Month: April 2011

Scraping the bottom

So I’m in a spot of trouble in my second season. That is the current bottom of the Premier League, above, after 10 matches. (It’s a bit of a weird table all round. Fulham are top at the moment, and unbeaten.)

I’m playing as Anderlecht in Master League in PES2011, on Top Player difficulty. I made a huge boo-boo at the end of last season. I accepted offers for five or six of my experienced, useful players. I blithely assumed that I’d have no trouble at all in replacing them with younger, better players during the transfer window.

It’s a lesson that I seemingly have to learn again and again in the new-style Master League that came into force over a year ago in PES2010. The old-school ML’s ‘negotiation window’, which was all but part of my DNA, is no more. The transfer window now is only that: the period in which transfers actually occur, having been negotiated weeks or months previously.

You can still make deals within the window. But the nature of it is such that you only really get one attempt at a couple of players (who could refuse), and then one attempt at another few players (who could also refuse), and then the window’s shut. That is what happened to me this time, and I’ll never let it happen again.

PES2011 can be very engrossing when played as if your life depends on it. Could I get a win? Could I hell.

I was 2-0 up against Everton. They came back to draw 2-2 with two late goals. I was holding Chelsea 0-0 at home. Desperate for something, anything. They got a late winner. I was 1-0 up against Sunderland and collapsed to a 1-2 defeat at the death. It was all getting too much for me.

The high pressure felt absolutely unplayable at times. I was getting no more than a second on the ball, with hordes of AI players constantly closing in.

I’ve been very vocal about deploring PES2011’s high AI pressurising. It seems to be a transparent effort to mimic the rhythms and imperatives of online multiplayer, a style of football gaming that I truly loathe. So it’s no surprise that I’ve struggled to like PES2011 for long stretches of its life.

Then I played West Ham, and got my first win of the season. The goal was… not memorable. Which means that I don’t remember anything about it. I think it was a Lukaku tap-in after a goalkeeper pat-away, but I could be wrong.

Speaking of Lukaku: his fortunes have mostly mirrored my team’s. He’s got just 2 goals in my 10 league matches. He’s been useful at times, but anonymous too often. I’ve struggled to maintain possession and create chances, so he’s been just another player for a lot of the time. I’m sure that with the injection of a few more players later in the season, he’ll be great again.

And so this is where things are. Near the bottom of the table with goals hard to come by, and relegation a genuine possibility. Roll on mid-season, when I’ll be bringing in four or five new players.

Season of the Glitch

I’ve experienced a bad start to Anderlecht’s first season in the Premier League. I finished last season, my promotion season, too quickly. I rushed through it—you know, the way you sometimes do in Master League, just clicking from one match to the next without looking at anything else whatsoever.

I didn’t leave enough time to conduct my transfer business properly. I’d already agreed to sell a lot of my experienced players, on the grounds that they were old or the price was right.

No, I didn’t have any others lined up to replace them. Only one, Boukari, a decent AMF. Nobody else. It was stupid of me.

I had grandiose plans of rebuilding the squad before the start of the new season. “I’ll get some players in the Void,” I thought. The Void is my name for the empty weeks between your last match of one season and your first match of the next. (Just one of many dubious aspects of Master League 2011.)

You can successfully find players, negotiate with them, and sign them whilst passing through the Void. The trouble comes when you get too many refusals. Time starts to run out. My time ran out without any other new signings at all.

Slightly panicking, I signed a striker from the Youths to flesh out the squad. ABREU has a little star next to his name and is one for the future, but right now he’s just a place-filler, really.

It really is a very lightweight squad that I was stuck with heading into match 1. There it is, just above. That’s my entire starting squad for my first season in the top flight. 21 players.

That’s not good, is it? Not good at all. I like to have a squad of around 25 players. I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

My start was what you might expect. 5 matches played. No wins. 2 draws. 3 defeats—one of them a 3-0 hammering by my fellow promotees, Shakhtar Donetsk.

My first ‘proper’ Premier League opponents were Blackpool in week 2. They beat me pretty soundly too. ‘Only’ by 2-0 this time, but it was at home and I barely had a kick.

I’m playing on Top Player difficulty, for now. This is all very familiar. Much the same thing happened to me in my last long career. My first season in the top flight back then was very hard. I got relegated for the first time in my entire ML-playing life. It could easily happen again if I’m not careful:

I was happy to absorb the body-blow to my PES pride last time. It was November 2010. We had our whole football game year ahead of us…

This time? With May fast approaching? No. I’ll happily go down to Professional difficulty at mid-season if I don’t show signs of turning things around. My patience with PES2011 is already wafer-thin. I’d have no qualms about rigging the environment to stay in the top flight. But I wouldn’t go as far as reloading saves to try for different results in matches. I do still have some standards. Sniff.

No PES game has vexed me like PES2011 has. Not even the loathed PES2008(PS3) was as full of random annoyances and glitches.

Which brings me to today’s clip. Its a 2-for-1 special. First is a strange glitch involving player selection that is sadly typical, I feel, of the shoddy code that controls too much of PES2011. The comical aspect of it is that the AI player is also affected by whatever has happened.

Second is a much-needed goal from Suarez that came against Spurs in the FA Cup first round. The goal won me the match 1-0, and kept me in the competition.

Maybe I should forget about the league this year and focus on the Cup instead.

Promoted for the last time

And we’re up. I’ve achieved promotion with Anderlecht to Division 1 in my still-fresh-feeling new Master League career. I’ll be playing in a version of the English Premier League next season.

This is one of the very few times that I’ve achieved promotion in the first season of an ML career. Doubtless my 9 seasons’ worth of playing experience in a previous career helped. As did the fact that I broke with my usual routine of starting with the Defaults, and started instead with Anderlecht’s original squad. Which included a certain Mr Lukaku, of whom more later.

As I thought would happen, I went into the last match of the season with it all resting on that final match. Master League often goes to the final game of the season. It’s the way the beast works. Seabass is on record somewhere as saying that he likes his PES games to generate stories. The coding that underpins Master League’s virtual league tables is one huge story generator.

My opponents in the final match were Benfica, the 4th-placed team, who were then 2 points behind me. Clearly I had the upper hand, only needing a draw. I was also playing at home. My players all had orange and red form arrows.

The match was an open affair. I’ve shown patchy form in the latter part of this season, and lost more than once at home. I knew that a defeat to Benfica would mean a crushing last-gasp disappointment, and another season in Division 2.

I launched my attacks with slightly more caution than usual. I rarely popped the ATT/DEF level above its middle setting. I had a few good chances but the goal wouldn’t come. But I was holding off the few structured Benfica attacks with ease. It had 0-0 written all over it, which would have suited me—but we all like to win games in Master League, don’t we? Particularly home games.

It finished 0-0, and my players celebrated, and I was promoted.

And I was very happy. This year so far of PES2011 has been a tricky time for me in lots of ways. I still don’t really think very highly of PES2011, I have to say.

And so I need to keep this thing moving forward. If I look back—or even if I just stand still—I fear PES2011 will be turned into a pillar of salt.

Lukaku finished the season as top scorer with 20 goals. It was an incredible debut season for a 17-year-old striker. He’s the greatest prodigy I can ever remember playing with in any PES. Here’s that final goalscorers’ table:

And here’s the overall league Best XI, which not surprisingly features Lukaku (but none of my other players, which is a little disappointing):

And that wraps up the season. Over the weekend just gone, I played no PES2011 at all. The action related above all happened on Friday morning.

The reason for my lack of PES is due to two new games that have occupied my time.

Tiger Woods 12 is one. My last serious console golf game before this was Tiger Woods 2003. (Which boasted one of the most memorable soundtracks I’ve come across in a sports game. Altogether now: #I’m watchin’ you watch over me/And I’ve got… the greatest view from here…#). In the time since 2003, something has been introduced to the Tiger Woods franchise called ‘precision putting’. It has seriously sent me back to school in golfing terms. I like.

The other new arrival is Portal 2. No, I didn’t climb aboard the hype train: I was already firmly onboard, having played and loved the original Portal to bits back in 2008.

So I should only get started on the new season in Division 1 over the next day or two. Wednesday’s post will cover the transfer window and the first few matches of season 2.

5 matches to midnight

The game has gone slightly bad again, but I won’t be restarting Master League again. It’s this career or bust for me now. There’s probably nothing else for me between now and the 2012 games’ demos in September.

The stumble and step-around animations are just part of PES2011 and something to which I should just resign myself, and I mostly do.

PES2011’s high AI pressure really does seem ridiculous to me. I try to cope with it by not hanging onto the ball for long, but however zippily I move the ball along, there’s a degradation of possession that seems to guarantee a ‘turnover’ eventually.

I’ve said so much about PES2011’s negatives in recent weeks and months that I’m tired of it myself. I’ll focus on the positives today. Because I am still playing the game, after all, and with a high degree of immersion and enjoyment to boot.

Lukaku is still a phenomenon for me, but in a different way nowadays. There are no more of Lukaku Mk I’s regular 25-yard howitzers that always made me smile, no matter how many times I scored them. Instead, Mk II’s something of an all-rounder, getting tap-ins and headers from corners, that kind of thing.

He’s the division’s top scorer, and by some distance, as can be seen from this screenshot:

That’s some pretty good going, and a few more goals than Lukaku Mk I had got me by this stage. I’m very happy with Mk II now. I’ll take the quantity of bread and butter goals he scores over the pretty-looking ones that Mk I was always banging in.

My overall league form has been going quite well. I’ve experienced a few defeats and draws that I shouldn’t have suffered from, thanks to suspicious late equalisers and winners from the CPU.

The scripting debate goes on and on. I’ve felt its heavy hand more than once recently. I’m a long-term believer that the game takes control of the flow of events—or more precisely, takes control away from you—at certain times.

There was this one really tough match against Shakhtar Donetsk. The AI pressurising seemed to be turned up to 11. I had to battle and scrap for everything. I battled and scrapped a 2-1 lead with a minute of ordinary time on the clock. The AI kicked off. I won’t describe how the ball then ended up in my net five seconds later. I’m being positive today.

I wasn’t too bothered. I’ve come to regard PES2011’s little ways with a degree of fond toleration that I probably shouldn’t. I should be fuming and spitting, but I can’t really be bothered these days. So there’s a football game where some funny business goes on occasionally. So what?

I’ve fought in plenty of other matches in which the AI hasn’t come back, and I’ve taken the points.

With 5 matches left of the season I’m in 4th place, and 4 points behind a promotion spot. I’ve kept pace for about ten matches with the top 3 without quite managing to catch them yet.

There are 5 matches left in the season. I’ll easily have played this season by Monday and will reveal all then. If PES2011 is anything like its predecessors, I bet I’ll go into the final match with a chance of clinching promotion.