting it based on the position of the analogue stick before a pass is even played: it’s not fair, and it’s not logical.

That may fit what some people want – but my preference would be a game which manages to incorporate a range of factors, from the players you use, strategy, solid football understanding and yes, dexterity too. There is a lot of partisanship around this issue, but at the end of the day we should all be able to recognise that there is plenty of possible improvement to the current set of schemes.

Since FIFA 07 we have been given a choice over our control scheme – and while the initial innovation was fantastic this area of the game is clearly one which demands change and could be improved massively without huge difficulty – so why does it seem that the control schemes are a case-closed? Why do we still not have a truly viable middle ground – one which delivers on what ‘Semi-Assisted’ promises? Why is assisted still so restrictive? Why is the error modelling so negligible that assisted controls guarantee impossibly consistent passing, shooting, and crossing in far too many circumstances? Why is manual still fraught with problems and bugs which have been known about for years? Most of all, why are users still forced to choose between two concepts equally alien to real football – a hugely restrictive, repetitive, and over perfect system, or a free but flawed, ultra, and overly difficult one?

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