Month: March 2011

Neither here nor there

Something a bit different today—probably my shortest and least substantial post ever. The reason? I’ve only played four (4) matches on PES2011 since Friday. I played two BaL matches on Saturday morning, and two ML matches on Sunday morning.

The reason for this lack of activity? I’ve been feeling distant from and disillusioned with PES2011, which isn’t news by this stage.

Several weeks ago I abandoned Master League, my preferred game mode of all time, ever, but I still keep trying to go back to it, without success.

Become A Legend is an adequate replacement, but in truth, that’s all it is. I play it casually, in bursts of three or four matches. It’s never a wrench to put the controller down and switch the game off.

Perhaps I just need to get used to a new mode and a new way of life in PES.

In Saturday’s two BaL matches, I played superbly in one, terribly in another. The superb performance came in a home match where I had a red form arrow, and most of my teammates did too. The terrible performance was in an away match, where I had a green form arrow and most of my teammates had blue arrows. As lots of PES2011 players have remarked, this modelling of home/away form is far too exaggerated.

In ML—which I still keep trying to play regardless, and will probably go on trying to play—I find the home/away thing less trouble to cope with, as I’m in control of all players and can mitigate the effect to some extent.

And that’s really it for today. Instead of forcing the issue and making up something to animate today’s post, perhaps the more significant news is that I am totally becalmed. I’d honestly rather read a book than play PES2011 at the moment. Perhaps if FIFA11 had had a good career mode, and if it wasn’t such a squeezefest, I’d have been off playing that instead.

What does this all mean? Is it all leading to the blog either being abandoned, or changing tack to something else?

I don’t think so, no. The football gaming habit is too deeply ingrained. And even a bad session is worthwhile in some way. There is nothing in all of gaming quite like stitching together a passing move, or slotting the ball into the net from 30 yards.

I will continue. It might be at a snail’s pace, but I will continue. If for no other reason than that I’ve become pretty immersed in my BaL player’s career. Now that’s a story I really want to see the end of.

The undiscovered country

I’ve gone through and past mid-season in my first season with Catania. It’s my third season in PES2011’s Become A Legend mode. This is as long as I’ve ever played BaL—the great undiscovered country of next-gen PES—in three years of trying. New territory.

Over the past few weeks I have occasionally played Master League, where I eventually finished season 9 (winning no trophies). I keep hoping for a sudden re-conversion to ML. I still think that a full-team career mode is the most natural one for a single-player football gamer. It’s where I belong.

But the ML reconciliation hasn’t happened, and I don’t think it will now. My mind seems to be made up. PES2011’s regular gameplay, 11 vs 11, appals me far more often than it thrills me.

I haven’t even bothered to back up my latest ML savegames to USB, things are that bad. I genuinely don’t give a damn for the full 11-player game. What the hell happened between the PES2011 demo and its full release? We may never know.

BaL is a decent consolation prize. There were no offers for me in the transfer window. Which was fine, as I wouldn’t have taken them. I’m having a good season with Catania. I’ve just seen the first cutscene where a teammate tells you in the dressing room that you’re now an indispensable part of the team. If I have a good enough season, and I get an offer from a top club, what will I do? I don’t know.

A few duff results. One, away to Bologna, saw us go 2-0 down inside 20 minutes.

We never came back, despite three gilt-edged chances falling to the normally reliable Maxi Lopez up front. Two of them were laid on by me, both raking through-balls from the halfway line. Both resulting chances were missed by a whisker.

All in all, after 21 games, we’re hovering on the fringes of the Europa League spots. Which is disappointing in some ways. At Willem II I got used to being in a top 3 side, and we made the Champions League qualifiers twice. Maybe it’ll all happen next season with Catania, if I’m still here.

Our formation lately is a very attacking 4-3-3, which I love playing in. I see loads of the ball because there are so many options to pass it around and keep it in the opposition half. The formation I hate, 4-5-1, is strangely favoured by the AI managers at the beginning of seasons.

No goals to show today, but an assist instead. It’s nearly as satisfying as getting a goal yourself to put the ball on a plate for a teammate. Here I am, sending a rare aerial through-ball over the top for a striker to chase—and he then supplies a very good first time finish from the angle:

Anatomy of a BaL goal

Goals. They’re most of what football’s all about. Pro Evolution Soccer has always brought memorable goals. I can remember individual goals scored in PES/ISS a decade after I scored them. Among my numerous “post ideas I’m saving for a rainy day” is one that recounts, in as much detail as I can remember, memorable goals I’ve scored from 1998 onwards. Today’s goal would be among their number.

Not because it’s particularly spectacular. Oh, it looks nice and all—but I’ve scored dozens, probably hundreds, with a lot more oomph. This goal is special because it came in Become A Legend, and it’s the first goal scored by my player that I would count as a screamer, from a good distance, at an important time in a big match. Let me set the scene.

As my player has matured, his stats have got better. As his stats have got better, my frequent sky-bothering potshots at goal have become steadily more credible, to the point where most now ‘only’ miss by a few virtual yards. I know that PES2011 is the least long-shooting-friendly PES ever. But I keep trying, more than I think most people do, and inevitably there’s a reward.

In my first season with Catania (my third season of BaL overall), I’m maturing at an alarming rate. This is officially the farthest I’ve ever played in BaL. My player now feels like a player. He’s still awkward and ‘stumbly’, but all the players in PES2011 are like that. (PES2011: the year of the stumble. In more ways than one, eh?)

We’ve slipped down the league table, into a middling position. Playing away against Lecce, 3 points were vital to get us back in the chase for a Europa League spot.

The signs were good. The manager had opted for a 4-1-2-3 formation, the most attacking we’ve played all season. I expected to have lots of chances and at least a goal to show for myself. But the match was one of this niggly, stumbly affairs. I seemed to be making runs to no purpose, receiving the ball only to be nudged off it seconds later, and all in all just getting wound up.

It was around the 60th minute, possibly the last chance for me to do something to justify staying on the pitch. A free kick produced a high, floating ball. I saw a teammate go up to chest it down. Standing a few yards away in some space, about 22 yards form goal, I called for a quick layoff.

The ball came, and hit me awkwardly, rebounded off my shin, bounced in front of me… How many thousands of times—could it be tens of thousands of times?—have I been faced with a conveniently bouncing ball at a delicious height, 20-odd yards from goal, with a line-of-sight to the top corner…?

BLAM. Trigger pulled.

Remember that I play in the player-camera view that is the default for BaL. My experience of scoring the goal in real time was roughly the same as the pitch-level views at the end of the clip above.

As I connected with the shot, there was a definite train of thought squeezed into the half-second or so that it took the ball to fly in. Here’s that train of thought: Well, I caught that one just nicely… it’s got a chance… it’s heading for that far corner… it’s got a chance… it’s… it’s in!

I’ve scored at least one better goal in this BaL career. I’ve probably scored a hundred better goals in ML. But I rate this goal as my favourite goal of the PES year so far. It’s all about the context, you see.

Rocky formations

Things have settled into a comfortable routine in my first season with my new club. There are some lingering problems with formations and stupid AI, but I’m living with them. BaL is very suitable for casual play, much more so than Master League. BaL is fitting in nicely with the rest of my life at the moment.

I’m a 20-year-old AMF playing for Catania in the Italian League. After about 15 matches of my first season here, I now start every match. I only get subbed (around the usual 60-75 minute mark) in about half of them. Soon I’ll be where I was at Willem II: a solid first-team regular.

In Italy one thing I have noticed is a very realistic leap in quality, and hence in the overall game difficulty. In the Dutch League I had far more good games than bad. Here in Italy I’ve had a lot of 5.5 and 6.0 ratings in matches that often just seem to pass me by. This makes the matches where I do play well and impose myself even more satisfying.

Part of the reason for my up and down form is the teamwork factor. I’ve yet to see any of the cutscenes that assure me I’m settling into the team, winning the trust of my teammates, etc.

Opposition players are faster and more skilful than in the Dutch League. This is realistic and entirely to the game’s credit. I’ve given PES2011 more stick than any PES game since PES2008, possibly more than it deserves. I think it’s deserved. I think PES2011 deserves endless stick, really. But it’s important to note the things that it does right.

Our form in the League is mixed. We thumped high-flying Napoli 5-1, with me scoring the first goal and assisting another. Then we lost 0-1 at home to Brescia. Then drew 1-1 away to Milan. That’s how things are going. After a good start there was a prospect of getting Catania into the qualifying places for the Champions League, but we’ve fallen away since then into an upper-mid-table zone. Currently I think finishing in a Europa League is the best we can hope for.

I’ve got to have a moan about the AI, particularly the managerial/coaching AI that picks the team formation and tactics. When we play 4-2-2-2 or 4-3-3, we create chances galore and usually win comfortably, home or away. When we play 4-5-1 chances are hard to come by and we’re lucky to scrape a 1-0.

We seem to play 4-5-1 most of the time lately, and I don’t like it. I’m always playing just behind the lone striker. I’m forced into a role where it feels as if I spend more time hunting down fewer opportunities to do things with the ball. With a 4-2-2-2/4-3-3, on the other hand, there’s loads of support from teammates, the chances come thick and fast, I usually have a good game, and we usually win.

Before I came to Catania I did check the Team Information screen. The formation was touted as being a Barcelona-esque 4-3-3. I love 4-3-3, as regular readers will know, and I thought: “I’m having some of that.” But we’ve only played one match, a training match, using that formation. I have started to suspect that lots of games in a 4-5-1 are a hard-coded feature of BaL when you play as a midfielder. It’ll be interesting to see if it happens if I ever actually move to Barcelona or similar.

Finally today, a great goal I scored with my actual proper right foot. It came in a training match against Werder Bremen. The manager’s still got me turning out for the reserves occasionally, but I don’t mind it. I always play the full 90. And the formation’s always at least a 4-2-2-2.

Here’s the goal, a proper zinger from 20 yards, after I find an unusual amount of space being yielded to me in front of the back 4:

Link: Catania goal

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