Month: March 2009

The history man

0-0 after 0-0. A 1-0 win. A 0-1 defeat. Then back to 0-0 after 0-0… FIFA09 is a strange beast.

At this stage of the football game year I have to say that I don’t like FIFA09 as much as I liked FIFA08. I think 09 lacks one vital ingredient that 08 had in buckets: novelty.

Let’s face it. If the likes of PES2009 (and maybe even PES2008) had appeared out of nowhere, without that decade of ISS and PES history behind them, we’d probably all think they were the greatest football games ever made. But that history does exist, and we do see the so-called next-gen PES games in their proper context, and we have found them wanting. I think some of this same effect is colouring my judgement of FIFA09.

FIFA08 was a surprising leap forward in terms of… What’s the word I’m looking for? Ruggedness, I think, is the word I’m looking for. The game was heavy. The ball was heavy—like a medicine ball at times. When you caught that FIFA08 ball on the volley, you really knew about it. I don’t get the same sense of something sturdy from FIFA09.

Yes, yes, yes. I can appreciate that the well-worn complaint about the ball acting oddly when shooting is due to a dizzying combination of gameplay factors, rather than a fault in the game itself. But the overall effect, the feeling, is of a fault in the game itself. FIFA08’s long-range shooting was better than FIFA09’s. (There. I’ve said it.) Speaking as a football game-player who just loves his long-range shooting, its weirdness in FIFA09 is a serious issue for me.

All of this self-righteous hand-wringing is my roundabout way of saying that I’m in the doldrums with FIFA09 at the moment. I might go back to PES2009—and finally sample its Become a Legend mode—sooner rather than later.

Or I might go back to the PSP version of PES2008, and play that as my main footy game for the rest of the year. Or maybe even FIFA08. I think that I will persevere with FIFA09 for now, though. Like I said last time, playing with the terrible Coventry City squad is a major part of the issue.

Panic on the streets of Carlisle

Somehow, I guided my Coventry City team through to the quarter-final of the League Cup. Somehow, my opponents were Carlisle United. That’s not very realistic. In the modern age, the League Cup is English football’s most seriously devalued cup competition. But it’d still be pretty weird to see Coventry City and Carlisle Utd duking it out for a place in the semi-final.

But FIFA09 is only a game, and I’ve been struggling of late, so I’ll take anything I can get right now. A nice little cup run could offset my poor league form. I’ve lost several league games in a row, all by the odd goal. It’s seen my job security plummet down to 52% or so. That’s getting dangerously near the point where board meetings take place and warnings are issued. If I get the sack whilst playing FIFA09 with all-Assisted settings, what hope is there for me?

It won’t come to that. I know that I can turn it around in the league. A good cup run or two will also help a lot.

The two-legged quarter final against Carlisle started off at my ground. I fought out a frustrating 0-0 draw. Carlisle actually had the bulk of the chances. They hit the same post twice during the same attack. Up the other end, I carved out precisely one clear-cut chance. I put McKenzie clean through on goal early in the second half. It was a one-two, with the two part being an aerial through-ball. I think this is a major fault in my FIFA09 game: addiction to aerial through-balls. They’ve been such a major part of the game in PES over the years. And they were pretty damn effective on FIFA08 last year. Over half of my FIFA08 goals came from crosses, but well over half of the remaining half came as a result of aerial through-balls.

But in FIFA09 they’re a lot less effective. They’re not ineffective. The last defender just always seems to head the ball away more often that not. You have to put a bit more on the through-ball, or look for some other way.

Anyway. McKenzie put the ball badly wide. Or better to say, I put the ball badly wide with McKenzie. I should have scored, but Assisted shooting isn’t as simplistic as some would have you believe on the FIFA forums.

Overall, I’m suffering something of a goal drought on the game at the moment. It’s not so much me, or FIFA09 itself that’s at fault. It’s the (frankly) piss-poor Coventry City players. I played a few matches of my Atletico Madrid save with the all-Assisted settings. Just to see. I won both games, 4-0 and 3-1. I was creating chances for fun in both matches. So my struggles are all to do with the unfortunate players of Coventry City. It’s the only thing it can be.

Which is fine. I like a challenge, and all that. Just not too time-consuming a challenge… I’m sure it’ll come good.

The second leg at Carlisle’s place also ended 0-0. That’s how it was at the end of extra time as well. It was a pretty dour match, all told. The penalty shoot-out came. Carlisle went first, and scored. Then I missed my first kick. Then I saved Carlisle’s next two kicks. I slotted home all my remaining penalties, and that was that. Through to the semi-final, to face Everton. The board were delighted.

The lay-off the land

Alongside my brave new world of online poker playing (and I’m absolutely obsessed at the moment) I’m still plugging away with my Manager Mode career on FIFA09. I’m playing as Coventry City. I’ve recently done a very bad thing—I admit it—and started playing using fully Assisted control settings.

A lot of this decision was shaped by me starting to take a bigger interest in other things than football gaming. There are all the other games I want to play, and there is poker, and there is work, and there are countless other things to attend to day in, day out. With all these other activities I find that I don’t have time to spend mastering the Semi-Assisted/Manual settings that I was using in FIFA09. I’ll go back and try them again eventually. But not right now. Life’s just too full at the moment.

And what’s so bad about Assisted anyway? Yes, you are helped to play the game to an almost absurd degree. But I still find the game bleedin’ hard when using these supposedly easy settings. A massive portion of that difficulty comes from using the lower-ability Coventry City players. As others have remarked, FIFA09 seems to be optimised for the big teams and big players. It’s such a different game with the lesser teams and players.

I’m floating in mid-table with the January transfer window just around the corner. I won’t be sacked again. I’m picking up enough draws and wins to keep my head above water—thanks mainly to those Assisted settings. But I’m not scoring anywhere near as many goals as I should be. My record is something like 1 goal per game, on average.

One thing I have had success with is the lay-off free kick. A few weeks ago I showed off my best-so-far lay-off goal. I nearly always force a save from the keeper now. And now I’ve got another one—scored with the same player, Isaac Osbourne. I’ve looked at his stats and he doesn’t seem to have any special ability re. free kicks. When FIFA09 came out I remember hearing that a lot of special player attributes were going to be masked (if so, why?). So perhaps Osbourne’s some kind of free kick ninja on the quiet.

Here’s that second lay-off free kick goal. I think it’s a better one than the first, if only for the increased angle and the way the ball smacks into the net off the underside of the bar. It’s always one for the scrapbook when that happens. In the clip the view is from behind the opposition net:

A Confederacy of Deuces

Chess was the very first game I ever played online. This is going back years now, to when I first got the Internet at home. (When 576kbps was considered broadband!) Almost the first thing I did was head over to Yahoo! Games, and played chess against some random person. It was all very new and exciting.

But I have never really warmed to ‘proper’ online gaming. I played CounterStrike intensively for a few weeks (who hasn’t?). I played EVE Online for a few months. For a year or so I was even one of the top 50 players on an online snooker game. For one reason or another, I drifted away from all of them.

So why poker—why do I like playing poker online, but not any other game? It’s a number of things. Poker is something that materially rewards me. It’s a deep, decent game. I’m not saying that Call of Duty 4, Warhawk, and even Pro Evolution Soccer aren’t decent, deep games in their own ways. It’s just that, well, I’ll say it: the likes of poker, and chess, are more in tune with my temperament.

Poker is a game of decisions and instinct and timing. It’s not gambling, as any of the books will tell you from the start. Playing a single-table tournament the other day, I was dealt this for my first hand:

poket-5s

Pocket fives. It’s always a great feeling to see a pocket pair pop up as your hole cards. But you have to be careful. A low pocket pair looks good, but you have to see the flop, and you have to see how other players will bet, and it all depends on your position, and the chip stacks, and…

I was in good position—on the dealer button, the best place to be with a small pair. The player to my immediate right raised the pot to 120. We all still had our starting 2000 chips. I called. Everyone else folded. It was me versus the player who’d raised. I’ll call him Steve.

I needed a good flop, otherwise I was probably folding. I’m nowhere near good enough yet to nurse an unimproved small pocket pair through a hand and win it. This was the flop:

flop

YES! I’d made trips on the flop and was a huge favourite for the hand. That’s just about the best possible flop you can hope to see with a low pocket pair.

Steve bets the pot,and I call. The only thing I have to fear here is pocket Aces or tens. Steve’s pre-flop raise could have been with those hands, but somehow I don’t think so. I don’t know precisely how I don’t think so. I’m not good enough at this game yet for my reasoning to be anything more that hopeful instinct. I know nothing about Steve, but most players in low-limit online poker are maniacs, and so I think that he would have raised to more than 120 with Aces or tens. I think he’s definitely got one Ace—I hope he’s got one Ace. If he has, I’m probably going to win big here.

The turn came:

turn

I’ve made a full house. Three five, two tens. If Steve has Ace-10, I’m screwed, but as Dan Harrington says in one of his excellent books, you’ve got to win your chips sometime. You can’t always be scared of what the other guy might have.

I decided to go all-in, figuring that if he had an Ace he’d most likely call anyway, thinking he must have the best hand. My wish came true—he called. Both of us were now all-in on the first hand of the tournament for all our chips.

Before the river card was dealt, our hole cards were revealed to each other. I imagined his dismay as he saw my pocket fives. I saw his cards, which were:

villain-holding

Ace-Jack, eh? I was right, he had an Ace. The Jack is better than I thought, but still not good enough. Only an Ace on the river could save him by making his own full house. If it came, it came. Bring it on. The river card dropped:

river

The second Jack was scary, but it only gave him two-pair. My full house was the easy winner. Steve was wrong to call my all-in bet.

I went on to finish second in the tournament, winning about $5 for a $0.90c buy-in. Whenever I finish in the money, it’s nearly always in second place. My heads-up play (1 versus 1, at the end of a tournament, to decide 1st place) is a massive weakness in my game right now. I’m still a heads-up dunce. I nearly always get it all wrong. You’re supposed to loosen up in heads-up play, but I remain tight, and the other player always cottons onto this and steals my blinds. Then I panic and go all-in with rubbish, and he calls and usually wins. I’m working on it.

MONDAY ON PES CHRONICLES, we’re back to FIFA09. I’ll save the poker talk for every now and then.

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