FIFA producer Nick Channon is in front of me, and he's doing what appears to be an odd interpretive dance with a fake football. He's trying to explain how FIFA 14 is going to improve on FIFA 13, but because this is a first look event, we can't actually see all that much of the game. So there's Nick, who has a pleasant, Gary-from-Men Behaving Badly-look about him, jostling with an invisible defender, taking imaginary shots. He actually points at the floor and says 'imagine that's the ball.'
It is all deeply weird.
But then it has to be, because frankly there's not a lot to see here. This first look at FIFA 14 is a bunch of slides, a few wireframe tech demos, and sizzle reels of real-life footage that at least ten members of the audience joked about being next-gen.
That said, there's no shortage of enthusiasm, and no small amount of it is put into telling us – straight away and in no uncertain terms – that there would be no comment on the next-generation versions of the game. What I really wanted to see was how PlayStation 4's new online functionality would impact FIFA, a game becoming more and more about community. (As an aside, EA showed an infographic on where and how they wanted you to interact with FIFA in the future. Put it this way: it wants it visible everywhere, all the time, on everything from your phone to your wedding photos. Probably).
I wanted to see how I could share goals with friends online at the touch of a button, grab players to help me out against Barcelona. Be shown how a new engine could eradicate the ever-more-grating faults that FIFA currently has, including, but not limited to, the fact that turning your player feels like controlling a small boat.
That EA essentially came straight out and said 'look, we can't talk about it, so please don't ask, have you SEEN the NDA we've signed? My days – it talks of KILLING FAMILIES, PEOPLE' is a tacit admission that they know what we care about. What gamers care about. What they themselves care about. And yet we do the figurative dance of pretending it doesn't exist. Nick Channon meanwhile, continues to do what looks like an actual dance. Unless he himself is a projection of next-generation hologram tech, the situation couldn't get more bizarre.
Don't get me wrong, the new additions on offer all seem very interesting. The new shooting mechanics sound good. Before, players would snap to pre-determined positions as they shot, resulting in repetitive goals: they looked – and crucially, felt – the same. Here, there's more variety in the shot animations, and more feedback as to why Ronaldo fell over when he was storming up to take an easy shot. Changes to the ball physics also mean you can now play curled over the top through-balls (as if they weren't overpowered already) and hit different shot types: Stevie-Me style dip/curl strikes, Ronaldo-esque drives and so on.
The defensive and momentum-based changes are also welcome – now the ball doesn't always move at the same pace, sprinting angles are now shorter (sharper movement, essentially), and jockeying/shielding is meant to be easier and more effective. These should alter the somewhat one-note back and forth play of the game, especially online.
The promise of better AI – now the AI 'thinks' for a longer amount of time, stopping it from marking the wrong man – is always welcome, even if I've heard that a million times before and not exactly seen it happen. (Well, footballers are stupid (lolz) so I suppose I can let it slide.)
Despite the cool-sounding new features, the gesticulating, the info-bombing, and the fact that every feature has to have a TotallyRadicalSoundingName(TM), there's very little here to prevent me, and possibly everyone else, looking at their watches and wishing it was exactly this time next year.
Because the elephant in the room is that this isn't the version of FIFA I'm really interested in, and as per EA's opening statement, others here aren't either. Not in the sense that no-one will buy or play it: this will still sell more copies than every Square game combined, no doubt causing Wada to cry softly somewhere while Aeris' theme plays. It will no doubt be a good game.
But it will still be an Xbox 360 and PS3 (and PC, which poses interesting questions: does the PC version get a 'next-gen' version?) game: a transitional title, with new features bolted onto an engine starting to creak, rather than something new and dare I say it, exciting.
Which is a position that a lot of developers now find themselves in. Sitting there, it was hard not to feel that this FIFA reveal summed up the ongoing charade that is the wait for next gen, and the ongoing silence from certain platform holders is deafening. No matter how good, or interesting, your game is, players know something else is coming, what that something else is called, and around about when that something else is out. And sitting there, hearing about new FIFA – a game I look forward to every year – I felt that I'd still rather be hearing about that thing – or at least that platform's version - than this. EA probably did too.
And yet it couldn't, of course, with FIFA producer Sebastian Enrique telling me in an interview that "I'm told whatever you are too" about FIFA 14. Which would seem inexplicable, but that's the dance at the moment. The problem is, however, that although EA has to pretend it knows nothing about its next game, everyone else knows it's coming. And in an industry that can often think 'new = better', that's not a great situation to be in. For EA, or anyone.
Still. There's always next year.
Or next month?