Month: October 2008

Simming World

I’ve finished my maiden season in Manager Mode with Coventry City on FIFA09. I didn’t get sacked—but probably only because I simmed the last few games. Naughty of me, but I’d already decided to abandon this career, so it didn’t matter what happened.

I’ll be starting Manager Mode again on World Class difficulty from the outset, with a new set of House Rules that will be strictly observed. In this current career I bought a couple of good players (rated 75+ Overall) in the transfer window, and I also sold a lot of youngsters from my squad. I’m not allowed to operate like this under my ‘realism mod’ House Rules. So a new career from scratch is the best way to proceed.

For my last few proper games (not simmed) in this current career, I decided to give myself a taster of what’s awaiting me in the new career: I switched the difficulty to World Class. I’m planning to stay on this difficulty from now on. After a difficult few days with FIFA09, changing up the difficulty was a breath of fresh air. It forced me to slow down, take my time, play football properly.

I moved up not because I think I’ve mastered Professional—far from it—but because I just want the CPU to keep the ball better. I think it does improve the game, for me anyway. On Professional, I was never really worried about losing the ball. Most of the time it was simple to win it back straightaway: just clamp X+Square+Sprint, and wait. This made for fast-paced, chaotic games without much real shape to them.

The CPU keeps the ball a lot better on World Class. Clamping seems less effective, but it’s still early days. I’m already playing more carefully again, the ‘new FIFA’ way, focusing on possession and creativity with the ball.

The overall standard of play is tougher too, of course. It’s harder to do the simple things well. Not that I’ve ever found goal-scoring with semi-manual settings simple… In these four games I didn’t score once. Not even close, most of the time. 0-0, four times in a row—without a single shot on target in one of the games. It was pretty grim, but I can live with grim. The challenge is to get good at it, to overcome the grimness. This is the kind of football game I want to play.

After I’d taken the temperature of World Class difficulty, I decided to do something I’ve never done in FIFA before. I simmed some of the remaining games. Yes—I SIMMED them. The computer doesn’t always get it ‘right’, but that’s the risk you take. It won’t ever use substitutions, I’ve noticed. All the starting XI will be completely knackered after a simmed match. And the scorelines! I won one simmed match 4-0. I’d rarely scored even 2 goals in one game in this whole short career.

The simmed matches pulled me away from the relegation zone. I’d never, ever use the sim option in a real season; I was only doing so now because I planned to abandon the career whatever happened. Here, for the record, is the final lower part of the table:

So I finished 18th after 46 games, 4 of them having been simmed, and that’s the end of that career. I’ve deleted the save. It’s a write-off. I’ve already forgotten it.

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I’ll get to my new Manager Mode career on World Class on Monday (tomorrow will see a PES2009-related post). I’ll describe my House Rules in exhaustive detail. I’ve already played two games of the new career—and lost them both. Again, with few shots on goal myself. If this keeps up I think I’ll be sacked before Christmas. If that happens, I’ll just start again, and again, and again… I think this new way of doing things will be, dare I say it, ‘fun’.

FIFA fatigue setting in?

Okay, so I’ve got two main ISSUES with FIFA09 at the moment. The game’s pace, for one. And the extreme ease of regaining possession from the CPU by pressing and holding X+Square together (A+X on the 360).

FIFA09 is just too fast. There, I’ve said it. After being in denial for weeks, I think it really is too fast. I play with the speed setting on Slow, and I still find it too fast. It’s not something I really appreciate after several weeks’ intensive play. At times it’s just like playing PES—possibly something that EA intended, possibly not. No doubt this change from FIFA08 and UEFA2008 was done for commercial reasons—for ‘accessibility’ reasons. In time I’ll learn to live with it (I already have done, really) but I think it’s a cause for regret. FIFA08 had the pace spot-on, in my opinion. They could have at least made that pace the FIFA09 Slow pace. But no, the FIFA09 Slow pace is a lot faster. Very peculiar.

And it’s far, far too easy to regain possession of the ball at almost any time simply by ‘clamping’ the tackle and sprint buttons. This is something we got used to doing for many years on PES, until it became almost second nature. In conjunction with the R1 sprint button (I have sprint mapped to R1 in FIFA09), at times you might just as well be playing PES, several years ago. I really don’t like the way that ‘clamping’ has already become second nature to me in FIFA09. “Well, play it differently, then.” Fine, I’ll try to. My fellow footy game blogger heraldo contends that playing on World Class reduces the effectiveness of clamping. I’ll be trying it out soon.

I’ll be talking more about those two bugbears in the days and weeks to come. Time will tell what impact they (and other, lesser issues) will have on my long-term relationship with FIFA09. Is this the start of my ‘FIFA fatigue’? It might be. It just might be.

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Things are certainly… interesting in my Manager Mode career on FIFA09 just now. I’m playing with Coventry City in the Championship (it’ll always be Division 2 to me and to others of a certain age).

I’m doing appallingly badly. I should be ashamed of myself, and I am. Playing on Professional difficulty, things shouldn’t be like this. I’ve been careless, yes. I’ve neglected to play the ‘new FIFA’ way too often. (Which might explain some of my current dissatisfaction with the game.) I’ve gone full-tilt for quick goals and cheap wins, and been caught out. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been sucker-punched in the 80th minute and after. Cruising to an easy 1-0 win, only to be pegged back to 1-1. Or holding out for a creditable 0-0 away from home, only to concede a daft goal late on, and lose.

It’s all built up and built up into a perfect storm of anti-form. I’ve freefalled down the table, and there have been consequences—as the following grim trio of screenshots shows:

I’m fifth from bottom with only eight or so games left in the season. There are only two points between me and the bottom team. The way I’ve been playing, relegation is a serious possibility. Given that avoiding relegation was my only target for the season, things are pretty bad on the job security front:

That top JOB SECURITY meter is at 38%, in the red. I nervously hovered there for a game or two, grinding out 0-0s and 1-1s. Then I lost a game, and got this:

It’s a warning. It meant I had a really big game coming up. It was against Doncaster Rovers, and I went behind early on to a really, really tame goal. The rest of the game just sort of fizzled along, never really catching fire, nothing remarkable happening. It seemed I was sleepwalking to my doom. I made chances but failed to convert them. It was my own fault for using semi-manual controls. If I’d had the shooting on Assisted I’d have scored at least four goals. I had all the possession I could have wanted…

In the last minute I won a corner. By now I was more or less resigned to being sacked and starting Manager Mode all over again (which I will probably do anyway, whatever else happens this season).

My keeper came up for the last-minute corner. For all I knew, this was my last kick of the ball in this whole career. I’d never been sacked in FIFA before. I swung the corner over, my keeper watched it sail past him—and one of my strikers was standing on the corner of the six-yard box to nod the ball into the net. Hmmm, I thought. How timely…

Cynicism aside,  I was happy with the goal, and with the job-saving draw. And I lived to fight another day.

Rush of blood

I started my Coventry City Manager Mode career on the PlayStation3 way back on October 6th. That was only about 3 weeks ago but already it feels like another age. FIFA09 had just come out and everything was still shiny-bright and sparkly-new. PES2009 was still in the future and I hoped for great things.

I’ve remarked once or twice on the blog that FIFA09 (for all its faults) is roughly in the same ballpark where I imagined PES would be playing by now. There are many areas where FIFA09 falls short. Extended playing time has shown me that there are some areas where it becomes seriously unsatisfying. I’ll get to them over the next few days (chaotic, farcical, midfield ping-pong, anyone?). But none of the issues make FIFA09 a bad game, in my current view.

And so to Manager Mode… It just cannot compare to Master League. This is what I keep coming back to. EA have spent all this time and money catching up with—and smoothly overtaking—PES on the gameplay front, but on the game modes front they’re still a good way behind. I don’t count online, simply because I personally never play online (or so rarely that I might as well never). One of the FIFA2010 team’s top priorities has surely got to be providing OFFLINE gamers (the silent majority) with a career mode to match this all-new FIFA’s vaulting ambition.

My Coventry City career, begun all those weeks ago in another age, got off to a good start. I won two of my first three games, and then went on a spell of drawing loads of games. This roughly coincided with my switch to a mixture of semi-manual and assisted controls. I wasn’t worried about holding steady in mid-table, as I was doing. The club’s board expectations were simple: avoid relegation. That was all. With a fairly decent squad, that was a pretty easily achievable aim. At least I was probably safe from any threat of the sack (so I thought).

Regular readers will know that I’ve spent time since on the Xbox360 version of the game, playing online and completing a memorable season with Atletico Madrid in a Spanish Manager Mode career. I returned to the PS3 and Coventry City just a few days ago.

And I’m in trouble.

I can’t buy a result at the moment. I’m only a few places from the foot of the table. I’m just over two-thirds of the way through the season and my record is something like won 5, drawn 9, lost 11.

I’m conceding stupid goals, and scoring none back. My players are decent but I can’t consistently create chances. The chances I do create, I miss. I’ve had many occasions to wonder if I could go back to Assisted shooting. (No, I can never go back now. It’d feel all wrong.)

I’m playing on Professional difficulty, the same level I played on with Atletico, using the same controls scheme. Yet it feels like a different game. This is all to the good—FIFA09 has finally buried the long-standing criticism that all its teams and players feel much the same. There’s a gulf between the best teams and players at least as wide as on PES. The feel is just different. You know when you’ve got a good player on the ball, and when you’ve got a donkey, and all the gradations in between.

Here’s a clip that will interest anyone who has yet to sample FIFA09. This year, the CPU has quite a few extra tricks in its locker. Not the least of which is a sudden, devastating long ball up to a lone forward, giving him a one-on-one with your keeper. All too many times, I’ve had a rush of blood and charged my keeper out, when I should just leave him at home and at least make the CPU score past him. I’ve actually conceded goals almost exactly like this one on about five separate occasions:

Manager League Mode

It’s time to get into FIFA09’s career mode in a big way. I’ve had my few getting-to-know-you weeks. I’ve also spent several days playing PES2009 just to see if things could be like they were between me and PES again (no, they can’t—not at the moment, anyway). It’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Time to walk the walk. I’m heading into Manager Mode, or as I will try to make it: Manager League Mode.

This name reflects that I will be playing with House Rules designed to make the experience as much like PES’s Master League as possible. I know—it’s absolutely crazy that the PES career mode is more realistic in many ways than its supposedly fully-licensed, official, FIFA equivalent, but there you go. Life’s not obliged to be consistent.

I’ll expand on my House Rules for Manager Mode over the coming days and weeks. They’re not that complex. There’ll be no consulting a rulebook every time I want to make a substitution. Most of my House rules will limit my coaching staff upgrades and my acquisition of new players on the transfer market. After 4 seasons in my Manager Mode career on FIFA08, I had Michael Owen, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Jesus Navas playing up front for Coventry City. I won’t let that happen this year.

I’ll be playing again as Coventry City on the PlayStation3 version of the game. Yes, the PS3—the console with the dreaded through-ball bug. It’s still not patched. Doubtless I’ll be moaning my head off incessantly about it until it is patched. I have noticed fewer issues since I switched to manual through-balls, but it’s early days.

I’ve mostly played FIFA09 so far on the Xbox360. The game is—just slightly—a better game on the 360. Better graphics, and better overall pace. Just better. Sadly, my 360 would seem to be on its last legs (after just 14 months, and relatively little use) and it’s not reliable enough for me to trust it. I have little enough time as it is. Constantly restarting after freezes and crashes is not something I can be bothered with.

I’ve been playing as Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league on the 360. I’ve just finished my first season and ended up in 4th place. The whole season was played on Professional difficulty. Early on I switched from all-Assisted controls to a mixed bag of semi-manual, manual, and assisted. This instantly made the game harder for me without having to change the difficulty level.

It turned out to be a rollercoaster of a season. Going over to semi-manual shooting in particular saw my goals dry up, and I slipped down the table. I rallied toward the end of the season and but for a few poor performances I might even have challenged for the title in the closing weeks.

What can I say about my Atletico players? I’ve loved playing with them. Forlan. Aguero. Maxi Rodriguez. And quite a few more. I think I’ve loved this season with Atletico so much because it’s been one of discovery for me. I taught myself how to shoot straight without the game helping me so much. Semi-manual shooting makes even the most straightforward goal something that you really have to work for. For example, this goal—

—is the quintessence of a bread and butter goal. But when using a manual through-ball, and semi-manual shooting, I was grinning as if I’d just netted a 40-yard screamer. The ordinary can feel that good in FIFA09. I can’t wait to see how my Coventry City career shapes up.

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