For a game that lives or dies by its control mechanism, tinkering with something as fundamental as how the contact between players works in EA Sports' FIFA 12 is a risky move.
And yet, EA Sports has decided the need to make its football game feel more realistic makes implementing a whole new Player Impact Engine in next season's version worth changing some previously fundamental gameplay.
Along with what it is calling 'precision dribbling' 'tactical defending' and 'Pro Player Intelligence', the Player Impact Engine is part of a quarter of key changes to the technology behind FIFA 12.
It's a significant overhaul, and it is meant as a compliment when we suggest that, from the time we have spent with the next iteration of the game, that the changes feel significant without breaking the gameplay features that make the FIFA franchise fun.
As EA describes it – the Player Impact Engine is a physics engine that is built to deliver 'real-world physicality in every interaction on the pitch'.
Showing off the feature at a press event, EA's David Rutter showed off some of the foibles of FIFA 12's predecessor when it came to players coming together, and illustrated why it was necessary to freshen things up.
"The FIFA 11 clips [which show the old style collisions] make it look really bad, and it wasn't a bad game," jokes Rutter. "But FIFA 12 is significantly better.
"What we wanted to do was fix inaccurate collisions with our Player Impact Engine this year and make sure that the details and finesse of our collisions were as accurate as possible."
Rutter insists that this does not mean we are going to see ridiculous rag-doll situations were players are catapulted skyward by a bad tackle (unless it's a tackle by Paul Scholes).
"We're not saying that all of the tackles are going to be way over the top," he states. "The great part of a real time physics engine is that every little nuance of the collision can be mapped out.
"Even a light knock will lead to a correct collision, whereas a really brutal challenge will lead to a more spectacular outcome."
One of the major upsides to this new physics engine is more realistic injuries; with the game keeping track of the way in which the tackle moves the limb and calculating if it has been deformed.
This feature is being called 'True Injuries' and EA is keen to push the increase in realism it will bring.
"The Player Impact Engine monitors contact between players in real time – analysing the force of the collision and impact on the body to detect real injuries, creating a deeper more challenging Career Mode," explains EA's official explanation.
"Manage new types of injuries and the risk of sending a player onto the pitch who isn't fully healed."
In other words, bringing back your star striker half fit might well have longer term repercussions.
Another feature is actually a progression of something that EA has been doing for years – making the personalities of the players on the pitch impact directly on the play.
Interestingly, Pro Player Intelligence brings things on to the stage where the computer AI will adapt teams' gameplay around the abilities of the stars.
So, in the example given at the press conference, a team with Peter Crouch up front is more likely to chuck the ball up to the beanpole than carve out a long range shooting opportunity for Lionel Messi.
As well as this, the arrival of an extended vision attribute means that players who are particularly blessed in this department will be capable of picking out that run behind the defence by the winger on the other side of the pitch, whereas Accrington Stanley's 35 year old defender is barely going to pick out his fellow centre back.
A further addition in FIFA 12 will be 'Precision Dribbling' or, as it's known to all football fans 'tippy tappy'.
This means that players can take much greater control when they are on the ball, with tighter turning circles and the ability to move the ball a little when holding off a potential tackler.
Which brings us to perhaps the most significant change to FIFA 12 – a much more entertaining defending system – in the hope that online play will not see a few hardy souls prepared to sit holding an x button at the appropriate moments.
Previously, defending was basic at best, but EA is aware that changes are necessary and have introduced 'Tactical Defending'
"[Tactical Defending] fundamentally changes the approach to defending by placing equal importance on positioning, intercepting passes and tackling at the right moment."
So, what, ahem, impact do the changes make? Well TechRadar had a play around with code which EA is calling 'pre-Alpha' ("that means a long, long way away from being finished" explained Rutter) and the early indications are positive.
Defending is likely to be the most controversial change, not least because seasoned FIFA players are going to be forced to change the way in which they play.
That said, the changes are not so massive that it feels completely unfamiliar – what it does mean is better timed button presses to get a tackle in and a little more thought about where to position your defender.
In the interests of research we also took the opportunity to make a truly heinous over the top tackle on Ashley Cole. Upshot, he was carted off; seems like the True Injuries is working well.
The game is not due until 'Fall 2011' but on this showing, the next iteration of the game is coming along well – and all we need now is for Barcelona to start playing real life football on the semi-pro setting to give everyone else a chance.
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