When scripting in FIFA was a real thing


The football gaming industry did indeed make use of ‘scripting’ earlier. In this article, I look into what scripting really was and wasn’t, and why it actually was a part of FIFA in earlier days.

The screen dump above was taken from LMA Manager 2002, a now discontinued series of football manager games developed by Codemasters. Like other football manager games, LMA Manager used a sort of ‘scripting’: The match would essentially be decided beforehand, and the game would then simply display match events corresponding to the predetermined result. Some of the earliest football manager games had a library of pre-scripted goals, missed chances and other essential events which would be replayed in accordance with the planned result.

In today’s FIFA debate, the common perception is that scripting is put into the game to obtain a certain result. This was not the case back in the late 90ies when games like LMA Manager saw daylight.

Back then, the primary challenge of creating computer games was limited resources in terms of computer power. Concepts like scripting were essentially short cuts, which relieved the development team of having to teach the computer to play football. 15-20 years ago, it essentially wasn’t possible to create a real football simulation which looked just reasonably realistic.

Although scripting would allow football games to display somewhat realistic match events, it had some obvious downsides from a game design perspective:

In the earliest football manager games, you would literally see the same goals repeated over and over, which of course didn’t add to the sense of realism. Another obvious downside of predetermining the outcome of a specific situation was that it limited the user’s access to influence the game. Even in a manager game where the user isn’t controlling the players directly, users still expect to see their decisions impact the match. If you put on an expert dribbler instead of a target man, you expect the game play to develop differently. These changes were difficult to incorporate, when the events pretty much were playing out according to a predefined script.

As computers and consoles became more powerful, game designers saw the opportunity to make their football manager games more dynamic and realistic by actually simulating the matches visually. In the case of LMA Manager, some pretty big changes were made when LMA Manager 2004 was released:

“In LMA Manager 2004 , matches aren’t scripted and results aren’t fixed before the match kicks off; it’s all about how you to react to the action on the pitch and the ability to turn what looked like certain defeat into an unlikely victory.
Every tactic, attribute and break of the ball makes a difference. Getting over-run in the centre of the park? Then switch to 5 across the middle or bring on some tough tackling midfielders. Now more than ever success will depend on your own tactical awareness.
Thanks to the new 3D match engine you can now see more clearly than ever how the match is panning out. With enhanced Artificial Intelligence, more tactical options and hundreds of new animations the big match day has never been so realistic or involving.”
(– LMA Manager 2004 press release)

Rather than predetermining the result and displaying the appropriate visuals to fit with the desired result, Codemasters “made it so that all the attributes and stats were what drove the score” as one of Codemasters’ – then – developers, Gary Paterson, put it in an interview with blogger Nathan Ditum.

The primary takeout from the above is definitely about what scripting is and isn’t: Scripting is – or perhaps rather was – a shortcut used by game developers to get around the shortcomings of yesterday’s computers and consoles. There was nothing secret or fishy about it, and most importantly, it wasn’t used to manipulate matches.

The real scripting in FIFA

The same Gary Paterson, who used to work with the development of LMA Manager for Codemasters, decided to continue his career with EA, where he went on to become creative director for the FIFA franchise. He worked with the franchise between FIFA 07 and FIFA 11 and was a central figure in EA’s aspirations to reconquer the top spot in the football game market. When Paterson was hired by EA in 2004, Konami’s Pro Evo Soccer was a serious threat to EA’s aspirations to dominate the market for football games. Something had to be done.

Paterson started working on FIFA Manager, which used the same 3D engine as FIFA. Paterson was given the chance to review FIFA’s code base, and he didn’t like what he saw. He ended up writing a paper describing some of the things he wanted to change, and this became the starting point of a small revolution in the FIFA franchise.

In the aforementioned interview with Nathan Ditum, Gary Paterson explains the reasoning behind the changes made to FIFA based on the recommendations in his paper:

“I think fundamentally one of the things which changed in the way we build the game is we stay away from any kind of scripting. Before, when there were two-player interactions, we would script them. Two players would come together in current-gen for a header, and we would put them into scripted animation. So, you know, they put their arms around each other, and you couldn’t do anything about it, once it started. It looked really nice, but the outcomes from it were very limited. The solution is to remove the shortcuts and build a system which relies on logic. Rather than simply coding ‘defender wins header’, we have to make a system which makes the defender win, by using logical factors like height, weight, strength, heading ability.”
(– Gary Paterson in an interview with Nathan Ditum) 

Before we get too excited about Paterson’s open ‘admission’, it needs to be stated that the scripting, Paterson is referring to, didn’t cause balls to fly through various body parts, your defenders to stumble over each other or your players to feel sluggish and slow. It didn’t cause you to lose against lesser opponents by a goal scored in the 90th minute or put you on losing streaks. Last but least, it didn’t make you lose matches in order to trigger your craving for purchasing packs, because FUT wasn’t even invented at the time.

But still, there was a time where FIFA used scripting.

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