Month: June 2011

Leave PES2012 alone!

PES2012 preview season has begun. Yesterday saw the release of WENB’s report and podcast following their playtest. PES2012 sounds absolutely mouth-watering. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be excited for this game.

Unfortunately, there was too little single-player talk for my liking. Listening to the WENB podcasts over the past few years, it has always seemed to me that neither Suff nor Adam are huge multiplayer football gamers. I could be mistaken, but the impression I get is that they mainly play single-player and always have done.

So it was deeply frustrating to hear their immediate focus upon multiplayer. This approach to previewing football games is now so familiar that it’s in danger of seeming normal and right. Single-player always seems to be an afterthought by the previewers, whoever they may be.

You can say that the true nature of a football game reveals itself in multiplayer, but you would be wrong. Multiplayer football gaming is a whole other kind of football gaming. Different rhythms, different techniques, different tactics.

For example, a week or two ago I played WE9LE online and enjoyed it a great deal. But I’ve also played it offline, and the two modes are like two distinct games.

I would never try to evaluate WE9LE or any other football game by how it plays in multiplayer. For me a football game is a single-player game first and a multiplayer game a long way second.

So, with that familiar moan out of the way, what can be gleaned about PES2012? Albeit through the distorted lens of multiplayer…

To summarise: PES2012 seems to be an improved PES2011, without any of the latter game’s most dismaying problems. If true, that would be a remarkable game indeed. As long as the final game is the same as the preview code, of course…

And there lies my very real concern. No matter how great PES2012 might seem to be this summer—or even in September’s demo—what guarantee do we have that the game we’ll play in October will be the same?

How do we know that the fiddlers and twiddlers at Konami won’t do again what they did with PES2011? We must never forget that the PES2011 we got last October was substantially different from the demo, and from the preview code.

Part of WENB’s preview article specifically references the introduction of the stumble animation. It’s a sobering fact that it wasn’t in any build of the game until the final build.

And that’s what stops me getting really excited for PES2012’s gameplay. What’s the point, when it could all be taken away with a last-minute twist of a dial somewhere in Konami HQ?

To understand my concern, you have to understand my very real hatred for PES2011’s stumble animation.

Partly, yes, I will admit to exaggerating it for comic effect. But mostly, I really do hate PES2011’s stumble animation.

Put it this way: I sometimes think I hate PES2011’s stumble animation more than I hate the whole of PES2008 on the PS3.

Whenever I think of PES2011 now or in years to come, I won’t think of its lovely animations, or its silky passing, or its complex and engrossing build-up play, or its fascinating and innovative shooting model.

I won’t think of the many great goals I have scored in PES2011.

I definitely won’t think of the absorbing Master League I played—because, for the first time in a decade, I didn’t play a Master League to completion. Disgust overwhelmed me and I could not continue.

When I think of PES2011, this is what I’ll think of:

Over and over and over and over and over and over again. That feckin’ stumble abomination.

That was just the headline issue for me.

The stumble was closely followed by the step-around animation, where players would do a little side-shuffle instead of collecting the ball straightforwardly.

The elephant touch, where the ball would rebound as from a brick wall.

Occasional player selection problems.

And of course the full-backs drifting up to play in the centre-forward position. God, that one’s infuriating.

But a PES2011 without any of those things—or even one just without the stumble abomination—would be a remarkable game indeed.

I know that PES2011 without issues could be great because I played PES2011 for over 200 hours anyway, despite the problems. I was playing it just yesterday on the PC, and I had a pretty good time.

So we wait to see what will happen. Roll on September and the PES2012 demo. I am very curious about this game. But however great it might seem now, or even at demo stage, the proof of PES2012’s pudding will be in the October eating.

The heat of the night

The past few days have been the first truly hot days of the English summer. My little laptop’s cooling fans have switched often into super-high-overdrive mode, and stayed there.

It all reminds me that, currently, I have become something of a PC gamer. Never thought I’d see the day…

I’m nearly at the end of season #1 in my ML career on Winning Eleven 9: Liveware Evolution.  I am playing as Standard Liege, using their original match squad. I’ve had enough of the Defaults for this year, thank you very much.

The patch I’m using is not ML-friendly at all. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess. However, as I remarked on Friday, I played many seasons of the limited ML in PES6(360) with great enjoyment. PES6(360)’s gameplay was great, arguably the best yet on a next-gen console. Its Master League was still good enough to captivate me. The same spirit is sustaining me in WE9LE.

In the mid-season negotiations I only picked up one new player. I tried for several, but missed out on many. A bit of naivete with the old-school negotiations window meant that I was making bids for players far above Standard Liege’s current stature. And then the time ran out.

Still, my one acquisition was a decent one: Aaron Lennon will be a welcome addition to a threadbare squad. My favoured formation is 4-3-3 with wide midfielders. Lennon will slot right in on the left.

I was in with a chance of clinching promotion at the first time of asking, which would have been the first time I’d done so in I don’t know how long.

I never, ever get promoted in my first season. I think I have to go all the way back to one of the very early PES games, PES2 or PES3, to find a year when I did get promoted first time. It’s one of the major differences between me and the majority of Master League aficionados, for whom I believe first-season promotions are the norm.

Sadly, it’s not to be this season. Not unless I can win my last few matches by a shedload of goals, and Copenhagen slip up. That is not impossible in a Konami football game, as we all know.

But it’s very unlikely as I just cannot score in WE9LE. Not yet, anyway

It’s still a new football game to me in so many ways. The chances are coming, but the conversions are not. The fan-made patch makes it very difficult to score from outside the box. In one four-match session there were no goals scored at all, either by me or by the AI.

The patched shooting in general feels a lot like PES2011, as it happens, which is no bad thing. PES2011’s shooting is one aspect of that game that I don’t think I have ever really moaned about.

I have no doubt that the goals will start to come. The familiar momentum that we all experience with football games will start to build.

Finally today, a short note about The Book.

After initially dashing off 6000+ words I paused to consider what I had, and didn’t like it. In style and content it was pretty much like a long blog post, which is not what I want to achieve.

I have now gone back to do a very detailed outline of the book’s content and consider precisely what I want to put in and leave out, instead of randomly chucking it all together as I go along.

I expect to resume actual writing in a week or so. It’s still on target for that October release.

The buggers of Brugge

Yes, my football game of the moment is still Winning Eleven 9: Liveware Evolution. I haven’t lost interest in the shiny bauble of the week. I haven’t jumped off the bandwagon. WE9LE has got depth and staying power. I think it’s here to stay.

I’ve got previous form when it comes to discovering old football games and spending large amounts of time with them.

Amost two years ago I found a copy of PES6(360) in a shop for £2. At that price it wasn’t much of a risk, and I duly discovered one of the best PES games I’ve ever played.

PES6(360) was great despite its limited feature-set and crude Master League. And even by the standards of old-school Master League, PES6(360)’s ML was extremely crude.

None of that mattered, because the gameplay was so good. In addition, I had a lot of next-gen football fatigue. Like now.

In 2011, history is repeating itself. A chance comment and email a few weeks ago pointed me at WE9LE. Here I am, and barring an unlikely FIFA11 miracle comeback, I’m here until at least October.

(It’s best that I don’t even mention PES2011. The stumble animation is… well, I’m not mentioning it.)

Just as I overlooked PES6(360)’s drawbacks, I’m having to overlook WE9LE’s too. The version I’m playing is run with a fan-made patch that updates the squads and kits etc. to season 2010/2011, as well as altering the gameplay via a universal stats adjustment. I think it does so brilliantly.

But sadly the patched game just isn’t optimised in any way for Master League. The screenshot to the left is an example.

The mode is still playable—I’m two-thirds through my maiden season. I worry about what the ML world will look like in a few seasons’ time. But the bird in the hand, and all that…

Last time, I mentioned being beaten 2-0 at Brugge in the first leg of the D2 Cup. I thought that I would have to play the game of my life to turn it around in the second leg at my place.

It so nearly was the game of my life. I started with an aggressive 4-3-3 formation, an even more attacking variant of my favoured PES setup for many years.

WE9LE, as much as any football game I’ve ever played, encourages and favours the Arsenal approach to build-up play and chance-creation. Or the Barcelona approach as I guess we have to call it now.

You know, endless passing and probing, looking for the opening, and usually finished off (if at all) from about 3 yards out.

You still can play direct. You still can pepper the goal with long-range efforts, but it’s hard.

In most matches I have maybe 4 long-range efforts, as opposed to about 8-12 in a typical match in almost any other football game.

In We9LE, I might get one long-ranger on target. When they go in, they’re proportionally more satisfying, of course.

I got the early goal against Brugge that I was praying for. It came from a 20-pass move. I spotted a run my striker was making and fed him the perfect PES through-ball—you know what I mean. It was a through-ball, and it was perfect.

One side-footed finish later, and I was 1-0 up on the day. The score was now 1-2 on aggregate. With 75 minutes of the match left. I was going to do this!

Sadly, some old, old PES problems remain even in WE9LE wonderland.

The AI team reacted as if it had gone 1-0 down in a one-off match. It had no awareness that this was a two-legged match that it was still winning.

The pressure turned up and up as time passed, as the AI became ‘desperate’ for what it thought would be the equaliser.

Eventually, it got its equaliser—and what a goal it was. I rarely post AI goals on the blog, but this was a good ‘un:

I was still pushing desperately myself for what would have been my aggregate equaliser, when the buggers of Brugge hit me on the break.

A floated cross was volleyed first-time from 20 yards past my keeper. A great goal in WE9LE that I would have been orgasmic about myself.

That killed the game off. Now I would have needed to score 3 goals. I crashed out of the D2 Cup.

We’ve never had it so good

I am continuing with my Master League in WE9LE, despite worries about the existing state of the player database and concerns about future Super-Regens and Mega-Youths unbalancing the ML ‘world’. I’m still a big admirer of the We9LE gameplay as it stands. It’s fascinating and rewarding on a number of levels. It plays like a cross between PES5 and PES2011 at their very best, with the instinctive old-school quality of the former and the methodical, break-me-down-if-you-can granularity of the latter. (Without any stumble animations or other glitches, needless to say.)

I want to explore WE9LE as far as possible before I start to fiddle around with other patches. The ‘steering committee’ behind WE9LE’s revival is rumoured to be preparing a much tidier patch for release in a few months. I’ll try to make it to then.

I am playing as Standard Liege, continuing my new tradition of conducting ML campaigns with Belgian sides for no particular reason. After several matches I’m mid-table in Division 2. I have almost been knocked out of the D2 Cup by Bruges. I lost 0-2 at home. I’ll need to play the game of my life to turn it around in the second leg.

Progress in this ML has been slowed by a side-project related to the forthcoming book I’m working on. As part of my preparation and research,  I am currently working my way through every single one of the ISS and PES games from 1995 through to 2011. I need to refresh my memory of them, particularly the ISS games.

I already have all the PES games and one of the ISS games (the original). Last week, I placed orders for the remainder with various eBay and Amazon sellers. This week, the games all started to arrive.

Here’s the full list of games I will be playing over the next week or two as the writing process for the book gets serious:

International Superstar Soccer, ISS Deluxe, ISS 98, ISS 2000, ISS Pro Evolution, ISS Pro Evolution 2, and of course all the games from PES1 to PES2011 (including PES6 for the Xbox360 and the PS2/PSP versions of PES2008, PES2009, and PES2010).

(NB: I won’t be blogging about the old games. It is just for the book.)

I ordered ISS 2000 by mistake, thinking it was ISS Pro Evolution 1. It’s not—ISS 2000 is from an alternate branch of the ISS family that I never actually played at the time.

When I saw the CD label for ISS Pro Evolution 2, I nearly had to sit down.

For most of 2001 that green disk on the left was a familiar daily sight in my old grey tobacco-stained PlayStation.

Seeing it again today is like seeing a picture of myself ten years ago, when I still had hair.

ISS98—the Ince-Ravanelli face-off edition—is, in my memory, the greatest of the ISS-era football games. But it is pretty shocking now.

I’ll save the close-up look at the ISS games for the book. For now, I’ll just say that the graphics are so bad that you can almost see the individual pixels that make up each player.

The commentary is laughable. Tony Gubba is the least worst of the bunch. Terry Butcher and Chris James seemed good ten years ago, but time and standards have changed. Terry Butcher’s flat reading-aloud of his scripted lines makes even Mark Lawrenson sound naturalistic.

There is good in the old games. After the shock wore off, I settled down. There is some good football to be played.

Perhaps the greatest shock was seeing Master League as an option in ISS Pro Evolution 2’s main menu. I would have sworn Master League didn’t start until PES1 at the earliest.

But there it is, bold as brass, with the old-school ML Default squad to boot.

There’s no choice about starting with the Defaults or not. You have to start with them. And there’s no PES United, no Editing, nothing. I started as Leeds United (this really is a game from ten years ago). There’s a full transfer system.

And of course that starting squad includes a certain classic player in his pre-Myth days…

So there’s a lot to like about the older games. But oh, how limited the gameplay!

There’s not even an aerial through-ball in some of the older ones. One-twos are completed automatically, with no choice about when—or if—to make the return pass. The delayed one-two and the declined one-two are key components of our modern football games. Missing these options is like missing a limb.

I got these old games to remind myself of what things were like back then, for me and for the game series that we all follow and love. Accordingly, I’ll be writing about them in the book mostly from a perspective of ‘back then’. I won’t be pulling them apart and judging them by today’s standards.

But speaking now from today’s point of view, it’s a timely reminder of just how fortunate we are. Even the most dubious football game from the current period is in a different class altogether. Even PES2008(PS3).

The 1990s, and ISS, are long dead. Long live Pro Evo.