Month: January 2008

A dish best served cold

Whoah, as they say. It’ll be February tomorrow. Where did that come from?

It seems like only a few days ago we were hunkering down to get through the Christmas and New Year revelries. And now here we are, munching through at least two Cadbury’s Creme Eggs per day (well, I am) and noticing that the days are getting longer and milder.

At this rate you could almost stretch out your arm and snap your fingers – click – and it’ll be October, and we’ll be salivating at the approach of PES2009.

By now, there’ll almost certainly be an almost-complete version of the game running somewhere at Team Seabass HQ, and tentative plans for PES2010 will have been drawn up. I almost don’t like to think about it. Perhaps living in the future is as bad as living in the past.

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So, I played the first leg of the D2 Cup semi final, against Spartak Moscow, one of the division’s weaker sides.

I played a very good game despite the CPU being predictably supercharged throughout. I had to bide my time, pass the ball, keep possession, and defend with discipline, but I got there. I won 3-1. I was not happy about conceding the away goal but I believe I have done enough to make things comfortable in the second leg. Altintop and Caracciolo started together for the first time (I think) and scored all three of my goals, with Altintop bagging the brace.

Next it was back to the League, which is a wash-out for me this season. But still, you have to keep going. There’s transfer points to be won if nothing else.

I took on AEK Athens at home and won a hard-earned draw after conceding a late goal. Lots of times in PES, you can take almost as much—or more—satisfaction from a bread and butter goal than from a picture-book goal. I loved scoring this one (Altintop again):

Torino turned up in the next game and beat me 0-1 at home, which I was not happy about. It was almost a carbon copy of the Athens game, except without the late equaliser.

Things were righted in the next match. Earlier this season Real Zaragoza beat me 1-6 at home in my heaviest defeat in a PES Master League game ever. Elcherino, my former star player, got four of their goals. Ouch, and ouch again.

But the times are changing. Over this season I have shed more and more of my bad habits, and acquired more and more discipline. I think I’m more or less back where I was (the zone, I think they call it) when I was tearing up trees with my Coventry City team the first time around.

I went to Zaragoza’s ground and absolutely trounced them. 1-5 to me. Sweet, sweet revenge. (Elcherino wasn’t playing for them in this game, which probably helped…)

All five of my goals are in the clip. Altintop got a hat trick.

My favourite moment came during the build-up to the second goal. I started a breakaway after a Zaragoza attack, played a perfectly-weighted through ball with Camacho to Altintop, and finished the move with aplomb. Camacho had yet another great game but I got him sent off in the second half when I was chasing the sixth goal and trying too hard to get the ball back.

Hooping the hoop

I met Blackburn in the league and lost 2-1. I was 2-0 down at one point and battled back well to come within one goal, but it wasn’t going to happen. It was a frustrating game in which I had Valeny sent off.

My red cards are becoming a problem. 19 dismissals in 25 games is a poor, poor record. In real life my club would have been up before the FA. I have to calm down

After spending a week or two just playing next-gen FIFA08, I’ve more or less completely readjusted to PES2008 in all respects but this one. In FIFA08 I got into the habit of deliberately fouling CPU players to break up attacks, taking the inevitable (and realistic) yellow card, and just getting on with it.

In PES2008, tackles that should be punished with yellow cards – or even just by the award of a free kick and nothing else – are frequently punished by red cards. I’m slowly learning (again) to restrain my instincts, but until I get completely back on board it’s costing me.

altintopcalledup.jpg

One bright spot in the Blackburn game: a nice goal from Altintop. He’s come on strong recently and is starting to dominate the forward line in much the same way that Schwarz used to back in my first ML career. He’s currently third in the top scorer’s table with 14 goals (Elcherino is way out in front on 44 goals).

Turkey called up Altintop immediately after this game, so I was without him for the next, against Celtic.

I find that Celtic in PES2008 are either very easy to beat or ridiculously hard. They’re one of those teams that occupies no middle ground. I included them in this Superleague for a couple of reasons. Mainly because I love their kit. There’s something about a hooped football shirt that is evocative of the game itself. When I was about 5 years old I supported QPR solely because of their hooped shirts. This instinctive affection for the design has never worn off.

The game itself against Celtic was a minor classic. I went 0-1 down to a soft goal that I could and should have cleared upfield. But no, I had to try to pass my way out of trouble. Gatti hesitated on the ball when receiving the pass and a Celtic striker nicked the ball off him. Seconds later it was in the back of my net.

I was playing this game in my black away kit, despite being at home. That was fine with me. My equaliser came early in the second half, and it was one of my most favourite goals on the game so far.

It’s not only hooped football shirts that I have a weakness for. As anyone who has watched any of my PES5 compilation movies will testify, I do like to have a long-range shot…

Here’s Camacho, he of the fabled Middle Shooting ability and the callow youth, dispatching a screamer across the goalkeeper and in off the far post:

I scored the winner pretty quickly after that, but I forget who with, or what type of goal it was.

Keep on running

Well, well, well. After yesterday’s 130MB patch for PES2008 on the PlayStation3 (the game’s second huge patch), hopes were high that a number of sticky issues would be resolved. But it turns out that – officially, at least – this patch was all about resolving a stuttering issue for people playing on standard definition TVs. Kit selection certainly hasn’t been resolved. Whether or not any gameplay issues have been addressed is an open question right now.

I’ve played a handful of games online and it does seem a bit better, although lag and teleportation issues are still present. I haven’t played online for a couple of months, so this marked improvement might not be due to this new patch. It should be noted that the improved condition of online play merely raises the quality from absolutely shockingly, disgracefully bad, to terrible. Will PES2008 online ever be fixed? Will it ever play the same online as offline – as Seabass notoriously stated that it would? No and no, is my bet.

I’m not too bothered about the online game but it’d be nice to have the option. It’d be great to have the choice of getting into the online game, if that’s what I want to do. Where’s my copy of the Trade Descriptions Act?

I played five online games last night. I lost two games 2-0 and I won two games 1-0. I drew the other. When I play online I set out to control the pace of the game. I’m one of those players who delights in passing it around and waiting for an opening, rather than giving the ball to one player and simply running with him at goal…

Everyone I played chose Barcelona. All of them. No exceptions. No hesitations. Within a nanosecond of the team selection screen popping up, they’d insta-navigated to Barcelona.

Not only do the majority of people online choose to play with Barcelona (or Inter or Brazil or whatever) – they all play the same way too. They play the game in much the same way that I used to play when I had Elcherino in my ML team last season. No thought, no tactics, no build-up. Just give the ball to the star man and get running.

Their entire tactical plan consists of running with Ronaldinho/Henry/Messi. Brilliant! My 5-4-1 alt formation, mapped to a strategy button, mostly took care of that little plan. Apart from one occasion, when I rashly dived into a tackle on Henry and the other player skilfully sidestepped and ran on to score, I mostly conceded from corners and free kicks.

And why must people online incessantly press your defenders for the ball when there’s no chance of getting it? They’re almost psychotically obsessed. All it does is tire their players. I suppose that sometimes they do get the ball through constantly pressing, so they must feel it’s worth it. They got it off me a few times when I wasn’t concentrating properly, or when I tried to be over-elaborate at the back. But this must have accounted for less than 1% of the time. These players, to a man (or boy), must spend entire games clamping their controllers either in pursuit of the ball or running with the ball. Don’t their wrists get tired? I could make a pretty obvious joke here, but I’m not going to.

Next-gen PES2008 online isn’t up to much, in my opinion. Putting aside the chronic technical problems, some elements of PES gameplay are too easily – and boringly – exploitable. Messi shoulder-barging his way past three six-foot defenders? Paul Scholes sprinting – yes, sprinting – through a crowded midfield, past half a dozen tackles, sliding and otherwise, as if he’s surrounded by an invisible forcefield? No thanks.

I suppose it’s a question of temperament, in the final analysis. I started out playing ISS/PES on my own, solo, man against machine. That’s the game that I grew to love and I want to continue playing it, even now, almost 10 years later. Online just isn’t the same. I’m sure that online players do get something out of it. Probably when two of these players meet they have lots of fun taking turns to run at one another, but I don’t see the attraction.

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My Master League career continues. I regret allowing Macco and Gutierrez to go out on loan at the start of this season. I’m already limiting my squad size to 25 players. Effectively reducing it to 23 players was a mistake. As the games come thick and fast, it’s so hard to pick a team with fully-fit players. Having two more players to choose from wouldn’t make much difference but it’d be some help. I won’t be sending players out on loan ever again.

Espanyol 3-0 Singers FC

Thumped. I had Jackson sent off early for nothing. I conceded three sucker-punch goals whilst pressing dangerously for a goal. I always play well with 10 men, and I did play well in this game too. Apart from losing it 3-0, of course.

Singers FC 2-3 Lazio

I was really disappointed not to take anything from this game. Lazio went into an early two-goal lead and I fought back to 2-2, only for Lazio to sucker-punch me with an injury time winner. Caracciolo got my two goals. For a big man he’s surprisingly skilful. Yes, just like the real-life Peter Crouch, Caracciolo has a good touch for a big man. At the moment he’s the understudy for Altintop, but I’m thinking of playing both of them from the start.

Napoli 2-2 Singers FC

I was 2-0 down by 70 mins but just scraped a draw thanks to two rebound goals from Kmolo and Altintop.

Singers FC 1-1 Atalanta

Caracciolo scored my goal in this one. El Moubarki played at right-back (Postma was unfit and I needed Maldini in the centre of defence) and had a great game, playing well above his lowly status.

At the end of this season I’ll have to make a decision about which 5 of my remaining Default players will stay in my squad until they retire (it’s one of my House Rules). El Moubarki might be one of them based on this display.

But, Konami, what about the bleedin’ kit selection…?

When I fired up PES2008 this morning, my PS3 blinked at me a couple of times, then displayed the news that there was another patch for the game. It was 130MB in size and took a little over three minutes to download.

This was a surprise. I’ve heard no rumours about another patch. When the game started I was keen to see what changes had been made. I think that this patch may be intended to rectify the still-awful condition of the PS3’s online game. I’m not big on online play and I didn’t have time this morning to go online to find out what, if anything, has changed.

patch.jpg

One thing that I was hoping for was for pre-game kit selection to be introduced in all offline game modes. But no, it wasn’t. We’re going to be left twisting in the wind on this one all year. Kit selection exists in Exhibition mode, so why, in the name of all that’s holy, is it missing in every other mode? Why?

First impressions of offline gameplay after the new patch is that replays seem to be a lot smoother, and actually watchable most of the time. But you can never underestimate the placebo effect. I’ve got a few days off work and will be playing PES2008 a lot – online and offline – so I’ll post in a day or two about this new patch.

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Here in the last third of the season, it’s time to face up to something: the Superleague is hard.

Thanks to the cash brought in by Elcherino’s notorious/celebrated run in my team last season, I bought players well above the ability levels of the players I had at a similar stage of my last ML career.

I should be achieving a lot more with this squad. Instead I’m plodding along in the bottom 8 of the table. It’ll all have to improve next season.

Feyenoord 1-0 Singers FC

This was actually the first-leg match of the D2 Cup Quarter Final – something I didn’t realise until after the match was over and the post-match calendar revealed the shocking truth. I’d just played one of the most important games of my season without knowing it. Er. Ooops?

Never mind. I’d still played as well as I could. I just couldn’t seem to get a break for the whole game. Feyenoord were in supercharged mode throughout. Despite this, I enjoyed the overwhelming share of possession – 75% at half time, 61% at full time. Possession counts for nothing on its own.

I’ll have to play really well in the second leg to advance to the semis. I want that trophy. If nothing else, it’d boost my club ranking and enable me to get some great players in the off-season. I’m going to need them in 2009.

Spartak Moscow 1-0 Singers FC

Back to the league. I had two players sent off. Bale was red-carded for a professional foul (naughty me, but no complaints). I reorganised my team, going to two up front and bringing on Ruskin for Leonardo. Then Ruskin was sent off for a typical PES2008 nothing-tackle. He’d been on the pitch for one minute.

D2 Cup Quarter Final 2nd leg:
Singers FC 3-0 Feyenoord (3-1 on aggregate)

(I knew it was the Cup this time.)

I made it. In truth, it was easy. Feyenoord were strangely subdued, or my lads were on fire, or both, or the Team Seabass script in the game’s dark heart was written in my favour, or all of these together were true, or none of them were true and I’m a fool, or, or – oh, who cares? I was happy.

Here are the goals:

I had Bale sent off again near the end. That boy’s getting himself a reputation. Referees are picking on him, I swear it.

Singers FC 0-2 Ajax

A post-Cup hangover saw my subdued, lightweight team get turned over with ease by the Dutch masters.

Singers FC 2-0 Marseille

Leonardo finally scored his first goal, a tap-in from six yards after a goalkeeper fumble. I’ll take it…

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