Month: January 2010

Any Porto in a storm

Season 10 has begun, and once again I changed both of my strips, home and away. For the home kit I went with a very fetching hooped shirt. Colour-wise, I stuck to the traditional Coventry blue, better known as sky blue. I seriously thought about going for a red- or green-dominated home kit, just for variety’s sake. I hear it’s the spice of life. But I stayed my hand on that front. Red is much too associated with other teams. And I once dabbled with a green kit on a former PES, but could barely see my players on some pitches.For the away kit I decided on something a bit different. It’s a red-orange that’s very similar to the Shakhtar Donetsk home kit.

I really like the hooped home shirt. I am considering making it the basis of a permanent style. I could make the hoops a permanent feature of the shirt, and confine any future changes to the sleeves, collar, shorts, socks, etc., like Celtic’s or QPR’s traditional kits.

I did quite a bit of business on the transfer market. My finances were in a poor state. Even with the £3.5m for finishing 9th and several more millions from my sponsors, I was in debt. Not as much debt as at some points in this career, but enough for me to need to sell players to balance the books.

I finally released Giersen and Libermann. Doing so only cost me a few thousand in each case. I put up with the rest of the squad having angry faces for a few weeks. With no matches being played, it didn’t really matter.

I sold quite a few players—probably too many. Ruskin, Hutchinson, Iakovenko, Voavy, Duffy, Tulasne, and Silanok. I got a lot of cash for all of those players, as can be imagined. The only ones that hurt even slightly were the first and last names in the list: Ruskin and Silanok. Ruskin had to go, really, but he’s been such a faithful servant, and he was my last link to the Defaults. I got about £200k for Ruskin, a good price for an ageing, fading player. Silanok was a useful player to have, but the offer—£4m—was too good to turn down. Castolo has finally disappeared from my Youth team, and if what I hear is true, he won’t reappear anywhere, in any form, in thsi career. If this career does indeed turn out to be my only career in this year’s Master League, I won’t see Castolo again until PES2011. That’s fine by me. In fact I almost wish he would reappear, so I could once again have the pleasure of ignoring him.

I’ve left myself a few players lighter than I would have liked. A squad of 20 will make things uncomfortable at times this season, but I should cope. I’ve got my backroom staff levels high enough for fitness not to be too much of a worry. What if I get an 8-month injury to a key player? I’ll deal with that if/when it happens.

I brought in only a few players. CEJUMI, CHIGRAT, TANAKA. The first two are Youth teamers and defenders, both good enough to go straight out and do well. Tanaka was a bit of a panic buy, I’m afraid, and I don’t think he’s going to work out. I’m sorry to say I splurged £3m on him as time started to run out in the transfer window. His 71 OVR rating in the picture is misleading. He’s really a WF/SS, and rated 80 for both. But he’s slow! And at the age of 25, he might not get much better in that respect. This was a lesson to me. Scout early, all through the season. Waiting to do the bulk of the transfer work in the two windows is a lazy carry-over from the old Master League.

I sailed through the first round of the D1 Cup (as I still call it; I know it’s the ‘England Cup’ now, but the new name hasn’t stuck for me yet). With some excellent league form at my back, I was hopeful of a great Cup run. Sadly I was eliminated in the second  round on away goals.

No Europa League for me this season. Whatever freak conditions enabled me to qualify for last season’s competition didn’t apply this time. I’m oddly relieved. This squad would have been stretched.

The main story of this season so far is my League form. I’m top of the table after 12 matches. As can be seen from the table, I’m not scoring many goals. I’m keeping them out, though. That’s why I’m top. For the future, I doubt I could win the league this way, or even finish in the top 4 (that’s my aim). I need to change formations, and jettison this rather stale-feeling 4-3-3, which I think I’ve wrung every drop of value from in PES2010.

The highlight of this opening third of the season was an incredible victory over Porto. They’re the giants of the league, and they gave me the toughest game I can remember having on PES for many a year (their current squad, pictured right, may prove interesting). Twice I took the lead; twice they pegged me back, both times with awful, scrambled goals that I felt helpless to prevent.

Their second equaliser came in the last minute of the match. It was from a corner. I was 2-1 up, and had everyone back, on high alert. But none of my players jumped as the ball swung into the 6-yard box, despite me hammering the relevant button. The ball ricocheted off a Porto head, struck a Coventry shoulder, landed at a Coventry foot. That player didn’t move. He was selected all right, he should have done something, but he would not move, would not do anything, for a critical half-second. I hammered the square button, desperate to hoof it clear, desperate to secure my precious 2-1 win.

A Porto striker nicked the ball, and slotted it into the net. I was crestfallen (and, naturally, furious). My kick-off took place in stoppage time. The game would end 2-2, but it felt as if I was facing defeat. Unless…

I would have one attack left, just one, before the final whistle. I worked some space for the most hopeful kind of hopeful 25-yard shots. The ball deflected out for a corner. I selected my goalkeeper to take the corner. I pushed everything to all-out attack. I had every outfield player in or around the Porto box as my keeper took the corner. It was a hell of a risk. Despite being in stoppage time within stoppage time, I feel sure now that the game would have allowed Porto to have an attack on my empty net, had they recovered possession from the corner. But they didn’t recover possession. Instead, this happened:

Link: Lastgasp against porto

Goal. Goal. GOOOOOOAL…… Regular PES players, particularly Master League players, will be able to imagine my reaction. There was no time for even the sneaky PES2010 AI to come back. The final whistle went almost immediately after their kick-off. 3-2 to me.

Will the good form last? And how will I take to the change of formation?

A philosophical fragment

Season 9, spanning the in-game years 2017-2018, has ended. I finished 9th. I fought my way up from 13th in the last matches of the season to attain a respectable final placement. I won five out of seven, scoring a nice few goals in the process.

After a fairly poor season, I think I have to be satisfied with 9th. It’s the same finish as last season, when I somehow qualified for the Europa League (still no idea how that happened). Hopefully I have qualified again for Europe next season. I’ll find out when I get there.

Porto romped away with the league title. Only Arsenal scored more goals. I’ve now played all the top teams in Division 1 at least four times each over the course of the past two seasons. Porto are far and away the best of them. They’re incredibly fast and strong and determined. (Okay, ‘fast and strong and determined’ in a PES AI team just translates to ‘shenanigans’ an awful lot of the time, but I’m speaking in-mythos here; I’m embedded.)

It’s been a funny old football game year for me so far. FIFA10 arrived like a rocket. I liked it and I still like it—but I’m not playing it.

The end of January is almost here. The days are getting a fraction longer. Birds can be heard tweeting in the hedgerows. And I’m still playing a next-gen PES game, with the same intensity and enthusiasm as on Day 1—with a good bit more intensity and enthusiasm, actually.

At times I hate things that happen in PES2010, with a rare passion that almost frightens me. I’ve never been a controller-thrower, but PES2010 brings me closer to becoming one than any other game I’ve ever played in my life (are there really people who throw controllers in frustration, or are they a myth?).

But overall, as befits a game I’ve now played for a total of 167 hours, I love PES2010. It’s not grudging acceptance, the exercising of habit, or an unwillingness to engage with the mysterious FIFA10. It’s love. I would hotly deny being a fanboy—anybody can see how critical I’ve been of next-gen PES over the past few years. I love a game, PES2010, that many good PES fans despise with all their hearts. And the thing is: I know why they hate PES2010, and I agree with their reasons for hating it. But I love it. It’s in spite of, against all reason. It’s not supposed to make sense. It’s a paradoxical mysterious enigma.

It’ll be February in a few days and I’m still playing PES2010. This fact astonishes me. I’d have put money on me moving over to FIFA before the end of November last year. The more I’ve played PES2010, the more I’ve liked it; by degrees, this has ripened and matured, and become something much more than duty or habit. As time passes I’m actually less forgiving of the game’s many infuriating quirks. But its pleasures are deeper than its torments.

If I was giving a review-style score right now I’d have to award PES2010 a solid 9/10. Yes yes yes, I know exactly where and how it’s broken, and how unacceptable it all is. I seethe too. I seethe too. But for a Master League aficionado, as I am, this is a vintage PES year. Whatever happens from this point on, I have to count PES2010 as a vintage PES product. Not knowing or caring about any kind of multiplayer, or any other mode but Master League, helps a lot, obviously.

And so I move on to season 10 of the most epic and enjoyable Master League career I’ve had for five years. I’m already looking forward to changing my kits, looking for new players, tweaking my formation and tactics, rolling up my figurative sleeves, and just getting on with it. The question I’m asking myself now is: just how much further can PES2010 take me? Could it be the first PES since PES5 to take me all the way through the football game year?

Coventry City vs Manchester United

Now for something long-promised. The video below shows, in full, me playing a league match in PES2010’s Master League. I’ve been saying I’d do this for some time, and now here it is. Apologies in advance for the slightly poor video quality—and for the slightly skewed viewing angle, which frustratingly cuts off the upper right corner where the score is displayed. If you watch the match, you’ll have to remember the score as you go along (there are some goals to see). Next time I do this, I’ll film it from a full-frontal angle.

Link: Cov City vs Man Utd (PES2010)

The only thing I’ll add here is that I know I noobishly overran the ball on at least two occasions, one of them when I had a glorious one-on-one opportunity at a critical time. I was too aware that I was filming the match. I wanted to appear in the best possible light, so I restrained my usual instinct to shoot early. But it was only those few instances, and they stand out a mile. The rest of the time, I was playing normally. This match does show me playing the game, for the most part, more or less as I do play it.

In the league, season 9 is so far proving to be that most dreadful of things: a season of consolidation. That’s been a buzzword in football talk since I was a nipper. Consolidation. It means: mediocrity. Holding steady. Neither one thing nor the other. Mediocrity. I thought I’d say it again.

I had another fiddle with the tactical sliders, looking for the golden setting that’d replicate the dazzling run of form I had a few sessions ago. I increased Support and Pressing to 100, left all the others more or less as they were, and results picked up slightly. But I still can’t seem to cope with the pace and passing and aggression of the top 10 teams. At one point I played Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, and—yes—Manchester United one after the other, and they took turns to pummel me into a fine paste.

I was doing great in the Europa League at least. I got through to the semi finals after wins in the first knockout stage over NEC Breda, and then a fine aggregate trouncing of AZ in the Quarter Final. In the Breda tie it was all-square at 2-2 in extra time (1-1 in both legs) and heading for penalties. I scored the softest of soft goals to take the match. My name is on the Cup, I thought.

Manchester United, again, were my semi-final opponents. I scraped a 1-1 draw in the first leg at my place. They simply battered me in the return leg. Seriously, I was shell-shocked. I lost 4-0 and it could have been so, so much worse. Their third goal was a scorcher from about 30 yards that found the postage stamp corner of my net and scraped the underside of the bar on its way in. The AI does occasionally get goals like that against me in PES2010, and has done since day 1 (i.e., it hasn’t started since the mythical gameplay patch just before Christmas).

I was out of the Europa League, then, and fairly emphatically too. I’ve got a long way to go before I can compete with the big boys on anything like an even footing. To get there I’ll need better players. I think it’s really that straightforward.

Currently I’ve got merely a good squad, with a few stars. One of those stars has turned out to be Sazi, my young striker who came up from the Youth team a few seasons ago. Above left are his current stats at the age of 21. Since he arrived I’ve biased his focus training towards shooting, and it really shows with a shot accuracy of 91, and power and technique in the high 80s. I’ve also favoured his physical attributes in training, and they’re filling out quite nicely too.

Sazi’s starting to grab goals quite regularly in league and cup. I’m very happy with him playing as my lead CF. He’s blossoming into a top, top striker, currently riding high in the league top scorers’ list, and joint-top of the Europa League scorers. He’s like a slightly slimmed-down, slightly taller version of classic Schwarz.

The table after 29 matches isn’t great. I’m 13th now, which I class as lower-mid-table. That silly amount of draws—12—is costing me. Fully two-thirds of those draws could and should have been victories. With a comfortable cushion between me and the bottom 3, I won’t be relegated. But I’ll do well now, I think, just to match last season’s 9th-place finish.

Sliding back down

Every so often I find myself with a hankering to get back into a Football Manager game for the first time since 2005. In that venerable franchise, you take complete control of a football club. You pick a formation and design your own tactics in considerable depth. Football Manager players have a paranoid belief that the AI ‘learns’ any new tactic and will crack it after a while, forcing you to tinker anew. (Plenty of other Football Manager players, of course, say that they never change their tactics but still have loads of success, and they don’t know what all this ‘scripting’ nonsense is all about…)

I never can quite manage to get back into Football Manager, no matter how hard I try. I suppose it’s a time thing, first and foremost. And when it comes to gaming, I’m a console gamer at heart.

In PES2010, something similar to Football Manager’s ‘cracked tactics’ syndrome may have arisen. I’m talking about the new innovation, borrowed/stolen from EA: the tactics sliders, and the odd way they seem to stop working after a certain amount of time.

Recently, after fiddling with them for a long time (unforgivably, it was my first really long fiddle since starting to play PES2010 a few months ago), I had an amazing run of form. Well, now that run has come to an end. It is almost as if the AI has indeed cracked my tactical changes, and now I’m back to the status quo.

Having had that success, I was very reluctant to change the sliders again. I persisted with my new slider settings for about 10 matches. Things were not encouraging. Win, draw, draw, win, draw, lose, lose, win, draw, draw… This has been my Master League life for far too long

The AI teams had their usual fun with me. I can usually fend off the lower teams and secure a win. The bigger teams are a real headache. They’re too fast for me—the whole game is too fast for me when they’re in the mood. Porto came back from behind to thump me 4-1. That one hurt. But it didn’t hurt as much as a 0-1 defeat at the hands of Arsenal (for reasons that are made clear in today’s mini-movie, below).

My record has gone back to being mediocre at best. With half the season gone, I’m rooted in mid-table and I think I will stay that way. My dreams of the title this season were ridiculously premature.

At least now I know what I have to do to try and change things. It’s the sliders. (Or: “It’s your tactics”, in the immortal words of the Football Manager forums…) What worked once is not guaranteed to go on working.

This could be the start of a whole new obsessive layer of PES for me. In a way I resent that. If I get an hour and a half to play PES per day, I mainly want to spend that time playing the game. Not fiddling about with menus and sliders etc. But this is a faulty outlook and I need to correct it. There’s little point in suffering through bad matches when I’m not exploiting gameplay-affecting settings to their full potiential. So I need to start slidering, routinely, before every match, or at the very least during every match. Even if only a little.

In brighter news, I have qualified from the group stage of the Europa League. I beat Juventus again in our return match. Parma beat me twice. I scored late to draw with Dinamo Bucuresti, and I beat them the second time. In the end I qualified on goal difference. It was a good campaign, and I’m looking forward to the knockout stage.

Today’s mini-movie shows two ordinary goals (although the looping header felt a bit special, and looks good too). There are also two moments of total horror, PES2010-style. The first horror incident was bad enough, an attempted pass that actually goes NINETY DEGREES in another direction. That cost me a goal against Parma in a big European match. The second horror incident is possibly the very worst thing that has ever happened to me in PES. Ever. It was a double-whammy of glitches, first another magic ball incident and then, in the same passage of play, some next-gen PES goalkeeper eccentricity at its very worst:

Link: Mixed Clips2 - PES2010

Regular readers will know that I never reload a previous savegame in order to get a different outcome. Sometimes, though, something so sickening happens that I consider doing so. This was one of those rare times. How the ghost of Kim U Don’t must be laughing. Jan Kun Mu, my new keeper, has so far been pretty dire. I might move him on at the end of the season. What is going on with Korean goalkeepers in this Japanese-made game?

I didn’t reload in the end. But I was >this< close…