Month: June 2008

Five out of five

Season 2019 in my never-ending Master League had already got off to a flier with massive wins that left me top of the table with a hefty goal difference. My aims for this season are threefold: win a Treble of League, Cup, and European Cup; remain unbeaten all season in the League; and concede less than 20 goals all season in the League. If I continue as I started, I should sweep the board in all three categories.

Ah, but Pro Evolution Soccer is a canny mistress. At all times she knows exactly what you want and how to stop you getting it. Anybody who has played PES, and Master League in particular, for any great length of time knows precisely what I’m talking about. The suddenly impregnable AI defence. The suddenly useless world class players on your team. The superhuman AI goalkeeper. The magnetic posts and crossbar on the AI goal. Yes, yes, yes. All of this is so well-known that it’s hardly worth going on about.

Often the best matches on PES are when the game is blatantly out to stop you, but you win through regardless. My next league game was against Recreativo de Huelva, a surprise package over the past few seasons who were even now lurking just below me in the table on goal difference. Perhaps this was an early six-pointer against a new power in the league. (My old adversaries, Valencia, were down in mid-table. I’m not fooled by that.)

The Recreativo match was tough, but somehow not as tough as it could have been. I won 3-1. It was one of those matches where you struggle to get the first goal, but after it comes it’s as if the CPU just wilts, and you dominate the rest of the game. As ever, the CPU scored itself a consolation goal late on. If I’m going to fulfil my aim of conceding less than 20 goals this season, I’ll have to find a way to stop the CPU grabbing these ‘auto-goals’ as I call them.

After Recreativo I met Basel, and the CPU was still in its funny mood. Again it was a struggle to get the upper hand. It was 0-0 for a long time and Basel were a constant threat. By the 75th minute I had more or less settled for a draw in my mind when I brought on Giggs as a substitute (he’d not been fit enough to start). I had the ball with Bradley in the centre circle and played a raking pass out to the left wing towards Giggs. I decided to hit the ball first-time with him. The moment I hit it, I knew it was on its way into the net and that I would then hold on to win the match 1-0. PES2008 has a lovely side-footed shooting animation that never fails to delight—especially when the shot results in a great flighted goal, as it did on this occasion.

My next game was an almost routine 5-0 hammering of Sevilla. I’ve played five games and won five games. I’ve scored 23 goals and conceded just 3 goals. I’ve had superb starts like this before and gone on to have disappointing seasons, so I’m not fooled. I’m being careful and I’ll try to remain careful.

Below me, Deportivo la Coruna—who have done nothing in this Master League so far—are also on a 100% run. The current third-placed team, my old adversaries Valencia, will be my next opponents.


To FIFA or not to FIFA

FIFA08 is a rich, filling meal. After an hour of playing FIFA08 I start to feel very full up.

FIFA08 is an uncompromising, rugged simulation of the game of football. This much is already well-known, although I’d bet there are still plenty of PES fans who believe in the ‘same old FIFA’ slogan that we’ve spent a decade confidently repeating to ourselves. It’s no longer true, but the news is taking its time getting out there.

The astounding thing about EA’s effort this year wasn’t just that they caught up with PES in simulation terms, but leapt over PES and streaked away into the distance. This doesn’t necessarily mean that FIFA08 is the better football game, of course. FIFA08 has certainly not been to everyone’s liking. FIFA08’s very simulation-ness is the reason so many PES fans dislike it so much.

It really is possible to play several dour, technical 0-0 games in a row. It’s pretty common in FIFA08 to play games in midfield for most of the time, with the AI grimly holding onto the ball or just as grimly wresting the ball away from you. For me, it’s a reason to like the game, and to celebrate EA’s belated arrival on the field of serious football games. (Maybe that should be EA’s re-arrival—I thought some of the mid-1990s FIFAs were pretty good for their time. Particularly FIFA97.)

I’m still playing my second career in FIFA08 Manager Mode with Dagenham & Redbridge. I’ve already taken them from being the absolute worst team in the English leagues (which is why I chose them) to the brink of promotion to the Championship.

I’ve quickly assembled a very good squad, which is one of the game’s great failings in my opinion. If you want a player and you’ve got the money, you’ll get that player in all but a few instances. The only way to make it even remotely realistic is to implement House Rules, which is always a bad sign. I think FIFA09 has got to have a proper transfer market, the tougher the better.

I’ve finally got off my lazy behind and moved up a difficulty level. I’d spent most of my FIFA08 play-time since September on Professional, with occasional peeks over the wall at the World Class and Legendary levels. I soon rushed back when I found a game that was so difficult it was very little actual fun to play. I’m not the kind of gamer who usually demands that a game should be fun above all else, so what I saw in World Class on FIFA08 really spooked me.

Three games from the end of the season, with Dag & Red sitting in third place in League 1, I took a deep breath (as much literal as metaphorical) and changed the game difficulty to World Class. I braced myself, and plunged in.

At first I was pleasantly surprised. One of the features of FIFA08 at Professional difficulty is the regular recurrence of 1-0 scorelines. That’s okay, really—it’s one of the most common scorelines in real-life football. But it’s often frustrating to see the AI carve itself out a great chance in front of goal only to ridiculously shoot wide or head over (from two yards). On World Class, the AI is proportionally deadlier in front of goal. The AI rarely, if ever, tries long shots on Professional; on World Class, it scores beauties from distance quite regularly.

I lost my first game on World Class 3-1. It was the worst defeat I’d had in FIFA08 for a couple of seasons. I was pretty frustrated by the AI in this game. One of FIFA08’s worst features, in my opinion, is the AI’s rather transparent keepball script. With the ball at an AI player’s feet, he’ll often turn and turn, and run in tight little circles, automatically evading any and every effort to get at the ball.

Professional fouls don’t work in FIFA08—or better to say that they don’t work as well as they do in PES2008. In PES it’s pretty easy to hack a player down if that’s what you really, really want to do (and you’re happy to accept the likely red card). In FIFA08 the AI player just ‘knows’ when you’re trying to scythe him down, and he jinks from side to side and speeds up accordingly.

As in PES, in FIFA08 the AI goes into overdrive when it’s behind. Things aren’t nearly as bad as PES’s God Mode. Your own players don’t lose the ability to trap the ball, dribble, pass, and shoot. But the AI’s keepball script frequently gets ramped up to preposterous levels. It can get very ugly out there when you’re trying to defend a lead.

I recovered from the defeat to win the next game 2-0. It was a very satisfying game that featured a FIFA08 rarity—a goal straight from the kickoff:

It’s pretty straightforward to dribble past a player or two from the kickoff, even on World Class. But I’ve found it tough to score that kind of goal. As anyone who has played FIFA08 (or UEFA2008) would testify, getting the right timing, power, and placement to execute a long-range shot is one of the most challenging (and rewarding) aspects of the all-new FIFA engine.

After this I drew a game 1-1 with a last-minute equaliser. I’d won promotion and, as it turned out, the League 1 title. I’m happy to be playing in the Championship next season. But I’ll have to play extremely well, and concentrate very hard, to have any chance of making it into the Premier League. World Class took its toll on me in this short play-session. I felt as if I’d spent my time almost strangling the controller. Did I enjoy the games more than I would have enjoyed Professional? Yes, absolutely. As a gamer I love games with depth, subtlety, strategy, all those things. It’s no wonder the instant gratification crowd have largely shunned FIFA08.

Ah, but will I enjoy a full season on World Class difficulty? Now that is the question. I’ll know more by next Sunday.

Goaledfinger

And so I begin season 2019 in my continuing Master League career on PES2008—the very good PS2/PSP version of PES2008. Not the other version that must not be named…

It felt great to start the season after I had a welcome little break of a few days. I just had to play Metal Gear Solid 4 all the way to the end. As a long-term Metal Gear fan, I found it a truly epic and unforgettable experience, although I can’t imagine what anyone coming to Metal Gear for the first time would make of it all. For me the last section—Act 5—dipped in gameplay quality after a superb beginning and middle, but the whole was still an unmissable, fitting finale to the Solid Snake era. As I’ve opined previously, MGS4 is a fine example of what Konami as a publisher can produce when it allows developers the personnel, resources, and time needed to deliver the goods. We can only hope that PES2009 is currently receiving the same kind of loving attention that obviously went into every single aspect of MGS4.

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My theme for season 2019 is: keep it tight at the back. I’ve spent too many seasons conceding too many goals. It’s no wonder I’ve hardly won anything compared to similar stages in previous PES years. There’s no doubt in my mind that even this ‘classic’ PES2008 is easier than it was in previous years. It’s easier to create chances and it’s easier to score than ever—particularly from long range (see below). But it also seems a lot easier to concede goals. I don’t seem to be able to stop the CPU getting a goal when it really, really wants one. But then there’ll be other times when I do seem able to stop the CPU even when it’s in full-on God Mode, so I don’t know.

What I plan for this season is to shut up shop at the back. I want to make defence my first priority in every game. Last season I conceded 24 league goals. This season I’d like to concede less than 20 league goals. I’m not too bothered about how many goals I concede in the Cup matches as long as I win them.

So I’ve got 3 main aims for the season, which I’ll list here, for posterity. No doubt it’ll be amusing to look back on them as each one is FAILed…

  • Win a Treble of League, Cup, and European Cup
  • Remain unbeaten in the League all season
  • Concede <20 League goals all season

Yes, I’m setting myself up for a mighty fall, laying it all out in the open. But I think it helps to have definite aims for each season as time goes by. It helps to keep things alive and ticking over.

My first actual game of the season was against an old ‘friend’, Espanyol. I played with caution at the start, keeping in mind my aim of conceding fewer goals. The result was a 4-1 half-time lead that turned into 8-1 before 70 minutes were on the clock. There’s nothing like starting the season at a gallop.

Naturally I wanted to get to the almost mythical 10 goals mark, but it wasn’t to be. The CPU defence closed around me like a vice whenever I advanced on their goal. And they’d managed to get themselves a consolation goal into the bargain—something I was mightily unhappy about, because it felt very much like one of those goals that just cannot be prevented. Never mind. It was only 1 goal.

I’ve always loved scoring long-range goals in PES. In the rout of Espanyol I scored what is my longest-range goal yet. Just over a month ago I posted a goal that I scored with Bradley from level with the outer edge of the centre circle. This one below, from Prieto this time, was about a yard further back. See how the ball flies…

These kinds of mega-long-range goals are pretty common in PES2008. A bit too common for my liking. I’m not saying that I’ve stopped enjoying scoring them. I’d just prefer it if they were a bit harder to pull off. One of the many things that I would like to see in PES2009 is an altered shooting mechanic that returns these goals to being the rarity they were until PES4. I wouldn’t even mind if they were made impossible for any but a select handful of players to score, and then only once in a blue moon.

After Espanyol, my second game of the season was against Valenciennes. I won it 6-1, another great performance that was again only slightly spoiled by conceding another ‘auto-goal’ to the CPU near the end.

These two results left me top of the league, of course. Already I’ve got the kind of goal difference that’s worth an extra point in its own right. It’s early days yet, but I don’t foresee much trouble retaining my league title this season at the very least.

Pre-season 2019

The 2019 season is almost here and it’s time to discuss my attitude towards Regens in Master League. At this stage of a career the established players who populated the game at the beginning all start to retire. I’m thinking of the likes of Rooney, Torres, Gerrard, Kaka—all among the very best players that the game has to offer. Lots of PES players forbid themselves from having Regens or Classic players

My policy on Regens and Classic players is simple: I’m allowed to have them. Next-gen PES2008 and a certain Mr Elcherino apart, they’re not overpowered for me in ‘original’ PES and they never have been. I’m only an average PES player and the Regens don’t ruin my game—they enhance it. Part of the fun of playing an ML career indefinitely all year, as I do, is bearing witness to the comings and goings of the great players. When Rooney retires—as he will in the next few seasons—and returns as a 17-year-old, will he be as good or better than he was the first time around? In my experience, the Regens are usually better, because you get the opportunity to develop them from the start of their new career or soon afterwards. That’s if you can get them as soon as they regenerate, of course.

You have to keep a close eye on the Youth list to catch the Regens you want as soon as they regenerate. Otherwise an AI club will swoop in for them and you’ll end up having to pay a king’s ransom further down the line. But sometimes that’s okay. If I’ve got a large squad and I’m always playing big games, a raw 17-year-old won’t get many appearances. Often it’s more efficient to let a young player develop at another club for a few seasons before trying to get him. By this stage of an ML career, money is usually no object.

Thierry Henry was sitting in the Non-Affiliated list just waiting to be picked up. He’s 20 years old. Obviously he must have popped up as a Regen a few seasons ago and I somehow missed seeing him (which was very sloppy of me). The peculiar thing is that no AI club snapped him up, which is what usually happens to the great Regens. Never mind. I was happy to find him waiting for me to give him a home.

Another striker I picked up, albeit on a ‘proper’ transfer, was a 24-year-old Christian Vieri. This player was a semi-legend for me back in the halcyon days of PES5. He’s only young at the moment and looking good again. I offered his club Shevchenko+a few thousand points for him, and of course they took my offer. Shevchenko was disappointing for me. He always seemed rather lightweight on the ball, and he lacked his legendary pace. In a game where every great attacking player has got explosive pace, Shevchenko just seemed rather ordinary. Maybe next time, Andriy.

Back in the Non-Affiliated list (I do flit around among these lists during a transfer period) I found a quality centre-back called Runzal, and added him to my squad. Last season I just felt I was conceding too easily too often. I still don’t know what is at greater fault, my carelessness or the more open, attacking play of PES2008. It’s probably a mix of both, but a top-quality extra CB won’t hurt.

Back in the Youth list proper, I couldn’t see any legends reborn. So I located and got a couple of solid old PES names—Chivu and Caracciolo. Chivu will be a good replacment for Roberto Carlos at LB when the latter eventually ages and declines, as he will inevitably do at some stage. Caracciolo was a great striker for me on next-gen PES2008—yes, yes, yes, everyone is a great striker on the shallow next-gen PES2008, but I’m curious to see how the big man performs here in a classic PES. These two are both 17, so their opportunities in the coming few seasons will be limited. I will try to play them whenever I feel I can get away with it, though.

Regarding my First XI, it’s time to make a long-overdue decision. Kim Cyun Hi has to go and sit on the bench, at least for now. He’s been a very good striker but, for me, hardly the prodigious talent that other PES players have found him to be. I suppose it comes down to differing play-styles as well as a certain random element within individual Master League careers. I’m sure Kim will be an excellent stand-in striker when called upon, as he often will be.

Schwarz therefore returns to his natural role in the centre of my strikeforce. Thinking back across all the PES years, I’ve always played with a big man in the middle of my front three. The last few seasons with Kim Cyun Hi in that position have been exceptions. So I’m going back to my roots.

Del Piero has now got too good to be left out of the First XI. He’s 24 right now in my Master League, and a true phenomenon. Leaving him out of my First XI now would be a crime against Pro Evolution Soccer. He’s not a natural CF but he’s always played superbly there when required. I’ll pick him in place of Andy Cole, who also drops to the bench.

Giggs is irreplaceable out there on the left. I’ve always regarded Stoichkov in PES3 as the best left-sided striker I’ve ever played with in PES, but Giggs could take that crown. It’ll be another few seasons before I can be sure, but the boy is a real wonder.

Back in the centre of defence, Couto has been good but not great. Runzal, my new CB, is statistically worse than Couto, but I want to develop Runzal, so in he comes.

I had to release some players. I had no further need for Larsson, Jong-a-Pin, and Laurito. This leaves my squad at a very healthy 28 players. I think this is the optimum number necessary for what will be a very ambitious season 2019.

In 2019 I want to win the Treble, and last the whole league season unbeaten, and concede less than 20 goals. We’ll see how all of that goes…

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