Month: August 2008

Manual labour

Recently I’ve spent most Sundays talking about my adventures in FIFA08 land. It’s a peculiar thing for an ostensibly PES-oriented blogger to do, but there you go. We live in interesting times.

As we move towards the end of the current football game year, quite a few stories are nearing their ends. The story of the PS3 version of PES2008 ended for me a very long time ago. In years to come it’ll be as if that game never existed. I believe that there are still a lot of people playing it, online and offline. Good luck to them, I suppose.

The PSP/PS2 version of PES2008, on the other hand, is still going strong for me. It’s dominated most of this year on my blog, and the story demands proper closure (for just one thing: I picked up a 20-year-old Kaka’ in the 2022 pre-season negotiations). I’ll get to all of that next week, or the week after—definitely before the FIFA09 demo lands on 11/09, anyway.

My FIFA08 story also needs closure. As of right now, I’m playing it a lot. Playing catchup, in lots of ways. I really have neglected the game all year, and I didn’t mean to. I got distracted by the classic gameplay of last-gen PES2008 and, well, you know the rest.

I’m playing a very enjoyable second career in Manager Mode. I’m playing as the reputed worst team across all four English divisions—Dagenham & Redbridge.

I got my Dag & Red team promoted to the Premier League last season without much trouble. This was after I’d started mixing up the difficulty levels. I played home games on Professional and away games on World Class. I’d struggled to adapt to playing FIFA08 regularly again after several months of PES2008.

After a few games in the Premier League I started winning more easily (but never easily) on World Class again. Then I realised that it has been now almost a year since I tried playing FIFA08 with all-manual controls.

You can switch off all the computer assists in FIFA08. You can choose to be responsible for everything: passing, shooting, crossing. Everything except the physical acts of running and jumping. (Now that would be a truly hardcore football game…)

Every football game ever made has helped the human player carry out all of the basic actions of football. Passing, crossing, shooting—especially shooting—have all been done for us by the lines of programming code contained within the games. All we have ever done, really, is make suggestions to a pre-programmed AI, which then carries them out. Pointing the analogue stick (or directional buttons) at your team-mates and pressing pass makes the game magically transport the ball the intervening distance. Ditto for shooting and aerial passes and through-balls. There’s no actual precision aiming from the human player.

With manual settings on FIFA08, all of that changes. You are the one who must aim your passes. You aim the shots. You direct the aerial balls where you want them to go.

I tried it last year and I didn’t like it. It was too hard. I didn’t find it enjoyable. It was too realistic. After literally two games, I abandoned the (brief) experiment with manual controls. I felt that I needed assistance from a football game in order to enjoy it.

That’s actually a pretty strong argument against FIFA08 as a whole—from a PES point of view. A higher level of simulation of football does not necessarily make for an enjoyable football game. In this view, there has to be some element of ‘gameyness’—even, yes, of arcadiness—for a football game to be truly satisfying. We need to be fooled. We need the illusion of control, not actual control. I’m not saying I agree with this argument, necessarily. Just that it’s the strongest argument, in my opinion, on the anti-FIFA08 side of the debate.

And I didn’t find my latest experiment with all-manual controls any less frustrating at first. Most alienating was the apparent impossibility of scoring goals. I think that shooting is the main problem with manual controls—everything else can be adjusted to, and pleasure found in; but manual shooting is a nightmare.

From a position directly in front of the goal, it seems impossible to aim for the corners of the net. The ball will always fly ludicrously wide. There’s no middle ground—seemingly—between that and shooting straight at the keeper.

The only goals I scored using manual shooting were from tight angles. To aim diagonally was to aim for the corner of the net. When in front of goal, it should actually be easier to find the corners. More of the net is visible—but it isn’t easier. It actually seems impossible.

I had to abandon manual shooting after it got too much. I’m still looking for a solution, though. What have I missed? (Apart from lots of open goals…?)

I left everything else on full manual, but I put shooting back to semi-assisted. That’s still a step ‘up’ from the default auto setting. You still have to exercise a lot more care over aiming than on full assists. I was finding the corners again, which was a relief. It’s my routine on FIFA08 to spend loading times in the Arena curling balls into the postage stamp corners of the net using the finesse shot. (I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned who my Arena player is. It’s Eric Cantona.)

Generally, what I love about manual settings so far is that you are forced to play balls into space and let your players run onto them. The system lacks full sixteen-direction aiming. You’re limited to the eight cardinal points. It makes for an initially messy passing game, but I soon adjusted. Passes don’t zoom magically to other players’ feet. The game is weirdly more open, more natural-looking, with manual passing.

My form on these settings was pretty bad. I won a game or two, lost another few, and drew the rest. Fortunately for my Dag & Red team’s progress in the EPL, I wasn’t playing with them. For the manual experiment I resurrected my old Coventry City career. I’d abandoned it after assembling a squad of galacticos and winning the Quadruple. It did that team good, I think, to come back to life for a few sessions.

I’m still settling into using manual controls on FIFA08. It certainly is a whole new game with them. Will I persevere, and maybe even play FIFA09 on nothing but manual controls? At this stage I’d say that’s very likely. It would certainly be worthwhile. There’s a small but dedicated number of FIFA players who use manual controls. And this year they’ll be able to find and play each other online. So it could be the way forward. I’ll have to see how I get on.

My new best friend

Last time I said that next time (i.e. this time) I’d speak about how I’m getting on with FIFA08 at the moment. I’ll have to postpone that to my regular Sunday FIFA slot now.

Too much has been happening on the PES2009 front. I can’t let it pass without comment. Since last week I’ve been holding off going into great depth about how PES2009 is being previewed, leaked, filmed, and discussed across the Internet. Such talk doesn’t really belong here. This site is meant to be just a personal blog about my daily interactions with PES and other football games. It is not a news aggregator site and never will be.

Like most people, I suspect, I’ve been obsessively checking all the major PES and FIFA09 sites across the Internet every day. Sometimes every hour. I’ve been constantly refreshing webpages. F5 is my new best friend. All I want is something, anything new—the merest scrap or morsel of new information; the slightest glimmer of hope that PES2009 might actually be pretty good.

I’m finding it all pretty exhausting. It’s hard on the nerves. I’m hardly getting anything else done. I cannot wait for the actual games to be released. Then I can waste all my time playing them instead of reading about them…

I’ve stayed well clear of the official EA FIFA forums. I pop in maybe once a day just to have a look, and usually withdraw moments later, wincing.

With all due respect to the people who must work very hard to keep the EA FIFA forums going, they are possibly the very worst games forums I have ever encountered anywhere on the Internet. Every second discussion thread seems to be packed with 13-year-old trolls. The threads themselves are rarely actually about anything of interest to me. Why is it so bad over there? I suppose it could be a legacy of the old-style FIFA’s traditionally younger demographic. Ah, well. Now that the FIFA franchise has attracted us snooty PES types, at least we can still look down our noses at their forums. Oh yes, there’s always a silver lining….

Anyway, I started out wanting to say something about the way FIFA09 is being anticipated by the PES community this year. I have noticed a trend that greatly annoys me. A trend that looks as if it’s here to stay. It’s this: there are clearly a great number of die-hard PES fans who have never played FIFA08 (or have only played the demo—for five minutes or something) but still feel entitled to criticise it.

It’s manifesting itself in all kinds of ways. The familiar PES vs FIFA arguments are more bitter than ever this year, and with good reason. PES2008 was terrible; FIFA08 was very good.

As has been shouted from the rooftops, oh, at least a million times by now, this state of affairs is a complete inversion of the usual state of affairs. It’s an irony that still has me shaking my head in wonder every so often. Seriously. I can be sitting on a bus in the middle of a regular day, on my way somewhere or other, and I’ll remember that PES was bad and FIFA was good this year. And I will shake my head. The fall of the Eastern Bloc in the early 1990s didn’t even have that kind of an effect on me. I can’t think of anything that really has. That’s what PES has meant to me—and still means to me, really—for an entire decade of my life. That’s how deeply it’s penetrated into my heart and mind. And then came the steaming pile of turd that was PES2008. Curse you, Seabass.

Unreality bites

Well, this is a long old run-up to the 2009 set of football games, isn’t it? I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m finding it particularly tough to cope this year. Last year was bad enough—I thought October and PES2008 would never come (and now I wish they hadn’t)—but this year my impatience and hunger for both FIFA09 and PES2009 seems at least twice as bad.

In the meantime I am still playing the PSP version (needless to say) of PES2008, and FIFA08 on the PS3. I haven’t spoke directly about my ongoing careers (in Master League and Manager Mode respectively) for several posts. There’s been so much else going on. And, in truth, I do kind of feel that I’ve already said everything I want to say. At this stage, with FIFA09 and PES2009 so close, there’s an air of unreality hovering around both of my current games. So I’m really going to be focused on the approach of the 2009 games from now on.

———–

Having said that, it’s still worth taking a look at the end of season 2021 in my Master League on PES2008. I actually finished season 2021 on the PSP a week or so ago. I’m well into season 2022 right now.

It was a spectacular end to the season, one of my very best. I scored tons of goals and ran away with the title. After I secured the championship (five whole games early) it was quite instructive to just play the ball around a bit in my last few meaningless fixtures. With nothing to play for I stroked the ball around, trying to keep possession and score wonder goals. At times it was productive. But at other times I saw yet again just what lengths the PES AI will go to to control the rhythms of play and massage micro-outcomes for the sake of its bigger picture.

Here’s a clip that I’ve been sitting on for several days (painfully, in every sense). It shows me trying to pass the ball out wide during a spell of ungodly CPU pressure. Watch what the game brazenly does with this straightforward pass:

The game doesn’t even try to disguise its dirty tricks any more, does it? It makes the ball go straight through my player’s leg and into touch for a CPU throw-in. I was absolutely disgusted. It’s at times like this that I wonder how I ever got into ISS/PES in the first place. Has it always been like this? I don’t remember incidents like the above happening very often—or at all—in the distant past. But maybe I’m mistaken.

I had to put up with a couple of pretty shocking defeats toward the end of the season. In particular there was a torrid game against Barcelona where I felt like a helpless spectator rather than a supposed participant. PES over the past few years has been inching ever closer to that most dangerous place for any sports-based game: a largely interactive script where the ‘gameplay’ is tantamount to an extended Quicktime event.

Ho hum. A year ago when I started blogging about my daily PES habit, I never dreamed I’d spend so much time being so bitter about the transparently scripted nature of some elements of the game.

Will PES2009 see an end to incidents like the one in the above clip? No, I don’t think so either.

————-

After the season I was curious enough to check my league win percentage. I also checked all the other seasons’ percentages, from 2007 to 2020. For curiosity’s sake, here’s the full list of my win % from the start of my career to the present:

2007 – 0.0% (!)
2008 – 21.43%
2009 – 21.43%
2010 -28.57%
2011- 50%
2012 – 36.67%
2013 – 50%
2014 – 56.67%
2015 – 63.33%
2016 – 60%
2017 – 60%
2018 – 76.67%
2019 – 66.67%
2020 – 74%
2021 – 83.33%
2022 – 60% (so far, after 12 games)

—————

And that’s the current state of play between me and PES2008. Like I said above, it all feels very odd playing this game (and FIFA08) with the next, super-duper clutch of games just around the corner. I am still playing, though, and next time I’ll post an update about my progress in FIFA08.

Happier than Larry

I’m rather late with today’s regular FIFA-oriented Sunday post owing to a few factors. Mainly because I was up late last night watching PES2009 videos and playing FIFA08, and the blog actually clean slipped my mind.

After spending most of the football game year posting here every day, I’m in the middle of enjoying a blogging summer holiday. I’m only posting a few times per week until the FIFA09 demo arrives (two weeks this Thursday!). After that, I’ll almost certainly return to daily posting, although I might give myself one day off per week. I’ll see.

It all really depends on the quality of the football games. If FIFA09 and PES2009 are good enough to sustain intense daily play, I’ll play them every day, and post accordingly.

Speaking of PES2009… I’ve spent the weekend watching some of the longer, hi-def videos doing the rounds. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I believe I can see the more sedate pace, and the more ‘muscular’ gameplay style that has led some people to dub it a next-gen PES5. As I’ve said before I for one would actually welcome his. Give me classic PES gameplay on my PS3—and at a slower, more considered pace—and I’ll be happy as Larry. No, scratch that: I’ll be happier than Larry.

The short clip below from Gametrailers has me feeling quite hopeful. I love the speed the ball moves and the apparent heaviness of the players—unlike PES2008’s featherlight ballerinas…

(Be sure to choose SD playback in the clip below to view it normally in the browser here; for me the HD option opens a new window, and the playback is faulty—i.e., it only shows a corner of the screen.)

So I’m feeling a bit optimistic about PES2009 again. If the above clip is actually representative of the final game’s gameplay, I think I’d be happy with it. I’d have a classic PES to play and a stunning new iteration of the all-new FIFA franchise. 2009 would be a great football game year. HOPEFULLY…

But the PES forums are still buzzing like angry wasps’ nests. I know why everyone is feeling so raw and emotional about things. Superficially, the game does look like nothing more than PES2008 Reloaded.

The debate will rage on until we actually get our hands on the game. According to the Internet, which is never wrong, the PES2009 demo will be made available ‘in the week of release’. That’s really, really disappointing—and suspicious. After last year’s PS3 demo failed to appear until after PES2008’s release, it was obvious that Konami had something to hide (the phrase “unforgiveable slowdown” springs to mind).

Today I would normally have posted my latest progress on FIFA08. I’ll do that in detail in the coming week. For now, I will say that I have secured promotion to the Premier League with my Dagenham & Redbridge team. I’m liking FIFA08 more than ever—but I’m also seeing its faults larger than ever (some of which are really my faults as a long-term PES player).

As for my Master League career on the PSP version of PES2008, that has also progressed a lot further. I easily won the Treble in 2021and I’m well into season 2022 by now. I’ll post about both games on Wednesday or Thursday. At the moment with all the excitement of the build-up to FIFA09 and PES2009, it seems hard to focus on exisiting football games.

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