Month: November 2011

The Three Stigmata of Palmieri-Jaric

I’ve played to the end of season 2, on Regular difficulty. I’ve evaded all further trouble with the Chairman, mostly. I finished third from bottom in the Division 2 table.

Still enjoying PES2012. I feel there’s a need for me to affirm this regularly, lest my continued play of the game—reviled and abandoned by so many, it seems—appears to be just a stubborn habit rather than the absorbing pleasure it mostly is.

Something happened to one of my players that I’ve heard about from others but never experienced myself until now. The player was Cork, one of my 70-something OVR midfielders. This season he’s been an essential part of whatever small successes I’ve had.

I lost Cork to another club and couldn’t do anything about it. I had no idea about it until it had happened and was all over. I knew that Cork was stalling on signing a new contract, so it wasn’t the total shock that many others have reported. It even has a weird kind of Konami logic. As long as this only happens to ‘contract rebels’, I can accept it.

Before the season was even nearly over, Giersen announced his retirement (at age 27) and I forgot about it. After the final game—in which he had not featured—he paid my avatar a nice sulky visit:

Is it crazy that I actually felt GUILTY about it? If I’d remembered, I would definitely have played him. Giersen isn’t the best player in the world, but he deserves a peculiar kind of respect. It’s a sliver of the kind of respect that all long-term ML players have for the Defaults and for the mode. (Look at the veneration of Castolo over recent years, out of all proportion to his actual ability. Exhibit no. 1, right there.)

Goals are coming easier on Regular, although stopping them at my end is still surprisingly tough. If there was a single sentence that sums up PES2012 defending it would have to be “Stay with the runner”.

Palmieri and Jaric are both awesome and they do a lot of mopping up, but both lack that extra bit of pace that would make them a truly formidable partnership. If the CPU runner gets half a yard on them, and then the inevitable through-ball comes, I’m usually in trouble. I’ll be looking for a pacy CB in post-season.

The time has surely come to stop feeling confused and conflicted over the new Regular/Professional/Top Player levels. I thought I’d be on Superstar by now, imagining that it’d just be a fancy-pants version of the old 6* difficulty. In the PS2 days I used to move onto 6* difficulty about now and stay on it.

My favourite recent goal came from Twiggy, my dependable, solid man up front. He will be sold in a heartbeat when the time comes, of course. He’s very much a ‘seasons 1 to 4’ sort of striker. They’re often the ones you remember with most fondness.

I love goals that go in off the post or bar. Better yet are goals that go in off post and bar, rebounding from one to the other and in. Related to this species of goal is the kind that strikes the angle of post and bar at the same time:

Chairman weirdness crept up on me after the season was all over. The end of the season triggered a decrease in the Chairman’s trust over not getting promotion.

On the final day of the season I demolished Blackpool 4-0, but there were still rumours in the boardroom about me being sacked.

Ridiculously, before my first Training Match of post-season, I was told that if I didn’t win I would be fired.

I won it, but only just—1-0—and got myself back on the straight and narrow.

And then I plunged into the transfer market. With no real money to speak of. But I had to have some new players, especially after Cork’s departure. I’ll cover that and the beginning of season 3 next time.

Flow My Tears, the Chairman Said

And so it came to pass in season 2 of my Master League career that I was one match away from being sacked. There was a real danger of incurring my first Game Over in Master League for almost 10 years.

It all came down to a penalty kick. Against me. With the score 2-1 to me, in the last minute. If the CPU scored, the match would be a 2-2 draw and I’d be sacked.

There was no doubt about that. This was the message I’d received before the game:

We have to win.

I’d been doing okay on Professional, holding in mid-table and just beneath, until the second half of the season. After the mid-season break, somehow I could hardly buy a result. Every match seemed to begin with me going 1-0 down almost instantly. When that happens in the PES2012 flavour of Master League, it’s a long way back.

I hardly ever made it back to win. I got plenty of draws, but very few wins. It seems that the infernal Chairman confidence meter wants wins more than anything else.

PES2012 is TOUGH. Unfairly so, in many aspects. I’m enjoying PES2012—relishing it, you could almost say—but I’m not blind to its shortcomings, of which an AI that often brazenly cheats is one. In many ways this AI is the apotheosis of the PES AI that we have come to know and love/hate since PES5.

I slipped further and further down the table. Every match seemed to end with a hard luck story and either no points or a dissatisfying 1 point. I was warned after every match about the Chairman not being happy.

Finally, there were rumours that I was going to be sacked. After another defeat came that ultimatum: win or die.

I’d already decided what my response would be to a sacking. I would simply roll-back to an earlier save. In this case, back to the middle of the season. I’d played about a dozen matches since that stage, spread over two sessions, so it would be quite a reversal.

The crunch match was away against Wigan. Beforehand, I had a decision to make. Stay on Professional or go back to Regular difficulty?

I decided to drop back down to Regular difficulty for the Wigan match. I regarded it as a certain win, I have to say. Wrongly, as it turned out.

Wigan took the lead in the first few minutes. For the umpteenth time in PES2012, a CPU team forced the ball forward and into my net straight from kick-off.

No matter. I was playing on Regular, so all this meant was that it’d be a 5-1 win for me instead of a 5-0 win, right?

Gulp. Wrong. I struggled to get the equaliser first of all, and was actually fortunate to go in at half-time 1-1. Wigan outplayed me—the PES AI, on Regular, outplayed me. If you’d told me two months ago that I’d still be playing PES2012 on Regular and being challenged by it in mid-November, I’d have chuckled and shaken my head at the ridiculousness of the thought.

I got a second goal early in the second half. That steadied the nerves. I had my result, now I just had to hang on.

That was harder than I thought, too. Wigan seemed to be first to every loose ball, and my players were suddenly hesitant and unable to pass two yards—we all know the scenario very well indeed.

But I held on. The 90th minute came, and all I had to do was withstand one more assualt. However, the ball broke for a Wigan attacker, and he raced clear on my keeper. I had a covering defender just within range, I thought, for a sliding tackle… At the last second, the Wigan attacker jinked, and I brought him down, missing the ball.


Here is that penalty—91st minute, 2-1 up, needing to keep the ball out of my goal to stay in a job:

I was lucky not to give away another penalty whilst trying to stop the rebound. I like to think I did just enough to put the Wigan player off—the post came to my rescue.

The final whistle went as soon as I took the goalkick. I live to fight on.

Oh, and I’m staying on Regular difficulty for now.

Do Defaults Dream Of Electric Sheep?

I’m heading for mid-season in my second season of Master League on PES2012. There’ll be no promotion this season, but if I can finish as highly-placed as I am currently, I’ll be delirious.

I doubt that I can finish that high. As can be seen, I’m not scoring too many goals on Professional difficulty. I’m persevering with this difficulty level because Regular is now too easy. Professional is a little too tough, but at least the matches are intense, absorbing, satisfying affairs.

Currently I’m at the stage when I’m told after every non-winning performance that the Chairman is openly unhappy with my running of the team. It’s especially chilling, that word ‘openly’.

I’ve already speculated about what I’d do if actually faced with the sack.

The way I see it, there are three options. (1) Take it like a man and start aaaall over again in a new Master League career, right from the beginning. (2) Reload the key match and replay it over and over until the correct result comes along. (3) Reload an earlier save, e.g. from the start of the season, and take it from there.

I think there is no honour in (2). I would like to be the iron man and say that (1) would be my preferred choice, but we could be here all year if I keep restarting. So, if the sack does ever come, I will go for (3), and just resume play from an earlier save some time before the present. It’s an honourable compromise between the two extremes.

I’ll cross that bridge if and when I come to it.

Southampton, currently at the top of the table, played the most extraordinary game against me. It was at their place, and it felt as if the game had decided to teach me a lesson.

Straight from their kick-off (and why is it the rule in PES2012 that the home side always kicks off first?) they swept up to my box and won a penalty. It was a secondary pressure concession; I should have been more disciplined. It was the first penalty for anybody in my entire ML career so far.

After that, things fell apart as they so often do in PES2012. Concede first in this game, especially away from home, and you are in big trouble.

Southampton beat me 5-0. A true shellacking. Along the way they scored the most vicious long-ranger that the CPU has scored against me in a long time. It was enriched by my keeper getting the edge of a glove to the ball and deflecting it against the upright on its way into the net, making it more spectacular. I’ve included that goal along with an assortment of other goals in today’s clip:

I’ve started to get heartily sick of the Default players in my squad. Most of my players are still Defaults. They’re deceptively good this year. In years past this lot would have dominated on their own, probably. This year, in this Pro Evo? They’re just as weak as ever, relatively speaking, Everything scales up—or down, in the Defaults’ case.

I cannot wait to get rid of more of them at the end of this season and then really start getting things done. I play with the Defaults not because I love them, but because it’s a pleasure to get rid of them and see the game open out before me with proper players, playing proper football.

I’ll keep Ruskin, Jaric, Cinalton, and maybe Maqualao for a few seasons longer than the rest, but eventually they’ve all got to go. Over the next few seasons it’ll be like replacing an entire body, one limb at a time. I’ll release the ones I can’t sell.

Starting with Ettori. He’s been on the transfer list for a while. I had a good offer for him from some club or other. £900,000 is a good price, and I accepted without haggling.

So it begins. And I wonder: do the Defaults have souls? Can they think, and feel? Do they know what is happening to them?

And if a double-decker bus, crashes into PES

I don’t know what’s going on on the bleedin’ forums, but currently, for me, PES2012 is playing like the greatest PES game since PES6. And there’s much more to come, I hope. Will I one day utter the magical words, “Better than PES5”?

PES2012 has taken so much stick—from me, never mind from those wonderful forums—that it seems absurd to consider it might end up a PES5-beater, but I have a crazy feeling that it’s possible. If Seabass fell under a bus tomorrow, I’d weep at his funeral and histrionically throw myself on the coffin, banging its sides.

I’m really enjoying PES2012 and have been consistently since Friday’s shooting worries. Those shooting problems seem to have receded (but not vanished). My new players in Master League have started to gel. I’m scoring goals that satisfy me (two replays today; see below).

Master League is the glue that holds it all together. One of the principal pleasures of Master League is that period when you get some new players and they start to gel, and the nature of the game changes. Suddenly, everything that was stodgy and frustrating becomes more supple and rewarding.

I’m in that period now—just at the beginning of it. I’ve moved up difficulties to Professional and every match is an epic struggle. Quick tip: concede first in PES2012 and you’re often in big trouble. Don’t concede first.

My First XI midfielders and forwards are all non-Defaulters now, Ettori excepted. I’ll be doing my best to get rid of Ettori in the next window. He’s got good ball skills, no question, but has an awful weak shot. That means he doesn’t fit into my play-style, which relies heavily on distance shooting, as I’ve never tried to conceal.

My RMF, Morrison, really lives up to his golden 80OVR rating. He’s stronger and faster than all my other players and has, in Jon Champion’s immortal words, got quite a shot on him. I’ve scored several standard 20-yarders with him that have rippled the net.

I have to talk about the shooting and how I’m dealing with it. Much better, is the short version. I’ve stopped howling and cringing at every centrally-placed and wonkily-wide shot.

The player’s baseline stats are the dominant factor. The context is the next factor. And the ‘definiteness of your input’ is the next factor: the three things forming a trinity of factors that determine the success of the shot.

Strangling the controller and getting off a snapshot was a viable proposition is PESes past. It now has a low probability of being an on-target shot—not impossible, just less likely.

Get a player in some space, ‘set’ yourself, and take a comparatively leisurely shot, and it’s going to go more or less according to plan, but still within the constraints of player stats and context.

Input, Context, Statistics. So I currently think anyway. I reserve all rights to cry and wail about this in the future. If I ever get a goal in a big game due to wonky shooting, I’ll be horrified. If I ever turn against PES2012, it’ll be something like that that does it.

Shot modifiers help, R2 in particular. Not only can it help the shot itself with its finesse effect, but it can help the player get into the right posture and context for the shot to be a successful one.

As below, where the ‘R2 moment’ occurs after 5 seconds (12 seconds on the pitch-level camera view). Doyle receives a return pass and shimmies to the right. I’d pressed R2 for a second, to cushion and side-step in one motion, leaving the CPU defender flailing. The eventual shot wasn’t an R2 one, as I wanted some power to get across the keeper into the corner of the net. This was a wow moment for me, as I’m very sparing with my use of R2:

So I enjoyed that goal, and I also enjoyed my next one. At least as much, and maybe more so.

It was a long-range blaster, the sort of goal that still has the power to please me after more than 15 years of playing football games.

I was also happy because of the scorer: Irjescu. He’s one of the new crop of Defaults. I think everyone who plays Master League has discovered by now that he’s got quite a shot on him, but no shot accuracy to speak of. In fact, his accuracy is pretty dismal. I’ve scored a couple of opposite-aim goals with him that made me furious with PES2012 and with life.

This was the first goal of Irjescu’s where I felt it went more or less where I was aiming. As I cued up the shot, aware of Irjescu’s shortcomings, I was conscious of the need to ‘set’ myself and listen for the beat, aiming deliberately. And watch Ettori ducking out of the way:

It was after 1am on Saturday night when I scored this. I was up and cheering (quietly, of course). Skyrim still lay in its shrink wrapping on the side.

This is something that the jaded epicures who currently wander the labyrinths of football gaming discourse will never again understand: the simple pleasure of getting the ball down, and leathering it into the back of the net.

Football gaming is lost to the new aesthetes. They will probably never be happy with a football game of any description ever again.

The days of PES as an undisputed market-leader in the football sim category are over. I wouldn’t even try to argue otherwise. But this doesn’t mean that the PES games can’t still be good, and enjoyable, and still possess many of the same qualities that inspired such devotion in years past.

FIFA has changed utterly in recent years. Those self-styled PES partisans who dispute this indisputable fact only embarrass themselves, over and over and over again.

PES has changed only marginally, and not entirely for the better. But so what. Might it be time to take what goodness it still contains (a heck of a lot), and accept it? I think it might be.

FIFA12 is a box of next-gen footballing marvels. I’m loving PES2012 right now. In time, I’ll play and enjoy FIFA12 too.

In the binary, juvenile world of online gaming discourse, this is not allowed. The two games are conceived as being akin to football clubs. It’s wrong to ‘support’ (lol) both of them.

I’ve got two very simple words for that attitude. It can fuck off. In 2011-2012 I intend to have my cake, and I intend to eat it as well. Thank you very much.