Month: December 2008

Football Mismanager

I am a born-again Football Manager. I have been playing Football Manager 2008 regularly for the past month. (I’m avoiding FM2009 until I get a PC good enough to run the new 3D match engine without any trouble.) At first my intention was to play for just an hour or so per week. This has crept up and up to the point where I’m playing at least a match or two every day. At weekends, I’m playing for a couple of hours. I’ve been tempted to start a spin-off from this blog called FM Chronicles. But one blog is enough to be getting on with. I’ll restrict myself to just talking occasionally about Football Manager here.

FM2008 isn’t my first FM game. But it’s my first for a few years. I played Football Manager 2005 for a good while, back in the day. I was unemployed at the time of its release and after many false starts and sackings I managed finally to get Coventry City (who else) promoted to the Premiership. By that stage I was pretty much addicted. But things were brought to an abrupt halt when I got a job. I didn’t play my FM2005 career for a while, and just drifted away from the whole ‘scene’…

speccy-football-managerBefore that my only previous experience of a football management game was 20 years earlier, in the 1980s. I was a fan of the original Football Manager on the ZX Spectrum. (It is playable online here.) It amazes me now how satisfied we were with so little. Back in 1985, this ridiculously primitive game was the epitome of management sim sophistication. Grown men salivated about it in the gaming magazines of the time. Seriously. How will we look back on FM2008 in 20 years from now? I do wonder.

Once again I’m playing as Coventry City in FM2008. This is mostly laziness. It’s been a number of years since I’ve followed the actual fortunes of the real Coventry City with anything like devotion (it must be a decade now since I last saw them play). But it’s easy to play with your hometown club, or any club whose players you know well. I know all the players and I know where they play. There’s none of the getting-to-know-you time that annoys me so much when starting with another club whose players are unfamiliar.

Starting in season 2007-2008 in FM2008, Coventry are among the weakest of the teams in the Championship. It’s a tough, tough challenge trying to get them out of this rut. So far so realistic. I signed a few likely lads in the August transfer window—among them one Nick Barmby, for £9000 from Hull.

barmby-profile-fm2008

He’s still only 33 years old. And he proved quite handy to start off with, grabbing some crucial goals and performing well all-round. The number of positions he can play in made him invaluable. He was easily my best player. Could I build my team around him and lead a charge up the table?

No:

fm2008-table

That’s the table after 24 games. That’s Coventry down there. At the bottom. I’ll be sacked soon—it’s only because it’s a game that I’ve survived for even  this long. No matter. As with FM2005, this is going to be one of the ‘tutorial careers’. There may be a few more before I finally start having success.

There doesn’t seem to be any way back for me in this career. During an International break I scheduled a morale-boosting match against the reserve team. This is what happened:

being-beaten-by-reserves

Utter humiliation. And that’s how things stand right now. When I get sacked I’ll restart, again with CCFC. And then, if/when I finally get it right, I’ll start dabbling in Lower League Management, which is a whole other level of immersion.

As a game, Football Manager shouldn’t work. Sceptics’ favourite critique of the genre, that it’s like playing an Excel spreadsheet, is unfair in a lot of ways, but mercilessly accurate in others. The menus are anti-intuitive and confusing. It’s not clear where everything relevant is located. There’s an awful amount of fiddling and micro-management that goes on, particularly in the latest iterations of FM. And yet, as a game, it does work.

And it’s not just FM. Before there was FM, there was CM. Or Champ Man, as I believe it must be called…

Championship Manager 01-02—reputed to be the best-ever Championship Manager—has just been made available as a free download. You have to register there on the official site to get at the download, and then the download turns out to be a disc image that you have to mess around with instead of a standalone .EXE file (tut-tut), but it’s worth it. Boy is it worth it.

The first set of Champ Man games came out during a period when I had no computer of my own. Yes, there was a time just before the turn of the century when it was still quite rare for people to have computers in their homes. I heard about the CM games, of course. They had become a cultural phenomenon. Even non-gamers had heard about Championship Manager.

Its text-based matchday engine was something I had never understood. We are a visual species. Football is a visual game. How could text-only matches ever really work? How?

But text-only matches do work! After several matches, something clicked. I started intuitively following the action via the medium of that ever-changing strip of text. Not only that, I started enjoying it as much as—or more?!—than the 2D match in Football Manager. Browsing the CM forums over the past week, it seems that the text-only side of CM, coupled with the game’s greater simplicity overall, abstracts the game further into the player’s imagination. It makes you do more work to appreciate it, and thus your appreciation is proportionally greater. Or something.

There is still an active online community supporting the game. As a gamer, I think it’s quite something to see the evident love that so many people have for an avowed classic of the genre. There’s an active effort to keep the game updated with patches. There is a patch to bring the game bang up to date with 2008-2009 squads and competitions, but I’m playing CM01-02 with the original database. For now I prefer the nostalgia of 2001-2002, when my life was very different, and Coventry actually had some good players.

cm0102-2

I managed to get CM0102 working on a USB stick and it is turning out to be a dangerous luxury. I’ve been playing it at work, and at home. At work it runs flawlessly from USB on the office’s XP machines. At home it runs—with occasional niggles—on my Vista laptop. Here it is running in windowed form:

cm0102-1

(When I get a chance later, I’ll outline all the steps I took to get the CM01-02 download working on a USB stick. I’ll put them in the comments on this post.)

Many years ago now, when my first PC was still a distant dream, I asked a friend who often talked about his ‘Champ Man’ exploits just what the fuss was all about. He said that if he was deeply into a game of CM and he heard Radio 5’s ‘going around the grounds’ buildup to a bunch of real-life matches, he wondered why his team wasn’t being mentioned… I must have looked blank, because he then said it was impossible to explain properly: you just had to play it for yourself.

He was right. The other night I saw a preview on Channel 5 of some UEFA cup match, and the mere sight of a man in a football kit kicking a ball instantly made me think of my team. Or teams. I thought of my FM2008 team and the precarious position they find themselves in, thanks to my (mis-)management. I thought about my CM01-02 team and the big League Cup quarter-final that I’ve somehow got to (thanks to that amazing 2001 squad!).

Just this week, a work colleague who has never even heard of Champ Man—or its successors—caught a glimpse of it in ‘action’ over my shoulder. He said it looked like the worst game ever. I opened my mouth, thinking I would try to explain how wrong he was; then I closed my mouth.

Solitaire’s the only game in town

The blog has been all about PES2009 for the past few weeks. Which doesn’t mean that I have abandoned FIFA09. Far from it. I have sneakily been playing a couple of sessions per week of my Atletico Madrid career in Manager Mode. I’ve enjoyed it, as far as it goes. Also, I’ve played a match online—one match. And just lately I have started a Be A Pro career. I still love FIFA09.

The only serious problem I have with FIFA09 is Manager Mode. Unfortunately, that’s one serious problem for me. I play career modes in football games to the exclusion of almost everything else. If a career mode ‘sucks’, as they say, then it’s going to affect my relationship with the whole game.

I think Manager Mode in FIFA09 really is a turd in the punchbowl. Back on October 1st, as news was filtering through about FIFA09’s Manager Mode being unchanged, I had this to say:

fifa09-turd-extract

How true that turned out to be. Manager Mode is almost like something knocked up in somebody’s attic over a weekend. In the 1980s. (Of course, that’s an exaggeration. Rhetorical effect and all that. But it’s not much of an exaggeration…)

In FIFA08, Manager Mode didn’t feel too bad. I thought it was decently playable. But those were different circumstances. At the time, the new-style FIFA was, well, new. And the long-awaited next-gen PES2008 might as well have come with a printed card inside the box that said “Hey you! Go play FIFA!”

But here and now, Manager Mode just isn’t good enough. When I let a few days go by I can convince myself that it’s not so bad. Then I manage to summon the motivation to load it up once more. But I only have to see the first menu and I start sighing and fidgeting.

Maybe I’ll come back to Manager Mode with renewed vigour as the year unfolds, but I doubt it. Manager Mode in FIFA09 is like a rusty old bicycle inside a gleaming new Ferrari. Curse you David Rutter…

—————–

Online gaming is terra incognita for me, and will likely remain so. The other night I played a FIFA09 match online. One match. It was enough for me.

My opponent was called 1337_NOOB_KILLA_U_suXXor. That’s not actually his real name, but it’s close enough. He insta-selected Barcelona for his team.

I hear that 95% or more of online players on both games still do that old ‘Barca move’. It’s almost a mini-game in itself: who can select Barcelona first? So I wasn’t surprised, and I didn’t even particularly mind. Whenever I venture online I never mind when people choose Barca or Man Yoo or whatever. I like to pick someone like Spurs, or Mallorca, someone like that, and try to beat them. The match ended 1-1 and he won on penalties. I waited for a rematch, but he went off in search of other NOOBs to KILL.

That was okay by me. I was glad to get away. I’d been restless and glum even before half-time. I logged off. And that was my online gaming for the month over and done with.

In case it’s not already obvious, I should reiterate here that I’m not an online gamer. Never have been, never will be. Even a great online game is of a lesser quality, for me, than an average offline match. The plain truth is that I’m a sociopath I just dislike online gaming for various reasons.

It might be a generational thing. I’ve been gaming for 30 years now and for most of that period there was no online gaming. Thus, gaming for me is a solitary pursuit. Online gaming is not proper gaming. And it’s far too time-consuming. I feel that I don’t get enough out of it for the time that has to be put in. I also think—probably unfairly—that online gaming is pretty simplistic. The same kinds of stereotypical situations recur again and again. Single-player gaming seems to have more variety.

I had to include the above disclaimer. Often when I mention online gaming—how I don’t like it, and don’t play it, and will never play it—somebody will tell me that there’s nothing like it and I should play it, as if it’s the most obvious and natural belief in the world, and I am being stubborn and unreasonable by refusing to believe it too. So I’m only getting my rebuttal in first.

———————

And so to Be A Pro. Not just ‘Be A Pro Lite’, as it was in FIFA08, but Be A Pro Seasons. If Manager Mode doesn’t attract me and online play doesn’t thrill me, what price the immersion-factor of a full career with a single player?

I made my player. I made him an attacking midfielder, because I’d heard that was best. I made him look vaguely like myself, and started. I quite liked it at first. I scored early on in my first game, and thought: hmmm. Did I really craft that goal, or is it the game shaping events, making things interesting for me? Whatever, the goal was the only goal of that match. I performed pretty well and met all my objectives. But I ended the match feeling hollow.

I’d been thinking about my Master League career on PES2009 all this time. I was also thinking about my two careers (not one, two) on Football Manager 2008 and Championship Manager 01-02 (of which more tomorrow).

FIFA09 hasn’t really got anything for me at the moment. But perhaps I’ve been too quick to dismiss Be A Pro. I know there is an option to ‘unlock’ the team and play with all the players throughout the matches. (I found it dull just controlling one player.) Maybe I’ll do that next time.

I’ll try to operate over the next few weeks much as I did earlier this year. I’ll set aside at least one day every week to report on my FIFA09 adventures. I predict that in the longer term I will turn back to FIFA09, and I will extract something from at least one of its many modes. At the moment, though, PES2009—or, more exactly, Master League—is the only game in town.

Apostrophe Now

Season 2015 has wound its way to an end. I’ve really enjoyed it, just as I’m still really enjoying PES2009. I rallied to finish in a creditable 9th place, my best finish in Division 1 so far.

After a dip in form and confidence following the mid-season negotiations, I experienced a minor revival in the last quarter of the season. Form and confidence picked up in a big way. Not enough to propel me into the top 6 (as I thought it would at one point). But it was enough to push me into the top half of the table. I stayed there thanks to some good performances, the pick of which was coming from behind against Manchester United to beat them 2-1:

I had 63% possession in that match. It really is the case that if you hold onto the ball and resist the urge to ping the ball upfield as quickly as possible no matter what, you get your reward eventually. Most of the time…

Below is the final table. As the goals-against column shows, I let my defensive halo slip a little:

Apart from my Division 2 promotion season, this was easily my best season yet. But it was still shudderingly mediocre. Must. Do. Better.

Here come the negotiations. I need to offload the dead wood in my squad. That means the remaining Default players. Macco, Ruskin, Ordaz, Jaric: all of them can go. What are they still doing here?! If I can’t sell ’em or trade ’em I’ll just release them, and to hell with the penalty payments. When it comes to bringing in new players, I’ll try for Prieto again. Maybe Maldini too. I’ll have a mooch around the market and see who else I can find. I also want to design a new kit that I bleedin’ like. And I would like to challenge for Europe in season 2016—at the very least.

I think the end of this season provides a natural break on the blog and an opportunity to talk about some other games I’ve been playing. Below is a pictorial representation of my activities on the gaming front over the past month. (Annoyingly, the online pie-chart-maker I used wouldn’t let me include the apostrophe in MIRROR’S EDGE. I had to go with the utterly wrong MIRRORS EDGE.)

I’ve posted continually about PES2009 for a long time now. But I have still been playing those other games—including some that don’t show up on the chart.

I’m now going to go off and play FIFA09 for a day or two. I’ve got a Be A Pro career that is proving… interesting. I might even have a look at the state of play online.

I’ve also been playing a hell of a lot of Football Manager 2008 over the past month. That’s not all. Over the past few days, I’ve been playing the reputed classic that is Championship Manager 01-02 for the first time. It passed me by the first time around. I was too poor to afford a computer in 2001.

Tomorrow and Saturday, I’ll take a look at those ‘other’ games. FIFA09 tomorrow. FM2008 and CM01-02 on Saturday.

Shot-shyness can stop you

It’s after the mid-season negotiations now, and I’m holding steady in mid-table. Which is certainly an improvement on last season. After last season’s mid-season negotiations I plunged from mid-table down to the foot of the table almost immediately. That hasn’t happened to me this time. I must be getting better.

Having said that, I’m not exactly setting Division 1 alight. My results have almost been the epitome of mid-table mediocrity.

Defending isn’t really a problem for me. The CPU has its moments of sweeping the ball into my net whatever I do, yes, but overall I can usually either shut them out completely or limit the damage to a single goal against. My problem, then, is on the attacking side. I can’t put the ball in the back of the net often enough to pick up good results. Three of the four draws pictured here could and should have been wins:

I had a severe goal drought last season. I went nine consecutive matches without scoring once and suffered nine consecutive defeats. It was pretty terrifying—my worst-ever run in PES. This season it isn’t nearly so bad. I am grabbing odd goals here and there. But these odd goals aren’t enough to affect my position in the league. And most often I just end up drawing 1-1 anyway. The other goals, the goals that secure 2-1 and 1-0 wins, just aren’t going in for me. It’s a worry because usually by this stage of a PES I’m scoring freely and soaring up to the top of the table. My only worry is usually in defence.

PES2009’s shooting is similar enough to previous games’ shooting mechanisms for it to feel much the same. But it’s also oddly different. PES2009’s assisted shooting mechanic is nowhere near having the subtlety and satisfaction of FIFA09’s semi-manual and manual shooting, but it is a lot more sophisticated than the words ‘assisted shooting’ would suggest.

It feels… what’s the right word… spongier, somehow. Example: approaching the goal roughly from a 45-degree angle, and say about 20 yards out, the usual PES ‘shoot at the top corner’ aim with the analogue stick instead sends the ball flying well wide.

You have to rein it in a tad, aim more conservatively. I’m finding this tough to do, so what happens instead is that I try to work a more central shooting opportunity, or from closer-in to goal. This means I have fewer chances, which leads to more games lost or drawn, which makes me more nervous about creating chances… The viciousness of this cycle is well-known. The solution is to just get to grips with PES2009’s shooting. I’m sure it will come for me. And I’m still hugely enjoying the process, I have to say.

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