Month: June 2009

Optimism so fragile it could evaporate like the morning dew on a hot summer’s day

A short post today. These could be common over the next few weeks. I have been playing the football games, but not a great deal. I’m enjoying the summer.

Over the past 72 hours I have played FIFA09, and once again—I have to say—really enjoyed it. I’ve played PES2008(PSP) and had a traditional few moments of fury about the scripting in one particular match. I’ve played Football Manager 2009, and wondered if I’m shallow for loving the 3D match so much. I’ve played some Final Fantasy VII and seen things—great things—that I’d completely forgotten about. I’ve played assorted iPod Touch games, including a very playable football game (more to come on that, I think). I’ve played some Magic: The Gathering on XBLA—oh yes, I get around. I’ve even played Kitchen Sink: Vengeance on the DS. That one isn’t true.

It’s a bit embarrassing to have a nominally PES-oriented blog when I’ve hardly played the game after Christmas in both of the next-generation years. Become A Legend in PES2009 threatened to revive matters somewhat, but that proved to be a bit of a false dawn. As I’ve remarked before, the past few years’ summertime PES drought just isn’t like me. From 1998 to 2007 I played ISS/PES pretty much every day, all year round. I’m hoping for PES2010 to bring back the game’s longevity.

Speaking of PES2010… Is it me or is there quite a bit of cautious optimism doing the rounds? Various murmurs over the weekend were positive-sounding. Yes, we’ve seen and heard it all before. But the point is that everybody knows we’ve seen and heard it all before, so it’s more likely that this year’s positive-sounding noises will be backed up by something solid. If that makes sense.

Playing FIFA09 the other day, I was thinking about the first time I played next-gen FIFA. That was in 2007, and it was the demo for FIFA08. My very first thought was, wow, this feels a bit like Pro Evo, but PES2008 will blow FIFA08 out of the water… Famous last words that must rank up there with they couldn’t hit an elephant from that dist-

Good games borrow; great games steal. Next-gen FIFA stole lots of good stuff from PES, and next-gen FIFA is a great game. A great game with flaws, but still a great game.

It’s time for PES to brazenly steal back its thunder. I want PES2010 to be as initially startling to me as FIFA08 was. I want to see forums filling up with people complaining about how slow it is. I want to see people calling for the fast arcade action of 2008 and 2009 to come back. I want to see people jeering PES for stealing FIFA’s best ideas. I want to see these things because it would mean that I’ve finally got the PES I wanted back in 2007.

I’m reading a lot into a few stray lines on WENB’s forum and a twitter by somebody at PSM3. But the idea of PES2010 reminding me of FIFA08 yet being Pro Evolution Soccer is just too irresistible for me to resist.

We don’t need another Pirlo

I had a long session with the PSP version of PES2008 the other night. What can I say? It was a hot old night, and I didn’t fancy putting my 360 through its paces. The PS3 is a lot happier in the heat, of course, but I can’t face the thought of PES2009 right now. It was nice to just relax with the PSP in my hands, playing a genuinely great game of Pro Evolution Soccer. By the by, I can’t keep saying ‘the PSP version of PES2008’. I’ll be referring to it as PES2008(PSP) from now on.

The year is now 2022 in my Master League career on PES2008(PSP). I have a large squad of 30 players. It’s a squad of uber-galacticos. It’s the most star-studded squad I think I’ve ever had in PES. I’ve got Kaka, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Maldini, Giggs, Lampard, Vieri, Prieto, Bradley, Pirlo, Schwarz, Camacho, Rio Ferdinand, Cech, Buffon, Saviola, Del Piero, Roberto Carlos… These are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

I have over 450,000 points in the bank (so I can confirm that you can have more than 99,999 points, oh yes), but no desire to spend any of them. Not with this squad. I was top of the league with four matches left in the 2022 season, and in the final of the Masters Cup.

Valencia were always my strongest challengers in the PES2008(PSP) Master League. They lay in 2nd place, and were my next opponents. Now bear in mind that it’d been about a month since my last game on PES2008(PSP), and I’ve spent most of that month on FIFA09. I thought it was bound to be a bit strange. And it was, at first. I adjusted, and won the match 3-1. And that, I assumed, was that: the title in the bag.

My next match was the final of the Masters Cup against Real Betis. A Regen version of Michael Owen was their lone striker. I won the match easily, 3-0. And then Real Betis were my next opponents in the league. This should have started alarm bells ringing immediately. I lost it 0-1.

My penultimate League opponents were Barcelona, who I’d always found easy prey in PES2008(PSP). Not so now—or was the game up to shenanigans? I had 16 shots on goal and hit the right post, the left post, and the bar, but couldn’t score. Nor could Barca—it ended 0-0. I checked the table heading into my final match against Atletico Madrid and was shocked to find myself in 2nd place with Barcelona top by 2 points. I won the match against Atletico 3-2 (having been down to 10 men), but Barca won their match as well, and took the title.

I wasn’t too downcast. We all know what old-school PES is like. Putting up with bizarre and suspicious turns of events is part of the price of admission. It was an exciting end to the season, and a great way to run my PSP battery all the way down over the space of an hour or so on a hot summer night.

All I can say is, comparing last-gen PES with this-gen PES, where did it all go wrong? And it definitely did go wrong. PES2009 on PS3/360/PC is a decent game, but decent isn’t good enough for PES. If a PES game isn’t great, it’s a failure as a PES game. Good simply isn’t good enough.

What happened to the magic formula? I think they dumbed it down. I think they tried to give PES a bit more of a mass-market appeal. They tried to pinch some of old FIFA’s territory, and things spectacularly backfired. The strategy blew up in their faces—and, sadly, in ours.

Today’s playtest of PES2010 by WENB, PESfan, and selected others is welcome news. It’s unfortunate that the playtest will be wrapped in the swaddling clothes of Non-Disclosure Agreements. We might as well not know that it’s even happening.

Possibly some hints will leak out, though. If PES2010 is a great game, if it’s the major step up that we were all anticipating two years ago, then I don’t think some of the participants will be able to contain their excitement. On the other hand, if PES2010 is, like PES2009, just a good game—just PES2009 with better graphics and a few extra animations—their reactions will be more muted, more controlled, more in the “it was an early build” kind of territory. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out over the weekend.

Of course, they might say nothing at all. Konami will be watching to make sure the NDAs are respected. That’s fair enough. So it may be a few weeks before we know for certain.

For me, PES2010 is the burning question of the summer and of the entire gaming year so far. It’s the franchise’s last chance. It’s now or never. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would give me greater pleasure this year than hearing PES2010 really is a step-change for PES in this generation.

That’s the dream, anyway. And it could happen. Will it happen?

Bring me the head of Alfredo Smith

Still with FIFA09. Things have cooled off slightly since the love-fest of a few days ago. I keep trying to replicate those volleys, particularly the Pavlyuchenko one. But the game won’t cooperate with me. It stubbornly makes my players tamely head the ball, or weakly kick it into the keeper’s gloves.

It’s my timing that’s off. Now that I know the power volleys from distance are possible, I’m trying more of them—which gives me more opportunities to mess up the timing. Which has to be absolutely dead-on. Otherwise, no volley. I’m still working on it.

I did score a good ‘normal’ goal from distance. I scored it with my talented midfielder, name of Locke. I found him in a search and snapped him up. Despite the name, he’s Brazilian. It’s very common, of course, for people to have surnames from outside of their culture groups. But whenever I do a Player Search in my Manager Mode’s game world, there are a disproportionate amount of South American players called Alfonso Jones and Diego Robinson and the like. I’ve never come across anything like it in a football game before. Have  I triggered a glitch somewhere in FIFA09, or is this an intended feature?

The goal was a comparatively rare distance shot. This was scored using semi-assisted shooting and no modifiers (no finesse, etc.)—it’s a full-on laces shot:

Link: J Locke - goal against Atletico

This goal came against one of my former Manager Mode clubs, Atletico Madrid. It was odd lining up against them. The match was the first leg of the semi-final of the EFA Cup. The goal above gave me the lead, but I went on to ship two late goals. The second leg ended 0-0, and I was out.

The season is over now. It ended with a surprising flourish of career-mode realism. Pavyluchenko, the best striker I’ve played with in FIFA09, picked up an injury in the last few weeks of the season that peculiarly kept him out of action for all four matches of my run-in. I say peculiarly because it’s one of Manager Mode’s ‘highlights’ that your players  almost never get injured. And when they do, the most that happens is they miss one match. Not four matches, as in this case. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad.

I was happy, then sad. Without Pavlyuchenko up front I lost all four of my last four matches, which included the second leg of the EFA semi-finals. Blackburn thumped me in the League 6-0.

Six-nil. I really took my eye off the ball in that match. That’s what can happen to me on World Class difficulty when I lose focus. Despite the losses, I finished 4th in the Premier League table and qualified for the ECC (i.e. the Champions League).

fifa09-endofseason

This time last week my plan was to finish the current season and then abandon Manager Mode—and possibly FIFA09—for the rest of the football game year. But now I’ve decided to carry on. While I’m enjoying FIFA09 again, and not seeing Manager Mode’s many faults so clearly, I might as well carry on. There’s a long summer to go before we even get a sniff of FIFA10.

And I’m keeping a beady eye on PES2010. But I’m not expecting much. It’s for the best. If I accept now that PES is gone, life (and blogging) will be a lot simpler. As ever, though, there’s just too much wonderful history between me and PES. I refuse to abandon all hope. At this crucial stage of the franchise’s history, a great PES2010 would be akin to the Second Coming of Christ.

Hooray for Volleywood

Over the years there’s a kind of goal I’ve valued more than any other. Volleys. I love me some sweet, sweet volleys. It’s a predilection that’s carried over from real-world football into the virtual football world. One of the reasons I still view PES5 as the best football game ever made is for the variety and richness of its volleys. My first PES5 movie showcases many.

PES is still the game to play for those exquisite first-time rockets. You know the feeling. The ball is falling through the air towards your player. You squeeze the shoot button just so… All being well, it’s almost a sensual pleasure to watch the subsequent volley fly into the back of the net.

Volleys aren’t something that FIFA09 does very well. Actually, that’s not accurate. What I should say is that volleys in FIFA09 aren’t something that I do very well. It has to be admitted that in many areas (too many areas) PES is still my paradigm, my yardstick, my instinctive measure of what’s right and normal and ‘proper’. This is wearing off as the years pass and the balance of power between the two games continues to shift. But at the moment, PES volleys are still the way I want to volley. And FIFA09 won’t let me.

I do get it right sometimes. Before we get into looking at the replays, I would like to reiterate that I’m still using almost all semi-assisted/manual controls in FIFA09. Through-balls are the only control still on the default fully assisted setting. Both of the volleys below were scored using semi-assisted shooting. And I’m playing on World Class difficulty.

First up was with Bojan against Manchester United:

Link: Bojan Volley Okay, not exactly a show-stopper. Bojan was right on top of the goal. But it was a start. Consider it an aperitif for the next volley.

The player supplying the cross is my created player, who’s got alarmingly good very quickly. This goal kick-started what turned out to be probably my most satisfying single session on FIFA09 since October last year. Somehow, everything just worked. I didn’t win every match out of the 6-or-so that I played. I lost one, drew one, and won the others. But they were all enoyable matches. Especially some of the goals…

Here’s Pavlyuchenko doing the business against Newcastle. Again, ‘I’ am the player supplying the dainty aerial through-ball that sets up the showbiz volley (and no, this time I didn’t have the patience to upload to EA Sportsworld, hence the digital camera coming into play):

Link: Pavlyuchenko Volley

I can’t begin to say how happy I was with this goal. It was a morale-booster for me in the context of FIFA09. It’s rare enough for me to get a goal from outside the box. Getting a volley, and one that looked so good to boot… I was delighted.

Volleys in FIFA09 are all about timing. One of the most astonishing things that new-style FIFA has done is to show us retrospectively just how arcadey PES is and always has been. You can get away with murder in PES, particularly in the old-school ones, and particularly in my beloved PES5. In truth, you hardly had to bother timing volleys at all. The game would sort it all out for you. Animations could be interrupted in order to execute volleys at any time—resulting in those (in)famous PES ‘shin volleys’.

In FIFA09, timing is absolutely critical. Shoot too early or too late, and you will not be forgiven. The game won’t help you.

The lesson I take from this session is that there is still much for me to discover and enjoy in FIFA09. As I type these words late on Sunday night I am itching to get back on FIFA09. It’s worth noting that this is the first time I have felt like this for many months. Will it last?

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