Month: April 2015

Of bars and Superstars

Season 9 4th Kit

That up there is my 4th kit for season 9, a deliberately cheesy orange-and-pale-blue number that I hardly ever get to actually wear. One of my first three away kits always fits the bill.

I think this match, whenever it was and whoever it was against, was the only time this season that I’ve used it. The orange stripes are strangely appropriate with Robben in the picture there.

That’s Pirlo on the left, who’s been nothing special for me in this PES. I hang onto him because of who he is, not what he does. I might move him on soon.

That’s Kalou in the middle, and he’s just scored a goal in this picture.

I’ve had Kalou since season 2 or thereabouts and his stats have remained consistently high. He rarely starts a match these days, but he’s always on the bench, and usually comes on at some point. He can play anywhere from deep midfield, or out wide, or up front. He’s quietly been one of the most dependable players of the team. I’ve tried to sell him a few times but, in PES2015’s bizarre transfer market, there’s never been any takers. I’ll be hanging onto him until the end now.

At the moment, I’m coming to the end of Season 9. The only outstanding question is whether I’ll qualify for Season 10’s Champions League, or have to settle again for the Europa League.

I’ve been considering having another crack at playing on Superstar difficulty, something that has so far defeated at least three separate and whole-hearted attempts. PES2015 on Superstar, with 1-bar passing, is just too much for me.

A discussion in the comments section of the last post about passing assistance levels set me thinking. I have always played PES2015 on 1-bar, simply because that was the level I played PES2012 and PES2013 on.

But for my next attempt at Superstar, why not switch to 2-bar passing assistance and see what happens?

So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve already made the switch, even with some of Season 9 still to go, and with important questions remaining.

I decided to appoint a new club captain for this hopeful new era — step forward, the man of PES2015, Peter Crouch:

Captain Crouch

…and Superstar promptly started kicking my arse, again — even with 2-bar passing.

Possession is at an absolute premium on Superstar, and I had to focus and force myself to exercise discipline with the ball. Things were slightly better with 2-bar passing, but not a great deal better.

It’s so tempting to treat it like a computer game, and imagine that you’re entitled to ping the ball forward without obstruction and create hatfuls of chances with ease.

I wonder if it’s that factor that has turned so many players off football games these days? There’s so much else vying for our attention: other games, TV, films, books, not to mention so-called ‘real life’… I wonder if people just aren’t prepared to put in the hours any more and allow themselves to grow into a football game like a pair of slippers.

I ground out a 0-0 against Sunderland. I beat Derby 2-0. Manchester City thumped me 3-1, and they finished the match with 70% possession to my 30%, probably my worst possession stat ever. I got a draw against West Ham. I lost against Villa.

The important thing was the feel of the games. They felt great — some of the best games I’ve had on PES2015, full stop.

2-bar passing on Superstar looks like a winner. I’m not fleeing back to Top Player this time. Here is where I’ll make my stand.

I’ll finish today with a couple of noteworthy goals.

Both were scored in the above-described first session on Superstar, 2-bar passing. My favourite is Villalba’s, the second in the clip. Crouch’s goal was satsifying too. Just before the pass got to him, I planned what to do, and double-tapped R1 to perform the knock-ahead that creates the space for the shot:

 

Maybe next year

Crouch ready to pounce

Well, things are certainly not going according to plan in the second half of season 9. By this time in every other Master League that I’ve played, at least some Treble-oriented momentum has started to build. This time, in PES2015, I’m actually going backwards, away from the Treble.

Having been eliminated from the Champions League before January, I was bounced into the Europa League’s Round of 32, where I was drawn in a two-legged knockout match against Benfica.

In PES years past, I’d have done very well in the Round of 32, and maybe even gone on to win it. That’s the kind of thing that traditionally happens at this stage of a Master League. You start hoovering up the outliers while lining up your tilt at the Treble. It’s the kind of tendencies that Master League… tends toward.

Not this year. Not for me.

I drew the first leg 0-0 at Benfica, and lost the second leg at my place 0-2, and was out. It felt like a much more comprehensive defeat than the raw stats say it was.

PES2015 eliminated from Europa by Benfica

It was one of those matches where afterwards I couldn’t recall having a proper goal-scoring chance, or any kind of decent spell in the game. All my strikers were missing, all my creative players were missing, and at crucial moments my defenders and keeper were missing.

So I was eliminated from the Europa League. Again.

I’m not saying this was a scripted outcome. After years of Master League you just know when you’ve run into a Scripty McScript of a match, and this didn’t feel like one.

Instead it felt like I was trapped in a whole other dimension of trouble, a more fundamental one, where the game’s general difficulty and core mechanics – i.e., the very nature of the game – held me at bay.

And things have not been that much better in the league. The current table:

PES2015 Season 9 after 29

Out of 9 matches played since the last post, I’ve won about 2, drawn about 4, and lost the remainder.

I’ve just about stayed in touch within the Champions League qualification mini-league, but from a title-challenging point of view, realistically speaking, even the most generous of scripting fairies would struggle to look kindly on me now.

But we shall see. The way I’m playing, it doesn’t look likely, but it’s not impossible. I would need to go on a Run.

My Regen Robben has started to have little magic moments from match to match. He’s still only 17, and showing it – his stamina lasts for less than a half, so his appearances are nearly all substitute ones. He scored this fine chest-and-volley:

Chest-and-volley goals like that one are very much a PES2015 ‘thing’, one of the game’s hallmarks that will be remembered in years to come.

Every PES has its hallmarks. I don’t recall so many chest/thigh-volleys being present in any other PES, ever.

Arise Sir Didier

Drogba holding the trophy

Ridiculous. That’s the only applicable word to the latest happenings in my PES2015 Master League world. My young Regen Drogba has only gone and won the WORLD FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR AWARD.

He’s a great player without any doubt, but a puzzlingly in-and-out one form-wise (like so many in this game). He’s never troubled the top scorer lists, for the club or the league as a whole. He’s not a great assister. He has maybe one great game in 5. I regularly leave him on the bench and play Forlan and Crouch up front.

This isn’t to say Drogba is a bad player in PES2015. He’s definitely a great player to have. Much like his real-life counterpart, on his day he’s one of the best players you’ve ever seen.

Drogba kissing the trophy

But this development simply isn’t merited, on any level. Not even nearly.

The team Drogba plays for has only ever finished 2nd in the Premier. We’ve won 1 solitary Cup. We qualified for the Champions League this season for the first time, but were eliminated at the group stage with two wins from six. My team’s global ranking is still in the 80s. This award is just silly.

It’s not a serious impediment to my enjoyment of PES2015, which is ongoing and not threatened by anything right now. It’s just another one of those roll-eyes, shrug-shoulders moments in the world of PES.

I’m showing the game a yellow card on this one.

Here’s today’s goal, from the man who should have won the award:

Saving and uploading goals from PS4 is so straightforward that I’ll try to post a new goal in every post. This one is typical Crouch fare. There’s nothing very special here, I just like the way Crouch calls for the ball in the first few seconds of the clip, receives it, lays it off, goes on a run, and then takes the aerial through-ball on his thigh before slotting the ball into the net. This goal secured a precious 1-0 win that keeps me in the chasing pack near the top of the table.

————–

In slightly related news, I am on a quest to acquire every football game of the past 30 years in playable form. I’m talking Spectrum games, Atari games, all the ISS games, all the PES games, all the FIFA games, and all the strange outliers too. This Is Football. Sega Soccer Slam on the Gamecube. The Wii versions of PES. ISS64 on the N64. Et cetera.

This doesn’t mean getting all the old consoles on which to play them. Far from it. I already have all the ISS and most of the PES games. As for the others, a virtual, digitised collection will suffice.

PC-based emulation of old console games has come a long way in the last few years. The previous time I dipped my toes in these waters, a few years ago now, results were inconsistent. It was a pain to get things working and things never seemed to work for long.

Nowadays, things are slick. If you’ve got a decent PC with a decent graphics card and a decent processor, emulated games work as reliably and authentically as on the original console.

The original Pro Evolution Soccer (PES1, as we must call it) is rather shocking to play now. It has much more in common, graphically and gameplay-wise, with the PS1-era ISS games, than the later PS2-era PES games that it evolved into. I turned it off after a single half of England-Scotland.

Somewhat heartbreakingly, my first proper PES game, PES2, felt much the same. Old-fashioned. Awkward. At least I played a full match of this one, mainly to see and hear the replay music in action once again after I scored.

I find that only the games from about PES3 onward retain any lasting playability.

I’m currently searching for a PS2 ISO of Football Kingdom, the game that was the darling of the PES forums a few years ago, and doubtless still is in some quarters.

I think I’ll save the emulated football games talk for a special post. That’s two special posts I’ve got to do: 1) a look back at PES2014, the one that got away; and 2) a look at old footy games in emulated form.

I’ve got a week off work in mid-May. I should have time to get both of those planned special posts done then.

Until then, it’s PES2015 all the way. By Friday, I should have almost finished season 9. Results generally are holding up, but I’m having a few too many draws and the odd defeat. We shall see if the scripting fairy pays me a visit and lets me back into the title race.

Scripting and Saving

Solteldo celebrating

Only a couple of sessions and a handful of matches this week. Traditionally, mid-to-late April is doldrums time in PES. But this year – thanks to the late release, and then another delay while I made my mind up about PES2015 – April sees me at the height of my involvement with the game. I’m always itching to play more and longer sessions and advance my ML progress farther and farther. The PES equivalent of Pokemon’s ‘gotta catch ’em all’ tagline is ‘got to win ’em all’. PES2015 is proving most stubborn in refusing to cooperate.

I’d already had a terrible start to Season 9. Another attempt at playing on Superstar led to disaster, with one win from the opening nine or so matches. It left me at the foot of the table and seemingly out of the title race. I went back to Top Player with the title race seemingly already too much of a mountain to climb.

Ah, but Master League has always had this thing, where results above you will magically go your way just enough to allow you back into the mix.

I’ve been on a good run, and the teams at the top of the table haven’t. ‘Nuff said.

Below is the current table – as expected, the game has allowed me to catch up to the leaders. With over half the season remaining, I’ll certainly be challenging for the title come the end of it:

PES2015 Season 9 after 18

Just 6 points behind the leaders. The amusing thing with this ‘results matching’ is that we all put up with it. It’s all part of the show, the suspension of disbelief. Just as you can’t watch a film without pretending you don’t know that the characters are all actors reading lines from a script, you can’t play Master League (or PES, or any football game, or arguably any game at all) without pretending you don’t know that you’re also in the hands of a script.

A ‘sandbox’ football game without any off-field or on-field scripting would be interesting – but what would it consist of? Would it be worth playing? Would it keep bringing me back year after year for hundreds of hours at a time?

Elimination from the Champions League at the group stage was a blow this season, but I won my final fixture against Barcelona, at home, in style: 3-0. This meant I finished 3rd in the group table, and qualified for the Europa League Round of 32. Which I’m strangely excited about.

PES2015 season 9 Europa draw

I’ll be meeting up with Benfica, and the first leg is away, which I always prefer.

Finally today a little clip of some goalkeeping excellence.

It has often been said that in PES2015, they finally got goalkeepers more or less right, and this has been my experience over the seasons.

For most of my 9 seasons I’ve played with one keeper – the Regen Brad Friedel. I got him when he was 17, and he was solid from the outset, a fine shot-stopper in keeping with his real-life original. Here he is making a save that made me shout out when I watched it happen in real-time. It had looked such a certain goal otherwise:

Yep, you can say the classic ‘you’d expect him to save that’. But viewed in real-time, at full speed, it was a spectacular reaction save – the kind of save that keepers in PES2014, for example, were mysteriously not making.

Keepers have been PES’s Achilles’ heel for far too long, and they’re finally not, and that’s worth noting and celebrating.

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