Month: December 2009

I’m not Ridley Scott

Of course I went back to playing PES2010. Pro Evolution Soccer is the game of my entire gaming life so far. I’ll always go back to it (probably). Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll always go back to PES2010 in particular. I’m really coming to the view that it’s not the classically-good PES that I wanted it to be. But I have unfinished business with PES2010 that I cannot turn my back on.

I admit that I felt very discouraged after failing for 5 seasons to get promoted from Division 2 in my Master League career. But that’s all right, I told myself. It could happen to any man…

And so here I go again. On with season 6. We know the drill by now. Duck and weave to get out of debt before budget day rolls around. Then head into the new season with a skeleton squad of average players, and hope that this time, somehow, it’ll all be different.

I think—hope—it will be different this season. Mainly because I am finally bowing before the obvious. I’ve lowered the difficulty level from Top Player to Professional.

First, to deal with the debt. I was £15m in debt. In seasons past I’ve been saved in similar situations by timely ‘Golden Offers’ of incredible amounts of money for decidedly average players. It didn’t happen this time around. I’m back to looking for loose change down the back of the sofa.

I cleared the bulk of my debt by trimming the backroom staff budget from a whopping £17m to £5m, as shown in the before and after pictures:

staff-salaries-before-and-after-budget-cuts

That saved £12m. Just £3m to find now.

I also sold one of my top midfielders, Dissels. I got a cool £900k for him in the end. I sold a couple fo other squad-fillers for a few hundred thousand each. And I sold my pretty good striker, Trejo, after having him for only half a season, for £2m—a good price, and the nearest thing to a ‘Golden Offer’ in this transfer window.

season-6-full-squad

It all gave me some extra cash to play with, but there was no time to raid the transfer market. There were only two weeks of the window left. I picked up another three players from the Youth team (before I downgraded it). Among the three was a born-again MINANDA, a decentish striker called FAISIL KHELIE, and a useful SB/CB/SMF player called CAPUANO.

I’ve played 170+ matches in Division 2 and used a lot of players. Sometime soon, I’ve got to have a stable squad, surely?

My full squad is at least a manageable 21 players. There were only 18 players before the Youth players came in. And I’ve gone back to a 4-3-3 formation. To hell with 4-4-2 (for now).

The FIrst XI in the squad picture is my preferred First XI. Sadly, with the downgrading of the backroom staff, stamina and form considerations make it a very rare match in which I can play that First XI.

The first match of the season on Professional difficulty told me I should have done this a few seasons ago. Right now the game doesn’t feel noticeably easier in general play, apart from giving me an extra split-second or two to make a decision and pick a pass. I don’t seem to be creating more chances or scoring any more goals, but the AI does seem less dangerous.

I won the first match, drew the second, lost the third, drew the fourth, drew the fifth, drew the sixth… Draws seem to be the order of the day for me on Professional

In the first round of the Cup I played Panathinaikos (again) and thumped them 3-0 at my place. It was the only match out of these opening matches where the game felt easy, particularly after I went 2-0 up. I did a stupid thing, though, and simmed the return leg. What was I thinking? I was 3-0 up. I just wanted to crack on with the league and skip a meaningless match. Of course, the game simmed the return leg as a 4-0 win for Panathinaikos and I was out of the Cup. Well… I had to smile about it. I certainly won’t do that again.

In my last match of this bumper session I played a league game that I really, really wanted to win. I focused hard and I kept the ball for ludicrously long spells. I said a while ago that I would only post goals that were extraordinary or notable in some way. I present what is, on the face if it, an utterly ordinary PES2010 goal—complete with some terrible editing from me about halfway through. I was trying to show my player’s stylish back-heel (actually struck with the sole of his boot) but I positioned it all wrong in the clip, and haven’t had time to redo it. Still, you get the idea:

Link: PES2010, a much-needed goal

What the replay doesn’t show is the 30-pass move that led up to the goal. I’m on record as saying I don’t really place any great value on the ‘Argentina 2006 team goal’-style of goal. I think far too much is made of them. Give me a 30-yard piledriver, or even just a 15-yard one, any day. But in context, I admit they can be great goals, and so was this one to me.

The goal won me the game, as all the best goals do. But too many of the other matches have been draws. It’s with a crawling sense of deja vu that I sit in 8th spot—upper-mid-table—after  7 matches. Almost exactly where I was last season and the season before that. I’m still not scoring enough goals. This is even more of a concern now, with me playing on Professional. I’ve got to shake off this feeling of inadequacy and get myself focused before yet another season slips by. Or this thing could get truly farcical.

season-6-after-7

The Penalty Claus

It’s a Christmas crisis. Season 5 has ended: I finished 8th in Division 2. And so I will spend another season—season 6—in the lower tier of Master League. I’m not singing any more.

season-5-table-final

Look at that goals scored column. 24 in 34 matches. That’s terrible, easily the worst of any team in the top half.

I’m used to the routine by now. Finish the season, shake head in disbelief, examine self for signs of senility, examine the state of the club’s finances, and sigh… Every season so far I have effectively bet everything on promotion, and every season so far I have lost that bet.

end-season-5-finances

The finances for next season make grim reading. I’m £15,000,000 in debt.

The picture shows a debt of just under £13,000,000, but this is only because there are some outstanding transfer bids for my players that would bring me £2m-odd if accepted. In PES2010’s ML, Expected Earnings always provisionally counts those bids as accepted. Which is a stupid thing for it to do. It’s dangerous in the early seasons, when you don’t realise that’s what’s going on.

Currently I don’t plan to accept the bids. The bids are for Palmieri (my top-rated player, currently rated 82 OVR) and Dissels (my best wide midfielder, currently 73 OVR). I need to start hanging onto my better players, I think.

I’ll only sell them—or any other players—if I absolutely have to. I plan to claw back most of the debt by downgrading my backroom staff to level 2 or even level 1. They’re all on level 3—bar one, the head coach, who is level 4. So the downgrading is going to hurt a bit. But it has to be done. And what palpable good have the upgrades actually done me anyway?

Oh, and I’ll be dropping the gameplay difficulty down to Professional. I can take a hint. I should have done it three seasons ago, looking back. It was masochistic and petulant of me to continue playing on Top Player for as long as I have.

But that’s for the future. I finished my latest session just before the opening of season 6. That was on Wednesday morning, and as of right… now (Friday morning) I haven’t been able to stomach the thought of firing up PES2010. At all. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow, but right now I think it’ll be a few days—at least—before I get back in the PES2010 saddle. I’m a bit saddle-sore at the moment.

So what’s going on with me and PES2010? Why have I lost my PES mojo with this instalment in particular?

I’ve been thinking about it. Could I have spent too much time on FIFA09 during the summer? Well, no. I don’t think so. At the start of August I acquired the Xbox360 version of PES6—a very under-appreciated PES—and played that pretty much until the eve of FIFA10’s arrival. Granted, I did then play FIFA10 intensively for a few weeks before PES2010 came out, but in the same period I was also playing the PES2010 demo constantly, and also snatching a few sessions on PES6 and PES2009(PS3) here and there. Really I’ve done nothing this year that I didn’t also do last year or the year before.

I’m just in a bad temper with PES2010 at the moment. Since day 1 I’ve passed through the various phases of delight and now I’ve arrived at the beginnings of disgust. These past few sessions have been chores rather than pleasures, and that’s a bad sign. Everything seems to be getting on my nerves.

For example, the game’s well-documented lack of penalty kicks has really started to grate on me. Heading for defeat in one of my latter games, I decided to hack down a CPU player when he was clean through before he could score another goal. I cynically chopped him down. I’d happily take the red card and have a go at saving the penalty, I thought—it’d give me something to do… So I did hack the CPU player down:

Link: PES2010 no penalties

That’s what’s known as a ‘stonewall penalty’, right? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? As elementary as 1, 2, 3. Textbook foul, textbook penalty. In a real-life game there wouldn’t even be any protests from players or crowd, or no serious protests anyway. It’s a bloody penalty, and that’s that.

But the CPU team did NOT get a penalty. The game continued with a goal kick to me. If I’d been on the receiving end of that I’d have been fuming. The core gameplay is flawed in several quite serious ways that I’ve managed to ignore until now. Now, everything is like nails down a blackboard.

I never thought I’d get to Christmas week and  still be in Division 2. I think it might be time for a short break from PES2010. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. I’ll see how I feel. Monday’s post will either be about my preparations for season 6 and its first few matches, or it’ll be about what I got up to on FIFA10 or PES6(360) or Sensible Soccer, or whatever. I don’t know yet.

Seven knows I’m miserable now

And it was all going so well.

After 5 struggling seasons in Divison 2 in my Master League career, I’d attained some degree of form. I was holding steady in 3rd place at the mid-season point. Come the transfer window I brought in a coupe of new players. Not as many as I would have liked, and not as good as I would have liked. I brought in TAFER (71 OVR), TREJO (72 OVR), and OJAROIZ (56 OVR). The first two were picked up from the free agents list. They’re both pretty decent, but that’s all. Tafer is a dedicated CF and Trejo is one of those useful CMF/SMF/AMF/SS/CF hybrids who are so common in PES2010. (Or am I just noticing them more, because of the new positional system?)

The pick of the three, though, for now at least, is Ojaroiz. He’s a young player straight from the Youth team. He’s a dedicated right-sided SB. Now I can move Duffy back to his rightful place as DMF, and pretty much dispense with Griersen altogether. Ojaroiz started out as a 56-rated player but within 5 matches he shot up to 59 OVR. His form arrow is nearly always either red or orange; I think it’s been green once. I’ve never seen it blue or purple. And he has fantastic stamina. He’s a clone of Duffy in that respect, a very important respect.

With my new players added to my rather threadbare squad, I forged ahead. Ojaroiz was a revelation—but that was the one bright spot. Has anyone else ever had a run of form like this:

terrible-run-season-5

All of those league draws were 0-0 scorelines. I didn’t score any kind of goal for an entire session of play. It was massively frustrating.

And the worst of them all was embedded in that run, in the shape of the first leg of the Cup semi-final at the start of March. I played Tottenham Hotspur—you know, ‘Spurs’—at their ground.

Now, in all my years playing PES, I’ve taken a few beatings from the CPU teams. You don’t get to be an average player, as I certainly am, without suffering. In the two years I’ve been doing this blog, an 8-1 drubbing on PES2008(PS2/PSP) back in March 2008 sticks out in my mind. That was bad.

But this? This was the worst ever.

seven-nil

I lost 7-0. They got seven. I got nil. The score was seven-nil.

I was shellshocked. Not just by the scoreline, but by the whole pattern of play throughout the match. I should mention here that I’m still playing 10-minute matches. I barely had a kick of the ball during this match. The sheer pace of the play was absolutely dizzying. Which reminds me of something. Remember this?

I hope we all do remember that controversial clip from July this year, featuring PES2010 being played out on a Konami office monitor at 100mph. Remember how it panicked the community, and then how it was quickly brushed off? There was nothing at all to worry about, we were told, it was ‘definitely’ just a ‘programmer debugging thing’. There was no way the final game was going to be as fast as that. And if it wasn’t a ‘debugging thing’ then it was definitely the way the video was encoded/uploaded/whatever—everybody said so, and anyway somebody had heard from somebody on a forum who’d emailed PESfan or whoever, so it was definitely true that the final game would be nowhere near as fast…

I believed at the time that it was communal self-delusion. But I went along with it because I was deluded too. Nay, I wanted to be deluded. Perhaps I still am.

The uncomfortable truth about PES2010 is that, a lot of the time, the gameplay is far too fast. The crazy thing about the cubicle video above is that it’s actually pretty sedate compared to the bonkers 200mph gameplay in the final game of PES2010. Particularly when up against top teams. All summer long we were promised a slowed-down PES, and we didn’t really get it.

I couldn’t cope with the supercharged nature of the gameplay against Spurs, really I couldn’t. I spent long periods like a dog chasing a tennis ball around a circle of kids. Unlike the dog in that scenario, I wasn’t happy about it. My tail wasn’t wagging. If that Spurs match was indicative of what I can expect in Division 1—and in European competition further down the line—I’m not sure I ever want to get out of Division 2.

Still: 7-0, how did it happen? How could I have been so careless? It might be assumed that the 7-0 only came about due to me mentally turning off after 4 or 5 goals and conceding the last few in a kind of trance. Not the case at all. I kept trying to play my game—such as it is, such as it is—until the final whistle. I was well beaten. I was thumped, and I deserved it, even if Spurs did seem to have 11 Buster Keatons on amphetamines instead of football players. And so I crashed out of the Cup. I simmed the return leg, which the game was kind enough to declare a 1-1 result.

Now I could concentrate on the league, right? Well… uh, here’s the league table right now:

season-5-after-27

Not too bad, and it’s certainly looked a lot worse at this stage in seasons past, but with only 7 matches left it’s looking ominous. I finally started scoring again, but it’s still not enough.

I wonder: is something within me disconnecting itself from PES2010? Not really, not yet. The 7-0 was dispiriting, certainly, but more because of the insanely fast gameplay I witnessed than the actual result. My distaste was compounded when I fired up FIFA10 for a few matches for the first time in a long while. I can’t believe I ever thought FIFA10 was a fast game. Next to PES2010, it almost feels like slow-motion. A big thumbs-up to FIFA10 on that front at least.

So what is going on here? Am I preparing the ground for an abandonment—even a temporary one—of PES2010? No, not at all. I’m in this Master League for the long haul. My plan was always to take the career to its first huge milestone—that first Treble—before possibly going back to play FIFA10 for a bit. At the time of writing, that’s still my plan. But if/when I ever do get out of Division 2 and in amongst the big boys, I just hope I don’t see the insanely fast gameplay, because things can always change.

Next time on PES Chronicles: the end of season 5. Will I make a final swashbuckling run up into the promotion spots? Or will it be another mid-table damp squib of a finish? Friday’s post will have it all.

The season to be jolly?

This might be the season. Might be.

It’s season number 5 for me in this career in Master League. I seem to be alone in struggling very hard with this year’s all-new version (but I love it). After five seasons I’m still in Division 2. The past few seasons in particular have been pretty miserable. For some reason I can’t seem to get any game together this year. For all that I am enjoying it, it’s starting to wear a little thin. I want to get on and get up as soon as possible now. I’m getting a little tired of toil and struggle.

The season started well and continued pretty well. At halfway, I am sitting in 3rd place in the table:

sitting-in-3rd-spot

I felt dizzy just looking at that table. Could this really be the year? After everything?

It’s been a peculiar old season. It’s felt different from all the others. Largely, I think, that’s a result of the absolute financial security that a windfall of £15,000,000 brought me at the start of the season. I was able to keep all my hard-earned staff upgrades and bring in a few Youth players besides. If that money hadn’t come along I think I’d be facing a very, very different prospect right now.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that I’m still in the Cup. I have made it through to the Semi Finals. I was very surprised to be in the Cup to begin with—and it’s a measure of my improved form this season that I’m still in the Cup now. In the first round I took on Panathinaikos and beat them on penalties after the two legs.

Then I met Shakhtar Donetsk. In the second leg at their place the score was 1-1. I was winning on the away goal and they faced elimination. There was a whole half of football for them to attack me in. I braced myself for the traditional AI onslaught—but nothing really happened. They failed to respond to the situation. In the AI’s brain, the  score was 1-1 and there was no need for it to go into overdrive. This has been a massive flaw in the PES AI for a very long time now. It just cannot handle two-legged cup game scenarios. It always behaves just as if the second leg is a one-off match. In the end I strolled to the final whistle, and I shouldn’t have done. I’ll meet Spurs next, my first encounter with a top Division 1 side.

season-5-thru-to-cup-QF

My created player, ‘not-Greg’, has been performing well and is one of my most important players. I designed him to be a mid-to-late-flourisher, not a wonderkid. Goals have been a rare commodity for me this season (as in every season so far). Of those goals, most have been tap-ins, close-range headers, or ‘backing-off goals’ of the sort very familiar (too familiar) to any PES2010 player. But this goal scored with my not-Greg player felt very good to score, as it was a more traditional PES power-strike from an angle:

Link: Not Greg distance goal

And so here I am at mid-season. 17 league matches played, another 17 to come. I have a few transfers lined up for the mid-season window. Nothing too exciting, just more of the same bench-fodder I’ve been dealing with for the past five seasons. Really I just needed to get cover for the players I’ve already got. If I can ‘only’ stumble through the rest of the season and scrape promotion in 3rd place, it’ll be a successful one.

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