Month: December 2010

Happy New TV

As a late Christmas present to myself, I got something I’ve been after for a long time. A bloody big TV.

I picked up a 32″ Toshiba Regza 1080p LCD TV in the sales. And I was very pleased with it, until… I’ll get to that part when I get to it. Yes, I’ve got a bit of a story to tell today—and it does have a serious PES angle to it, too.

When I got the big new TV home, there was only one game I wanted to road-test it with. And it felt wrong to play BaL. I needed to play an orthodox 11 vs 11 match, and I did, and I liked it a lot. And I underwent an instant Damascene conversion to the wonders of big screens with lots and lots of lovely pixels…

Most of my gaming life from the 1980s through to 2007 was spent on 14″ portables of various types. In 2007, when I graduated to a PS3, I decided I had to get myself a HDTV of some kind. At the time, the really big TVs seemed prohibitively expensive. A 19″ 720p portable fitted the bill. And that was my gaming TV ever since.

I’d only ever seen the full next-gen console 1080p experience in shops. I’ve never actually sat for any length of time and enjoyed a game of anything on a screen larger than the 19″ of that portable HDTV (or the 20″ of my iMac). Ever. That’s important to bear in mind.

After a few minutes of playing PES2011 on a 32″ HDTV, I was as utterly gobsmacked as I’ve ever been whilst playing a game. (Despite PES2011 only being a 720p game, disappointingly.)

Later, after a few hours of Uncharted 2 at full 1080p, and a quick tour through my stack of old 1080p games—revisiting landscapes and graphical feats that I now appreciated in a different way—I was dazed. Final Fantasy XIII! Oh, Mother of God…

This might seem odd to those who have been happily gaming on big TVs for years. But it really has just passed me by for some reason. I somehow thought my 19″, 720p setup was perfectly adequate. Nobody yearns for something they’ve never experienced.

The big news for PES is that I’ve been drawn back into playing Master League on PES2011. This will last for a few days at least. I’ve already played enough to cover Monday’s post. I’m planning to play on for a lot longer, too.

I know, I know. I had switched to BaL, after shaking the dust of ML off my feet and moving on in disgust.

PES2011 on a 32″ screen gave me a football gaming experience that was like playing it for the first time, back when I thought it was superb, fresh, and exciting. I was taking time and finding space, constructing intricate passing moves, having wonderful passages of play—a PES fan’s ideal session, in other words. And that was followed up by another session, and another.

I know that it was a placebo. I know the overall experience was simply scaled up, that I was no doubt just as capable of playing this way on a smaller screen.

But placebo or not (it was a placebo!), I’m back playing the game mode I love the most—Master League—again, and planning to go on doing so for a while yet.

Sadly, there was a serpent in paradise. Make that two serpents, actually.

Here’s what I saw on my new HD screen after a while:

And here’s the problem in close-up:

Yes, the Toshiba had to go back to the store the next day. I’ll cut a long story short: the display suffered from dynamic false contouring, also knowns as ‘crawling moss’. It manifests itself as a persistent blue shimmer in random spots on the right side of the screen. Light sources in particular would be surrounded by a nimbus of blue.

(Oh, the sheer random expertise we accumulate whilst desperately Googling to resolve various problems, eh? Ask me anything about gamma levels and colour temperature and the effects of the universal LCD backlight, go on.)

I’ll say now that the Toshiba Regza was/is a bloody great TV, and it was a shame what happened with my individual unit. If they’d had a replacment for me at the store, I’d have taken it.

Yesterday morning (Thursday) I went through the great chore of boxing it up and taking it back. There were no more Regzas in stock, and I came away with a no-fuss, like-for-like replacement: a Sony Bravia. Same specs, right down the type and number of input ports. I was happy. Two store staff separately said to me that you can’t go wrong with Sony.

Oh dear. The damn thing buzzes. Loudly. No setting anywhere in any menu affects the buzzing.

It’s been less than 24 hours, so I haven’t had the same amount of time to research the problem, but it seems to be a power transformer issue. A symphony of buzzing starts up depending on whatever’s happening on-screen. During a sequence with lots of scene-changes, the buzzing is very annoying. It’s as annoying a problem as the crawling moss, really.

So I’ll probably be taking the Sony back too. I haven’t got time to do it until next week, so I’ll be using this TV at least until then. And kind of hoping that the buzzing will just magically go away.

Whilst playing PES2011, I barely notice it. So regardless of what happens with any TV, it looks like I am playing Master League again.

And so the year 2011 will feature meaningful time spent on its titular PES title. A week ago I’d almost have laughed at the thought.

Willem II, it was really nothing

Become a Legend 2011 has begun. This year before signing with a team you can see the % chance of being picked. I had four teams to choose from. 3 were around an 8% chance of playing. And then there was Willem II, who were a 43% chance. So I chose to sign for Willem II in the Dutch league, and it also gave me the opportunity to partly recycle an old Smiths-related post title. Bliss!

I’ve taken the unprecedented step of suspending my Master League career due to overwhelming disgust with PES2011’s general gameplay. Become a Legend (BaL) takes place within the same game, of course, but in a different way. Different enough, I hope, for me to finally give BaL the attention it probably deserves.

Historically I’ve blown very hot and cold with BaL. I really love the idea of it, but I’ve always found that playing it is a tedious slog. I’m not a great PES player. It takes me a while just to get into the team, and then I end up being subbed in every match. Or I’m on the bench, where I have to watch 60 to 70 minutes of ‘action’ whilst waiting to be brought on (if at all).

And all of that goes on for far too long. I can’t accept it, and I won’t accept it if it happens again this year. It’s a waste of valuable gaming time for me.

I think 3 seasons in PES2009 is as far as I’ve ever got—I was still regularly being subbed, and I just quit.

How long before I quit BaL 2011 in a fit of disgust too? Or will I break on through to the other side this time, and embark on an experience to rival anything I’ve ever known in Master League? I’d love it to be the latter. I’d just love it.

This time, I’ve decided to load the dice in my favour. I’ve set the match difficulty to Regular. I did have it on Amateur, but after scoring 4 goals in my first match and winning the Man of the Match award (naturally), I’ve bumped it back up to Regular.

I’m an AMF named ‘not-Greg’, an English national, 5’8″ tall, with no hair and a wispy fringe of a goatee beard. It was a quick and lazy setup, really. When I set it up (on Christmas Day), I was in no mood to spend any more time with PES2011 than I absolutely had to.

The season is about 5 matches old. I played a training match and was immediately picked to start in the opening game of the season.

I played well there (getting my 4 goals on Amateur), but was still subbed at 65 minutes. And I was on the bench for the next match. And the one after that. I started again in the next two, but was subbed in both. Sigh.

My patience is holding up, for now, which has got a lot to do with the Regular difficulty setting. I see a lot of the ball and I’m able to do meaningful things with it. It’s only a matter of time, I think, before I’m a regular starter. I’ve got my focus points aimed at building up stamina, as I believe that’s the main factor that influences the manager’s decision to sub me.

BaL isn’t Master League. Nothing is. I haven’t forgotten ML, and I haven’t forgotten how and why it ended, thanks to the most technically poor PES game since PES2008(PS3). I’ll find time to do some quality moaning about PES2011 as the coming months unfold. And I’m sharpening my cycnicism for the PES2012 hype train.

In the meantime, I can only hope that the consolation prize of BaL will tide me over.

Master League on hold

Near the middle of season 7 of my Master League career in PES2011. Below is the current table—probably my last such table from this Master League for a while. Because I won’t be playing on for now.

See this post from a few weeks ago for context. This has been brewing for a long time. It has not come out of the blue.

THE ROCK AND ROLL YEAR

This time last year, I was working hard on a video that told the epic tale of my promotion campaign in PES2010’s Master League. As a record of my abiding affection for what was a great PES year, that video is still well worth a look today.

What a difference between this year and last. There’s no full-length PES2011 video. The chances are pretty slim that there ever will be a PES2011 video. (It’s not impossible. I won’t rule out a resumption of this ML career at some point. And Master League isn’t necessarily the only show in town, as will be seen…)

I just don’t like PES2011 very much. That’s what it all boils down to. Oh, I did like it to begin with. I even thought PES2011 was The One foretold in Legend. The Anointed One we’ve all been waiting for. A football game robed in white linen, riding a pale horse…

But the final PES2011 that emerged in October was dismayingly unlike its brilliant demo. The full game seems like somebody made a ham-fisted effort to polish it before release, and then ran out of time before fixing all the new problems they’d caused.

Side-back wandering. Eccentric player switching. Frequently catastrophic heavy touches and ‘run-ons’ with the ball. Lack of player responsiveness. Forced first touches when you just want to clear the ball from danger. That infamous stumble animation (groan). And many more.

The way it plays—its handling—just feels wrong to me. It doesn’t feel like a real PES game. It feels like a single-player version of high-pressure, high-speed, online football. Which I thoroughly detest, as I have always said.

It is worth noting that the major PES forums are full of PES fans who seem to adore PES2011. I’m not saying they’re wrong. But I think it is significant that many of them are enthusiastic online players.

I don’t recall many predominantly offline, single-player players of PES2011 who are entirely satisfied with the game—although they do surely exist and are also not wrong. It’s mostly a question of personal taste, in the final analysis, and PES2011 isn’t to mine.

I’ve given it a good go since I reached breaking point. I carried on playing for 20 hours—something I would not do for any other game.

PES has a powerful presence in my life. It’s not something I can casually walk away from. And I’m not. I could be back at some point.

15 MINUTES OF FAME

One of the suggestions made to try to counter the game’s rushed, hurry-scurrying style, was to play 15-minute halves.

I gave it a try. I played two separate sessions of 15-minute matches, about 8 matches in total.

I did see what everybody was driving at. You get time. The most important difference it makes is in one’s own attitude to the game.

15-minute PES matches do promote a more thoughtful game. But the core contents of those matches remain the same. There’s still the wandering side-back issue. There’s still the stumble animation. There’s still the way players are often locked into runs with the ball at their feet. I felt I had time to do things in 15-minute matches—but I didn’t particularly want to do anything much.

PHOENIX FROM THE ASHES?

At exactly 10:29 on Christmas Day morning, I took the PES2011 disc out of my PS3 and put it back in its box. I felt a great sadness. This was unprecedented. Even the fateful year of PES2008 saw me muddle through to February.

Then an hour later I took the disc back out again, and put it back in the PS3, and started her up.

No, this was not some Hollywood-style dash to the airport to declare my actual love for PES2011.

I’d simply remembered that there was a time when I looked forward to doing more in PES2011 than just playing Master League.

To what do I refer? This picture provides a clue:

Yep—it’s one of the setup screens from PES2011’s Become A Legend mode. More on Wednesday.

Season 7’s Greetings

And PES2011 is still alive. I’m in season 7 of my Master League career. I’m playing on, and on, and on, despite my serious misgivings about the game.

I have to play a football game. I need an ongoing football game in my life in the same way that I always need to be in the middle of a book, and watching a TV series of some kind. Football games are part of the fabric of my life in exactly the same way.

At the moment, PES2011 doesn’t suck just enough to carry on being that game.

I’m still having some horrific matches that leave me exhausted, frustrated, and wondering what direction PES is heading in. PES2011 has brought a whole new unacceptable level of AI pressure. I don’t like it. It’s not what I value in a football game.

What were they thinking? Somebody at Konami has been playing too much multiplayer. Constant harrying and buffeting and allowing literal split-seconds on the ball are NOT what made PES great. It might be what makes online play so attractive to the 99% of online players who play that way, but it’s not welcome in the single-player game.

But I’ve found myself rather enjoying PES2011 over the past week. I’ve settled into Professional difficulty. I’m laying off the sprint button (always a biggie, that one).

Here’s the current table—I’ve finally got around to re-editing all the team names, but that’s all the re-editing I’ve done:

I’m doing well in the league, a bit too well really. I’m toying with the idea of switching to Top Player at mid-season. I think it’d be a bad move, though, after what happened last time. I’ll say it again: when the AI kicks into superhuman, omni-pressuring overdrive, this is one of the worst PES games ever made. When it’s sane and proper and proportionate, it’s a good PES game, maybe even a very good one.

(I know about the various methods of ‘fixing’ AI pressure by editing individual team settings. I choose not to do such things, which may seem perverse considering all the moaning I do about it. I insist on playing the PES that comes out of the box as much as possible.)

I played one match with the 15-minute setting that a few people have recommended to me. Hmmm. Now this could change things.

It did seem a lot less hectic, a lot less frenetic. But I happened to go into a 3-0 lead early in the second half. Not even PES2011 can take a result like that away from me nowadays, so I found myself playing for a long time through an essentially meaningless match.

I’ll have to play a full session or two with 15-minute matches. I’ll do that over the weekend. Monday’s post should cover it.

Finally today, a video of some recent goals. A common goalscoring pattern can be seen emerging. What I call “Schwarz goals” from 25 yards or so are now well within my grasp. I’ve worked out how to settle myself in space and take the measured shot that PES2011’s fussy shooting mechanic demands.

Link: Season 7's greetings

Goals 2 and 3 are my favourites of the bunch. Goal 2 was one where you can almost hear the net rustle as the placed shot—taken while my player is running away from goal—finds its way to the top corner. Goal 3 was a type of goal that I love to score: a quasi-lob that arcs over the keeper from an acute angle.

There’s also a goal from a ‘worked corner’ (yeah, right), scored with my midfielder, Llama, who can be seen cheekily looking at the replay camera whilst waiting for the corner to be taken—as seen in the picture at the top of this post.

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