After the release of the list’s second edition, 20 games were removed, with twelve of them unplayed so far. For completeness and because we wanted to try some of them, we decided to still play these twelve, but with shorter or changed write-ups. Today the twelfth and last game, FIFA 2010.
Yes, it’s finally done! All the games that have been removed from the list with the second edition have been covered. It’s been a mixed bag – there were a few games that I was happy to get to play after all, such as Gravity Crash, while others were less interesting (although understandable that they were still on there), such as MLB 09: The Show.
To me, FIFA 2010 is one of the latter. It deserves to be on the list – it is the big football game, as popular as they can be, the poster child of yearly releases (although you can ask yourself how much it always changes). And I was hoping it would work for me, but the yearly sports releases tend to be a bit hit and miss in this regard.
The main issue for us, as always, is accessibility, and it did lead me to think a bit further about how introductions to games work. Four days ago we posted about Picross DS, whose tutorial felt a bit slow and unnecessary, but was needed for first time players. You’re also, by playing the tutorial, playing the game, making it part of the learning process. When you look at it, many other games do this as well, and in more complex systems, elements of the game are introduced one by one. This can be done explicitly by pointing out more elements of a game through an introductory level – such as Mass Effect does – or even more often, by slowly introducing more elements into the game, giving you a chance to play with them, before assuming they’re fully in.
Super Mario Bros 3 is a good example of the latter. You follow a single path to the first level and press A to start. The first step is the strange creature (Goomba, as we know) that approaches you. Running into it kills you, with a bit of experimenting you can find out jumping on it kills them. Next there’s some question mark boxes – they first give you coins as you jump against them, then later a mushroom comes up. You jump against it and grow! A piranha plant shows up, spitting fireballs – with these hints, you realise you don’t want to touch it (and early on, you can find out you also can’t jump on top of them. They’re also not flat enough to make that logical). You may see your mushroom bonus disappear too, which teaches you about that mechanic without ever having to pop up a single word of dialogue. This goes on through the level, showing you the basics of koopas, giving you a tail to fly around (the first is hidden – you either discover it and feel awesome for learning, or else you get the chance later) using a nice flat stretch encouraging you to fly and having the first pipe.
The second level continues this, having the first easily accessible pipe, an obvious star and some other blocks it teaches you about. It goes on from there, showing some worldmap tricks – multiple paths as well as panels to give you bonus lives. Fortresses come in soon, and hammer brothers only after you beat the fortress. Even between worlds – only one powerup gets introduced on each world, if you ignore the mushroom as a powerup – the fire flower in the second, the frog in the third and so on.
If you look closely, this is a pattern that returns in other games, to a greater or lesser extent. RPGs hold back complex powers or characters and introduce them one by one. Simulations don’t require you to access more complex features until later. Puzzle games may not use certain complications until later. Shooters don’t immediately throw its more complicated monsters or weapons at you.
For sports games, this doesn’t happen. In part it’s because it’s difficult – you don’t want to lock off part of your options to players who know what’s going on. At the same time, it makes the game dense and inaccessible. Sure, the mechanics get explained in a tutorial, but this is disconnected enough from normal gameplay that it can be difficult to follow, especially since you can’t see how the consequences of your actions play out. Then, in the game, because you have all these theoretical options, but no real experience where to use them, it makes it overwhelming with a steep learning curve that feels daunting and frustrating.
It’s hard to see what could be done here, but some slow build up during matches (“you’re about to take a free kick, do you want help?” prompt for the first time, and maybe once or twice more if you accept the help) could make a lot of it easier and avoid guesswork.
The other part of it is, as we’ve discussed before, that these games simply assume you’ve played previous versions of the game. Sure, there’s the tutorial, but at times even those can be focused mostly on the new features, without giving a nice ramp up in difficulty for new players. FIFA 2010 seemed especially bad in this regard. When we first started the game, we didn’t go to an introduction, a main menu, or a ‘set up your career player’ screen. No, the first title screen leads straight into something called “set piece creation”. This appears to be the new feature of the year, I guess to allow some specific manoeuvres, but seems useless and actively distracting for me as a new player. It made me feel unwanted and out of touch, and I was happy I could at least skip it instead of making a mess out of it. It felt too in-your-face “you’re out of the loop” for me though.
I am sure that the game is good to simulate a football game – everyone’s love for the game and the size of it says enough of that. It feels impressively detailed, in the detail put into players and their appearances, the statistics and individual options they all have, the amount of tactical options and tweaking you can do. It looks good when you’re playing (maybe not platform-pushing amazing, but that’s not what you need with this sports game). The commenters seem to be the right amount of annoying.
I’m just genuinely not sure whether this game allowed me to get the most out of it, or had the tools to really make me enjoy it before I would have wanted to quit from boredom.