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What Makes Animating FC24 so Difficult?

We’ve all seen them. Those much memed clips sprawled across social media of FC24 players contorting like pretzels, their limbs defying physics to bend and stretch in the most uncanny ways possible. While these are hilarious for us, they must be the bane of FC24’s animation department. But don’t mistake these rare janky animations for sloppy work from the animation department. In the case of FC24 it’s quite the opposite; the team was more ambitious than ever in their mission to bring the most realistic looking and feeling animations to our virtual kick about sessions. But animating sports games has always been tough. Arguably requiring some of the most technically complicated animation in the entire gaming industry.

So let’s take a closer look at what exactly makes animating FC24 so difficult, and how the animation team approached these challenges in this version of EA’s legendary footballing franchise.

Why Animating Football is so Tough

If you’re into FIFA—I mean FC—you’ve almost definitely watched a live football game before. From that, you’ll know that you have a pitch of 22 players endlessly repositioning, running, jumping, dribbling and kicking in innovative ways in order to get a one-up on their opponents. Taking this into the simulation that is FC24, you have 22 humanoid avatars which you’re expecting to look as realistic as the real thing—from their visual appearance to every step they take. A mission made even more crystal clear through the inclusion of player switching and replays, which allow you to scrutinise the each and every player—along with their animation—at any moment in the game. That means you can’t rely on the usual tricks, it all has to be for real. But don’t worry, your time with FC24 doesn’t have to be so tedious; to get ahead you can just buy fc 24 coins in order to get your hands on more.

With that foundation laid, there’s an even larger mountain to climb—replicating movement which reflects a complex physics system and interacts with other avatars. Take a usual footballing situation—a striker sprinting on goal. You already have tonnes of possible actions here. The striker running, dribbling the ball correctly, shooting. The defenders closing in, tackling, jumping in front of the shot. The keeper positioning themselves, diving, reaching, catching. All of these animations could appear in many different formats—left, right; high, low; strong, weak; successful, failure. Pile on top of that the stats and condition of the players, the ball position, the field conditions, the clothing and more—and you have millions of variables defining animations.

Seriously, this is a tough business; and I’m not envious of the pressure EA’s animation department is under to deliver the best quality in every single moment and possibility of play.

How Did They Approach the Challenge?

So, how did EA’s team deal with this monumental challenge this time around; and why did it end up in what seems like a few more bugs than usual?

1.Motion Capture: Blurring the Lines Between Digital and Reality

While the team has worked with motion capture for a while, they really took it to the next level in FC24. If you’re a big fan of the game, you may have seen some behind the scenes clips of sportspeople in motion capture suits dribbling, shooting and flailing around wildly.

By recording real athletes doing the real motions, the animation team are able to truly capture the actions, instead of simply making their best predictions of what the animations would be. In practice, this translates to increasing the natural flow of animations and their transitions, while also allowing the personality of some of the athletes to really shine through.

2.Procedural Animation: The AI Advantage

But as we just said, we’re talking about thousands if not millions of different animations—so you can’t simply record them all. That’s where system-based animation comes in. Through a careful implementation of a mixture of procedural animation, inverse kinematics and AI tools, the team allow the game’s animation to be continuously re-creating itself to match the very precise in-game conditions. You can think of this as a kind of AI choreographer, building the action and animation as it happens.

While this means that almost every moment will feel super realistic, these are the systems which also result in those wild bone-breaking animations every now and again; where the computer gets a little confused as to what it should be doing in a particular moment.

3.Iterative Testing: The Never-Ending Refinement

With the motion capture and the systems in place, EA are still, to this day, working on refining everything to minimize those unforeseen breaks in realism. But this isn’t easy work. The AI choreographer usually works exactly as intended, producing amazing results. It can be really hard to find those bugs, and fixing them can be even more complicated. Fortunately, EA employs some of the most talented animators in the industry, so while they face an almost never-ending amount of bugs to fix I’m confident that they will get there a few games down the line.

So when you see those funny clips of players’ bodies bending around themselves, through each other and back onto the ball remember that each is not simply a blooper—it’s a testament to the constant process of improvement that the team is doing trying to make this simulation as realistic as possible—and they will get there.

Published by Patrick Jane