Month: February 2009

The man they couldn’t hang

Somehow, I’m still alive. I thought I was a certainty to be sacked in my Coventry City career on FIFA09. It was a dreadful start to the season. 4 straight defeats and 1 draw saw me receive a warning from the board. Then I crashed out of the League Cup, going down 0-2 at home to Shrewsbury.

I couldn’t seem to get to grips with the game. I was coping well, mostly, but not creating many chances, and those I did create were poor ones. I rarely crafted a one-on-one opportunity using the patented nextgen FIFA method of a quick give-and-go followed by an aerial through-ball. Such chances, and the goals they led to, were my bread and butter on FIFA08.

Ah, but on FIFA09 I’m utilising semi-assisted and manual control settings—something I never actually got around to last year. That’s something worth remembering as I struggle on. The manual aerial through-ball in particular is not the same as its fully-assisted counterpart. It takes ages to charge up, allowing the CPU players ample time to close you down. And it’s the damnedest thing to aim properly.

Last year in FIFA08 probably 50% of all my goal-scoring chances came about through the use of aerial through-balls after playing a one-two. In FIFA09 that figure has got to be less than 5%. For now, at least…

A league match against Nottingham Forest was make or break for the season. Somehow, I contrived to win it 2-1. Forest went down to 10 men early on and I capitalised. I switched my formation to a 4-3-3 and gradually wore the 10 men down. The result improved my standing with the board, but it was still in the danger area.

My next match was against Birmingham City, one of the division’s top teams. In FIFA09, Birmingham are billed as Coventry City’s big local rivals. They’re not. Aston Villa are. (Or “Aston Villa is“, as EA Canada would undoubtedly put it…)

This was a similar game to the Forest one, with Birmingham going down to 10 men early on. Again I switched to 4-3-3 to capitalise on the space,and again I scored two goals—more through attrition than through any real skill. They were scruffy, ugly goals, but if winning ugly is what it takes to survive, then that’s what I’ll do. This time I shut-out the CPU completely. I was very happy with the win—my second in succession, and enough to take my job security out of the red zone and back up into the (precarious) safety of the orange zone….

I think the overall message that these two games have given me is: play 4-3-3 again. My usual FIFA09 formation of 4-4-2 (with wide midfielders making it more of a 4-2-2-2) was very effective with Atletico Madrid and that squad’s ultra-talented players. But it wasn’t really getting me anywhere with Coventry City. So I’ve made the switch to a full-on 4-3-3. I’ll grab some screenshots and post them next time, assuming I continue to avoid the sack of course.

Let’s do lunch

Right, so I’ve finally started a new Manager Mode career in FIFA09 with Coventry City. I’m playing on World Class difficulty with a mixture of semi-assisted and manual control settings. The last time I tried a career with CCFC I was sacked—and that was on Professional difficulty. This is going to be tough.

Play on Valkyria Chronicles has had to be suspended until the weekend. I’m in the middle of a very intense battle at a key moment in the story. I can’t wait to find out what happens next. But I will have to wait. My average play-session on Valkyria Chronicles is roughly 3 hours. I just don’t have that kind of time throughout the week.

Who’d have thought growing up would prove so disappointing in so many ways? I remember being 14 and taking all of a lazy half-term to read The Lord of the Rings. Couldn’t do that now. And I remember being 17 and spending every waking moment of an entire weekend playing the Ultimate back-catalogue on the Spectrum—again. Couldn’t do that now.

I also remember being 28 and blissfully unemployed and playing Civilization II on the PS1 for the first time. I stuck it on late in the evening just to see what it was like, and ended up playing for 14 hours straight, all the way through the night and until 1 p.m. the following day. I definitely couldn’t do that now.

So Valkyria Chronicles will just have to wait. This is the only way I can play these ‘proper’ games nowadays: in bits and pieces, over a long period of time. It’s frustrating for me, as there are so many great games in my backlog.

Football games are ideal for playing in short bursts. Four or five matches per day fits neatly into my schedule. (It depresses me that I have a schedule…)

My new Coventry City career on FIFA09 has started very badly. Played 4. Lost 3. Drawn 1. My job security has already slipped into the red zone. I’ve already had the warning from the board.

I’ve decided not to operate any House Rules on the transfer market or in the staff upgrade screen. I’ll buy who I want to buy. I’ll upgrade the staff as much as I like. The World Class difficulty and semi-assisted/manual control settings are already tough enough.

I am barely stringing two passes together. The Coventry players are so poor compared to my Atletico squad that it’s like playing a different game. This could be a very short-lived second attempt at cracking Manager Mode. If I do get the sack (which is looking likely), I’ll just restart and if necessary keep restarting until I get it right.

Cor blimey, guvnor

I have played a few matches at the start of season 2011 in my Atletico Madrid career in FIFA09. Manager Mode continues to depress me. Sensible Soccer from the mid-90s has a more realistic career mode than FIFA09. But it’s the overall gameplay that’s drawn me back into FIFA, and I’m still enjoying it.

I had a pretty good start to the season: two wins and a draw in the League, and a winning start in the UEFA Cup equivalent. I signed Fabregas on the transfer market. I’ve got a pretty good team and I think I’d challenge for the title. But… I’m suspending this Atletico career and starting a new one with Coventry City. I’ll be using all the same settings: World Class difficulty, and the same mixture of semi-assisted and manual control settings. It’s going to be damn tough and I’m looking forward to it.

That’ll be in a few posts’ time. For now I’ve forged ahead in Valkyria Chronicles. I feel that the game goes through a slight lull in the middle. Some battle designs are a little eccentric, with one in particular having very much an ‘on-rails’ feel to it. Things pick up in a big way as the story side of the game kicks into gear, and the battles become great again.

One amusing aspect of Valkyria Chronicles is the division of accents between the Gallians and the Imperials. The good Gallians are American-accented. The evil Imperials are supposed to be British-accented (i.e., having the kind of south-east-of-England accent that Americans think of as ‘British’). But, alas, some jobbing American actor takes the role of Maximilian, the Imperial leader. Listening to this poor man’s efforts at keeping the accent going  is almost a mini-game on its own. Sometimes, often within the same sentence, you’re taken on a whistlestop tour of the whole English-speaking world. Most often he merely oscillates between both sides of the Atlantic.  For example, whenever he comes up against ‘world’, he suddenly goes full-on American with the rolled ‘r’ sound (‘worrrld’) in amongst all the other mannered, breathless, fey, would-be-British tones. The result is that I titter throughout every cutscene that he’s in. In a game that’s as story-driven as Valkyria Chronicles, that’s not good. Still, I’ve got used to it now. More or less.

At the moment I’m bogged down in a startlingly tense, engrossing battle at a key point in the story. No spoilers allowed here. But what I will say is that it’s the second appearance in battle of the character who dominates the game box cover. She’s quite a handful…

Valkyria Chronicles is one of those games that I end up playing for a lot longer than I mean to. This morning I planned just to dip into it for half an hour, to finish off a battle and see what happened next in the story. I ended up playing solidly for two and a half hours. Which means that my new Manager Mode career with Coventry City will have to wait until my next post, at the earliest.

The loneliness of the long-distance striker

Typical. I wait ages to score a good goal in FIFA09, and then two come along at once. I’ve taken up FIFA09 again after playing PES2009 for most of this football year so far. Currently I’m coping with its dismal Manager Mode because I’m finding the gameplay—on World Class difficulty, with a mixture of semi-assisted and full manual control settings—so engaging. I love how tough I’m finding it just to create a goal-scoring opportunity, never mind actually trouble the goalkeeper.

Last week I was struggling to score goals. I went several games in succession without scoring. Then I netted a peach of a curler. And now I’ve scored a screamer from distance. Without further preamble, here it is:

It doesn’t look even a fraction of how good it felt to score it ‘live’. I’m not happy with the viewing angle I chose for the replay. The height of the camera fails to convey the sweet placement of the shot, which is indeed right in the ‘postage stamp’ corner of the net. I was in a bit of space with Aguero, and I decided to just let one rip. There’s no finesse—it’s a full-blooded shot, or a ‘laces’ shot as EA Canada calls it. The ball flies far and true into the net. I was very happy indeed. It was, incredibly, the first such goal I have scored on FIFA09.

FIFA09 has a problem, I think, with the consistency of distance shooting. It seems to me that the ball too often flies way, way over the bar at one end of the spectrum, or trickles tamely to the keeper at the other end. The middle ground—where you have a chance of scoring a goal like this one—is hard to locate. It’s definitely there. It definitely exists (viz. the goal in the replay above). But that sweet spot is so tiny, and finding it probably depends on so many other factors—ball speed, angle from player to goal, angle from player to ball, player stats, button-press timing and duration, whether the wind is blowing from the south-east, etc.—that long-distance goals are and will probably remain a rarity. But maybe this will change with time. We’ll see.

I finished this season 5th in the table. I fell out of the European Cup qualifying places with some poor late-season performances. I did win the Spanish Cup (on penalties), so it wasn’t a complete disappointment. Now I just have to decide whether to play another season with Atletico, or finally get around to starting Manager Mode again as Coventry City. I think I’ll go for the latter option. Before I do that, though, I’m going back to play another few sessions of Valkyria Chronicles. I wasn’t lying when I said it takes me ages to play through these ‘proper’ games.


Speaking of those proper games, I have just today had time to download and play the much-heralded Killzone 2 demo for the PlayStation3. It’s been a long time in coming. I vividly remember where I was when the infamous pre-rendered footage was released in 2005. It made the BBC evening news. I remember arguing about it with a work colleague at the time after he contended that such graphics were impossible and it was all fake.

It seemed that the next generation of gaming would take us to places we never dreamed possible. And now here we are—was it worth the wait? Killzone 2 seems to be a decent game, and the graphics are indeed lovely. But it’s just another generic FPS to me. I cannot shake the feeling that games just aren’t made for me any more. The wants and desires of some notional 17-year-old from middle America have shaped Killzone 2, as they have done all of its many, many FPS predecessors (and successors).

So, no, I’m not thrilled by Killzone 2. But I’m going to wait and see. The demo of Valkyria Chronicles left me underwhelmed, but I would argue that it’s the best exclusive game on the PS3—better even than MGS4. I’ll watch Penny Arcade and other forums and see what the reaction is to Killzone 2 after full release. But I have an awful feeling that Killzone 2 is a colour-by-numbers FPS with more than one eye on ‘the demographic’.

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