Month: January 2012

I want to like my bicycle (I want to like my bike)

That’s Hagi up there, modelling season 8’s Away kit. It looks more yellow than it is. In real life it’s far more ‘Wolves gold’.

I played ISS for the first time in Summer 1998, approximately. I played PES proper for the first time in November 2002. Overall, then, I’ve experienced about 14 years of Konami-flavoured football gaming.

In all this time, down all these long years, throughout all the unthinkable thousands of hours, after probably tens of thousands of shots, I had never scored a goal with a bicycle kick. I mean a proper bicycle kick, as I see it. (Not one of these side-on scissors kick impostors.)

Until now.

On Sunday, January 29th, 2012, at approximately 8.30am, GMT, I scored my first ever bicycle kick in Pro Evolution Soccer.

My team is wearing its yellow away kit. My player is John Barnes. The opposition are Malaga, in the Europa League. The score at the time was 0-0.

It’s not a very spectacular example of the type. I wish it was farther out. I wish the ball wasn’t placed so centrally. But what the goal is is more important than what it looks like.

It’s a bicycle kick, dudes. Barnes’s shoulders and hips are in a perfect line parallel to the ground.  The kick is executed with my player laying flat on his back on an invisible bed of air, in the air.

They’re a singular type of goal in football. YouTube yields very few examples where a player’s back is truly parallel to the ground at the moment of striking.

They’re very, very rare in PES. At least they are for me, as the fact that this is my first one ever demonstrates. It’s been rare enough for me to see the animation and have an attempt—just once or twice, over the years.

And now I’ve finally got one. I can tick that box at last. Now I can quit PES forever. My journey is complete.

Only joking.

The above match, as I said, was against Malaga (sporting a lovely striped kit, incidentally, that I plan to imitate for my next Home kit). It was in the Europa League group stages. This was match number 6, and I had to win it to clinch 2nd place in the group and progress to the knockouts.

I did win it. The bicycle kick gave me a 1-0 lead in the first half. I secured the 2-0 victory in the second half with this goal from Hagi:

I’ve been playing him in a central role recently just behind van Basten. Both players are scoring goals a lot more freely. Barnes (my bicycle kick man) has been far better employed out wide on the left.

Speaking of van Basten reminds me that I rarely speak about him. This is because the thing he mainly does is scoring bread and butter goals. The five-yard tap-ins. The scruffy, scrambled-over-the-line efforts that wouldn’t be worth the effort of unlocking my phone to record.

Occasionally he gets a goal that’s a bit better than his average. I’ve been waiting for him to get one worth showing off on the blog. It finally came, in the league against the mighty Liverpool.

That was my consolation goal in a 4-1 thumping at their place. I would characterise at least two of Liverpool’s goals as unstoppable by any human.

Some top teams in PES2012 are darn near unplayable on Professional difficulty. At the end of Sunday morning’s session I played one match back on Regular. I wanted to see if it was possible for me to go back and play the game on that level.

My opponents were Blackburn away. I won 5-0. Which is not a surprise with the players in my squad.

So I don’t think I can go back to the lower level. I’m stuck on Professional. Oh well. At least I got my first bicycle kick goal out of PES2012.

Once Upon A Time In ISS

Over the past week or more the tone of my posts may have given the impression, wrongly, that PES2012 is nothing but toil. That playing it is a Purgatory unlike any other. That I’m just biding my time and waiting for the right moment to move with dignity over to FIFA12.

Not so! When I’ve come to write most of my recent posts, I’ve usually done so on the back of a frustrating session or two. And then chosen to highlight the game’s problems in that post. I’m afraid that’s one of the drawbacks of the blog format. It’s only ever going to be a record of what I think and feel right now. Not so much what I thought and felt the day before yesterday, when (for example) I might have played the most majestic, symphony-like session of PES2012 ever.

And it’s not as if I’m unwilling to put a PES game to the sword if I feel it truly deserves it. In 2010 I quit PES2011 before Christmas. I’m more than capable of ditching a PES game if I find it unplayable.

I hope to play PES2012 until it reaches a natural end. I anticipate giving it a generally favourable end-of-year review in September. Because of that shooting, I anticipate giving it a poorer final review-style score than I might have done otherwise. PES2012 is a solid and enjoyable 8/10 game with bizarre and wonky 4/10 random shooting. That’s what I can’t get away from.

Meanwhile, back in my Master League career, after 12 matches of season 8 I’m just keeping in touch with the leaders:

My lack of goal-scoring is a problem that I’ll have to resolve if I ever want to do anything in this league.

I just had the misfortune of playing Manchester United twice in a row. First in the FA Cup, then in the league. Both matches were at their place.

I lost 2-0 in the Cup, and 4-0 in the league. In both matches I started well and held onto the ball. That’s something it’s nearly always best to do in PES2012. It often draws the sting out of the AI. This time, it just seemed to make Man Utd angry. I was trounced in both games, outplayed and outfought. I kept the Cup scoreline down to a respectable 2-0 only through some miracle.

Sharp-eyed readers may have noted a general slowing-down of my PES2012 progress over the past two weeks. It’s true—I have been playing the game less, and taking more time to move through the seasons than before.

Here’s why: I’ve spent about half my recent football gaming time playing old ISS and PES games for the book I’m currently writing. Over the past week in particular I have played long, glorious sessions on ISS, ISS98, ISS Pro Evolution 2, PES3, and PES4. Over the coming weeks I’ll play every PES and ISS game there has ever been.

What can I say? It’s pretty great. It’s an eye-opener (e.g.: there was PES2012-style ‘wrong-side shooting’ in ISS98!). It’s an unashamed trip down memory lane, a chance to wallow in nostalgia and remember what life was like in another time.

To anyone out there who still owns any of the early games: I do recommend having a look again. Even if it’s only to see how far we’ve truly come.

And to anyone who wants to start collecting the early games, either to play them for the first time or keep them as mementoes: you’d better start now. They’re all going cheap on eBay and/or Amazon. The PC versions of PES are always gettable through nefarious methods—although I own legitimate original PC DVD copies of PES4, PES5, and PES6, I’ll have ye know.

Master League is what I’m all about in football gaming. Even if the Johnny-come-lately of FIFA12’s Career Mode turns out to be as good as I hope and expect it to be, my Master League origins will still be there: a solid 13 years of great times and great memories.

It still amazes me that Master League began in 1999 in ISS Pro Evolution on the original grey PlayStation. That first version of the mode featured one  solitary division. The following year, in ISS Pro Evolution 2 that was expanded to two divisions.

I could go on here at length. I could just cut and paste some of the chapters I’ve written and others that I’m still working on, but I’ll save them for release. Which is still on target, roughly, for spring/early summer this year.

Pro Evolution Jekyll and Hyde

Today’s Hagi goal, first of all.

Situation: away to Norwich, 85 minutes gone. The score is 0-0.

I’m down to 10 men. My right back was harshly sent off for a second yellow.

Norwich had pummelled me all match, even more so since the dismissal. I was trying just to hang on for a point.

I’d rejigged my formation, moving Hagi to the centre of midfield, where I hoped to get a long-range opportunity at the very least.

I got a throw-in on the right, in Norwich’s half. And this happened:

When that one went in, I sat up and yelled out loud—then stifled it, lest the neighbours start to think I’m even stranger than they already think I am.

I love a good long-distance thumper, as regular readers will know, and Georghe Hagi has certainly provided a few since his arrival. I keep saying that his latest one is the best of them all, but I genuinely think this one is. I’ve scored from further out with Hagi and will do so again, I hope, but in this case he’s running side-on to the goal. Possibly the clincher is his insouciant look-up at the keeper. Perhaps only his recent spectacular free kick tops this one for me.

I grimly held on for the victory, in the face of some shockingly transparent shenanigans from the CPU. They nearly auto-equalised straight from their kick-off. I had to defend two last-gasp corners. My defenders seemed unwilling to just hoof it upfield. But I held on somehow.

That win against Norwich was one of 4 league wins on the bounce that boosted me up to 3rd place at one stage. Then I lost a few and plunged back down to 7th, but at this stage of the season—only 8 matches have been played—a quick return to form should see me vaulting back up towards the top 4, where I want to be.

That’s easier said than done in PES2012, though. Since that purple patch, the game seems to be doing its best to stifle me and to direct my shots everywhere except where I want them to go.

I’m so frustrated with PES2012 sometimes. Not least because, when it works, it’s a great game of football. Everybody who has stuck with PES2012 past the first few weeks knows how good it can be.

But when it decides, for example, that it’s going to direct van Basten’s strongly-aimed corner shot right down the keeper’s throat—not just once, but several times in the same match—I despise the game only slightly less than I despise myself for persevering with it.

Once again, it all comes back to the shooting.

There’s a voice I hear occasionally, a voice that whispers in my ear: you only scored that great goal with Hagi, or anyone else, because the game decided to recognise your shooting aim on this occasion. That’s what it whispers to me, very quietly.

There has never been a more Jekyll-and-Hyde edition of Pro Evolution Soccer than PES2012. In all my long years of playing this franchise, I have never encountered such extremes between true greatness and utter garbage.

Yes, yes, yes. It’s a familiar refrain that’s pretty much old-hat now. Saying “PES2012 is eccentric” is like saying “water is wet”. What’s the point of saying it?

What I need is for the balance between Jekyll and Hyde to be at least 70/30 in Jekyll’s favour (Jekyll being the good one, of course). At the moment, it’s 50/50 at best.

They shoot football games, don’t they?

Season 7 has ended. PES2012 has challenged me in many ways. Since it arrived, back on October the whatever-it-was, I’ve been intrigued, delighted, disappointed, appalled, thrilled, delighted again, appalled again, frustrated, aghast, confused, content, and indifferent. Often all at once. I’ve documented the reasons quite exhaustively over the past few months. I won’t rehash them again now.

PES2012 is a good game. Its main problems have tended to dwindle in prominence the more I’ve played of it.

Shooting is the big exception. PES2012’s crazy, inconsistent, random shooting is the one issue that won’t recede into the background. It might yet end up being the issue that finally kills PES2012 for me.

My apologies to anybody for whom a) Shooting in PES2012 is not a problem, or b) Shooting in PES2012 is something you have learned to live with or tolerate, or even c) You’re just sick of hearing about it.  Shooting in PES2012 is experienced by me, subjectively, as unsatisfying and erratic, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I cannot pretend that it is not constantly on my mind when it is.

At the moment, though? With my super squad of Classics—good players all, most of whom can pass the ball and strike it decently—I’m in a good place with PES2012. When this game plays well, it really plays well, I find.

Here’s the final season 7 table:

The goals column went up slightly with some epic games at the tail-end of the season. The highlight was a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa. That match included a certain Hagi free kick that I love so much I’m shamelessly recycling it from Friday’s post (you know, just in case you missed it):

I also beat Manchester City 2-1 at their place, but didn’t feel like celebrating. Both my goals were wrong-side goals. They were in Friday’s post too, but I’m not interested in showing them again here. PES2012’s shooting: damn it all to hell.

Post-season came, and my Chairman approval rating plummeted below 10%. I’d failed to meet his main target: Champions League qualification. At least I qualified for the Europa League  again next season, despite only finishing 9th. The FA Cup winners and the runners-up were above me, so I inherited a place. Nice. I’ll try to do better in Europa this coming season.

My squad needed trimming. I had 27 squad players. I fancied a lean squad of 24 players. In any case, I had a serious cash shortfall to deal with. I was £14,000,000 in the red.

I received a bid for Van Basten. There’s no way I’m ever selling him. I don’t think I’ve posted any of his goals, but they’ve all been very welcome. Proper striker’s goals, from inside the box. All crucial. Here’s a shot of the Premier League top scorer’s table, a few matches before season’s end:

Van Basten got a few more after that was taken. He finished on 18 goals.

A bid came in for him, from Juventus. They wanted Van Basten and were prepared to pay £55,000,000 for the pleasure.

I was not even tempted. I declined the offer—which sent Van Basten into a red-faced strop. I don’t need this, I thought. But I clicked the option ‘we don’t want you to leave’ and he seemed to calm down. At the time of writing, he’s not angry.

I sold Brehme instead. It cleared up my financial worries for another season. £24,000,000 was the offer—from Marseille or someone, not sure—and I accepted.

Having already released my other right-back, I needed two new ones. I ended up with Cedric Soares and Luke Young, both decent players in the low 80s OVR. I didn’t manage to sell anyone else. I released Jacobs, not needing a third goalie at this stage of the career. Fingers crossed.

My club is ranked 104th in a world of 180 teams. With a squad like mine, that’s nowhere near good enough.

My target for season 8 is to win a trophy, and to finish in the top 4. At least. Winning the FA Cup and qualifying for the Champions League would be a great season for me at my current skill level with the game. Let’s see how I do.