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Saturday, October 22, 2011

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Jock and Jill: FIFA Street references Vancouver


Electronic Arts soccer franchise doesn’t include women avatars

A screen cap from FIFA Street UK.

A screen cap from FIFA Street UK.

Photograph by: Handout, EA

Vancouver street soccer players—the unrestricted athletes who bring their panache and personalized style to unlined parks, gymnasiums and backyard laneways—will recognize Vancouver in the upcoming FIFA Street, created by Electronic Arts and available in March for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.
But women won’t see themselves as on-screen as avatars. The game will not include female avatars because the added cost to shape their bodies and model movement and clothing is costly and didn’t provide enough return on investment.
The time-consuming animation involved in modelling the female form—breasts, hips, and a smaller frame in motion—was considered too pricy.
The game’s creative director Greg Paterson said female avatars were on the wish-list but were eliminated in the development stages. They will be on the table again in the future, he said.
“It’s something we thought seriously about at the start of the year,” said Paterson. ”We thought the return on investment wasn’t good for us at that time. But it’s definitely something we’re considering.”
In September, EA added a female avatar to its hugely popular NHL 12, drawing on the likeness of the 14-year-old girl who asked the company why a team couldn’t include her female hockey heroes.
I can’t help but see the missed opportunity, not just in FIFA Street but any sport-based video game that displays exceptional life-like details and has the ability to elevate the status of sports stars and national role models while still affirming women’s athletic abilities and potentially drawing more girls to sport.
Major League Soccer may not have a women’s league, but many teams, including the Vancouver Whitecaps, support and fund a women’s roster that competes in a semi-professional league. Canada will host the Women’s World Cup in 2015. And, although the street game that inspired FIFA Street is distinct from the homeless soccer movement, the World Cup of Homeless Soccer opened to national women’s teams three years ago.
“To put the female form into the game was actually taking quite a long time,” said Paterson, noting he doesn’t hear from gamers with this request.
“You have to model how that body shape moves so if the arm moves, you have to model how the whole body distorts for the arm moving. That’s the thing that just takes a little bit of time and when we create animations.”
I think of players I know from the Vancouver Street Soccer League—those who revel in stripping the ball off an opponent, work on ball handling in the hallways of their buildings, dribble in the street, take pleasure in the nutmeg, and play pick-up games for hours on concrete, gravel, turf and sometimes even grass. They are the spirit of the world’s street soccer players and they certainly aren’t only men.
The makers of FIFA Street aimed to make the video game authentic to the world’s regions and the different soccer players, tactics and individual skill each produces. Research teams travelled to Europe and Latin America in an attempt to capture the experience of playing soccer—the dress, music, environment and of course the playing style—of distinct regions of the globe.
EA drew on its Burnaby and Lower Mainland surroundings for the generic, unspecified locations gamers will see at early stages. Eight Rinks as inspiration for large-scale sport complexes, as did Andy Livingston Park in downtown Vancouver and the concrete skate park beneath the Georgia Viaduct.
“I think you’ll see something of Vancouver,” said Paterson, “and definitely the underpass [environment] was inspired by the [site near] B.C. Place.”
The “World Tour” feature of FIFA Street will see teams start at local pitches and try to advance to city, regional, European and world championships. When international teams meet, worlds will collide.
“In Brazil, everyone plays football,” said Paterson. “They play on the beach, they play in the favelas, they play everywhere. There, it’s almost like a form of dance, they express themselves in this kind of very fluid motion. Whereas in Amsterdam, which is another hotbed for street football, they’re all about the ball and working the ball and doing ticks with the ball and doing the ‘panna,’ a nutmeg. However, again, [it’s played] differently in the U.K. because it’s a more physical sport. It’s basically 11 a side football but with only five players.”
Elevated controls emphasize individual skill, and gamers will have the choice to play one versus one up through six versus six on smaller pitches.
Precision dribbling—dubbed “street dribbling”—lets gamers deftly manoeuver players and 50 new skill moves are further enhanced by aerial tricks, juggling, heightened ball control and even celebration moves that open the door to creativity, personal expression and the ability to beat and embarrass opponents.
It promises to be awesome. If only the animated playing field weren’t limited to men.
Twitter: @MHStewart

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