Month: July 2011

Is this the real life?

That’s Litmanen there, looking a bit furtive in his latest WE9LE appearance. He’s still only 18 in my ML ‘world’, and a long way from being the player he will become. In his so-called real life he peaked in his late 20s, I seem to recall. That’s a very long time away.

I doubt I’ll still be playing this career in 10 seasons’ time, but you never know. It all really depends on PES2012. If PES2012 goes wrong—and let’s not kid ourselves that it’s impossible for PES2012 to go wrong—anything could still happen.

There’s a new, better patch for WE9LE due later this year. I’ll be very interested to see what it does for the single-player game.

Also in my WE9LE midfield is Aaron Lennon, who could be said to have peaked in his real-life late teens. He’s probably my most valuable player, consistently, from match to match. I have the most shots on goal with him, and even score one or two as well.

WE9LE’s impressive shooting model continues to fascinate me. Long-range goals are so rare that they’re a truly precious commodity. Creating a good enough opening just to attempt one in WE9LE is almost an achievement in itself. I played a match of PES5 for comparison and was able to fire off the shots almost at will.

It’s still only season 3. Progress has been very stop-start, not least because of a PES2011 side-project, and certain other projects too.

I passed the 10K words mark for the book yesterday. I think I’ll aim for 40-50K as a first draft. I’d like it to be a relatively short, intense read. Nowadays I love books that can be read in several hours spread over a day or two, not weeks. It’ll still be a (hopefully) good book-length read, but not a major George R.R. Martin-type of commitment. (Another thing to distract me, there. I’m a fifth of the way through the 1000+ pages of A Dance With Dragons.)

Truth be told, there is at least 1 day per week now where I don’t play any football game at all. Sometimes 2 or 3 days. This would have been unthinkable just a year ago.

Does this signal a permanent change in my behaviour? I don’t think the urge to play football games will ever leave me, but you never know. What if something else comes to take its place?

I’m still playing the mighty Dwarf Fortress with a kind of passionate obsession I haven’t known since discovering Civilization II more than a decade ago. I’m putting in 5-hour stints on the game on my days off work. I care about my thriving dwarf fortress more than any of my football games right now, and that’s the truth.

And just now, while procrastinating over the writing of this post, I was having a look at Football Manager 2011 on Steam. Thinking: should I? I want, I want… etc. With everything else currently happening, there’s no way I’d want to play FM2011 for more than 20 minutes or so, so what am I thinking?

Where does it come from, this greed for games we’ll never be able to play properly? I think it’s a peculiarly recent phenomenon. I don’t remember being afflicted by it until around 2009 or so. Before then, I got one game and played it and finished it, and then moved onto the next thing. But things are not like that any more, as the dozens of unplayed and barely-played games on my phone will also testify. Curious.

Seedorf Fortress

Before heading back to WE9LE, I wanted to finish my Champions League tournament with AC Milan on PES2011. 15-minute matches on Professional difficulty have shown me the best and worst of PES2011 all over again.

I won the thing, beating Marseille 3-0 in the final. Along the way I had a memorable 4-4 semi-final second leg against Inter. (I went through on away goals.)

Prior to that, in the quarter final, my opponents were Chelsea. Or London FC as they’re still called in the 360 copy of the game. (I refuse, on point of principle, ever to refer to PES2011 on the Xbox360 as another version of PES2011. It’s not. It’s exactly the same game that it is on PS3 and PC.)

The Chelsea/London FC matches were my most enjoyable since the opening match that I thought so highly of.

AC Milan’s squad is a large and impressive one. I was never short of quality players to replace blue- and purple-arrowed ones. Since the earliest days of ISS/PES, I have never taken to the field with blue-arrowed players unless I can help it.

One of my discoveries is that it’s great to play PES2011 with great teams and great players. I know: this is something that everybody who plays online discovered a long, long time ago. Welcome to the party, granddad. Etc.

Pato and Ibrahimovic have been my main strikers. In midfield, Pirlo and Flamini have excelled.

But my star player for the tournament would have to be the old man, Clarence Seedorf. As many readers will know, I love me some long-range shooting in PES. Seedorf’s real-life skills in that department have been very ably reproduced in PES2011.

The discovery of Seedorf has been a highlight. I’ve played him as a DMF in a midfield diamond, with Van Bommel dropping to the bench.

It’s as hard as ever to create the space to make the shot, and harder still to get it on target and use the right power, but when it comes off, it really comes off. This one is a bread and butter distance strike for me in PES2011:

I love the technique of the shot, the direction and slight bend on the ball, the way the net ripples, the goalie’s despairing dive…

And most of all, the context. The quarter final was a tight, tense affair, with a 1-0 win at my place followed by a 2-1 defeat at theirs. For the longest time I was 2-0 down and on the verge of elimination. Having never won a CL tournament on PES2011, I would have been disappointed. The above goal was the late, late away goal that clinched victory.

After the tournament was over I had time to mess about in the Master League menus. I was very tempted to set up a career with AC Milan, using the original squad. I should be able to breeze to a Treble in a few seasons, right? Maybe. Probably.

But no. I already have a perfectly fine ML career going in another football game entirely. I want to spend some quality time with it. So I leave PES2011 with a twinge of regret, and head back to WE9LE.

Pursued by an investigative reporter

The past few days have been like one of those web articles whose first paragraphs are packed with gratuitous references to Lady Gaga and Britney Spears and all their related keywords. Such articles are intended to attract hits from those who really are looking for the latest showbiz clothes sex shopping gossip sex chatter about Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. It’s more than a bit awkward and frustrating to run into when you were looking for something else entirely.

The end of last week saw me drooling about the gameplay of PES2011 when played with top teams. Or with a top team, anyway: AC Milan, in a Champions League tournament, on Professional difficulty, with 15-minute matches.

I’ve still had some high quality moments, but nothing so far has matched up to the almost primordial innocence of the pure PESness of that one match against Valencia.

It all begs the question: why is PES2011 like this? Why can’t it just behave, and be good? Why must it revert to the awkward, tangly, stumble-strewn mess that has made year 2010-2011, overall, my most deflating football game year since 2007-2008, the year of the game-that-must-not-be-mentioned?

I felt so curious that I broke out my best Jack McGee impersonation and did some investigating. I replayed one problematic match over and over, about 5 times in all, under various conditions. My methodology was hardly rigorous, far from exhaustive, and definitely not scientific, but the results—such as they are, such as they are—are interesting. Ahhh, vaguely interesting, anyway.

The final AC Milan group game was at home against Rosenberg. I was already through as group winner. Rosenberg were already out. They would finish bottom of the group no matter what. You might expect this situation to produce a sterile, Exhibition-type match. You would be wrong.

The match was as bitterly gruelling and ugly as any I’ve played in PES2011—and I’ve played a few, believe me.

Two players or more were around each of mine the instant they had the ball. Shooting? Forget about it. The long stumble-and-pause animation was on show a lot more than the shooting animations.

I won 1-0, with a glancing header from a looping near-post cross (a bit of a PES2011 exploit, that). It was a terrible match that I didn’t enjoy even slightly.

In the spirit of investigation, I reloaded the save and played it again. Once again, the same conditions applied. Supercharged Rosenberg overpowered and outpaced and out-skilled my players all over the pitch, for the whole 90 minutes. This time it was a 1-1 draw.

I’ve had a persistent theory for many years now that PES games adjust their character from session to session. Particularly in Master League. I have nothing to go on except a hunch based on the accumulated impressions from thousands of hours of play over more than a decade. It’s the only thing that explains why your shots all sail in one day, then you come back the next day and can’t do anything. Nothing else has changed. You’re playing today with the same team and players against the same opponents as yesterday, but the game feels totally different.

So I quit the game and turned off the console. Waited a minute or two, humming to myself. Then powered the console back on and reloaded the game and the save.

Drat. All the same. Another dour, tight, thankless kind of match.

So I did it again. Except this time, I waited a couple of hours. Thinking, what if the internal clock has to tick past a certain point before the hypothetical PES character-altering switch is switched?

I loaded up and played again, and—placebo effect notwithstanding—it all did seem a bit gentler, a bit more in keeping with the stately, plump PES that we know and love.

In the interests of science, I replayed again, and again—making about 5 or 6 experiments in total, over a period of two days.

The matches were all a mixed bag. The fixture would need to be replayed with a much larger sample, under controlled conditions, to determine any kind of pattern that would lead to a conclusion.

And my conclusion: I just don’t know what the problem is. Bring on PES2012. I need to draw a line under this year, fast.

Postscript: this morning, Monday 25th July, I’ve played the two Round of 16 matches (against Manchester United) and the games were sublime. Really great examples of PES2011 at its best. But what version of the game will turn up tomorrow morning? This is the problem with PES2011, I feel.

A startling metamorphosis occurs

Well, well, well. Big news in the PESverse: a ‘trigger player run’ feature, albeit with a Konami twist, is coming in PES2012. There will be automatic and manual versions, both mapped to the R3 button.

It’s a big step for the series—whether forward or backward remains to be seen. There’s been a bit of a flap about it on the forums.

I’m not perturbed, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a feature I valued in next-gen FIFA. I’m not bothered in the slightest about PES copying FIFA’s good ideas, and I don’t believe that this constitutes a ‘FIFAisation’ of PES.

Secondly—and perhaps most importantly—I wonder just how much I’ll actually end up using this new feature? Trigger runs in PES2012 could be a first-session wonder for many of us, or something used sparingly at best.

In about 300 hours’ total play on PES2011, I still haven’t played a manual pass or executed a trick-feint. I’ll occasionally waggle the right stick to shake off a defender while getting a cross in, but that’s it. I know there’s a world of choice embedded deeper within the game, but I’m happy playing without it and the game’s happy to let me. Trigger runs in PES2012 should exist on the same opt-in basis.

So I’m happy, or better to say: happy to see what they’ll make of it.

One thing’s for sure: if any of Konami’s innovations turn out to break the game, or herald the actual FIFAisation of PES, it’ll make the next-gen PES2008 catastrophe look like a minor squall.

In other news, yesterday on PES2011 I enjoyed one of the single best games of football of my football gaming year.

It was AC Milan vs Valencia in the opening fixture of another Champions League tournament. I played as AC Milan. The match length was 15 minutes. (15-minute matches are the new rock ‘n’ roll.)

It was a revelation. The game felt totally different from the grim mess that I experience so often. I felt able to play football, to pass, to move, to craft openings, to defend well and in depth. It felt, dare I say it, much more like the demo. Hmmm.

I’ve never really played PES2011 with top teams. My old 9-season Master League team on the PS3 was as close to a top team as I’ve come. Even most of those players were only just above-average at the time I abandoned them in disgust.

In PES, as in football games generally, I’ve always relished the challenge of teasing the best out of average teams and players. Somehow it makes any achievement all the more glorious. The only time I ever play with Barcelona etc. is in the demo.

AC Milan’s default formation is a very flexible 4-4-2 with one of the strikers slightly withdrawn into the SS role. Cassano occupies this slot automatically, but he was blue-arrowed for the Valencia game. I put Pato in his place.

I’d never played with Pato before. He was sensational. I scored a hat-trick with him. He seemed to handle a lot like Schwarz at his peak.

The first goal was a classic centre-forward’s header from a cross, after I’d indulged myself in some sublime tippy-tappy football that I’ve rarely been able to play before on this game.

Pato’s second and third were both long-range efforts, one from 20 yards, the other from 25-30 yards. I wish I’d recorded all three goals to show here. The third goal was as good a long-ranger as I’ve scored, with the merest chink of space taken full advantage of. But I didn’t want to get up and break the spell of this magical match.

If I do start a new ML on PES2011, it’ll be with AC Milan. There’s no time for a Default campaign. I’ve got too much else on besides, not least the book.

And of course, there’s my ML in WE9LE. I’m stubbornly persisting with it despite the old-school ML with its database issues.

It’s been a patchwork football game year for me so far. I do miss the old certainty of a continuous cohesive march from October to October. PES2012, I look to you in yearning.