Continuing todays clubs theme, PES Fan and community traitor Xaor has some ideas on how the mode can be saved. Please take the above in the spirit it was intended, it’s a joke. We love Toby.
Saving Clubs From Itself
Gamescom was the time when Clubs fans would get the lowdown on how their favourite mode was changing. That date has been and gone, and the major news was that there was no major news. What Clubs fans will get are a number of tweaks, and fixes, aimed at making what they have in FIFA 11 work really well in FIFA 12. Some are outraged at a perceived neglect, but I agree with EA on this one: Clubs desperately needs some thorough fixing, and a year of not adding big new features may well be the way to do it. The question is whether or not EA’s version of ‘fixing’ will be sufficient.
Clubs has been around since FIFA 09, where it started out as an extension of ‘Online Team Play’, but since then has changed into a Virtual Pro based system where a player would be represented by a created virtual Pro, rather than a real one. This makes Clubs FIFA’s most unique mode, and importantly it’s the only mode they have which doesn’t have an equivalent in Pro Evolution Soccer.
Having multiple human brains working together trumps even very good AI – and the creativity this brings can be inspiring. The focus on being off the ball adds a huge new dimension to play, as players work to facilitate attacks or come together in defence. For me, when it works it goes beyond anything else a football game can offer – there is nothing like a bit of teamwork coming off well and working together to create a great goal. Though you may have only a share in the magic, it actually feels better than creating that goal on your own. Pro Clubs’ potential is enormous.
But it is a mode at the mercy of its players. The vast array of exploits get used endlessly, and the amount of hideous showboating and silliness gives the impression that the lunatics have taken over the asylum: green afro’d cheats and blue braided racists, names containing ethnic slurs and about as much focus on how to celebrate in the most obnoxious way as there is to playing the “Beautiful game” beautifully. The reality for the vast majority of the time with Clubs is a frustrating game, sloppily simulating football, utterly wrecked by the people that play it.
It’s worth asking how and why the lunatics have taken over the asylum. The most obvious reason, is that Clubs is so vulnerable to cheating, boosting, and exploiting, that not only does it lend itself to the worst type of gamer, it actively disadvantages those who refuse to join them; playing a realistic game of football in Clubs is nigh suicidal. The worst side effect being that, as time goes on people are often forced to choose between leaving and conforming to the corrosive style of play that Clubs suffers from.
It’s time to take Clubs back.
The largest single reason is the gap in skill level between the Virtual Pros and the generated players. It is simply infeasible to play decent football when the human-controlled virtual pros are better, in every single way, than the players who are meant to defend against each other. FIFA is balanced tentatively enough in normal modes without coping with attackers regularly taking on players 20-30 points lower than them. The reason, I’m sure, is that they want to encourage people to play with large teams, but breaking the game to do it is absolutely nuts.
In fact, the massive difference this makes is most easily noticeable when you compare how FIFA Clubs plays in the first few weeks, to how it plays after a couple of months. It starts off playing something like football, and slowly devolves into something I can derive almost no enjoyment from. It becomes less and less about what your team can actually do, and more and more about what your player can do. The VPs get to the point where they can easily outrun the defenders and fend off any shove too. Once it gets to that point, you can form deadly attack after deadly attack with no inventiveness at all, simply with two high-rated VPs.
There are no two ways about it: if Clubs is going to improve, this must change, and it mustn’t change an unnoticeable smidgeon like it did between FIFA 10 and 11, it needs to change a lot. The gap between a highly levelled VP and a generated player must probably be no more than 10 if the game is to hold up well (compared to the 20+ currently). This raises a few questions of course – we don’t want the Virtual Pro’s to start off really underpowered (given that they start in the high 60s), so probably the easiest solution, assuming that the way VP’s progression doesn’t change and the generated players are still generated randomly like they are now, would be to make the generated players’ ratings slightly under the average of all the VPs in the match. In this case, any fix will do: this single factor is so damaging to Clubs that almost regardless of other improvements if this issue remains, Clubs will still be badly broken.
An increasingly regular complaint in the community is about the ‘any’ position: a lot of people who still play Clubs seem to want it removed. They argue that it goes against the point of Clubs: a mode which they assert is about Virtual Pros, and therefore should not allow a player to take control of the remaining generated players. While I can in a sense understand that argument, it seems to ignore the result of what would happen if you removed the anys, which is that the AI would be in control of the generated players, and as so many teams play with few Virtual Pros this would in fact make Clubs more about watching the AI play than actually playing. Even if the AI on FIFA was good (which it certainly isn’t in FIFA 11), this would surely not be preferable.
I suspect that some people at the moment see it as OK, because of how VP centric Clubs is, but, as explained in the balance section, this is in desperate need of a change if Clubs is to resemble football. While right now playing with three VPs and 8 AI involves a lot more time with the VPs on the ball than the AI Combined, that should not be the case – and frankly removing Any’s at this stage, when so many Clubs play with low numbers, would probably be as damaging as the balance problem.
What perhaps does need to go, or at least change massively, are human controlled goalkeepers. It was an obvious move with FIFA 11 when EA decided to increase the numbers to 11v11, and bring out a way to control the keeper, but as is all too often the case, the attention to detail and balance was outweighed by the eagerness get it into the game and onto the back of the box. Human controlled goalkeepers are deeply exploitable, especially on the assisted control set. FIFA’s keepers are often called superhuman, but a good human keeper in Clubs is almost invincible.
The skilful, intelligence and reaction based art of goalkeeping is condensed, on assisted, to holding L1/LB (which positions you automatically) and smashing X/A (which saves for you automatically). It’s with features like this that I wish EA would not put them in until they were right: because online, and especially in a mode like Clubs, poor balance which may not hurt other modes, can completely break online modes. EA must realise that as soon as they have to focus on balance as much as a shooter does with its guns: if the balance is wrong it will break the game. While the goalkeepers should certainly be part of the plan in the long run, it is better to not have them there than to have them breaking the game.
A big issue with Clubs is in fact tied up heavily in the Virtual Pros, which are not solely part of Clubs. The progression system (i.e., the accomplishments) seems designed primarily to match up to some kind of Call of Duty-esque Challenge system than with the intention to produce good gameplay. The system by design creates homogeneity between players, and while a huge range of accomplishments is nice, far too many of them are nigh impossible without boosting (or hacking). To actually get a lot of the accomplishments without playing in a damaging way to my team’s chances is almost impossible.
I don’t think it’s fair to dictate how good my player is dependent on me getting three assists from crosses (extremely luck based and at least as dependent on my teammates as me), but this tends to be what your rating comes down to. There are quite a lot of accomplishments which are nearly gimmies, some which take ages, and once you’ve got through them you have ones which you need a miracle (or to sacrifice your team) to get. So, here is the question: why use an accomplishment system? Or, at least, why use this for player progression? (It could certainly be left for the sake of a ‘challenge’ booklet).
There are plenty of other ways it could be done – from an MMO style Experience/Skill Tree, to more natural growth/training based systems – anything to take us away from the trappings of the accomplishment system.
All of the above said, I’ve mentioned nothing about the problems which have hit FIFA 11’s Clubs the most. The initial (and somewhat continuing) server issues were absolutely devastating and many in the community are embittered by EA’s lack of communication. Add to that the exploits, big and small: going from dodgy formations, goalkeeper crowding and quitting, to causing massive lag, or game freezing, and now the VP-hack to make your players perfect and impossibly tall. For a game of FIFA’s stature, and for a company of EA’s size and wealth, it should not be unreasonable to expect a satisfactory level of service when it comes to them fixing their own game.
There are a lot of things which FIFA 12’s Clubs must do if it is to truly succeed. If these things are addressed, Clubs will assert itself as a revolutionary mode, and the next iteration can move onto bigger and better things. As I said at the beginning, the potential of this mode is immense – it could quite easily morph into an almost MMO style game, a living online football universe – but before any of that the basics must be put right.