Month: June 2011

WE9LE online and off

The world is coming to an end: I have played a football game online, and it didn’t suck. On Friday I played three 20-minute matches of Winning Eleven 9: Liveware Edition against its leading spokesman, Lukasz of—a website and forum that is the locus for all things WE9LE.

Regular readers will know that I never play online. Never, ever. Once in a blue moon, yes, maybe. But mostly? Never. Never. Never.

My attitude to online football gaming is hard to convey. For many football gamers, the offline, single-player game no longer holds much attraction. Liking single-player is a bit strange. Preferring it to anything else at all is almost inconceivable.

I dislike online play for a couple of main reasons. First I dislike the time it takes up, time that I would rather spend playing single-player. Gaming time is limited for me.

I mostly dislike the incessantly fast and furious nature of online football. WE9LE’s patched slow-and-steady gameplay does mitigate that to some extent, but not entirely. I still ended the session with fingers stiff from the death-grip I’d had on the controller. My single-player sessions never end like that.

At least the online games were very good, probably the best I’ve ever played. I was very pleased to find no evidence that Lukasz was holding back. He played as you would expect a veteran player of a single football game to play: instinctively, imaginatively, and ruthlessly when needed.

I lost the first two matches 3-1 and 2-1. In the third match I went into an amazing—and terrifying—2-0 lead. Both my goals were headed efforts from speculative crosses. Lukasz changed up a gear and got the score back to 2-2 with a brace of headers of his own. That’s how the match ended. I was fortunate to get away with a draw, really.

I hugely enjoyed the online games. I do tend to enjoy myself, on the whole, whenever I play online.

So why not play online more? Here’s why:

Because it’s not so much that I actually dislike playing online. It’s that I like playing offline more. A lot more.

I have very tentatively begun a Master League career in WE9LE. I don’t want to see the Defaults again until October, so I started as Standard Liege with their original squad. I’m playing on 4* difficulty for now.

After a few seasons there may be problems with superkids appearing as Youths and Regens. WE9LE’s fan-made patch only affects the starting players in the database. I think the game’s good enough to start playing, and see what happens.

But there are problems right now. Some of the squads are very badly jumbled up. Standard Liege begin with just 18 players. A centre-forward is in goal and there are strikers playing in defence. I have to wonder if the other AI-controlled squads are similarly afflicted. I will check the database and decide what to do.

I could always install a different patch, but I really love the gameplay with this one. The genius of this version of WE9LE is that it transforms the previously ordinary elements of PES gameplay into something much more significant. The two matches I’ve played so far in my ML have been like studies in methodical, engrossing football action. I lost one 0-1 and won the other 1-0.

Below is the goal I scored in that 1-0 win. Nothing very special in footy game terms. We’ve probably all scored many hundreds like it. In WE9LE, scoring this kind of clipped goal from outside the area in this way is a bit of an achievement. Or at least it feels like one. Which is all that matters.


The Man With Two Games

A busy past few days for me means a shorter post today. And yes, I appreciate that the blog is lacking some focus right now.

Instead of pursuing a Master League career in one of the games, I’m drifting from football game to football game. Just waiting for one to claim me.

Currently I’m sampling the delights of Winning Eleven 9: Liveware Evolution. Those delights are very real. This is the most fascinated I’ve been by a new football game for a long time.

But I just don’t know if I’ll ever be able to play its Master League. The game’s patch reduces players’ stats across the board. If I did play Master League, when the Youths and Regens started to come through after season 1 their stats and growth would be wildly disproportionate. The whole ML world would be all out of whack.

Football gaming is Master League, for the most part, for me. It’s what I do. I don’t play online, except very, very rarely.

Such as today, for instance.

Indeed, right about the time of this post’s publication, midday Friday, I should be deep in a game or two with Mr WE9LE himself, the ubiquitous Lukasz.

Bringing WE9LE back to life is a mission that he’s very evangelical about, and rightly so. I might have been the same way about PES5 at one point in my footy gaming life.

By next week I will hopefully, finally, be back on Master League. But if so, where? I haven’t forgotten about my PES5 career, you know. And I hear there might be a way to play WE9LE’s ML without the issues, using a different patch. It’s nice to have options.

In the meantime, here are three goals. The first two are from a couple of recent sessions on PES2011. The third goal at the bottom is my pick of the bunch, simply because I never thought it would ever happen: a WE9LE long-ranger.

First, a super-duper long-range strike in PES2011:

Second, a scissors kick in PES2011:

Yes, the scissors kick goal is such a commonplace in PES2011 that they’re not worth making any kind of fuss over. But I thought this one was a bicycle kick at first look. And it is off to one side of the goal, rather than directly in front.

Finally, the third is the one I’ve been waiting for all week—a long-range strike in WE9LE:

A goal like this is utterly bread and butter in old-school PES. You wouldn’t even look at the replay most of the time. Just press Start, and get on with the match.

But in WE9LE it’s tough just to get a shot from outside the box on-target. It’s tough to get any kind of power on them. Yes, there was a lot of space there, but I worked for it.

I hope it’s the first of many. We’ll see if there’s a Master League career for me in WE9LE.

For the Winning Eleven

Since late on Saturday night I’ve been playing Winning Eleven 9: Liveware Evolution on the PC. (Hereafter to be known as WE9LE.)

The version I’m playing is comprehensively patched with season 2010-2011 squads, kits, and leagues. The patch also implements across-the-board stats changes that tweak the gameplay in a number of important ways.

At the time of writing I have played approximately 30 ten-minute matches, using a variety of teams. All single-player, needless to say.

It’s been an eye-opener.

Amazingly it’s the first time I’ve ever played a football game called Winning Eleven. Some years ago I bought an import copy of WE7 that I saw in a bargain bucket. I still have that game—but I’ve never had a chipped PS2 to play it on.

WE9LE on PC is basically PES5 with everything fine-tuned. It’s not the Japanese WE9, nor the North American one.

WE9LE is its own distinct branch of the PES5 family tree. It was only ever released in South Korea, back in March 2006.

By that time, Konami—those wizards who produced football games to universal acclaim, year after year—had spent an extra 6 months perfecting PES5.

And in WE9LE, it shows.

I have always maintained that PES5 is the best PES game I have ever played. Recently, trying to rekindle that old flame has proved a challenge.

I was emailed out of the blue by Lukasz, one of the leading voices behind of WE9LE’s rebirth. You may have seen his threads on EvoWeb, WENB, and PESfan.

He and many others are doing their best to spread the word. They’re trying to bring WE9LE’s very existence to the attention of those who are, for whatever reason, dissatisfied with the current State of PES.

How could I not take the time to take a look at WE9LE, a game held to be the perfected version of PES5, the best football game ever?

The hook for this fan-patched WE9LE is: REALISM.

Now, ‘realism’ is a loaded word in football gaming. It’s right up there alongside ‘arcade’ and ‘simulation’ in that special place where people on the Internet are so often wrong.

In essence, realism in football gaming is commonly held to mean that the game should mimic the rhythms and patterns of a real game of football.

In the real game of football, the other team makes it as difficult as possible for your team to score a goal against them. Sometimes nothing much happens in front of either goal as the teams jockey for the upper hand.

Often, computer football games are about squeezing ye olde sprint button, and dribbling with Messi, and taking a dozen potshots from 25 yards until one of them goes in. I know I’m guilty of the latter ‘cheese tactic’.

But what if there was a game that really did model tight midfield battles? Where you had to be careful with your passing, and with how many touches you permitted certain players to take? Where the sprint button really was almost redundant, only useful for short bursts, and even then very occasionally?

I know: quite a few recent football games already do that. Some would argue for PES2011, others for FIFA08, still others for others…

But I see those realistic qualities writ very large in WE9LE.

Shooting and player acceleration have been dialled down from PES5 levels. The general pace of play is similar to PES2011 on -1 speed.

One of the most striking differences about WE9LE is its shooting. It is very, very hard to score a goal in this game.

Four days after starting to play, 30+ matches in, I am still playing on 3* difficulty. I average roughly 0.75 goals per game (in 10-minute matches).

You have to knock the ball around and probe for openings more than in any other PES game I have experienced.

Let me take you back to the middle of the last decade, to the years of PES5 and PES6. A loose ball is rolling into your top-rated midfielder’s path. It’s 25-30 yards out. You are accustomed to taking a first-time wallop, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to unleash a rocket of a shot. It will probably be on target, and hopefully it’ll be a spectacular goal.

Well, that’s the PES shooting routine I grew accustomed to. We all did, to the point where the (I’ll say it) arcade shooting model became our norm. Any departure from which is seen as divergent. (Witness, on any PES forum, the unmerciful stick dished out to next-gen FIFA’s semi-assisted and manual shooting options.)

WE9LE’s shooting model is definitely not arcade. All my attempted first-time rocket shots with Lampard & Gerrard et al have tamely gone over, or very wide, or into the keeper’s hands. I’m sure they are possible, but my timing and technique will need to be very precise.

Shooting is HARD in this tweaked We9LE. And it’s meant to be that way.

WE9LE’s proponents assert that the game is the most realistic football game ever. It’s too early for me to wholeheartedly agree. It can take weeks of play for a football game’s true character to become apparent.

But early impressions do count for a lot. And all I can say, currently, is that I think WE9LE is damned realistic.

It reminds me of the best of a few recent PES games that I’ve played. The best of PES5. The best of PES2010 (heavy player- and ball-physics). The best of PES2011, with the overall slower pace and the intricate shooting. (For all the grief I have given PES2011 over the past 6 months of posts, I have rarely criticised its shooting.)

The We9LE group currently playing have an active forum located here. The members predominantly play each other online, it has to be said. WE9LE has the usual Master League that I’m itching to dive into. I’ve tried to explain my single-player predilection, but it’s hard going. I have agreed to play at least one match online later this week. Yes, me, playing online!

WE9LE and the patch are available by following links from the relevant section of the weplaywe site. There is no other way to obtain the game at this time.

The current version of the 2010-2011 patch is not perfect. There are some errors in the squads and formations. But those are quickly fixed with a visit to the editor.

Otherwise, the patch is impressive. The kits have an authentic wrinkled look. You can choose shirts, shorts, and socks in any combination at the team selection screen.

Even if you hate it (and some will, because it is unforgiving), it’s worth a visit for the sake of the series. It’s a part of PES/WE history that I wasn’t even aware of until last week, and I flatter myself that I’m an old hand at this game.

PES/WE is a broad church. I’m very happy to have stumbled across this lost colony in the wilderness.

More on Friday. And hopefully a goal or two. Seriously, scoring is so hard that I wonder if I’ll ever have a WE9LE long-ranger to show off.

A new Korea?

Season 3 of my Master League career in PES5 on the PC has come to an end. I finished 6th in Division 2.

That poor showing in the league, combined with some transfer market foolishness mid-season, all left me in dire financial straits. I was almost 4000 points short of the necessary amount of cash.

Things were so bad that I scheduled the maximum 7 pre-season friendlies. If I won 5 of them, receiving 800 points per match (plus the odd 20 points for each goal), I would squeak through the financial window with room to spare. Anything less, and I’d be releasing players to make it through. It was a situation that will be familiar to any Master League player.

It’s always tempting to lower the difficulty for such crucial friendlies, but I like to play through these times with a sense of real peril. I left the difficulty on 5*. (I haven’t unlocked 6* yet in the PES Shop.)

I got through the friendlies, winning 3, drawing 2, and losing 2. And so it came to pass that I had to release a few more players, leaving myself with the most threadbare squad possible:

Owww. 18 players in the squad is the absolute minimum the game will allow you to have. I don’t think it’ll be enough to help me out of this Division this season. I’m stuck in a vicious cycle.

PES5 on the PC continues to trouble me. It still plays a recognisably good game, but it’s not the scintillating all-round experience that I remember it being.

Its hectic pace annoys me for much of the time. Since 2005 I’ve got used to a slower game, or at least one whose pace is more varied for more of the time.

There’s an eerily PES2011-like method of approach play and chance-creation. Which is no bad thing, necessarily. PES2011 has its strong points.

Speaking of PES2011, the recent news about PES2012 inspired me to play a clutch of matches in my Anderlecht ML save.

The experience was pretty good, on the whole. I can appreciate why so many PES veterans hold PES2011 to be not just the best next-gen PES, but one of the best overall.

What I can never accept in PES2011 is the stumble animation and the little step-around animation and the universal elephant touch. This last, elephant touch, where the ball randomly bounces a preposterous distance from a player’s feet, is not a nuanced modelling of players’ poor first touches. Elephant touch is at best somebody’s really bad idea for a gameplay mechanic, and at worst just a shit-ugly glitch. That’s all there is to it.

It’s been a summer of hopping about, so far, from PES2011 to PES6(360) to PES5(PC). And my wanderings might not be finished yet.

Last week, a commenter—abbeyhill—suggested I take a look at Winning Eleven 9: Liveware Edition (aka WE9LE), which is undergoing a renaissance thanks to a hardcore of dedicated fans.

Published only in Korea in March 2006, WE9LE is PES5, effectively, but refined and crafted and tweaked towards perfection. Nowadays it comes with a comprehensive fan-made patch for the 2010-2011 season, which also further refines the gameplay. Most notably, it slows things right down.

I have obtained the game with the patch, and I played it briefly on Sunday.

How nice at this time of year to have what feels like a brand-new PES game to play…

But I’ll play it some more, and speak about it in depth on Wednesday.