Month: July 2009

PES2009(PSP): off and on the shelf

The home of PES gameplay for the past few years has really been the PlayStation Portable and the PlayStation 2. Sad but true.

I’ve given some attention to the PSP version of PES2009. I’ve played my usual slew of warm-up Exhibition matches, and a couple of International Tournaments, on various difficulty settings.

The graphics are certainly improved from PES2008(PSP). They look smoother, less grainy. The pitches look lovely.

The game’s speed is roughly the same as PES2008(PSP). Possibly a little slower on occasions, but overall no different. Shame. I was hoping for a slower match.

It’s not just me who thinks fast-paced football, 100 mph all the time, is a bit 1990s, is it? Am I being too harsh in suspecting that the trend of the past few years to make football games play at dizzying speeds from one end of the pitch to the other (FIFA08 and UEFA2008 honourably excepted), is a concession to that bogeyman of modern sports gaming, the hypothetical ADD-afflicted 13-year-old?

My traditional first fixture: England vs Scotland, ten minutes, Regular difficulty. Say what you like about PES in recent years (and Lord knows I’ve done that), I still experience a frisson of glee at starting up a new PES for the first time. I won 2-1, with a scrappy couple goals, nothing special. The shooting seemed featherlight. Shots that would have rocketed goalward in PES2008(PSP) instead went at 45 degrees into the virtual stands.

Up to Professional level for my traditional next game against Germany. This is where I ran into a wall. I was still on Professional after a few hours: playing on Professional, and struggling. I was lucky to get 40% possession in most matches. The CPU has an uncanny ability to keep the ball. I can appreciate that saying this is a little like saying ‘water is wet’.

In the family tree of PES games, I think PES2009(PSP—and presumably the PS2 version as well) slots in somewhere between PES5 and PES6. In gameplay terms, I mean—what it plays like, how it handles. Maybe its got PES4’s nose, PES3’s chin, and PES2’s quick temper as well.

One massive drawback for the PSP version, as ever, are the loading times. It can take a couple of minutes to get from one match to the next. Staring at my own grim visage in a darkened screen while the UMD whirs away is not something I should be doing to this extent, I feel. It’s pretty poor in-game as well, with cut-scenes and substitutions entailing frequent, infuriating pauses in the action. Waiting 10 seconds just to see a linesman raise his flag? 20 seconds to bring on two substitutes? Not good enough.

My PSP is one of the old ‘phat’ ones (bought on PSP launch day 4 years ago), but I can’t imagine the loading times being much better on the newer slim models. It’s almost enough to make me want to get a UMD-less PSP Go when they come out—but at that price? No. I love my games and my games consoles, but there is a limit, even for me.

Overall, PES2009(PSP) is a good game, probably just as good as PES2008(PSP), but I’m already split between too many games as it is. No matter how great this new handheld PES experience might be, I’ve got no room to accommodate it in my gaming life right now.

It’s so tempting to start up a Master League career to tide me over the next few difficult months to PES2010 and FIFA10. But several factors are against that right now.

The number 1 reason is that my PSP is occupied for the foreseeable future. Another game lives inside it, and won’t be coming out much—if at all. For I have other grand gaming passions beside PES, and one of them is called Monster Hunter. This franchise, although big in Japan, is hardly known at all in the West. I’m one of its adherents. The latest MH game—Monster Hunter Freedom Unite—just came out last month, and it has more or less lived in my PSP ever since. I racked up 90 hours on the previous MH game and even so I barely scratched its surface (500-1000 hours’ playtime isn’t unusual in the MH community). So I’m going to be busy with the new one.

Another reason why I won’t be burrowing into PES2009(PSP) just yet is that I also have a perfectly fine ML career going on PES2008(PSP), thank you very much. I’d more or less ‘completed’ this career in year 2021, but after picking it up again a month or two ago, I found that I could barely string two passes toegther. The game is very much back on. I’ll be going back to that when I go back to PES on the PSP (Monster Hunter permitting).

And I also have FIFA09 to be getting on with on the big console. Yes, it has its ups and downs (more downs than ups at the moment), but I’m still getting things out of it that I never thought I would. Some great, satisfying goals for one thing. Friday’s post will feature some more of them.

Water, water, everywhere

I confess that I’m getting weary of the post-PES2010 playtest scene. Reading other people’s descriptions of what water tastes like is fine. But there comes a point when you have to accept that only by drinking the water for yourself will you be able to know whether it is hot or cold.

In the meantime, there’s the almost macabre entertainment of the various PES websites and forums. The discussions in all the usual places have gone around in the same circles several times. The last time I looked, several vicious civil wars on the major forums had died down. (For now.)

The next big milestone, of course, will be the first gameplay videos and the next batch of reports from the press previews. I predict difficult times ahead when the first lengthy PES2010 videos emerge. Any superficial resemblance to PES2009 will cause a lot of panic and aggravation. All of the previewers commented on PES2010’s initial resemblance to PES2009. So there’s going to be a lot of panic and aggravation. QED.

I’m braced for PES2010 to look like PES2009 at first glance, and I will try not to panic about it... But I definitely will panic if the game speed isn’t obviously a lot slower than PES2009’s. I hope we’ll be able to see, unmistakeably, the new slowed-down pace, plus the effects of the new animations and tactics system.

A month until Gamescon. Or is it Gamescom? With an ‘m’? People can’t seem to make up their minds which one it is. Whichever one it is, it’s a month away. It’s going to be a long month. And the probable minimum of two-and-a-half months until the demo is going to be an eternity.

——————-

My purple patch with FIFA09 might be drawing to a close. I’ve started a new Manager Mode as Atletico Madrid. But try as I might, I can’t recreate the magic of the last few weeks. The loss of my old Manager Mode save file was disastrous for me and FIFA09, I think.

A tedious 0-0 against Real Madrid was drawing to a close when something finally happened. I’m used to seeing this kind of thing in PES down the years. I really dislike seeing it in FIFA. The game shouldn’t be intervening to make miraculous things happen for the COM team. I think it’s safe to say that merging bodies with a defender in order to get your head to the ball is pretty miraculous:

Link: The Miracle of Madrid - FIFA09

My search for a permanent home in the next-generation continues. As soon as I settle on anything, it starts to seem a bit rubbish. Or I lose the gamesave. The crazy thing is, the prize—the Crown—is still there for PES to grab, even after everything that’s happened (or not happened) over the past few years.

Do you really think we’ll pull through?

The PES2010 previews were good news, in my view. On my first read-throughs of all the articles I only skimmed the lengthy parts about tactics and sliders and cards and whatnot. The gameplay is what it’s all about. But after I caught up on the extra information…

Suffice to say that the small, mad hope I’ve been nursing for the past few months is now threatening to grow out of control. I’m keeping a lid on it, because I have real concerns about setting myself up for another crushing disappointment.

It’s all about the core gameplay. If that’s wrong for any reason, nothing else matters. For me, this means that PES2010 must be a SLOW game relative to its predecessors. It absolutely must be. This is non-negotiable.

I was very happy with what I heard about the gameplay. I was particularly happy to hear the in-depth discussion of the slower gameplay in the WENB podcast. PES Gaming’s preview article was the most interesting of the lot. PESfan’s was the most generic. Taken as one giant preview, podcast included, it’s been an encouraging week.

The only thing I’m worried about is complacency. The appearance on Tuesday of a certain video, shot over the shoulder of a Konami employee who was showing off some of the new tactics features, is playing on my mind:

The gameplay shown there is worryingly fast. That’s almost a PES2008 level of pace.

There’s been a surprisingly relaxed reaction to this footage across the PESverse. Within minutes it had been decided that this was some kind of fast-forwarded special kind of debugging/coding thing that was going on, instead of actual footage of the actual game speed we’re going to get in the final game. People with knowledge of the programming/gaming industry claimed to recognise the type of display.

I bow to their greater knowledge, and fervently hope they are correct. Because if PES2010 pops out of hiding with anything even close to the speed in that montage, it’s all over for me. Kaput. Instant franchise-death.

After the previews came out, it was noted that all the previewers had ‘confirmed’ that the gameplay speed was slow. So that was that. Everything was fine. Nothing to see here. Konami couldn’t possibly decide to speed up the gameplay in a later build for soulless mass-marketing reasons, could they? Because when have Konami ever let us down…?

I hope that I’m worrying over nothing. I think that I am worrying over nothing. Even if Konami do decide to speed up the game between its 55% complete stage and next month’s almost-100% stage, it’ll probably be a negligible tweak.

————–

After losing my FIFA09 gamesave I went a bit crazy. I dug out my PS3 copy to see if I had an old save I could resume there. I didn’t have one. I hadn’t played the PS3 version of FIFA09 since November last year. After all this time playing the 360 version, the PS3 one looks and plays a lot worse.

I played a game online (yes, I was going really crazy). I randomly met an opponent who picked Manchester United. I picked Manchester City.

His entire game revolved around feeding the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo and running and running and running. I scored first, and gave up a tame equaliser in the second half. Extra time came, and Ronaldo was clean through with a minute to go. In a thoroughly bad mood with everything, I took diabolical pleasure in brutally hacking him down from behind. I got a red card, and the game went to penalties. I won. My opponent quit the moment my winning penalty went in.

After calming down, I started a new Manager Mode career back on the 360. I played a few matches as Coventry City from the start, but abandoned the attempt. It’s not good going back to a Default-like squad after getting used to playing at an advanced difficulty level with much better players.

I’ve restarted Manager Mode again, playing as Atletico Madrid using all the same settings (World Class, mix of manual and semi-manual controls, etc.). It’s bloody hard. I’m finding it harder than I did with my Coventry City squad just before the end. In the first transfer window I felt I had to buy my star striker from the old save, Pavlyuchenko. As could only be expected, it’s taking time for him to become the player he was. I’m persevering. It’s very odd seeing him in the Atletico strip. I suppose I’ll get used to it.

pavlyuchenko-at-atletico

And, yes, I’m keeping backup saves.

Gamesave in a coma

Today’s a big day for PES2010-related news, with the expiry of playtest NDAs across various high-profile PES websites. I’ll probably get around to commenting about it all in Friday’s post. The idea behind PES Chronicles is a simple one: a personal blog about my experiences of playing football games from day to day. It’s not a news aggregator website.

And so the biggest football game issue for me right now is the loss of my Manager Mode savegame in FIFA09. I’m still just as intrigued about PES2010 as the next PES fan, but after losing dozens of hours of hard FIFA09 play to a random glitch, or data loss, or whatever it was—I’m somewhat distracted, let’s say.

Apparently, FIFA09 doesn’t want to be loved. Not by me anyway. Things were good between me and FIFA09—probably the best they’ve ever been. Certainly I’ve not been this happy with FIFA09 since my regrettable, gushing reception of the game back in October last year.

But now something has gone wrong with my Manager Mode save file. It just crashes. It seems to be non-recoverable. It’s a bummer.

I’d had my ups and downs with FIFA09. It’s a game with too many issues. Every PES-schooled football gamer will know the kind of issues I mean.

But over the past few weeks things were beautiful, brilliant, the best ever. And, what was most surprising, I was really getting into my Manager Mode career.

I never thought it would happen between me and Manager Mode, but it did happen. The key, I found, is to forget all about it being a supposed career mode, and just play it as a long-term league competition mode where you can bring in new players if you want them. I loved my team, and my players, particularly Pavlyuchenko—a big, strong striker in the Schwarz mould, but who could accelerate like a Porsche. It was all perfect. I’d played every morning for the past three weeks. “Ain’t nothin‘ gonna stop us…”

And now the save game won’t work any more. It just freezes as soon as I try to play the next match. Liverpool vs. Coventry City. I can move around in all the game and pre-match menus the same as normal. As soon as I try to start the match, BOOM. Black screen. Full console lock-up. Game Over.

I’ve probably hard-rebooted my Xbox360 twenty or thirty times trying various things to get around the freeze. Nothing’s doing it. (So, yes, I’ve already tried turning it off and turning it back on again.)

Google reveals that this is a common problem in Manager Mode. There’s no known solution. Most people seem to have got it in their 3rd seasons. It happened to me in my 4th season (or my 5th—not sure now).

Nobody knows what the cause is, whether it’s corrupt data or what. I have tried resetting the squads. I have tried deleting the cache. I have also deleted the game from the 360 hard drive and reinstalled it. I’ve fiddled about randomly with the menus, trying to fool the match into loading. Nothing worked. I’ve also tried Simming the match—it still just freezes, immediately.

I was, and still am, genuinely distraught. A lot of time and effort went into that Manager Mode career. It was just getting great. The goals were flying in. Some were the kinds of goals I never thought I’d score regularly in FIFA09.

If this had happened just a month ago, truthfully, I wouldn’t have been so bothered. That it should happen now, when I feel that I’m just getting to know FIFA09 properly, is just too cruel.

A common refrain in the information I’ve found is that people have eventually just started new careers. But what guarantee is there that the problem, whatever it is, won’t recur? The consensus seems to be: make continuous, rolling, backup saves, every 5 games or so. That way the worst that can happen is you have to replay the last session. This assumes that the problem is corrupted save data, of course.

No more Pavlyuchenko. No more Bojan.No more ‘me’—the created player I used in BaP, and imported into my Manager Mode when I started it—who’d developed beautifully and was one of my team’s best players. Sure, I can always get Pavlyuchenko and Bojan again. I can import ‘me’ again. But it won’t be the same. That savegame was a unique record of tens of hours of playing time. It was shaping up to be something special.

But I’ve bit the bullet and restarted anyway. All the way back to the beginning. I’m not impressed. Not impressed at all.

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