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.

Updated: 25th July 2011 — 11:41

18 Comments

  1. I’ve never really bought in to the scripting conspiracy that you’ve mentioned previously, but something happend on my BaL game the other day that made me question. It was the final day of the season playing a meaningless match for Fiorentina. I knew that I was due to leave the house once the wife was ready so saved the game beforehand knowing that it probably wouldn’t get finished (but played just in case).

    After about 10 game minutes the AMF Montolivo banged in his first goal of the season. Anyway, I had to turn the PS3 off mid game (was out for the night), and came back to play it again the following day. Lo and behold Montolivo scored again. So from going the whole season without a goal, he then scored in both attempts at this one game. Strange. Maybe there is something in it after all?

  2. surely this reflects scripting within the internal logic of the tournament mode (or ML) rather than external factors (e.g. PES11 only plays smoothly on Wednesdays) or randomness – the game had decided that you’d been winning too easily, so chose to overpower Rosenberg for that game, no matter how often you replayed it?

    As to the big question of why is PES11 like this, I guess the obvious answer is that the game would be too easy if it played beautifully all the time. I agree that the cheap tricks it uses, like constant stumbling or supercharged opposition, to create a challenge are incredibly irritating. Probably the main reason why I don’t like ML so much these days, as it feels like your own skill is a relatively minor influence on the outcome of matches. Ideally Konami would improve the AI so that the game could play beautifully but still put up a stiff challenge

  3. Liam—in this post I’m not really talking about the alleged scripting* of results and incidents within matches, except in the most general, wide-lens sense. I mean the overall handling of the football game, how it sets itself up, how much pressure the opposition put on you, how rushed you are with the ball. From session to session the PES2011 single-player AI swings from one extreme to the other in a way that makes no logical sense. It seems to be random spasms rather than contextual (this match was meaningless, meaning nothing to either side).

    [*scripting definitely exists! Ever played a simple five-yard pass, late in a match whilst you’re winning 1-0, only to see it shoot ten yards to the nearest AI player? Happens quite often, doesn’t it? That kind of thing’s a blatantly scripted event, to me.]

  4. abbeyhill—looking at the big PES picture realistically, it has to be said that the school of dirty tricks has always been a mainstay for the single-player experience, particularly in AI. I’ve lived with that and loved the games for more than a decade anyway.

    But it seems to me in PES2011 that there’s no real subtlety about it. No proportion.

    PES5 took the piss and still does, but I loved it regardless—ditto most, or all, of the other PS2 PES games.

    Rosenberg in PES2011 over the weekend just gone were 20-feet-tall, 100mph supermen. I just played the Round of 16 against Man Utd who were, well, just normal players. If anything it should have been the other way around and Man Utd should have strong-armed me off the park. And I could almost accept that! What I can’t accept is the seemingly random way PES2011 boosts its AI teams without regard for context.

    Once again I fall back on my theory that this is all related to the recent growth of online multiplayer. They—Konami and EA—have looked online, seen how 99% of players play (maximum pressure, maximum speed, all the time), noted how insanely popular multiplayer is, and they’ve tried to make single-player more attractive by giving it a multiplayer feel. With ugly consequences.

  5. Kind of makes a mockery of having player stats if the whole scripted/random boosting is an actual effect.
    Whats the point of playing with a Top team, full of stars if one day they play like that and dispose of lesser teams, but the next they are overpowered and outperformed by a much lesser team with less skilled individual players.
    Realism you might say, we see the big teams have off days and lose against the weaker teams, but thats why teams like Man Utd dont always play very well but still end up winning matches and championships, because its all in proportion.
    Their forwards might be having an off day in front of goal and squandering chances, whereas the weaker team puts away theyre one and only chance, or the weaker team might just want it that little bit more in midfield. It DOES NOT mean that Wigan’s players will all be faster, more technically gifted and stronger than Barcelona’s players, whilst Xavi cant accurately play a 5 yard pass to feet, that isnt realism, and that uncertainty leads over time to a lack of confidence in the game.
    I really hope PES12 builds on all the improvements that have been made, both in the AI and mechanics and removes any scripted ‘dice roll’ and leaves the game open and purely based on the players ability vs the AI, rather than behind the scenes factors compensating and adjusting the outcomes.

  6. Paul—I think proportion is the key. That, and Konami (and EA) getting it into their heads that most of us who love the single-player experience want it to stay true to itself and its history. Even those who also love multiplayer—and inhabit the crossover segment of the Venn diagram—would agree, I’m sure, that what might work in one sphere doesn’t in the other. Having an AI that randomly behaves like a sprint-clamping 12-year-old in a bad mood is not the way forward for our beloved game! The levels of scripting/aggression shown by the AI in PES for a decade were just fine—we don’t need a whole other level of it in next-gen. But I fear it’s probably already too late. Hope not.

  7. As you may know im in my 16th season of my ML career on PES2011. last season, i won the premier league, got to the final of the FA Cup, and the quarter finals of the Europa League, so am doing ok.
    I dont have a single ‘Big Name’ player in my team, but all players i have nurtured from your (Oscar, now rated 99 OVR) or players i have bought and developed (Welliton, last seasons league top scorer and consistently hits 20+ goals a season).

    To put in that many hrs of Master League, i think its fair to say I enjoy the game and think overall, it plays quite well. Yes ive seen the stumble, step around, elephant touch etc more than enough but it doesn’t really affect my game to disastrous proportions.
    Ive recently been playing FIFA 11 online quite a bit, something i NEVER do, play online but due to FIFA’s poor Wasp like AI and insane pressure i find the only way I can play the game and get enjoyment from it is against other ‘real’ people.

    Since going back to PES after a lengthy session on FIFA, PES’s annoyances have become even more noticeable, now im not saying FIFA is a better game, but it just works. It might be a tight, squalid affair, with insane wasp like swarms of players around you instantly but you know that the core fundamental mechanics of the game just work and do what they’re supposed to, when you want them to.
    IMO the core gameplay is far superior on PES but it just doesnt have FIFAS reliability to back it up, things like the smooth passing model, the player switching, or even more annoying, the lack of ability to select the best placed player.
    for me, since my little forage into the world of FIFA, when i now play PES, i feel anxious whenever i get the ball, i dont trust my player, or the game, to allow my player to run 2 yards with the ball before being sent flying or stumbling into oblivion.
    I dont want to get rid of the ball as soon as i receive it in PES, i like using skilled players to dribble, play killer passes, bomb down the wing etc, this is where PES excels, in the player individuality area, if you are unable to use that individuality due to zero trust in the game mechanics then it falls down.

    This is where PES 2012 needs to come in strong, Konami have said this year its all about game play, and so it should be.
    We have heard Adam and Suff rave over the early play tests of PES12 beta code saying how its like ‘night and day’ compared to PES11, all the annoying bugs were fixed and that its very smooth and responsive.
    If this all proves to be true, then fantastic, id happily accept this with absolutely no other new modes or whizzy bits, just a PES game you can trust, enjoy and feel at ease with is my ideal for this year.

  8. Paul—you got Oscar to 99OVR?! Very well done on that, as he’s always seemed to be a player with a marked early peak but not much else. Just shows what can be done with young players when you persevere. I know you must be proud of him in that fully immersed, multi-season way that only ML can provide.

    It’s interesting what you’ve found in FIFA online, and how it’s affected your perception of PES2011 a little (without spoiling the rest of your epic ML, hopefully). Like I’ve said in reply above and on other posts recently, I really do believe that Konami and EA have defaulted to this elevated player pressure as a cheap method of making the single-player game harder and making it seem more like multiplayer at the same time.

    Another few matches for me on PES2011 this morning, and I saw the same ‘angry bees’ pressuring most of the time. This on Professional, in 15-minute matches. It was still enjoyable, but annoying. I hope PES2012 will have a different vision for the AI players’ behaviour. Making the players sprint at my ball-carrier for 90 minutes is simply a brute-force AI, not the finessed AI that we need. If I want that kind of gameplay, I’ll go online. (I know, I know, not everyone plays like that online!)

  9. I agree with most of that Paul. To my mind player individuality wasn’t so strong this year in PES, as all players were subject to the same stumbling awkwardness, and the series has lost its smooth playability despite remaining a much deeper experience than FIFA.

    FIFA has some major flaws in defence – undisciplined tackling far too easy, leading to ridiculous possession turnover – and attack – no inertia/momentum, hard to beat players in a realistic manner using dribbling or tricks, impossible to score from crosses with lower league players. But the core passing model is great, and I love just passing the ball around and keeping possession in the middle, lots of nice triangles and deft flicks

    So on the whole I prefer FIFA this year, but am looking forward to PES12 more than FIFA12 as I get the impression Konami is more motivated than EA to improve

  10. Not-Greg … Oscar is 99 OVR at present, hes now about 28 i think?!
    I havent used any specialist training on him at all, just play him regularly, in his favoured AMF role,he was captain for a couple of seasons too. Im quite surprised by how much he has developed, i almost sold him several times a few season ago when he was low 80’s.
    He will be the Giggs/Gerrard/Scholes type .. a one club stalwart!!

  11. I agree with the scripting conspiracy, as it was obvious in most previous PES games. I find it to be less evident in PES 2011, and have only lost one game due to it. I haven’t lost a game in 3 or 4 seasons in the master league, an all of a sudden, I’m playing against Fiorentina, and I find myself loosing by 3 nil with all of my players passing very poorly when my favourite style of play is a bit like Barcelona in real life, minus the large possession, because I find it easy to create goal scoring opportunities quickly. That day, I only got one shot in by half time, and the score was 3 and 0.
    I was very pissed, because it was as if I was playing with another team, all my players seemed worse, and my defenders, who are poor in terms of technique and dribbling, all put together, lost the ball about 15 times, when they usually lose the ball 4 to 5 times per game.
    I consider myself a good enough player, so I go into the second half to win the game, i manage to score a hat-trick with Keirrison and by the 90th minute, I think it’s safe to say I’m going to drag this into overtime. Not quite. After a goal kick to the opposing team, they try a long ball that ends in my goalkeeper’s hands, and I pass to one of my defenders and as I’m running with the ball towards the line, to gain space for a pass, he loses control of the ball out of nowhere and chucks it out of play with his weak foot while running. Throw-in in my defensive sector, they make two to three passes, win two loose balls in a row and score the goal. Nearly impossible to believe.
    Anyway, it is real and I have seen it.
    Nice blog. I am playing with Benfica’s original players and I am in my 6 season, I think. Have you ever written or read anything about training in the master league? It was searching for a training guide that I stumbled upon your blog, I am trying to figure out which stats get improved by each training type.
    I am Portuguese, by the way, so forgive me for any mistakes in writing.

  12. abbeyhill—you forgot to mention FIFA’s #1 flaw IMO, the double-sprint-pressure mechanic! (You know I love to mention it, so you left it to me, right?!)

    It doesn’t matter that you don’t have to use it. It’s there, and it makes a mockery of a serious football game. I like what I hear about its removal from FIFA12. I just hope EA don’t ‘do a PES2011’ and lose their nerve at the last minute.

  13. Paul—I’m surprised at Oscar too. I had him in PES2010’s ML where I believe his development track was much the same as this year. A great early purchase and a real benefit to a Default squad, but then very ordinary for what felt like a long time. I sold him during his ordinary phase. I’ll remember your experience if he pops up in PES2012’s ML.

  14. Rodrigo—every PES player will surely read your experience and instinctively recognise it. Scripting is not about creating specific scorelines, but is instead a general interference with your players’ abilities at certain critical moments. I saw it best described a few years ago as your players suddenly handling as if they’ve been drugged. There’s no doubt at all in my mind that this is real.

    It’s always been in PES, but has got steadily worse as the years have passed and Konami have leaned even more heavily on it as a cheap and nasty means of raising the difficulty.

    Thanks for your comment, and your English is excellent. Sorry but I haven’t gathered much in the way of specialist knowledge re. ML training. With fairly limited time to play I tend to focus almost entirely on the matches and the transfer market, and let the nuts and bolts look after themselves.

  15. not-greg, that’s what I meant by ‘undisciplined tackling is far too easy’ – you can just charge in and take the ball using a variety of buttons (personally I’m more a R1+R2 man than double pressure-sprint) without worrying too much about losing defensive shape

  16. abbeyhill—since FIFA10 tackling has been automatic and successful without any player input other than the buttons-squeeze, something that has got to change for me to start taking FIFA seriously again. FIFA12’s supposed new system is long overdue. I’m looking forward to seeing it in action, with my fingers firmly crossed. Just as with PES2012. Is it me or is there a definite sense that every next-gen football game so far has been cursed in some way?!

  17. FIFA08 was good, I was playing it again the other night – its qualities seem to have become much clearer over time! Fingers crossed for both titles in 2012….

  18. abbeyhill—FIFA08 and PES2010 are the only next-gen games that have satisfied me. FIFA09 deserves an honourable mention. PES6(360) is a separate, special kind of case—more of a last-gen game ported to next-gen hardware.

    We’ve all got our favourites among the next-gen games. But even the ones we like/love don’t please us the way the mid-2000s PES did. Will anything match that feeling—a certainty that we didn’t even know we had, because it was our natural state (fish never think about the water)—ever again? Or has too much happened since PES2008?

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