Scripting: Are Youtube clips evidence?

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A search for ‘FIFA scripting’ on Youtube will return thousands of hits. Are these clips evidence in support of scripting?

Youtube, Vine and other video services contain loads of videos portraying alleged proof of scripting. The typical scripting video shows someone conceding a goal or missing an apparently open chance. I decided to take a closer look at some clips to understand what really goes on.

Ball through body

The first example (below) shows a couple of collision detection errors, where one object (the ball) passes through another object (for instance body parts).

Some people consider such clipping errors irrefutable proof that FIFA is scripted.

The fact is however that collision detection errors are found in just about any 3D computer game ever made. Collision detection in a 3D environment poses several computational challenges. As is the case with any other 3D game, FIFA’s collision detection engine isn’t flawless. Sometimes, the game allows objects to pass through each other or determines that two objects collided even though they clearly didn’t. If you pay attention, you will notice that collision detection errors are particularly common during celebrations, but there are many other nice examples. I really like this flying player.

Screendump from a video uploaded by Juantxi Porteiro Rives
Screendump from a video uploaded by Juantxi Porteiro Rives

Most collision detection glitches aren’t really noticed, because they don’t influence the outcome of the match. But then there are the few odd cases, where a glitch suddenly does influence the outcome. Those are the ones that people remember and post on Youtube and Reddit. But obviously, when something happens all the time, it sometimes inevitably will happen in a bad moment. So, the mere fact that something unusual happened in a bad moment just doesn’t prove that is an invisible hans behind it.

Half a dozen missed chances

The next clip was posted on Reddit under this title: When EA decides not to let you score… As the title suggests, it shows someone missing a lot of chances.

In this clip we see the white team missing five shots from close distance. As the title suggests, the player controlling the white team felt that these shots were huge opportunities. I don’t quite agree with that.

I see (1) a powerful header, which goes right at the keeper, (2) an overhead bicycle kick from a sharp angle, (3) a powerless header which goes right at the keeper, (4) a bicycle kick, which neither is powerful nor precise and finally (5) a chest first touch which ends up in the safe hands of the keeper.

Hence, I definitely count a lot of missed attempts. But I don’t see any shots, which under normal circumstances would end up in the net with great certainty.

Scoring isn’t about quantity but about quality. Shooting from short distance doesn’t produce goals when you shoot straight at the keeper.

Another notable fact about this video is that the player makes some pretty bad decisions. Among other things, he misses at least three open opportunities to make a pass to a team mate who is much better positioned.

His decision to shoot straight at the keeper rather than pass is probably the main cause why he failed to score. The same goes for many other examples of videos portraying people shooting over and over again from hopeless positions while ranting about the game not allowing them to score.

A silly own goal

The next example shows a defender scoring a silly own goal. This doesn’t look like a glitch or software bug, but was it scripting then?

If you read the accompanying comments, it becomes clear that this goal wouldn’t have happened if the human player hadn’t made three very crucial but also very poor decisions:

  1. He called the keeper out but forgot to let go of the triangle button in time, meaning that the keeper kept running past the ball.
  2. He decided to clear the ball with his defender rather than letting the keeper pick it up.
  3. He cleared the ball while heading in the wrong direction, meaning that he ended up kicking it into his own net, even though the opponent was nowhere near him.

In addition, this was the non-decisive 3-1 goal scored in the dying second of the match.

How could this possibly be EA intervening? This goal would not have been scored, unless the player had made these three huge mistakes, and it meant nothing to the end result.

Although you can argue, that the far-from-perfect control scheme of FIFA may have had an impact in this situation, it stilæ ought to be very clear that 99 % of the blame is with the player.

Krasi versus silver

The final example is a longer clip uploaded by Bulgarian youtuber Krasi. Krasi is a professional player, and in this clip, he concedes a rare defeat against an all-silver lineup. This leads Krasi to conclude that the game simply didn’t want him to win.

Let’s again look at the events one at a time:

  • 3:26 – Krasi misses a shot on open goal from a wide angle. This is not a huge chance, and Krasi also admits that he shot while facing the wrong direction.
  • 3:43 – Krasi doesn’t get a penalty. The ref doesn’t even award a free kick. I think it’s fair to say similar tackles happening anywhere else on the pitch go on unnoticed in just about every FIFA match, but since it happened just on the edge of the box, it all of a sudden becomes very suspicious.
  • 4:00 – Krasi complains about a free kick which isn’t awarded. While this would have been a free kick in real football, it’s known that FIFA’s free kick detection algorithm works a bit randomly. Further, please note that the event didn’t happen in an open scoring position. Provided that EA really did care about the outcome of this match, it’s hard to imagine why they would want to intervene in situations, which are unlikely to influence the result.

The perhaps most important observation about Krasi’s first half and his lack of ability to score is however the fact that he only managed to create one opportunity, namely the wide angle shot. Although I’m sure that Krasi is a brilliant player, the fact remains that the main reason why he didn’t score during the first 45 minutes was his own lack of ability to create a sufficient amount of open chances against an opponent who perhaps wasn’t as incapable as some people like to think.

This brings us on to the sec0nd half, which contained a bit more drama.

  • 4:08 – Krasi hits the post. This is definitely a huge chance, but even with huge chances, the fact unfortunately is that you miss sometimes. Aside from his goal, this is the only open opportunity for Krasi in this match. Missing twenty similar shots in a match won’t happen very often, but missing one out of one obviously is bound to happen once in a while.
  • 4:24 – Krasi complains about yet another free kick which isn’t awarded despite the linesman raising his flag. What Krasi apparently doesn’t notice is that the ref actually decides to play the advantage (see the yellow icon in the top right corner). This is of course a bit strange, as the opponent is on the ball, but it is nevertheless the reason why the free kick isn’t awarded despite the linesman raising the flag.
  • 4:44 – Krasi makes it 1-0. Nothing to say about it really.
  • 4:55 – The opponent equalizes and makes it 1-1. In the commentary, we hear Krasi complain about the interception coincidentally ending up with the opponent. I personally have a hard time seeing anything suspicious about this situation. For all we know, this is a 50/50 duel, which Krasi coincidentally happens to lose.
  • 5:07 – The opponent’s keeper makes a save right in front of Krasi’s striker, who was about to get hold of a long pass. It’s again not a huge chance, although you occasionally do score on similar attempts.
  • 5:16 – The opponent makes it 1-2 via a longshot. If you give people sufficient space, they will do this in FIFA, even though they are using a player with only 70 long shots as was the case here.
  • 5:29 – A chance for Krasi. The shot is blocked. Again not a huge chance, as there are four players between him and the goal.
  • 5:41 – The opponent scores an easy volley, and makes it 1-3 after a counter situation, which apparently arose because Krasi went on all out attack.

As the video was edited, we can’t tell anything about the actual number of opportunities for each party, but based on the number of opportunities portrayed in the clip, the match appears to have been relatively even. Although Krasi apparently had more shots, his opponent had more open chances. I also notice that the opponent appears quite capable in many situations. Hence, this definitely wasn’t some noob being helped out against a superior opponent but rather an even match between two capable players (afterall, ELO matchmaking is a real thing in FIFA). Why would EA intervene in a match like this? I just can’t imagine.

You really think they write scripts?

One of the things that puzzles me about the whole scripting thing is the word scripting in the context of videos like these. People apparently think that EA somehow wrote a manuscript causing these exact things to happen. I’m not saying this is impossible, but I’m yet to see someone come up with a convincing explanation to how it is possible to make an algorithm, which creates unique scripts, occasionally involving extremely rare glitches and bugs, while at the same time allowing two human players to influence the evens heavily. Ultimately it must be pretty difficult to force a certain result to happen, while still allowing the human players to control key elements like shooting and passing.

In addition, I need to state that scripting in game design usually serves a completely different purpose than manipulating events. [1] I really can’t imagine that a software designer would chose scripting as a means of manipulating results in a game like FIFA due to the reasons I just mentioned and maybe most importantly the alternatives available:

If you really wanted someone to win or lose, the easiest method would be to match that person up against a predicted superior or lesser opponents continuously until the expected result was achieved.

Another thing I would like to bring up in association with these clips is the recurring allegations about handicapping or momentum. People often claim that the game makes their players appear sluggish and non-responsive in certain matches.

Presumably, this alleged sluggishness would be caused by invoking a (considerable) downgrade of player stats. While this of course would be trivial to implement in FIFA due to the presence of player in-game stats, I simply don’t see how it possibly could lead to the situations portrayed in the clips above. As an example, Krasi’s clip doesn’t contain any indications of under-performance with regards to passing, running or shooting. The primary reason why he lost is not that his shots worked less well than normal but rather that he created too few open opportunities.

If these clips portray any sort of foul play, I’m yet to see anyone present a consistent and meaningful theory on how the alleged manipulation in those clips was created. It certainly wasn’t scripting or handicapping.