Month: May 2009

I was happy in the haze of a Bayern Munchen hour

It’s been quite a week. News about FIFA10 has appeared earlier than it should have done. Manager Mode radically overhauled. Slower gameplay. 360-degree dribbling (i.e. no more turning into a pursuing defender when all you wanted to do was slightly alter your running angle). It’s all sounding and looking rather good.

But I’m wary. I’m going to wait until next week, and the official unveiling, and the podcasts and articles and myriad discussions, before I start allowing myself to feel anything.

I’ll be wary and suspicious until I see a good number of solid previews from a variety of sources. It’s by no means a certainty that I’ll buy either FIFA10 or PES2010 this year. The main criterion for me buying FIFA10 is the overhaul of the game mode that I’m most interested in, Manager Mode. That seems to have been done. It’s tempting to go crazy and place my preorder now. But I’m waiting. The game will still be there to preorder, potentially, right up until the week of release.

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Big developments in Manager Mode on FIFA09. I’ve been playing it quite a bit over the past week or so. It’s not a deep mode by any means. Its various problems are well-documented. It features the weakest transfer market in any career mode on any sports game since the mid-1990s, IMO. The lack of night matches and weather effects as the season(s) pass by is anti-immersive. It’s flabby and crude in so many areas. It’s like a donkey-cart shackled to a Porsche.

But there is some limited mileage in it. And I had yet to really get into a career in FIFA09. Playing with Coventry City, I completed a season and got the 100 Achievement points for not simming a single match.

pavlyuchenko-at-coventry-fifa09

In the next season, still in the Championship, I signed two decent defenders, Djemba-Djemba as a defensive midfielder—and Roman Pavlyuchenko. Yes, the skilful Russian player, a star of Euro 2008, and still one of the top strikers on the continent right now, was mad-keen to play for Coventry City in the second tier of English football. Ahem. Look the other way, please. Nothing to see here.

And he’s been brilliant. I scored 4 goals with him on his debut. I averaged a goal per game with him over the rest of the season. Here’s one of them, a decent strike against Leeds that hits one post, hits the other post, and goes in. My Coventry team is wearing our black away kit, and we’re attacking down-screen:

Link: Pavlyuchenko Goal in FIFA09

I haven’t scored many of those first-time ‘hook’ shots across the keeper in FIFA09. It was with semi-assisted shooting too.

I got promoted, and I won the FA Cup in the same season. Pavlyuchenko was the difference.

I’ve just started my first season in the top flight. Looking ahead, I can see our first UEFA Cup-equivalent match will be against Bayern Munich, whom I have chortlingly named Bayern Munchen for the sake of a painful Smiths-related pun that only those over 30 will probably get anyway. (If you say ‘Munchen’ the German way—i.e. the proper way—it does rhyme with ‘drunken’.)

This brief flowering of Manager Mode won’t last. It occurred in the middle of a week off work. I had bags of time to spare—time that I simply don’t have as of right now (boo). Time that I’ll want to spend playing Become a Legend again…

There’s a bit more to Manager Mode than a crude simplistic shadow of Master League. But sadly not much more. I resent having to operate House Rules, so I don’t. I won’t make accommodations. I’m like that with cheese. When you leave cheese unwrapped in a fridge, it grows a hardened exterior on the parts that are exposed to the air. I will not eat this hardened cheese under any circumstances. I can barely bring myself to look at it, or even admit that it exists. I know, theoretically, that you can slice away the hardened cheese, and the soft, original cheese underneath is fine, but I’m sorry: once that slab of cheese has been exposed to the air, I ain’t touching it. It’s going in the bin.

And I’m the same with games, really. Manager Mode’s faults are its hardened cheese. I could scrape the faults away with a knife made out of House Rules, but the entire slab is contaminated in my eyes. No, I have very little love for Manager Mode as it stands. Roll on FIFA10, and hopefully—fingers crossed—a Manager Mode worthy of the game it comes wrapped up in. Time will tell.

Oranges were the only fruit

After a short break, it was back to Become a Legend in PES2009. I had just moved clubs (again) to Tottenham Hotspur, or as the game calls them, North London White. I changed the name in Edit mode, of course, but the badge is still a North London White one.

Every year the most editing I ever do is to change all the clubs’ names to their proper ones. It’s worth it, but it’s not a big deal to me. Any PES fan worth his salt will tell you that the lack of official licenses is something we learned to live with—even celebrate—a long time ago.

And it’s not even as ‘bad’ as it used to be. I remember playing at the turn of the century with players called ‘Michael Owenn’ and ‘David Backham’. There was even one year—PES3?—when every Dutch player in the game was called ‘Oranges’ followed by a three-digit number. I believe Marc Overmars was something like ‘Oranges011’.

Now that was a really bad year for licensing. But do you know what? Those were some of the best years of my football gaming life. Probably yours too.

So I have no quarrel whatsoever with Konami’s continued failure to secure licensing for PES. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The only slight worry would be if they took out Edit mode (or diminished it to the point where it was even worse than next-gen PES2008’s). Then I might stick my head above the parapet and do some world-class whining. But at the moment, I’m perfectly happy with the status quo in regards to licenses.

I know, I know. I started off talking about my BaL progress. It’s inevitable at this time of year that I’ll often meander off to talk about the series as a whole, my hopes for PES2010, my abiding regrets about next-gen PES2008 (it’s like a movie monster in my mind; I just can’t kill it off), and my memories of the distant past on PS2 and PS1… I’ll try to keep it to a minimum and just talk about my exploits in the various game modes.

It seems as if the short break from BaL was not good for me. I’ve played quite a few more matches, and only just managed to get to the bench at the end of the sequence. And then I wasn’t even brought on! Sitting on the bench watching the CPU play the CPU is probably my least-favourite aspect of BaL. Thankfully the period only lasts for a relatively short time. At Portsmouth I was quickly a first-team regular. I think—hope—that the same will apply here at Spurs.

One reason why I’ve struggled is the change in formation. Spurs mostly play a very attacking 4-3-3 formation. Not only are there limited spaces for midfielders, but the positions in midfield were new to me. At Pompey I had made the safe, solid, left-sided CMF position my own. I was aware of what I had to do to have a good game. When I took to the field in the Spurs reserve team as an AMF, I wasn’t really sure what to do.

Gradually, over a few matches, I stared getting better ratings, and eventually got the callup to the ‘A’ team. One fairly average performance later and I was on the bench for a league match against Wigan. Sadly I didn’t come on, and remained on the bench for the next match.

This is the start of a sticky period where I’ll just have to make the best of any opportunities I do get. One slightly worrying thing is that I seem to have lost the knack, for now, of making intelligent runs into space. Either that or it’s my team-mates, who are so much better at Tottenham than they were at Portsmouth. They are more than capable of passing and moving and creating chances and taking them on their own, thank you very much. They don’t seem to need me. For now.

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I won’t post about BaL again until Monday. There have been some developments on the FIFA front over the past week or so. I’ve been playing quite a bit of Manager Mode in FIFA09, and the first rumblings of FIFA10 have made me prick my ears up. I’m itching to talk about everything, and will do so on Friday.

Could my fondest wish for FIFA10—a fully-featured Ultimate Team mode in the style of Master League—be about to come true? No, probably not, but there are numerous indications that something big is going to be revealed at the end of next week when all the various non-disclosure agreements expire. I swear now that if the Ultimate Team/Master League hybrid is any kind of reality, I will arrange to have myself frozen and thawed out in October, because I don’t think I could stand to wait that long.

Anti-social loners are people too

Summer is definitely here. We’re about a week away from receiving the first concrete news of FIFA10. (And it seems that it will be called FIFA10, not FIFA2010.) PES2010 news will also be here sooner rather than later. Exciting times ahead.

About a month ago there was a big FIFA10 preview session held at The Emirates stadium in London. The embargo on that one runs out in a week or so. Great. Can’t wait.

There’s been something increasingly on my mind over recent weeks. Something I have to get off my chest.

Last year, the build-up to FIFA09’s release was pretty intense. It promised to be the finest football game ever created. (Arguably, that promise was delivered; just as arguably, it wasn’t.) Over last summer the first videos appeared, then the demo duly followed, and along with all the many hands-on preview articles that showed up in print and online, pretty much all the questions about FIFA09’s core gameplay were answered.

The burning question that was never answered was: what about Manager Mode? Had Manager Mode been improved since FIFA08’s serviceable, but ultimately pretty hollow, Manager Mode? Were there night matches now? Was there a more realistic transfer market? Had the sponsorship money been tweaked? Could you create your own club again?

There were dozens of ways in which Manager Mode was lacking. Fixing even a few of them would transform the playing experience.

But it wasn’t until the week of FIFA09’s release that I found out that Manager Mode was substantially the same as FIFA08’s. This information didn’t come from one of the many respectable websites that tracked the game’s development, nor from the several print magazines that are still clinging on to life in this post-print age. No, I got this information from a random poster on a  forum—somebody who’d had his copy of the game delivered early and had jumped straight into Manager Mode.

I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t want to. Surely this couldn’t be true. Surely even one out of all those hundreds of previewers and reviewers, all summer long, would have noticed and told?!

I was, to put it mildly, upset. I was upset about the lack of progress in Manager Mode. For me a career mode is still any sports game’s main attraction. I am not and never have been (and never will be) a member of any online party. But I was oddly even more upset about having to find out about it from a forum. Seriously—it’s three days before release, and I’m only finding this out now? From some random person on a forum?

What were all the games journos playing at in all those preview sessions? Of course, what they were playing at was 1-versus-1 action, player versus player, like over-excited 10-year-olds who’d drunk too much fizzy pop.

Granted, those early previews are all about seeing the raw gameplay in action. That’s fine. What isn’t fine with me is that it remains the case, right up until the week of release. No reviewer or previewer ever seems to do anything much with their time on the game(s) than play one-off matches against other people attending the same event. They rarely do more than give the single-player modes a token glance.

Imagine that a games journalist went to check up on a new FPS and did nothing more than play the first few minutes of the first level of the single-player campaign. Such a games journalist would be in dereliction of duty. Yet that is exactly what dozens, eventually hundreds, of intrepid games journalists do, year in, year out, when it comes to PES and latterly FIFA. It’s got to stop. There has got to be a change.

I’m going to dare to speak on behalf of all my fellow single-player gamers. We’re not really a dying breed. It just seems that way. I believe we’re still the majority. We’re just not as visible as the online gamers. We might not get out of the house much. We haven’t had non-imaginary girlfriends for a while. But if you prick us, do we not bleed?

We need previewers and reviewers of PES2010 and FIFA10 to do us a great favour. We shouldn’t have to ask, but apparently we do have to ask, so I’m asking. We need them to actually play the career modes. Not just take a quick look. Not just play a game or two, then have a fiddle in the menus, then scuttle back to playing 1-vs-1. We need them to play at least 10 matches—long enough to see if there are night matches in Manager Mode. Is that too much to ask?

It’s great to see that technology has got to the point where so many football gamers are online gamers and nothing else. I’m happy for them, honestly I am. Properly considered, online football gaming is a whole new genre of gaming, a separate creation to the old single-player games that I cherish so much. I really do hope that my fellow PES fans who would love to play the game online actually get the online service they deserve this year.

But I also selfishly want the game modes that I play to be worthwhile too. Because, as the headline says, anti-social loners are people too.

Matches of the Day

At the moment I’m not really playing any one game or mode. I definitely will be going back to regular PES2009 Become a Legend play soon enough. I’ll admit to not being as enamoured of the mode as I was a few weeks ago. The novelty has worn off. But the excellence of it remains. If I didn’t want to play BaL any more, I’d come right out and say so and I’d discuss my reasons. But I am still interested in it. I just need a break to spend some time with other games, which I’ve sorely missed. And I need to spend some time with other game modes in PES2009 and FIFA09, of course.

With my decent new camera, I have filmed two full matches from PES2009 and FIFA09. I filmed myself playing a Master League match from my old save-game as Coventry City. And I filmed a match I played in FIFA09’s Ultimate Team mode.

Don’t worry. I’m not about to post the full videos—at 700MB apiece, I doubt I’d find anywhere to put ’em anyway. There’s little duller than watching other people play football games. (Unless, of course, it’s August or something, and you’re watching a blurry mobile phone clip of somebody playing the imminent new football games. In which case it’s very interesting indeed—but then you’re still only really interested in what can be gleaned about the gameplay. There’s little or no actual interest in seeing how some random ‘trade fair guy’ is playing the game. Indeed, most often they seem to play it very badly.)

Instead of the full, dull games, I’ve put together two short highlights packages. One for the PES2009 match, one for the FIFA09 match. I was going to package these highlights complete with an actual voice-over from yours truly, TV-style. That would have been hilarious… The most whimsical jape of the season! But, sadly/fortunately, I didn’t have time.

Here they are, the PES2009 one first. I’ll set the scene. I’m using the Vertical Wide camera, BaL-style. It’s a useful familiarising tool. Playing with all 11 players using the BaL camera helps you learn its quirks, which are many. But then I started getting back into my old Master League career for its own sake. I’ve been sneakily playing ML matches, off and on, for a few weeks now.

I’m in the Sky Blue strip, naturally, playing against Zenit St Petersburg. This was a typical Master League match. After several near-misses, Bradley—a powerful, swashbuckling DMF in the best PES tradition—gets a fine goal (one that really showcases the joys of Vertical Wide). Then, after having had NOT A KICK all game, Zenit St Petersburg come at me with a late surge. Can you guess the final result?

The big news of the moment in FIFA09 is that everybody has been given some free Ultimate Team coins. If you were an early adopter then you suffered the most from its online teething troubles—and now you get 10,000 coins, gratis. If you bought the DLC later, after the online problems were mostly resolved, you get a decent consolation prize of 5000 coins.

I was very happy to see I had 14,000 coins when I loaded up the game. It’s been a week or more since I last played. I had a few Trades that came though for me to go with the bonus 10K.

I bought a Gold pack, a Silver pack, and put in some bids for some Silver-level backroom staff. I also made a cheeky bid for Arsene Wenger as a manager. That was in a two-day auction. At the time of writing I don’t know if the bid’s been successful. (I’ll edit it in here when I do know.)

Here are the highlights of my first match with my new-look Ultimate Team. All those Gold and Silver cards were like manna from heaven. My two-star team became a three-star team.

One of my new players is a striker called T Gekas. He plays up front in my 4-4-2 with one Gary McSheffrey, a former real-life Coventry City player whom I was very happy to acquire in the Silver pack. Watch for a great debut performance from Gekas:

Link: FIFA09 Ultimate Team - match highlights

Only now as my Ultimate Team starts to gel and become more powerful do I really, really feel the lack of a good offline mode. These one-off ‘club matches’ just aren’t satisfying in the long run, and I don’t like playing online. I’m never going to be an online player. Yes, I have occasional spurts of enthusiasm, but they never last longer than a day. I would love it—ahem, ‘just love it’—if FIFA2010 shipped with Ultimate Team built-in and with a comprehensive Master League-style offline career mode.

I don’t want much, do I? But think how great it would be. EA should just scrap Manager Mode and replace it with an Ultimate Team/Master League hybrid. If that really happened I think I’d be the happiest football gamer in the world.

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