Last week EA Canada announced that it is using DICE's Frostbite engine for FIFA 17 (our sources told us before the announcement that all EA Sports games will transition to it in the coming years). While graphics in general are certainly an area the series will benefit from using the engine, Frostbite is not just changing the way the game looks, but the way players fundamentally interact with it. At today's EA Play pre-E3 event, the developer announced a new story-based mode for the game dubbed The Journey.
This single-player mode puts players in the boots of Alex Hunter, a promising English prospect signing his first contract in the English Premier League (EPL). He comes from a family of footballers – his grandfather was a great player in his day, and his dad showed promise until his career was cut short by injury. Hunter will also go up against one of his childhood friends as he climbs the ranks. This backstory sets the stage for Hunter's progression into stardom. Here are some more details:
- The Journey is a separate mode from the normal career mode – which is still in the game, and will have its own additions for FIFA 17.
- Gamers play games in the mode like normal (in terms of the camera used, controls, etc.), but they also have objectives to meet (like scoring goals and creating chances) and in the upper-righthand corner of the screen shows your match rating in real-time. You also get feedback on your performance throughout the match. Hopefully the objectives, feedback, and ratings are consistent and complement each other, otherwise the progression of your player could be knocked out of whack.
- The better you do, the more trait points you earn. Traits encompass wider groupings of the attributes that have always been in the game. For example, the shooting trait is related to attributes such as your volleys, shot power, etc. Training, on the other hand, addresses attributes specifically. It's unknown if the training drills and format from FIFA 16 are being used for 17.
- You can select your favorite EPL club at the start and start playing for their scouts. How well you do determines the quality of the contracts you're given. Through the season you're constantly fighting to get into the starting eleven.
- While the mode operates in the Premier League, FIFA creative director Matthew Prior says it's not going to exist in a bubble where other football events, leagues, and players around the world are ignored.
- You can player-lock as Hunter or play the whole squad like normal. Either way you'll see your player rating and the objectives are the same.
- Premier League managers are in the game – both in the mode and the regular gameplay – these include several well-known managers such as Jürgen Klopp and José Mourinho. We saw the later in a sequence where Hunter debuted for United.
- You can influence some of what happens in The Journey. One of the smaller examples is having a sit down with the manager if you've gotten a red card in the last match. Choose wisely here, because your relationship with your manager – along with your on-the-field prowess – influences your playing time. The dev team isn't giving away exactly what trials and tribulations Hunter will go through, but they're promising his story will be a dramatic one. Prior says that it's very possible that two gamers will have situations and scenes that differ from each other as they play Hunter's story.
- However, "We [don't] want to force gameplay events upon the user," Prior insists. For example, the mode won't drop you in a pre-baked situation like you already have a yellow card or you get a red just for drama's sake.
- The game has a conversation system influenced by BioWare's work in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. The system (which is still being finalized) is a way to create Hunter's personality. In a post-match interview, for example, he can be self-centered or a team-player, or get testy. In the current build, a symbol (like fire for a response with attitude) appears after you pick your choice. Prior says players can't make Hunter have massive mood swings, but can steer his personality in small increments. Naturally, your manager, teammates, and fans react to your actions.
- Your personality off the pitch comes through on it. So if you're fiery in interviews, you will see your player get in people's faces like agitator Diego Costa during games.
- Speaking of fans, the mode has a social media component that surfaces tweets from fans and players, giving you more feedback on what you're doing and bolstering the story. Fans are tabulated and there are sponsorships, but it's unknown at this time how they feed into your larger progress.
- Hunters' appearance and name cannot be customized.
- EA isn't saying whether the Journey spans multiple in-game seasons.
The Importance of the Frostbite Engine
The developers at EA Canada consulted with other Frostbite devs like DICE and BioWare, and have been working with the engine and on The Journey for over two years. Without it, the mode wouldn't be possible. Here are a few components the Frostbite is delivering:
- Lighting – Lighting is one of the engine's strengths. Producer Aaron McHardy in particular points out the stadiums at night and also says, "Players are starting to feel more integrated into the environment."
- New Environments – Frostbite enables the devs to create content very quickly. "We can actually show you a whole other side of the world," McHardy says. Just a few of the environments in The Journey mode include planes, locker rooms, inside the stadiums, the manager's office, and your childhood backyard and room.
- Faces – McHardy acknowledges that previous faces were waxy, but Frostbite enables them to make improvements. Eyes now look more alive, and flesh is animated around bones. McHardy says the result is not only faces that look better, but that maintain their fidelity even when moving and expressing. This will be important during cutscenes in The Journey since you'll see real-life players like Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney throughout the experience – including their own voicework.
For more on FIFA and the Frostbite engine, take a look at this teaser trailer, and read some of my musing on EA Sports' use of Frostbite – from before today's announcement – in last week's Sports Desk.
Also be sure to come back tomorrow (Monday, June 13) for the latest installment of The Sports Desk, where I'll talk more FIFA.