Month: February 2011

The Final Countdown

Somewhat to my surprise I’m still playing Become a Legend in PES2011. I’m still playing a mode that I have always struggled to like. It seems that it will continue, at least for a while, maybe for the rest of the PES year.

This might be my final season with my current club, Willem II. I would like to finish on a high note….

Willem II are through to the final of the Dutch Cup.

Here’s how the tournament tree has turned out:

It’s not all down to me, but I have made a big contribution along the way. I scored a key goal against Ajax. I laid on an assist in the first round.

The final will be against PSV, currently riding high above us in the league. I expect it to be a tough match.

I’m really looking forward to it, as much (or more?) than I would an equivalently important match in ML. This feels bigger in many ways. I’m a solo player with, in theory, a limited capacity to influence events. But in practice I know I can have a massive effect on the match. If I don’t play well, we’re unlikely to win. That’s the bottom line.

I’m very pleased. It’s been a long, hard season in some ways. Moving up to Professional difficulty after a first season on Regular was a bit of a shock, but I adapted. At times the added difficulty has brought little reward, but I’ve plugged away and kept going. At the end of the day I plan to give one hundred and ten percent, because it’s a game of two halves…

As so often happens—in real life and virtual life—I played AZ in a league match immediately before the semi. That ended in a 2-1 defeat, in a match that was as disappointing to lose as any I’ve played.

We went 1-0 down midway through the second half. I do a lot of goal-hanging when I feel the need to get involved in matches that seem to be passing me by.

Goal-hanging often pays off in BaL, and did so again on this occasion. One of our wingers beat his man for once and got a cross in. I was central, in a few yards of space, about a yard short of the six-yard box. One of our strikers met the cross first and got his shot away, but the AZ keeper parried and it fell to me. I couldn’t miss. I didn’t miss. 1-1.

Goals have been thin on the ground this season. I took as much joy in the virtual celebration as if it had been real. As my player jogged back to the halfway line with his adoring teammates I was mentally looking forward to our eventual victory.

A bitty spell of play followed. Then I followed an opponent with the ball, knowing there was no real chance of winning it back. I nipped at his heels and actually recovered the ball at one point, then gave it away again almost immediately. I watched aghast as the ball was swept into the box and neatly tucked away by a grinning AZ striker (I thought he was grinning).

I was subbed soon after for the first time in about 15 matches. It had been an impatient, sulky display. I deserved to be taken off—my goal was a routine tap-in, nothing special, and no reason to keep me on the pitch. There’s a lot more shrewd AI programming going on under the hood than I tend to give the game credit for.

After that experience I was understandably a bit nervous about the Cup semi-final. It felt as if AZ had a psychological edge.

The semi-final started badly for me. I like to get a touch as early as possible. I like to do something simple with the ball, lay off a short pass, something like that. I nearly always find that the rest of the match goes well when I do this. When I don’t get an early touch I most often find that the rest of the match is a nervous, tetchy affair, with none of my passes finding their targets, and I always seem to be in just the wrong position. (Could there be a “micro-momentum” effect at work in BaL?)

I didn’t touch the ball until 15 in-game minutes were gone. I spent most of the game feeling marginal. But it was one of those rare matches where my teammates were on form instead.

We shut out AZ at the back. In the 80th minute we scored the only goal from a corner. I watched from my usual corners lurking spot, about 20 yards out, as the ball was nodded in at the near post. I feel involved in BaL nowadays, and wanted to run across manually to join the pile of players celebrating a famous win.

So there’s a Cup Final in the near future for me in BaL. I hope I get picked. I’d better get picked!

Here’s a special announcement. I’m going to film the whole of the Cup Final and post it on the blog. (I only hope the file isn’t a million MB in size.)

Here’s the plan for the rest of the week. In Wednesday’s post I’ll cover the end of the League season. Friday’s post will feature just the entire Dutch Cup Final with yours truly playing a prominent role. (I hope.) Even if I have a stinker, it’ll be worth posting the evidence.

The Psychology of the Transfer Request

It’s mid-March in season 2 of my BaL career in PES2011. My personal performances at AMF for Willem II are consistently good—occasionally great, but most often just good.

I can often predict my post-match rating for every match. I usually get a 6.5 or a 7.0. I get a 7.5 roughly 1 in 4 matches. I’ve had one 8.0.

I still have stinkers. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out for me. I got a 5.5 in one match in yesterday’s session. I knew I was having a terrible game and was constantly braced for substitution. But it never came.

I’m still starting every match and playing all 90 minutes of them. I can’t recall the last time I was substituted. The mode is behaving itself, as I see it. And my ratings are climbing. Not exactly soaring, yet, but making steady progress. I’m now a 65 OVR, for what that’s worth. (I’m still a sceptic about the OVR rating in PES.)

I’ve still only scored two goals all season. One was a tap-in after a scramble. The other was an instinctive half-volley from the edge of the box. It went straight down the keeper’s throat but had enough power to zip past his hurriedly raised hands.

After a debut season on Regular difficulty in which I scored 17 and assisted 7 times, this season has seen me score just those 2 goals and get 3 direct assists so far. I’ve been involved in plenty of goals—Willem II’s strikers are pretty useful—but being involved doesn’t count as making an assist.

I’ve felt restless over the past few sessions. My teammates’ over-dribbling and general lack of urgency in certain situations is beginning to bother me.

My least favourite example is when we’re defending, and one of our players gets the ball in good space. I’ll dart into space to open up a passing lane, and call for the ball. But my teammate will run with it aimlessly to the side. So I tack further to the side and call for the ball some more. I’m right here, buddy. Just pass the ball to me? Now? Hello? But no, he runs with it, and by now an opponent is on him, and this seems to invoke the game’s subroutine entitled: “Tangle the ball up in the player’s legs and make him automatically run it out of play for a throw-in to the other team”. I bet it’s called something like that.

Some have suggested that playing at a better team with better players will resolve this frustration. It would be a shame to leave Willem II without taking them at least to a domestic Cup. I believe it’s even possible that I could force them to an Eredivisie title. As it stands I have helped them to third place at this stage of the season. We could get into the Champions League qualifying round again. But if I stay at Willem II this problem of my teammates bumbling and stumbling all over the place is one that would only grow and grow.

And so I’m more than half-decided: at season’s end I will seek new pastures. I don’t think I’m good enough yet to go to a BIG club, and don’t want to. Just one with better players.

Over the weekend I should complete this season and start looking at transfer offers, if I get any.

The Willem to Power

I’ve now played almost to the middle of season 2 in my BaL career in PES2011. I’m still playing as an AMF/SS for Willem II in the Eredivisie. It’s going well again.

This is further than I thought I’d get in BaL. Just a few days ago I thought the end might be sight. My main BaL complaint has always been about the periods when the game forces you to watch it playing itself.

Something has changed for the better. I now play 90 minutes in every match. I only get taken off if I’m having a bad game. This is acceptable.

I find myself playing many more matches per session than I intended to. Master League at its best always did that for me. I’m happy that BaL is showing signs of getting to that stage.

Professional difficulty is hard enough for me. Space is at a total premium. The wide-open gaps I found so regularly on Regular difficulty are but a memory. I can only recall about 5 good shooting opportunities all season so far. I need to develop a bit more before I’ve got that extra yard of pace and bit of poise needed. My main task in this team at this time is to pass the ball. Sometimes I supply the ammunition for others to stick the ball in the net.

I’ve only scored 1 goal all season. It was a crisply struck half-volley during a melee on the edge of the box. This time last season I think I’d already hit double figures in terms of goals scored. I don’t regret the decision to leave Regular difficulty behind. I would have struggled to take it seriously this season.

League form is good. We’re riding high in the table. I’d like to finish in the Champions League qualifying places again. I really feel identified with Willem II. I would like to do something with them before I start to think about other clubs. Maybe the domestic Cup will be the best chance. We’re through to the quarter finals there. It’s a bit crazy but I want to leave Willem II—whenever that may be—in a better condition than they would have been in without me. I want them to be strong and powerful when I go.

Sadly, we’re out of this season’s Europa League in disappointing fashion. The group went to the final game, away to Lille. If we avoided defeat, we’d qualify in second place.

This final group match was the first time in BaL that I felt a real sense of occasion, of it being a big match that required a focused performance from me. I resented missing out on our Champions League qualifiers due to injury. This, I thought, was my chance to steer the team in the right direction.

We lost 1-0. The final table is above. I played the whole 90 minutes. But I just couldn’t get anything going. The AI teammate problems (touched on below) were massively to the fore. Nothing I did worked. I got a post-match rating of 5.5. The comments said I was a let-down. I was.

Currently my only BaL moans are about my AI teammates. Over the course of a match fully 80% of my stamina is squandered on making supporting runs for no reason. I huff and puff to get into a good position. I call for the pass. “Now! Now! NOW!” But they just have to take that extra touch. Sometimes an extra dozen touches. They get hustled off the ball. I have to track back to the halfway line or beyond and help to snuff out the counter-attack. At times it’s maddening.

Otherwise, all is fairly rosy in Become a Legend 2011. The unexpected miracle continues.

BaL takes a stumble

One of PES2011’s least attractive features is its player stumble animation. I really hate it. I really, really despise the stumble animation. The stumble animation inspires me with feelings of loathing like nothing else I can ever remember in football gaming. The stumble animation is a large part of the reason why I have come to view PES2011 as the most technically challenged football game since PES2008(PS3). Perhaps even a bit worse.

Befoe going any further, here are two examples of the stumble animation from my Become a Legend career. I thought the stumble animation was bad in Master League. In Become a Legend, it’s a veritable plague:

Link: PES2011 stumble animation

It’s not so much the stumble—a drunkard’s stagger that automatically transports your player several yards—that irks me. The stumble’s a clownish pratfall that has no place in a would-be serious football game, but that’s not the worst of the stumble animation, oh no. It’s what comes after the stumble that’s the worst.

It’s the pause that gets me, every time. The pause makes me seethe.

What is that second or two, when your player stands dazed and looking down at the pitch, supposed to be? What is the thinking there? What? What?

I have been playing and enjoying Become a Legend for a few weeks now, but I have come to loathe the stumble animation even more deeply than I ever did before. Which I would never have though possible, really, considering how much I hated it before, which was a lot. My disgust is boundless and terrifying.

In BaL, there are periods of some matches when the damn thing seems to fire every few seconds. It’s not just my player. As in Master League, all players suffer the stumble.

I don’t want to hear anything about the stumble animation being realistic. It’s not.

It’s not really a mitigating factor that some people never see the stumble animation, or only see it occasionally, or see shorter versions of it. I see it, and I see it a lot, and I can only go by what I see.

And it’s also emphatically not an example of Seabass, the football gaming auteur, plucking a brilliant new chord on his majestic harp that I’m just too dense to appreciate. I don’t think Seabass or anyone else at Konami actually intended for much of PES2011 to be the way it is. I earnestly hope not, anyway.

I might accept that it’s a conscious element of game design, that it’s a method in PES2011 of controlling gameflow, of varying the texture of moment-to-moment action, of representing low body balance and related individual player stats, etc. etc.

I might understand and appreciate all of that. My point would be unchanged. My point is that I hate it.

And now back to the game itself.

I suppose it had to happen, and it’s happened: my newfound enthusiasm for Become A Legend has taken a severe hit. My biggest gripe about BaL has always been the enforced watching of sterile, pointless AI vs AI action.

This year, in PES2011, I thought I’d skirted around the problem. My solution was to play 5-minute matches on Regular difficulty until I was a constant starter and played every match for 90 minutes. Whoo-hoo, I thought. I’m a BaL player at last! PES2011 can stuff its strangely unengaging Master League!

And then I started season 2. I went up to Professional difficulty, and back to 10-minute matches.

My very good season 1 had propelled my team (Willem II) into Europe. Now we’re playing two matches a week, every week. And I am being subbed on or before 65 minutes in every single one, no matter what happens. 65 minutes is the most I get. Every. Single. Time. I was taken off on 55 minutes in one match.

I went back to 5-minute matches for a while, which helps a little but is no real solution. Even abbreviated periods of watching are still grindingly long.

I don’t know where BaL is headed for me if this keeps up.

Happily, considering the overall tenor of today’s post(!), I am at least still enjoying BaL’s gameplay when I do get to play it. I have come to appreciate its rhythms, to understand a little more every day about how to influence the game and impose myself upon it, and also how and when to bide my time when necessary. Sometimes in BaL you just have to tread water in your part of the pitch and let the AI sort itself out.

Willem II are in the Europa League, not the Champions League. We could and should have been in Big Cup rather than Euro Vase, but I picked up an injury pre-season that put me out of action for 5 weeks.

The two-legged qualifying tie, against Fiorentina, fell during those 5 weeks. I was unable to take part. The matches were both simulated.

We lost both legs 2-0. I feel sure that things might have been different with me on the pitch. That’s not conceit, just simple knowledge that simulated games are intrinsically harsh on the human player’s team much of the time.

I said that I would post my player, not-Greg’s, stats today. I did take the required pics with my phone, and here they are below—I present them and the skill cards with no comment to make, except one. I over-thought the skill cards before starting. If I manage to get through this extremely sticky period with BaL and play on, I’ll be buying some better skill cards in the future.