Month: June 2012

I know what I did this summer

Since wrapping up season 15 of Master League on Monday evening just gone, I have not played any PES2012. Not even a sneaky game here or there. Not even a few matches on the rather-good PSP version of PES2012 that I have for the Vita (and should really play more of). I’m enjoying the break.

In my down-time, I have turned to FIFA12, Football Manager 2010—and also one other game that I’ve waited a crazily long time to be able to play…

I’ve spent most of the past 5 days playing Civilization V: Gods & Kings, on OnLive.

OnLive is a service that streams games from high-end remote computers to your screen down your (phat) internet connection. You have to see the service in action to believe how well it works.

Readers with long memories might remember me going nuts for the release of Civilization V back in 2010. Sadly, the game was a poor effort—‘the PES2008 of Civilization’, I called it. The game barely ran on either my middle-spec 2009 iMac or a little gaming PC that I have on the side.

This week’s new expansion pack snagged my attention, but I still faced the problem of running the game on my hardware.

OnLive ran a deal last weekend where you got Civ V and the new expansion for a combined twenty quid. I was straight in there. It was my first real-money purchase from OnLive. It probably won’t be my last.

I have sunk a combined 10 hours into Civ V over the past few days.

At the top of the post is a screenshot of my army (the green units) massing south of the Roman border prior to me launching an invasion in the early Renaissance period. We’d been at war, on and off, for most of the game so far. I had always been on the defensive. It was time for some payback.

Check out the lustrous sheen on the water on the right side of the screen. It makes me smile. I’m really enjoying playing Civilization V at maximum graphical settings on a 2009 iMac, via OnLive. The graphics get blurry sometimes, but these are fleeting moments you hardly notice after a while. 95% of the time, it really as if you’re playing the game on a high-end gaming rig—which in fact you are, only it’s via the Internet.

A few turns after the above screenshot, I captured Rome itself—but I had used up most of my army on the operation (it’s always tricky to take a capital in Civ V).

So I couldn’t defend my new acquisition. The next screenshot shows my newly-taken Rome surrounded by vengeful Roman units.

I was desperately moving up reinforcements, but they wouldn’t be in time. The very next turn, I lost Rome back to the Romans. I’ve since been pushed back on the defensive, but managed to secure a 10-turn ceasefire. I’m desperately building more units, and so are they…

For my first assault I should have used an army twice the size. But this is my first ever full game of Civilization V and I’m still learning. Absolutely loving it, needless to say. And a big thumbs-up, once again, to OnLive, without which none of this would be possible.

The other game I’m playing a lot of right now is Football Manager 2010.

I got this game when it came out nearly two years ago. I played a couple of seasons as Coventry City. I got them into the Premier, then had a rocky start to season 3 in the top flight and didn’t play for a week or two—often the death knell for me and games. There’s a certain momentum that cannot be allowed to falter. If it goes, the game goes with it.

That was about 18 months ago. Recently, having finally bought FM2012, I idly started up FM2010 prior to uninstalling it, and looked in on my old save out of curiosity—and here I am, playing at least one match every evening without fail, and immersed like never before. FM2012 will still be there when I’m ready for it.

After the rigours of 15 seasons on PES2012, there’s something very relaxing about just setting up your team, choosing the tactics, and sitting back and watching them play in Football Manager.

I’ve tried introducing the series to a lad at work who’s never heard of the series before. It’s surprisingly difficult to explain what you do in a footy management sim, and just how compelling it is.

I’ve made some shockingly bad purchases, a tradition for me in this series. Chris Eagles from Burnley for £6m was a new low-point. I don’t know what I was thinking. He stayed on the FM equivalent of a purple arrow for his whole time with me. I got rid of him mid-season for a knock-down £4m.

With that cash I bought Marek Matejovsky from Reading, and Peter Niemeyer from Celtic.

By far my best signing was Damien Plessis from Liverpool’s reserves. A solid DMF and all-round Vieira-like clone, he saved me from relegation in the end.

I’m very proud of how Rodrigo Possebon is coming along. I snapped him up for £1m from Man Utd’s reserves back in season 1, in the Championship, and he’s now worth £3.5m. He has his own custom training schedule. I’m terrified he’ll want to leave if we don’t start winning things, or at least doing well.

We avoided relegation in our first top flight season, and the board is pleased. You can just about see us there in blue text in 14th place. Yes, that is Liverpool finishing in 11th just above us.

Staying up was the main target. I’m going to have a massive clearout and buy some quality players.

Oh, and I discovered a Football Manager blog that’s a bit like this one. Yet Another Football Manager Blog features a scary amount of immersion. Its author treats the game and his team as if they’re real.

I have also played some FIFA12. An Exhibition game to get me back in the swing, and then four matches in my Career Mode save.

Loved them all. FIFA12’s passing system is utterly compelling and almost a game in itself. You think your teammate is available, but he’s not…

More about FIFA12 on Monday. It deserves a post of its own. It’s really fascinating to play and enjoy another football game after so long on PES2012.

And don’t worry—PES2012, and Season 16 of Master League, will be back on Wednesday.

Double time

And so it came to pass, as the month of June 2012 entered its final week, that I finally won a bloody trophy on Superstar difficulty in Master League on PES2012.

It’s been a long, long journey to here from last October. I went through a rocky spell that saw me nearly quit the game back in February—and then experienced a rebirth of PES, the like of which I haven’t known since the heady days of PES5. My end-of-year review of PES2012 in September should be interesting.

My last serious haul of trophies was on Professional difficulty. That was 5 seasons ago in-game—almost 3 calendar months ago, realtime.

Here and now, on Superstar, I was in with a shout of the FA Cup and the League title.

My FA Cup Final opponents were Manchester City. I was the ‘away’ side and wore my away kit.

I went with my patented strategy of ‘position two DMFs so deep that they might as well be playing in goal’.

Thus equipped with a back 6, and with Sibon and Rooney and Barnes and Simao more than holding their own up front, I Hodgsonned my way to a resounding 1-0 win.

The breakthrough was a headed goal by Sibon just after the break. It decided the flavour of the whole match. One of the laws of PES2012 is that the scorer of the first goal exponentially boosts his chances of winning.

Man City dashed themselves again and again against my DMF wall, but they couldn’t get through.

They were most dangerous down the wings, but I focused so hard on double-teaming only with full back+winger (i.e., no CB/DMF coming across to help out) that even when they got through, I had enough bodies in the box to survive.

The Cup was mine, all mine.

Incidentally re. Sibon, a 29-year-old who I spent £40m on mid-season: I did say that if he got me just 10 goals and won me a trophy, he’d be worth every imaginary penny. So it has proved.

And then, after the Cup Final, I also went and won the Premier League title.

Yes, I have won the Double on Superstar. I’m happy.

I could only manage a draw against Everton in the penultimate league game. It was a bad result that should have handed back the initiative to Man Utd. But they lost at home, against Stoke. A surprise, to say the least.

It meant I needed just a draw from my final match against Sunderland to guarantee the Premier League title.

It was a home match, and knowing I just needed a draw was very relaxing. I still went for the win, though. I didn’t use the 2-DMF defensive strategy. Instead, I pushed Farinos up to the halfway line and left Neeskens to cope alone, which he did more than adequately.

I got a corner and decided to try something a bit different. I worked the ball out of the corner to Farinos, lurking in that withdrawn CMF position, and walloped the ball into the net from 25 yards past a crowd of players.

I went on to win 2-1, and the title was MINE.

That Farinos goal in this mini-compliation of the end of the season—scenes of wild celebration are included (mild spoiler alert):

The final league table:

That’s a pretty good defensive record, if I may say so myself. George Graham, you were right. Not conceding goals is the key to success in this Master League.

The Team of the Season:

Agostini was overall player of the year in league and Cup. PES2012 loves left-backs. My previous player of the year was also a left back, Hyam, back in season 10.

My squad was the happiest I’ve ever seen it. What’s next for me and PES2012?

Of course, I have already won trophies on PES2012, on Professional—an achievement in and of itself, as everybody who plays (and frequently suffers) PES2012 knows very well.

But since the move up to Superstar, life has not been easy. Quite the opposite.

Superstar plays a better game of all-round football. But it drains you. It demands everything from you, so much so that to win anything on Superstar feels like a proportionally greater achievement than anything else on PES, ever.

‘Treble on Top Player’ used to be the yardstick by which we measured expertise with any edition of PES. And those old games were usually ‘completed’ by December or January.

Surely the ultimate would have to be ‘Treble on Superstar’ in PES2012. I’m not sure it’s possible for me, but I intend to spend most of what’s left of footy game year 2011-2012 trying to make it happen.

And then there’s the unfinished story of my young Regens, just starting to come through. Kaka, Ribery, Gerrard, Schweinsteiger. And of course Hagi. There’s so much left to see and do in PES2012.

First, though, I need a bloody rest. I’m knackered.

And now you’re gonna believe us

No, it’s not over yet. I still haven’t finished season 15. I had an unexpectedly busy weekend for work and other things. It limited my footy gaming to a few quick matches on Saturday night.

Season 15 could be the one. This has been my most serious tilt yet at silverware on Superstar. It’s a tension-riddled, exhausting affair, playing PES2012 at this level. I’ll need a break after this season whatever happens.

With two league matches to go, I’m two points clear at the top of the table. Albeit with an inferior goal difference:

I’m loving my defensive record this season, though. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is why I’m poised to win the league now.

Here’s the schedule for what remains of the season:

Yep, look at that International just before what may be the crunch game at home to Sunderland. Bugger.

And that IS the FA Cup Final sandwiched between the two important League matches.

If I don’t win something this season I’ll be seriously kicking myself. To tell the truth, if I don’t do the Double from this position I’ll be disappointed.

Last time, I was worried and angry about the game scheduling an International the day before the crunch semi-final against Man Utd. My players were knackered, but I picked them anyway. I usually only rest them if they specifically request it, which usually means the game after the game after an International.

So I took to the field in the semi-final with nine of my eleven players half-dead with fatigue. But the game was wonderful. My gameplan was to keep the ball and deny Man Utd any space to run into and attack. It would be late in the first half before I’d even start thinking about attacking in numbers.

I stayed on 2-bar of attacking, making sure I never pressed L1+pass with either of my deep-lying DMFs. They spent most of the first half sitting just in front of the back 4. Many were the miracle dribble attempts from Man Utd, but with two layers of veteran stoppers waiting to stop them, they couldn’t get through.

And then I hit the jackpot just before half-time with a headed goal from Sibon from a corner. Just after half-time, Sibon struck again, this time with a poacher’s goal from a clearance inside the box.

2-0, then, and I shut up shop. I didn’t resort to passing it around at the back. I still attacked, but didn’t send up any support.

It was quite a feeling at the end of that semi-final. A tie that I’d truly feared beforehand, won quite easily with the right personnel, the right formation, the right tactics, and the right attitude. It’s a lesson that I should really take to heart and carry on into every other match as well.  But I probably won’t.

In the league, I’m a winning machine. Superstar requires focus, and I’m bringing that.

I keep coming up against lesser teams who play more aggressively and skilfully than they have any right to. Earlier this season I beat Brighton & Hove Albion 5-0 at their ground. In the return fixture, they were like some Jose Mourinho/anti-football/catennacio superteam par excellence.

Brighton had the cheek to take the lead 1-0 from a free kick that I thought was too far out to trouble my keeper, so I didn’t move him.

I left it until very late to mount my comeback. Sibon kept getting chances from crosses and corners that screamed certain goal, but kept heading the ball down and just wide of the post. Very suspicious, after a while. Ahhhh, we see the dread hand of The Management in every negative fall of the dice, don’t we?

One cross in the 70th minute overshot all the strikers and fell to Navarro on the left side of the box. I shot the ball like an arrow into the far corner of the net. Fist-pumping time. Now all I needed was the winner, and a few minutes later I found Rooney in some space, and fired a daisycutter from 20 yards for the 2-1 win.

At the final whistle Brighton’s players sank to the ground. I checked the table afterwards, and yes indeed, they had just been relegated. That’s why they were so supercharged and tough to break down for so long.

Anyway, anyway. I’m in pole position in the league and I’ve got a Cup Final to play. On Superstar. By Wednesday’s post I will have definitely played season 15 to its conclusion.

Sack the Scheduler

So, coming towards the end of season 15 now, this sight really excites me:

I’m like a 1500m runner just hanging off the shoulder of the pace-setter coming into the final bend. I hope.

I’ve done well to be just 1 point behind, having lost a recent match pretty badly. It was against Spurs away, and I went 2-0 down before half-time.

I threw my dual-DMF gameplan out the window and pushed Farinos as far upfield as he could go and still be a CMF. I left Neeskens alone to mop up Spurs attacks.

I paid the price for this midway through the second half, still 2-0 down and fighting to get back in the match. Spurs were constantly coming at me with everything they had and I was getting frustrated. I mistimed a tackle and had Neeskens straight-red-carded.

Down to 10 men and missing a DMF, I decided to leave everything as it was. I played on with just a defence and no DMF, very daring for me. I had five up front, effectively, and a large empty space between them and the back four.

It so nearly worked out. I soon got a goal back with Forlan. Now at 2-1, and with my blood well and truly up, there was plenty of time left to get the equaliser. I’d have taken a draw as a fine result under the circumstances.

But have you ever noticed sometimes how impossible it is just to get the ball when you desperately, desperately want to?

The CPU wasn’t threatening, as such—it was just annoying. Every time I got the ball, the ball was taken away. No matter the quality of my possession, the ball just wouldn’t stick. There is a palpable difference between losing the ball through your own poor play—being over-hasty, over-direct—and the feeling when the game brazenly just takes it back regardless.

The game ended 2-1 to Spurs. Luckily—or conveniently, I should say—Man Utd also lost their game that week.

In the Europa League I scraped through the first knockout match against Marseille. Next I faced Borussia Monchengladbach. I lost the home leg 0-1, but stormed into an early 2-0 lead at their place and thought I’d won the tie. I ended up losing it 3-2, 4-2 on aggregate. And that was me out of Europe, again. You can’t mentally switch off in PES2012 on Superstar, ever. The game is out to get you.

I am in the semi-final of the FA Cup, where I’ll play Manchester United. That was always going to be one tough mother of a match regardless of any other factors—but just look at the delightful ‘other factor’ the game has decided to throw my way:

An International the day before the big match will completely ravage my star-packed squad. I’m fuming about it, but what can I do?

That semi is my next match. A League and Cup double on Superstar would be so sweet. Work and other things permitting, I should wrap the whole season up over the weekend and conclude it in Monday’s post.

Whether I get that first silverware on Superstar or not, I need a mini-break from PES2012. Not much of a break—just a few days, a week at most. I’ve started feeling quite a bit of PES2012 fatigue.

I still love the game and rate it as the best since PES5, and arguably the best ever. But you can have too much of a good thing.

It’s over-familiarity. I need to refresh my relationship with PES2012, and there’s no better way to do that than not to see it for a while.  I accept that I risk breaking the magic spell that PES2012 has weaved over me these past months, but I need to recharge my batteries.

So whatever happens at the end of season 15, I’ve decided a brief summer break is needed. I don’t know yet what I’ll write about in the blog posts that I’ll spend away from the game. Maybe some Football Manager. Maybe some FIFA12. Now wouldn’t that be an interesting experiment at this stage of the season?