Month: April 2009

You cannot be my wingman, anytime

Somehow, I have started playing and enjoying PES2009’s Become a Legend mode. I never wanted this. I was rather looking forward to spending the rest of this football game year catching up on all the unplayed games on my shelf. I’ll still do that, but now it seems BaL in PES2009 (and Ultimate Team and BaP in FIFA09) are also going to be in the mix.

After spending a third of my first season with Manchester City in the Reserves ‘B’ team, I found myself bumped up to the Reserves ‘A’ team. This was a really big deal. I was actually nervous before the match and for most of the time during it. I was still playing in the reserves, on an empty, echoing reserve team pitch, but I was playing with the first team players alongside Robinho et al. I felt that things were moving in the right direction for me.

But I played quite badly in the match. The occasion got to me. I tightened up, always going for the safe, conservative passes. I was scared to make a mistake. Another complicating factor: it was my first game as a proper AMF. I’d played all the previous 16 or so matches as a CMF. The problem now was that I kept dropping too deep. The performance was a mess. It wasn’t helped by my growing anger towards some of my team-mates. Yes, anger towards make-believe team-mates…

One of the most convenient options available when you get the ball in midfield is to lay it off to a winger. But that rarely leads to anything good. It’s only by playing BaL that I’ve come to appreciate just how very, very bad at wing-play the PES2009 AI really is. 9 times out of 10 the winger, whoever it is, just messes it up.

You play the pass out wide, and go on the long run into the box anyway. Watching your winger on the ball, waiting for him to do something with it, is exquisitely painful. JUST SQUARE THE ******* BALL! CROSS IT, CROSS IT, YOU USELESS PRANCING SHOW-PONY. ****! But no, he tries one jink too many, trips over a blade of grass, and that’s it. You’ve made your run and expended some of your precious non-renewable stamina for nothing. You might just as well have passed it to the opposition.

Eventually I worked out it was okay for me to just goal-hang for a bit if that’s what I wanted to do, so I did. Late on, I even had a half-chance that I thumped tamely into the keeper’s midriff. It’s a measure of BaL’s deep-immersion factor that I was hugely satisfied with that.

Despite having a pretty bad game I made the subs bench for a proper game. This was an even bigger deal for me. It was the second leg of a D1 Cup tie against West Ham. Different atmosphere, full match, crowd, commentators. The Hammers went 1-0 up. I was brought on in the 65th minute. The cutscene that showed me coming onto the pitch made me drool. Finally a chance to try to do something in a proper match.

I felt overwhelmed and played ‘tight’ for the first few minutes. After that I played ok, getting a dozen touches in the 25 minutes I was on the pitch. I played a few decent passes, including the one that eventually led to our equaliser. We went through to the next round of the Cup 1-2 on aggregate.

I thought my average performance might send me back to the reserves. But I was still on the bench for the next league match, and the one after.

Here is where I started to encounter a huge negative with BaL. Being a substitute and having to watch the match is a total chore. I’m not coping very well with it at all. You can speed up the action to twice the normal speed, but it still makes for tedious minutes spent doing nothing at all. CPU vs CPU action contains little or no incidental entertainment value for me. It’s like watching a demo game on a screen in a shop. Maybe this won’t be an issue after my player matures and earns a regular starting place, and as I become more identified with my team(s), of course.

I didn’t come on at all in that in the first league match—very frustrating, that—but I did come on in the second. This time I was brought on as a CMF, which is currently my preferred position. As CMF I seem to play an active role in nearly every type of play. I can drop deep, push forward, hang wide, or I can just stick to the official position and let play develop towards me. I thought I had a decent game and it ended 0-0.

Next up was the mid-season negotiation period. Aston Villa made a bid for me, and I accepted the offer. I was feeling frustrated about being a substitute at Man City, and thought I might have a better chance of playing more games at Villa. It was a big old NOOB error on my part. Because, of course, at Villa I had to start all over again in the reserves…

Having a BaLL

I’m playing Become a Legend mode in PES2009. My created player (gruesomely pictured, in-game, below) is a raw 17-year-old AMF. I’m still in my first season, still playing in the reserves for Manchester City’s ‘B’ team.

Become a Legend is a take on previous PES games’ ‘fixed cursor’ feature, except it now has an entire game world wrapped around it. You play for a team in a realistic Master League-type environment. You’re managed by the game; all you do is play the matches that crop up from week to week.

not-greg-in-bal

The virtual manager of Man City’s ‘B’ team always plays me as a CMF. Often I’m played so deep that I’m effectively a DMF. But that’s strangely okay. I’ve started seeing lots of the ball and having attacking opportunities wherever I play. There’s a knack to getting involved, and there’s a knack to not minding when not involved… For all my player’s raw youth, I do have an impact. I can only imagine how I’ll dominate games as my created player’s attributes increase over time.

The reasons why I initially disliked Become a Legend (and Be A Pro in FIFAs 08 and 09) are the reasons I now like it. Playing without the ball, making the best use of space, making the runs that attract the ball, and then using the ball wisely when in possession—it’s all the aim of the game.

You just can’t play this mode as if it’s the main game. In a ‘proper’ PES game, you control 11 players. Thus, you either always have the ball or you are in a position to challenge for the ball. That just ain’t so in BaL. 

Paradoxically, being limited to 1 player with 23 AI-controlled players around me brings a curious sense of liberation. I’ve reached the point in BaL where I can get involved in the action if I really want to. And there’s a sense of satisfaction in playing for the team.

At 0-0 I’ll quite strictly play my central position. I’ll rarely venture out to find space on the wings (as I love to do), and I’ll only rarely go on runs into the box (as I really love to do). But then if we go 0-1 down, I will play a bit more freely, taking a few risks, trying to be that extra man in and around the box. (And then often it’s amazing to see the opposition AI exploiting a gaping hole in midfield that I’ve left behind after a run forward. In real life I’ve never played football as an outfield player ina  proper team. I was a goalkeeper in my school team, and playground football doesn’t count. So this is the closest I’ll ever get.)

What I crave right now is a goal. For lots of my first matches I was barely getting a touch; then I was getting touches, but nowhere near the goal, and certainly no goal-scoring chances; now I’m getting the openings—chances and half-chances, not many but some—but the ball just won’t bounce right for me. Or I panic and blast it.

A huge part of the game is anticipating what the other players—your team-mates and the opposition—will do. This is particularly true when the balls is in flight, and particularly from your own team’s goal-kicks, which your keeper loves to punt upfield as far as he can. I tend to run to the side of where the ball is descending, hoping to pick up the knock-down. On this one occasion I got it, then laid off a short pass to a winger, and ran into the box hoping for the obvious return pass… and it came.

This was a clear sight of goal. I was just inside the box, about level with the right hand post. There were defenders nearby and I had to shoot earlier than I would have liked. It was the kind of position from where I’ve scored bread and butter goals a thousand times in this game. But I blazed it high and wide. Strangely so, as I thought I gave it good power and direction. I suppose my player’s stats need to improve.

The final match of this session was notable for a few reasons. It was easily my worst performance for a long time. We went 0-1 down and I started running around trying to play everywhere—doing exactly what I know not to do. I conceded a penalty, and was yellow-carded, and the match ended 0-2. Imagine my surprise, then, to find myself promoted to the Manchester City ‘A’ team (not the full team, but the first Reserve team, ie. one step away from the First XI). And not only that, but in a 4-5-1 formation with me as the AMF behind the lone striker.

bal-amf-role

Uh? Why now? It made no sense. PES, with its reputation for crazy logic, strikes again.

I’ll take it, though. And I’ll admit to feeling very excited, almost unreasonably so. I could be just a few good performances away from playing in a proper league match.

I had to quit for the day—time pressing down on me again—but I can’t wait for my next session. Is it wrong that I actually feel nervous about this coming game…?

Becoming a Legend, slowly

It didn’t start well, in fact I hated it, but it’s got better. It’s got much better. I’m talking about Become a Legend, the solo-player mode in PES2009 that I’d successfully ignored until a few weeks ago.

I have always been a Master League man. Still am one, in my heart and soul, and probably always will be. If it wasn’t for Master League I doubt I’d have spent more than a relative handful of hours playing either PES2008 or PES2009 on the PS3. What did I ever do before Master League? I used to play International Cups, over and over again, going through all the teams one by one. I couldn’t go back to that now, not after Master League. But I digress.

Where was I again. Yes: Become a Legend. Those first few sessions were pretty disastrous. I really disliked the whole mood and tempo and feel of the game. Playing PES as one player, when my AI team-mates don’t pass to me, and I get roughly two touches of the ball per match, is not the best use of my limited gaming time. After a dismal second session where I spent long periods of each match just aimlessly moving my player about and watching the game go on around me, I switched off and, to be honest (has that phrase turned into an equivalent of at the end of the day, or what?), I doubted that I’d ever be back.

But a lot of good PES fans speak highly of BaL. It’s been described by several commenters on this blog as a Master League mode with an addictive twist. So what kind of self-styled connoisseur of all things PES would I be, if I didn’t give BaL a decent chance?

So I went back, and I’m glad I did. If those poor first sessions were a 4/10 experience, my latest session was an 8/10 one. I’m starting to see, now, what BaL is all about.

It’s about anticipation. You have to foresee what the other team will do, and what your AI team-mates will do, before they do it, and behave accordingly. It’s about patience. I’ve got patience, as any of my online poker buddies would confirm. It’s about being content to let the match have periods where it just happens without you. It’s no good going chasing after the ball all the time. That’s how you play when you control 11 men, not 1.

When you only have 1 player, you have to be willing to let the play come to you naturally. You conserve your energy, saving the swashbuckling runs for when they’ll be really effective. It’s about attacking space, taking chances, waiting for the payoff. It’s also about becoming identified with the player you created, as I am doing, and wanting him to get out of the stiffs and into the first team. (I’ll talk more about my player on Friday.)

Significant action occurred in match 1. I had a few decent touches, then committed a ‘frustration foul’ that drew a yellow card. (Frustration fouls are pretty common in BaL when I’m playing it wrong.) Then I gave the ball away and the other team raced upfield and scored. 0-1 down. I think my player’s best position is CMF rather than AMF (again, more on this on Friday). Then my team equalised, and I participated. It wasn’t much—I simply laid the ball off to another player, who supplied the killer pass to the striker—but I was beaming. It was a great feeling. Here’s the clip (and, yes, I do need to get a new camera). I get my touch on the ball at 00:06 seconds:

This goal—which our striker seemed to take forever to put into the net—earned my side our first non-losing result in about ten matches.

Final-outcome-BaL

I played about 5 matches, and all of them were positive. I had 32 touches in one of them. THIRTY-TWO touches. That’s about thirty-one more touches than in most of my matches a few weeks ago. I also had three shots on goal in another match. One of them was on target, and I thought it was going in, but the keeper slapped the ball away for a corner. If it had gone in I’d probably have been on the ceiling. I really want to get that first goal now.

As stated last time, I plan to play a few seasons. I’m still plodding along in the Manchester City reserves. I can only imagine what it’ll be like taking to the field in proper matches, with crowds, commentators, and things at stake—with every bounce of the ball, every touch, every tackle, really counting for something.

These things take time

I’ve spent the past few days painfully playing 1 single match at a time on FIFA09 Ultimate Team. These matches happened over the space of about seven separate ‘sessions’. Seriously. That’s how challenged I am for gaming time lately—for proper, big console gaming time, I mean.

I look at the clock of a morning or evening, see that I’ve got maybe 20 minutes to spare, and I power up the Xbox360. I check on my squad. I check on my Trade bids. I update what I need to update (there’s always a contract or two about to expire). Then I play my ONE MEASLY MATCH, and that’s the 20 minutes up. I always wonder if I possibly could squeeze one more match in. Just one more? No, I never can. It’s pathetic. Let this be a warning to everyone still enjoying the bounties of youth and leisure. Game all you can while you can, because the virtual days of wine and roses don’t last forever. You lucky, lucky people.

In FIFA09 I’ve gone back to my familiar old mixture of semi-assisted and manual controls. A few weeks ago I reverted to using the default assisted settings, after getting lazy. That’s stopped now and I don’t think it will happen again. (But never say never.)

Ultimate Team as a whole is still ticking along nicely for me. I’m still enjoying it. It was well worth the 8 quid, in my view. It’s certainly no Master League, but it’s still immersive in its own way, and a tantalising glimpse of what could be in FIFA2010 and beyond.

I haven’t taken my team back online since the intensive sessions of last week. Maybe I’ll get time today. My team, Allover Rovers, is still full of lower-league players. My created player, not-Greg—a swashbuckling midfielder, natch—is still my best player by a long way. I know that I’m dawdling. I could and should have got at least a few Gold players by now. But I’m playing it my own way at my own pace, and enjoying myself.

The PSP and PES2008 continue to pick up a lot of my gaming slack. I was eliminated from Europe pretty humiliatingly in season 2019 of my neverending Coventry City career in Master League. I’m still top of the league just after the mid-season negotiations.

I’m going to commit myself to playing at least 1 full season on PES2009’s Become a Legend mode. When I started it a while ago I really disliked it a lot, but still saw glimmers of potential greatness in there. If I could get BaL to take off for me I think it could lead to great things between me and PES2009 in the remainder of this football game year. It’s something to aim for.

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