In an interview over at The Guardian, EA Sports' Andrew Wilson has been talking about foot-to-ball game Fifa 12, which according to sales figures all of you own several hundred copies of. There's an interesting curveball of a comment from the interviewer though when he compares Fifa to an RPG leading vice-president Wilson to respond thusly:
"I think it's pretty perceptive to look at it as an RPG, and while we don't use that terminology for the game externally, we certainly look at it that way internally. An RPG is made up of a number of things: you have to have a unique ID – or unique character – you need persistence and progression for that character, ever-changing content which keeps the world rich and it's a good idea to wrap it up in a rich economy."
To the Deciphertron!
It appears Mr Wilson has taken RPG to mean MMO and is talking mostly about EA Sports Football Club, which offers daily challenges based on real-world ball-hoofing. So the unique ID is, I think, more of profile than a character and, as for the rich economy that it's all wrapped in? I didn't think there were any rich economies anymore, except for EA themselves. And Popcap. So it's not the kind of RPG crossover I thought was implied at first, but with sports games increasingly including modes like Be a Pro, allowing control and development of a single character, could an actual sports RPG revolution be around the cornerflag?
When I saw that EA Sports were talking about RPGs, I hoped it meant they'd be talking about the attention they had lavished on the Be a Pro mode in Fifa 12. To me, it's the only part of the game that has real potential to grow, although it would mean a stronger emphasis on the variety and intelligence of computer-controlled footmen. Straight away, I began thinking of fully customisable character progression, classes as positions on the field and the possibility of multi-class wingbacks, the possibility of working up from an Eastern European youth academy or a remote African village to a Champions League winning club, and the pursuit of international success, fame and glory.
It seems like a natural progression and it's something that indie game New Star Soccer 5 has focused on while EA have been remodelling hairstyles and adding new celebration animations. Lots of kids grow up wanting to be footballers, but very few grow up wanting to be an entire football team, yet that's still the game mode most titles concentrate on. The single character mode often seems like an afterthought, with the gameworld massively simplified. For such a mode to work properly it can't just provide the thrill of playing alongside great players, it would have to provide the disappointment of a loan period in exile and the substitute's bench, the agony of injury and a terminated contract, and the lower league twilight of a once brilliant career.
MLB 2K11 has the best 'pro' mode I've ever seen, allowing a user-made player to progress through a believable career trajectory. Does anyone know of any better ones, regardless of the sport? And does anyone else dream of a stat-heavy RPG, something with the depth and scope of Football Manager, that allows the player to be, well, a player? Maybe that's just me.