Month: May 2009

Becalmed a Legend

A bit of a lull in my Become a Legend adventures. If my BaL career was a boat, it’d be bobbing in the water with its sails hanging limp. Since last time, I’ve only played a few more training matches with my new club, Tottenham. The matches didn’t go well and I’m still in the reserves.

I’m kind of back where I was near the start of playing the mode. I don’t just mean in the sense of having to play my way out of the reserves with a new club. I’ve been playing a few other games (see below). At the moment I feel curiously detached from BaL, from PES2009, and from football games full stop. I feel a disconnect with the action out there on the pitch. I spent large chunks of these training matches (only three of them, admittedly) just turning on the spot and going on aimless runs. I’m seeing far less of the ball than I did with Portsmouth. Perhaps all of this is partly due to being among better players at Tottenham.

I could tell rightwaway that they were better players. They passed it a lot better and lost it less often whilst dribbling. They even managed to get some crosses in.

SPEAKING OF CROSSES, ahem, I had this strange incident in one of the training matches. It was a rare sight of goal, only it wasn’t. I was making a run into the box anticipating the cross, and it came over. But I was sandwiched between two defenders, and the ball squirmed loose. Great, I thought. I can get to that loose ball and take a snapshot at goal. But my player went into this weird shuffling animation that I don’t remember seeing before in PES2009. Looking at it close-up, I thought it might be a defending animation – ?

Whatever it is, it’s damned odd—something like the kind of move Elvis Presley wasn’t allowed to do on TV in the 1950s:

(At the start of the replay the ball is just out of sight at the bottom of the screen. The focus is, as ever, on yours truly, whom I might as well have named Narcissus…)

Peculiar one, isn’t it? I was more intrigued than annoyed. I doubt I’d have scored anyway.

I’ve been playing a few other games, finding myself a little fatigued with PES2009 and with football games in general at the moment. It’s a measure of my addiction to football games that even when I’m disenchanted with ’em, I play ’em.

It’s partly habit, partly convenience. Football games fit in with my way of life. They can be played for 10 minutes or for three hours. They can be left for a day or a week, and resumed without any difficulties. There are no complex stories or fiddly controls to remember. I don’t have to remember that SELECT opens the inventory, or that I’m supposed to be fetching the Amulet of Ratbum from the Citadel of Dread for the Archduke of Plinth, and that kind of thing. I love those kinds of games—proper games—but I just don’t get the time needed to play them. Well, not very quickly anyway.

I’ve been playing my way through Valkyria Chronicles since January. I’m glad to say I have now finished it. It was one of those games where I watched the final credits all the way through, with reverence and goosebumps. It was worth every second of the 40 hours I spent playing it. (I left probably 5-10 hours of side-quests uncompleted.)

My next ‘proper’ game will probably be Lost Odyssey, but I might finally get around to Mass Effect. One latecomer that might leapfrog the pair of them is a PS2 title called Persona 3, a Japanese RPG that I’ve heard a lot about. Or possibly God Of War 2, which is still unplayed from my PS2 days, two years ago now. I loved the original God of War back in the day. Or there’s always Fallout 3. Or Assassin’s Creed. Or, or – I don’t know. I’ll see.

White Hair Lane

I was sorry to do it, really I was, but it had to be done: I have left Portsmouth. In the second week of the mid-season negotiation period, I accepted an offer from another club.

It was a wrench. I’d really set my heart on staying at Portsmouth and leading them to glory. But sadly, Become A Legend just isn’t like that. In BaL, you’re you, an individual player. You’re not the club. There can be no Master League-style rise and rise of a minor club up through the ranks. It’s taken me until now, two and a half seasons into it, to understand this.

The pressure had built up over the course of this season so far. My player, a versatile midfielder, has started bulking out his stats in a few important areas—notably dribbling skills and raw pace. But no matter how well I played (and I played really well sometimes), I was always at the mercy of my AI-controlled team-mates, particularly when I wasn’t on the pitch for any reason. We got all the way to the mid-season negotiation period without a single league victory.

In Master League, when the CPU invokes its magic mode, or momentum, or whatever they want to call it (to me it’s SCRIPTING, and always will be), you often feel powerless to prevent it having its wicked way with you. But in truth there’s a lot you can do to stem the tide (otherwise the game would be unplayable). You can figuratively put your foot on the ball and pass it around for a while. You can commit dirty fouls, and just take any yellow or red cards that follow. The point is that you can disrupt and stop the CPU—when you control all 11 players.

In BaL, there’s nothing you can do at all. If the focus of play is on the other side of the pitch, you just have to watch. You can’t teleport yourself over there to sort things out. You can try sprinting to every corner of the pitch, yes, but by the time you get there the ball has usually gone somewhere else; by the time you get to somewhere else, the ball has gone somewhere else again; and so on.

I was only going to move if the right offer came in from the right club. The move had to be up—not sideways, or down.

First week there was just 1 club after my virtual signature. That was Blackburn. For some reason they’ve been after me at every opportunity from the start of the entire game. I wasn’t interested.

I held on until the next week, when 3 clubs came in for me. They were Manchester City, Aston Villa, and Tottenham. I wasn’t interested in going to either Man City or Villa (two of my former clubs).

I looked at Tottenham’s information screen. They were offering to play me as an AMF/CMF. They were 5th in the table, and still in Europe this season. Not really a big club, but definitely a bigger club than Portsmouth. It wasn’t a hard decision. I accepted the offer. I am now a Tottenham player.

First on the agenda was a change of hair colour to match my new club’s. I first did this at Portsmouth after idly messing with the menus one night. But it also enables me to be picked out more easily in replays, of which I hope there’ll be plenty over the seasons to come.

bal-tottenham-hair-colour

At Portsmouth I’d been a regular starter in the first team. Here at Tottenham, I’ve got to start all over again in the Reserves and fight my way back into contention. That was expected. And in fact, I’m looking forward to it.

tottenham-reserves-formation

I only had time for 1 match and it was not a good game. I was played as an AMF in a 4-3-3, on the right side of the midfield. I tried too hard, hoping that a good enough performance might get me on the bench for Tottenham’s next full match.

By now, I know enough about BaL gameplay to know that I shouldn’t be running around like a lunatic, but running around like a lunatic is precisely what I did. I saw very little of the ball. You actually see more of the ball by playing your position, and only going on occasional ‘lunatic runs’. I’ll learn eventually.

My post-match rating was 6.0, which was actually a bit generous. I was still in the Reserves for the next match.

from The PES Chronicle

thepeschronicle-issue1

Portsmouth 2-2 Manchester City

by Rupert Hackworth

Talented youngster not-Greg Downs scored against his former club, but it wasn’t enough to earn Portsmouth their first win of the season. The south coast strugglers have now gone twelve league matches without a win and find themselves near the foot of the table. After throwing away a 2-0 lead in this match, Pompey fans—and some of the players—are asking some serious questions.

The game’s highlight was undoubtedly the fine goal from not-Greg Downs, whose oddly hyphenated forename has perplexed the football world ever since he burst onto the scene as a raw 17-year-old. To date he has provided no explanation for it, saying only that his parents were hippies.

With his team already 1-0 up and playing the brand of strong, attacking football that they’re vaguely known for, not-Greg received the ball in an advanced midfield position. He jinked past two covering defenders, sprinted into space, and took the shot.

He was booked for his exuberant celebration, which ticked every box going: his shirt came off, he kicked the advertising boards, he cupped his hands behind his ears, he yelled come on! come on! at nobody in particular, he snarled directly into a TV camera lens, and finally he patted his chest and pointed meaningfully up to the sky.

The goal put Pompey 2-0 up and should have been the capstone on a good all-round team performance. With less than 20 minutes remaining, Pompey’s elusive first win was there for the taking. When play restarted after five continuous minutes of not-Greg’s celebrations, there was every sign that the home team would go on to score more goals.

But the visitors had other plans. The danger signals were apparent almost immediately, as Manchester City laid siege to the Pompey goal. Bizarrely, most of the Pompey players were seemingly unable to run, or trap the ball, or pass the ball, or tackle, or do anything at all with the ball. City’s first goal was headed in from a corner with the Portsmouth defence strangely rooted to the spot. not-Greg Downs was substituted in the 75th minute, having run himself into the ground. It still seemed certain that his goal would prove to be the winner.

In the final seconds of normal time, another Manchester City corner was only half-cleared to Robinho, lurking on the edge of the box. His shot was deflected into the net. At the final whistle not-Greg Downs remained sitting alone on the bench while the stadium emptied. He looked like a player with a lot on his mind.

In ebullient mood at the post-match press conference, not-Greg credited his goal to his current training regime.

“I’ve been working hard on my speed and balance over the past few weeks,” he said, “and I think it’s starting to show through in my play. My overall Speed rating is now 79. Acceleration is 84, one of the best in the whole team,” he added, but declined to elaborate.

Club insiders are unconcerned about such eccentricities. One senior coach, speaking to this reporter on condition of anonymity, defended the player.

“not-Greg is very much an individual,” said the coach. “He’s his own man. He does what he wants out there on the pitch, and the same goes for the way he thinks about the game. If he wants to think of himself as having these ‘attributes’ that he keeps talking about, that’s his business.”

Pompey’s late collapse fed growing rumours that not-Greg would seek a new club at the end of this season. The 19-year-old may feel he has to spread his wings if he is to achieve honours in the game.

A source close to the player said: “If it was just the odd game where Pompey couldn’t hold onto a lead, that’d be fine. You could work on that. But this is happening in every game at the moment. One man can only do so much. not-Greg needs better players around him to take him where he wants to go. If things don’t change, he’ll be moving on at the end of this season.”

If true, this would be in stark contrast to the player’s stated ambition to help Portsmouth win honours. Indeed, he once vowed that he would ‘make his BaL name’ at Portsmouth. “It’s a shame it’s come to this,” the source went on. “The Man City game was a sickener for everybody.”

Many Pompey fans feel that it is still too soon for the teenager.

“The lad’s getting too big for his boots,” said one fan outside the ground after the final whistle. “What’s he ever done for us, really? A couple of goals and an assist in nearly a season and a half? Thanks a lot. And now he thinks he can go off and win trophies with another club? Would he even get in the team at another club? Don’t make me larf…”

Certainly the precarious situation between not-Greg Downs and Portsmouth is worth keeping a close eye on in the weeks ahead. There is even a suggestion that if a bigger club makes a good offer in the imminent mid-season break, the player could be tempted.

Mischievous Puck

Become a Legend and Master League mode are more alike than they are different. The ‘worlds’ in which they take place are virtually identical. Really the only big differences are that in BaL you play as a single player in a team, and there’s no relegation if your team finishes in the bottom 3 of the League.

One of the things that I find the same is that I can still play a Cup match without realising it. That must have happened to me dozens of times in Master League over the years. Now it’s happened to me in BaL for the first time.

I’d won a D1 Cup first leg match against Stoke. It was a tidy 1-0 victory (at home) with a pretty tidy performance from yours truly. Then I clean forgot about the imminent 2nd leg. A few matches later, I saw my next opponents were Stoke and prepared myself for a league match.

After a sequence of draws in the league I was anxious for Portsmouth to pick up our first win. Stoke went 1-0 up early on, then we somehow got it back to 1-1 just before half-time. I really wanted that win—a league win, as I thought it would be. I played completely differently from how I would have played if I’d realised this was the 2nd leg of a Cup tie (and where our away goal had effectively sealed the result). I played like a third striker—something you can easily do from a midfield berth, but you really have to make it count. You have to do something—score a goal or at least get a direct assist—for it to be counted as a good performance by the wizard-behind-the-curtain who’s in charge of your fortunes.

I never got a goal, or even had a shot or anything, and was actually subbed around the traditional 65th-70th minute mark. The match ended 1-1. Initially I was crestfallen, but then saw that it had been a Cup game all along. 1-1 was an excellent result. Doh.

Back in the league, we met Manchester United in a very atmospheric and gorgeously-lit night match. This is something I haven’t spent much time speaking about: how beautiful the field of play looks from the Vertical Wide camera angle, particularly in night matches.

There was a very suspicious opening to the Man Utd game. It was their kick-off, and I found myself almost immediately 1-0 down without anybody on our team touching the ball. There were several instances when we should have got the ball, but instead it would strangely bobble, bounce, and ricochet in the CPU team’s favour. Things did not revert to normal until the ball was in the back of our net. This happens a little too often in PES after a CPU team’s kick-off. Yes, it’s back to scripting paranoia with me. Nice to see that more traditions are carrying over from Master League.

I played like a total noob in my final match of the session. I ran around the pitch aimlessly looking for the ball, and doing nothing good with it when I did get it. I fully deserved my post-match rating of 5.5. It should have been worse. I wasn’t surprised to see myself out of the First XI for the next match. I deserved to be on the bench.

——————-

nhl09-ontherinkIn other news, I have now played a good few games on NHL09. It’s still too early to say, but I still think it’s ‘only’ a good game rather than the amazing sports game experience I was expecting it to be.

I think this is mainly due to me not really knowing much about ice hockey. I’ve played computer games based on this sport far more than I’ve ever watched the real thing. And NHL09 is like none of the other computer game versions I’ve played.

Even on the lowest difficulty setting I don’t really know what to do. The AI is capable of slicing me up no matter what. There are various sliders to play around with to make it even easier, but I don’t want to touch them yet. It is still early days. And I can see occasional flashes of brilliance, flashes that might actually be the norm if I could just knuckle down and learn the controls. It feels foreign having to manually control player switching, but I’m slowly learning to do it. I appreciate that auto-switching would have been a nightmare with so few players on a relatively small virtual playing area, so manual switching is the only way to go.

I have scored one notable goal, which I saved for posterity. It was only notable for being an ‘in off the keeper’s shoulder’ goal, really. (I keep trying and failing to score the NHL09 equivalent of 35-yard screamers. I always could in NHL96!) In the replay, I’m the team with the white shirts jerseys, attacking towards the camera:

At the start of the clip, you can’t really tell where the puck is. This is actually one of the problems I have with ice hockey as a sport. Where the puck is it?! You can follow its progress by watching the players’ reactions, yes, but I’d rather be able to easily see the puck at all times. In NHL09 you can enable a graphical puck trail, but it only helps a little. There are still several occasions per game—in real life and in NHL09—where I lose track of the puck and have to surmise where it is by the players’ positions. Is it just me who has this difficulty with ice hockey?

Haters of FIFA’s online uploads may be cheered to learn that the speed of NHL’s uploads makes FIFA’s seem like momentary pauses. Seriously, the time they take… Sheesh. However, one thing that will make FIFA players gnash their teeth is that NHL players can save their replays locally to their hard drives if they wish. This makes me angry. Angry. I’ve yet to hear any reason at all—good or bad, believable or unbelievable—why FIFA replays can’t also be saved locally.

After waiting all this time for NHL09 I am going to give it a great chance. I think this one’s a grower. I’ll report back on how I get on in a week or two’s time. If things take off, there could even be a Dynasty Mode story (or even an NHL BaP Mode story). With PES2009’s BaL mode firmly in residence, I doubt that NHL or any other game could displace it in the near future, but it’s a long time to October. Never say never.

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