Month: October 2011

A PES Moment

I can feel another t-shirt coming on.

What makes a great PES moment?

Surely every PES player instinctively knows what I mean by a PES moment. It’s a moment when you’re yanked out of yourself, exalted above the everyday mundanities by the strange witchcraft that we all know inhabits PES. They’re moments when the code seems to become more than itself. Camacho brought me such a moment in the past few sessions. I’ll get to that. First, some housekeeping.

Here’s my Division 2 table after 13 matches:

(Yes, I’m also thinking it wasn’t the best idea to go with this Division 2 makeup in this PES.)

The situation is as bad as it looks in the screenshot. The Default squad are more useful this year. It’s entertaining to work with the new guys and the Youths. But I’m still not that good a player.

I’m on Professional difficulty, on 1/4 passing assistance, on game version 1.01 (that’s relevant now).

Here’s a glimpse of the starting XI and formation that I most commonly go with:

I’m going to find a regular starting slot for Cinalton, whose sweet left foot needs matches to develop further, I think.

Irjescu is easily my favourite player of the new guys so far. But I’ll talk about him another time. I’ve got a special PES moment to talk  about today.

I first remember Camacho in the last-gen version of PES2008. I played 20+ seasons on PS2 and PSP. It was a truly great old-school Pro Evo that some rightly call PES7. I still knock out occasional PSP matches on it to this day.

Camacho was a star for me in that game, one of the best players I ever had in a Master League.

Now he’s a member of the Youth squad from the outset in PES2012. How could I not sign him up?

I’m losing badly in nearly every match in my Master League, but it almost doesn’t matter. Getting to know new players and a new PES game is good enough, for now.

The moment came out of the blue. It might not even sound much to other PES players. We all have our different favourite kinds of PES moments. This was one of mine.

Irjescu passed out wide to the left, to Maqualao (another minor gem of this year’s Defaults). With Maqualao I popped a quick circle-pass up to Hamsun on the edge of the box. As the ball flew towards Hamsun, I saw Camacho running hard from midfield to support the attack—and I knew what I was going to do and what would happen.

Time doesn’t slow when a PES moment happens. That’s something we tell ourselves afterwards to make it seem more dramatic and timeless. Time actually moves at its usual pace; we just notice more of it.

The ball descended towards Hamsun. He’s not my favourite, Hamsun—never has been, never will be. But he’s got a decent jump on him, and a decent header on him.

I tweaked the stick toward Camacho and made Hamsun jump for the ball. Hamsun connected, his marker uselessly shadowing him, and the ball dropped back towards Camacho, bouncing slowly

Camacho was a few yards short of the bouncing ball, approximately 30 yards from goal, to the right. I knew what I wanted to do.

Shooting in PES2012 is… troubled, shall we say. Too often, you clearly aim left but ‘computer says no’ and aims centrally or, worse, to the right. If it wasn’t for this issue I’d have no issues at all with PES2012 right now. As it stands, I’m remaining cautious and watchful.

But shooting does work a lot of the time.

17-year-old Camacho blasted a half-volleyed shot towards the far corner of the net. The keeper dived, the ball whistled past his outstretched gloves.

I waited for the net to bulge. If the net bulges, I thought, I will scream. Out loud and shrill, like a woman.

The net didn’t bulge. The ball ended up in row H.

It wasn’t a goal but it could have been. The PES moment arose from the nature of the move that led to the almost-goal for my 17-year-old protege. Irjescu to Maqualao, aerial pass to Hamsun, knockdown to Camacho, and BOOM.

Who knows what the future holds? The PESverse is buzzing, and it’s not all good news. Will it be disaster for PES2012, or glory? I don’t know. I just know that I’ve had a great PES moment.

Master League 2012

Let’s get to it, shall we?

TL;DR

This is going to be a long post, my longest by some distance.

We’re all busy people. Few people like to read on the Internet. So this opening section is a condensed summary of the whole post.

I’ve started Master League in PES2012 and I think it’s bloody brilliant. It feels almost as if PES2012 is calibrated just to be played in Master League. Every other mode—all the tournaments, online too—might as well be add-ons. “Why, Mr Seabass, it seems you made a game just for me...”

I’m using the WENB day 1 Option File. I’m playing as an edited-in Coventry City. I made my usual custom Division 2 of Other European teams.

The new cutscenes, so far, aren’t as annoying as I feared they would be.

In a departure from Master League tradition, it feels as if it’s possible to play well with the Defaults. The new roster of squad members features a few potential gems. Irjescu. Cotswald. Cinalton.

The established players have had a buff as well. It seems that Ettori is the new Castolo (in the good sense).

The Youth squad is packed with great young players.

It’s all balanced out by an eccentric, all-seeing Chairman who will sack you if results are bad.

It’s probably going to be a long year.

KITTING THEM OUT 

I wasn’t particularly bothered about creating a copy of the Championship for my Coventry City to play in. The WENB patch I used creates a sort-of Championship by renaming all the made-up Konami teams—SARMTONBURG and the like—into BURNLEY and so on.

PES United and WE United were still there, but had become Watford and West Ham. I zeroed in on Watford, and started Editing.

(Thanks are due to blog commenter Paul for supplying Coventry City logo & advertising images.)

A few minutes in the kit editor and a quick import or two later, and they were ready. The actual kit designs and colours are not exact. I improvised a little. Realism is a flexible concept in Master League.

After sorting out the kits, I spent some time making a custom stadium for Coventry City to play in. Paul was also kind enough to send me some Coventry-specific adboard images. At this stage, though, the minnows of Coventry City do not have any advertisers.

Behold the stadium, called NEW HIGHFIELD ROAD. (No, I’m not a fan of the Ricoh Arena. Ask almost any football fan whose club has moved grounds in recent years, and things haven’t been right since. Possibly only Man City have had conspicuous success at a new ground, and even that success is a work in progress.)

The barebones stadia boasts the shabbiest stands and most basic lighting. I’ll incrementally increase its quality over the seasons as I think it’s deserved, culminating—hopefully—in a super-stadium for Treble-winners.

And so now I was ready. When I got to the team selection screen and saw the Default roster, it all felt good.

Suddenly I felt a certainty with PES2012 that had been lacking over the weekend.

While I was piddling around with Exhibition games, International Tournaments, and meaningless one-off Champions League games, I wasn’t really playing this game.

I was playing it now.

CHOICES

Startup is critical for Master League. You’ve got to make sure you’re playing in the world you want to play in, using the ruleset you’re happiest with.

Some of those rules can’t be changed after the start, so it’s best to take your time at setup and think carefully.

I chose to negotiate directly with players, to manage club finances, and to permit Classic Players.

That last is a controversial one. Many think that permitting Classics unbalances the world, makes it look silly. I disagree—based on the past, admittedly. Some of my greatest PS2 Master Leagues featured born-again Platinis and Beckenbauers and the like.

A LEAGUE OF YOUR OWN

I replaced the made-up Konami teams with a selection of teams from the Other European section. Dynamo Kiev and Rosenborg and Celtic and the like. I’m sure I’ll get to know them very well over the next few weeks and months.

In PES2010 it took me 9 seasons, until New Year’s Eve in the real world, to get promotion to Division 1. Somehow I don’t think the PES2012 Chairman will allow me 9 seasons to get this lot up to Division 1. But we’ll see.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the new guys yet. I was happy that there was no Castolo, but strangely disappointed that neither he nor the other retirees got an official farewell. The last time Konami retired some ML defaults, they got a special mention at the start (PES6?).

I’m afraid I made no effort to customise my manager avatar. The suave, bald chap in the image at the top of this page is the universal template that the game provides. He can be altered at any time, though. I’ll do something more creative in good time.

There were some cutscenes of being introduced to club and press.

Then I was in Master League, in the cut and thrust of the mode itself.

SHOCK OF THE NEW

Firts of all, the coach introduced himself—in a cutscene. After hearing so much about these cutscenes, it was of course anti-climactic to see one for myself. A rather grainy, strangely-lit snippet of video. Hmm.

First up was a pre-season friendly. Or, as the game called it, a training match. It was against Southampton—one of the renamed Konami teams that I thought I was well rid of. No matter.

Things didn’t start well. I lost 2-0, playing terribly. But the Defaulters felt a lot more playable than I remember them ever feeling in previous years.

After the game, I was hit with a slew of notifications and updates that arrived either in the form of cutscenes or in a handy on-screen menu.

This is the major newness of Master League 2012. The game flips down the calendar just as before, but when it emerges from the day-to-day flow it pauses to load a small cutscene. Players come to see you. Your coach comes to see you. I was worried about that, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how quickly they load.

After this you go into a notification menu that has a list of things you could look at. Or you can ignore them all and quit to the home screen.

I like the way this is organised. I had worried that it would function as something you had to remember to do yourself, going into the relevant sub-menu each time, but the game brings it to your attention in one handy place. I don’t know why Konami didn’t create this in the form of an email inbox, but they probably thought the idea was already taken…

Training needs to be altered regularly, and so far it’s not proving to be annoying. It enables me to be involved with training exactly as much as I want to be, which isn’t very much at all. Others who are accustomed to being more hands-on with individual players may be disappointed.

DEFAULTS GOOD, CHAIRMAN BAD

I snapped up Shimizu and Camacho from the Youth team. I upgraded a few staff. Then I had to stop. Money was tight. I’d started with just over £3m, and ended on Budget day with a few hundred thousand. I want to be careful and not have to sell my best young players at the end of this first season, as I did at the same stage in PES2011.

Gameplay in PES2012 feels so much better in Master League than it did in other modes. There’s more time on the ball, more scope to play football. PES2012 doesn’t display so much… what’s the word… eccentricity.

I have settled on my preferred setting for pass assistance: it’s 1/4. I have started using R2 to play finesse passes, and am pleased with the results. I know the PESverse is divided about the way players sometimes will seem to check back to retrieve a pass, and often lose the ball as a result. Currently I prefer to see it as a realistic representation of your players’ passing attributes.

I accept that I might have a different view about lots of things in the future. As ever, though, I blog about today, not what might happen in a few months’ time.

THE FIRST GOAL IS THE SWEETEST

My first goal in this Master League career was a good one. In fact, over the years, it’s a bit fishy how I can score a decent goal or two early on, and then can’t seem to score anything for an age.

This year’s special starter came from Ordaz. It was in a game that I lost 3-1 after taking the lead with this goal, so it feels bittersweet looking back, but I loved it at the time. Almost-transparent nets in PES2012 are a pain. I only knew this was in when the ball hit the invisible back of the net and stopped moving.

(At the start of this clip is a short tour of NEW HIGHFIELD ROAD.)

(And yes, I have been overusing the PES2 replay music. I’ll reserve it for special occasions in the future.)

Things did not improve on the field after this match. After 3 matches the table looked very familiar.

I’ve played on a good bit after the position above. I’ve secured my first points and played the first round of the FA Cup. I’ve more or less settled on a  First XI, but not a set formation. I’ve got my eye on a  few signings for January. I know which players I want to get rid of.

I’ll get to it all on Friday, and much more besides.

Suffice to say that the Chairman is not happy. I fear the worst.

A weekend with PES2012

As I type these words, I am about to start Master League 2012. All I have to do is make a few final edits and then I will be ready.

It’s a day or two sooner than I usually jump in. I tend to prefer a longer bedding-down time with a new PES. But I feel hungry after walking away from Master League in PES2011 earlier this year. That was the first time I have ever quit a Master League because of PES gameplay. It still hurts today. Not even PES2008(PS3) repulsed me until after I’d drunk my fill of its Master League.

The full Master League low-down will come on Wednesday. My first ever two-thousand-word post? Possibly.

I actually had a rather chequered time with PES2012 over the weekend. I got the game on the PlayStation3, as usual. On Saturday the gameplay was overshadowed by some technical issues. One was self-inflicted. I’ll come to that. But the other seems—disappointingly—to be a feature of the game on PS3 this year.

There’s a choppy framerate in some stadia under some conditions. Actual gameplay seems mostly unaffected so far, which is a relief. The main problem is with cutscenes and replays. They’re not an intrinsic part of gameplay, but they should work seamlessly to maintain immersion.

It all led me to look harder than I probably should have at the game’s graphics and lighting (and everything else that other people are much more qualified to talk about).

So PES2012 isn’t great technically on the PS3. The 360 is better, I understand. The PC is the best of all.

I’ll deal with it. PES5 wasn’t great technically on PS2 (remember the constant penalty box slowdown?). The superb PES6(360) was hardly worthy of the ‘next-gen’ tag. PES2012 hasn’t got anything like the technical problems either of those games had.

I shook myself awake and just got on with the game.

Where I ran smack into a problem of my own making. Feeling lazy, and wanting to get on with Master League asap, I imported Edit files and data from PES2011. Forgetting that I’d done a bit of pissing about with the Edit data on that game, and got at least two Option Files badly jumbled up.

I copied over everything except this year’s team lineups. The outcome seemed okay at first. The team names and badges were in place. But the emblems were not. Some teams were scattered all over the place. Arsenal were in the Other European League (what? how?).

The worst thing was the faces. I’d chosen to import last year’s faces as well, and probably shouldn’t have. Scott Parker got me a good goal in one of my International Tournaments, and while filming the replay I noticed his face. Oh God his face….

I had a look at the others. They were all distorted and horrific too.

Obviously I’d messed up the patch, so I deleted the Edit file, and did what I should have done to begin with: used the current WENB Option File.

Installation took about 15 minutes from start to finish, and I’m very happy with it. It does exactly what I need it to and no more.

The very first thing I did was check Scott Parker to make sure he was back to his usual self. Thankfully, he was.

Below is the clip that includes the goal he scored. Before his goal comes Ambrosini, in a Champions League tournament I played with AC Milan, scoring a powerful header from a corner.

Ambrosini’s header was the first time I’d used the new right-stick player switching at corners to good effect. You can see me controlling him at the start, walking him towards the penalty area. I tapped the button to send the corner in, and got him on the end of it for a very satisfying goal.

Scott Parker’s goal was something a little different too, for me anyway—a placed, curling shot from just outside the box. It felt good to score, not least because I aimed it very deliberately to that extreme side of the goal

Incidentally, at 16 seconds in the above clip you can see an instance of PES2012’s ‘stagger’ animation, as I am calling it. I have seen many people lamenting that the PES2011 stumble animation is back in town. I think they mean this stagger animation, which is perfectly fine by me. I haven’t seen anything like PES2011’s stumble.

I haven’t finished any single tournament yet. I struggle to feel any meaning in them. They really are just warm-ups for the main event.

Generally, the gameplay in PES2012 is expanding day by day, coming to seem more natural and effective and satisfying for me. That was always the way with PES, going back through the years. It always took a few days to ‘get it’. I think that’s been forgotten this year.

PES2012 is by no means a quantum leap in football gaming. I wasn’t expecting it to be one, so I’m not disappointed. Quite the contrary.

PES2012 seems to be just what I hoped it would be: a more refined PES2011 with my key gripes—stumble animation, step-around animation, miscellaneous other things—removed.

I always said I’d be happy to take that deal for PES2012, and I am.

PES2012: first impressions

It’s been nearly 24 hours and I love PES2012. No surprise there. It’d be more surprising if I didn’t.

There are problems. Of course there are, we knew there would be. The question was always going to be: can they be lived with? Not many people had a problem with PES5’s many problems. If PES2012 does the essential things well, it’ll be forgiven for many things.

It’ll actually be a good while before that question is properly answered. So this is no victory parade, not yet.

HANDLING WELL

I’ve played about 20 matches all told. It would have been a lot more if I hadn’t decided to import prequel Edit data from PES2011. I thought the process would be just about instantaneous. It took half an hour. (But it did work. I had all the names, kits, leagues etc. from PES2011. The likes of Norwich and Swansea etc. were missed out.)

For me a football game is all about the handling. I currently play with pass assistance set to 2/5. I’ll be experimenting with higher and lower settings over the next day or two as I bed down.

So you kick off and start passing it around, and it’s great. The ball can roll a little unpredictably, not in ways we’re used to in PES games—leading to some embarrassing remarks from reviewers and pundits who clearly didn’t do more than give the thing a cursory glance.

The ball can roll a few yards after just a tap that you think should be a full-throated pass to a teammate. You need to fully exploit space and the passing meter to move the ball confidently and accurately. I don’t know how it works on full assisted yet.

IN CAMERA

When I start a new football game I always go through the camera settings one by one to see if there’s anything new that interests me. Blimp camera is the return of a super-Wide camera that I remember from one of the ISS games that we haven’t seen since. Welcome back! But I won’t be using it just yet.

I tried the 3D camera for a minute, and scored one of the best goals I’ll probably ever score on PES2012 while in that view. It’s the first goal of the two-goal clip below, and I scored it while in the pitch-level view behind the player; the view of the ball zooming netward and creeping in off the underside of the bar is the view I had ‘live’ whilst playing. An amazing moment that had me shouting out loud.

PES still does that. It makes you shout out loud.

SHOOTING BLANKS?

That second goal was an example of over-aiming in order to hit the far corner. When I took  the shot I was holding the left stick directly UP, as if aiming for the far touchline more than the goal.

There’s a new shooting mechanic in PES2012 that may or may not be a problem. Konami love their undocumented changes. PES2012’s shooting is going to take some time to learn.

Aiming for the net’s corner from 20 yards—using traditional PES aiming methodology—is now likely to produce a shot straight down the middle. Aiming for the corner flag from 20 yards is more likely to send a shot zipping into the corner of the net.

But it’s still early days there.

A.I. CAME, A.I. SAW, A.I. CONQUERED

I played a couple of International Tournaments last night, on Regular, as England.

The AI totally battered me. I lost 4-3 to Slovakia in a 10-minute match on Regular difficulty—my worst showing at this early stage of a PES for many years. I have usually moved up to Professional by now, but it looks as if I’ll need at least another day.

I have to describe the subjective experience of playing against the PES2012 AI as one of fear. I’ll describe an example.

I was attacking with England and lost the ball on the edge of the Slovakia box. The AI players moved the ball upfield with quick, crisp passes—a classic counterattack.

I  wasn’tworried. I had players covering, and let’s be honest: the AI is just the AI, right?

Well, when the AI ball-carrier on the right wing unleashed a gorgeous aerial sweeping crossfield pass over to the left wing I thought: hmmm, that’s quite good, the sort of thing a human would do.

When the AI left-winger trapped the ball, let it bounce once, and sent a chest-height cross into the box with one fluid motion, I perked up a bit more.

When the AI striker in the box leaned in front of his marker to send a diving bullet header into the roof of my net, I said out loud, at 2:30 am in a silent room: “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.” Meant in a positive way, of course.

(Yes, it was a deliberate echo of The Thing. But Kurt Russell never actually said that famous line, I was astonished to find out when I looked.)

All 4 goals scored by Slovakia were a bit special. Critics of the AI, of PES as a whole, will dismiss them as scripts, chunks of code that fire off under certain circumstances that nothing can be done about. Artifical.

Why, yes, of course they are. What do critics of any football game think they’re doing with a plastic controller in their hand looking at a TV screen full of pixellated players running around? Next they’ll be telling me that the my favourite films are all just actors reading a bunch of lines from a script.

In the long run, PES2012’s biggest asset may turn out to be its AI.

Even on Day 1 I want to see more of this thing. I both worry about and relish the thought of what it’ll do my team of Defaults in Master League. Place your bets now  on how many seasons it’ll take me to get promoted. My money’s on 6.

JEEPERS KEEPERS

One sizeable wrinkle comes in the form of the goalkeepers. It seems every football gaming punchbowl must have its very own steaming, stinking turd floating in it, with bits of sweetcorn visible around the edges—and the goalkeepers are PES2012’s.

As a former goalkeeper myself, their shoddy implementation in PES over the years has always been just the right side of acceptability. I don’t know if I can say the same for PES2012.

I won’t go an about something that everybody can see for themselves. Suffice to say that there’s actuallys good reasons why PES2012 has been labelled an arcade game by the popular gaming press. Compared to its rival, PES2012 is all-action, fast and furious. It’s pretty easy to command 60% possession. There’s always something happening. That alone attracts the label ‘arcade’, whether justified or not.

And the goalkeepers, the way they are, contribute to the fast-and-furious arcade-tempo action. They fail to hold onto simple balls that they should hold onto, deflecting them back into play instead, making for lots of constant, churning, frantic goalmouth action.

It’s doubtless the Konami devs’ idea of keeping things ‘fun’ for the general player. For those of us who have now played ISS/PES for most of our adult lives (!), the goalkeepers in PES2012 are an embarrassment. Seriously, when they do the pat-a-cake routine and it leads to a goal (for either side) I have to look away and try to convince myself that didn’t just happen.

Here’s the key culprit—the animation that is the root cause of all the trouble:

Ah, I christen thee the ‘standing flailing grab’. I submit that it is preposterous and must be got rid of.

The above example is actually not the most common type, as the ball flies a good distance away. Mostly the ball lands just a few yards away, still in the box, prompting an ‘exciting’ scramble.

I would suggest, if anyone listened to me, that if they could just patch the keepers to CATCH those balls—or at the very least deflect them behind for corners—the quality of PES2012 as a serious football game would be vastly improved.

MY FIRST IMPRESSION

Overall, PES2012 seems to be the game of football on next-gen that PES fans have been waiting for.

Long-term that view could change, of course, but I blog about today, not what I think I might think in the future.