Month: June 2015

Sweet sixteen

PES2016 is announcedTraditionally on this blog, I don’t pay much attention to PES’s annual summertime PR push. Because traditionally there’s not much to take notice of.

Since the dawn of the Internet age, there have been three traditional pillars of PES summertime PR:

  • One or two FMV clips of the latest cover star doing some standard-issue stepovers, and/or the kind of rainbow-flicky tricks that have actually happened perhaps 4 times in a real-world professional football match.
  • Journos are summoned at intervals to play each other at multiplayer, and then they all report back on the experience of playing PES in multiplayer — a completely different game that I won’t ever play.
  • Gamescom comes along, and we watch some shaky-cam footage from the exhibition floor (once again, ALL multiplayer) that looks too fast and frantic and prompts the same old cry of ‘it’s because of how YouTube encodes the videos!‘ (No it’s not.)

I’ve never been very impressed with the annual PR cycle. I think I understand it — the aim of PR is to plant the seed of awareness of something (REMEMBER TO BUY THIS GAME IN SEPTEMBER), not to inform you about that something.

PES’s summertime PR is gloriously uninformative, because it’s not trying to inform. Us single-player football gamers and Master League enthusiasts traditionally get ZERO attention.

Until this year.

Last week saw the release of a slew of PES2016 information, images, and videos that made me very excited indeed. It’s completely unprecedented for there to be this much information this early. The original video is still intriguing to watch:

There’s a 50-minute frame-by-frame analysis complete with cheerfully wild speculation on WENB. I haven’t got round to watching yet.

Maybe the UK office has finally exerted its influence. Maybe the team in Japan are so confident in PES2016 that they’re gagging to get the information out there. The presence of We Will Rock You at the start of the trailer is possibly significant. Fans of PES2 will recall this–

–and recall that PES2 was the series’ true arrival on PS2. It’s certainly where it all really started for me. The ISS games had been impressive. PES2 was another level of greatness altogether. Every now and then I watch the above video in full, and remember.

Is the same song’s presence in the PES2016 trailer just an accident, or does it indicate that PES2016 is intended to be the series’ true arrival on this generation of consoles?

That’s my own cheerfully wild speculation there. We shall see.

We’ve got 13 weeks or so before the new game rides into view. For now, the fat sheriff in town is PES2015, and right now is all that I really care about.

I’m wrapped up in Crouchy, Forlan, Robben, Messi, and the gang. Names and faces that I’ve built up a familiarity with and an affinity for over many long months of campaigning. That is what ML is all about. Not the next one, but the one that’s right here.

Thumbnail sketch of the status quo: Season 12, bad start, a surge back up the table: Going For It.

I’ll say right off that the league is now out of reach. I lost a couple of big 6-pointers against other top-4 teams — here’s the critical one:

Season 12 the big 6 pointer stats

A terrible defeat in which it felt that there was always an AI player snapping at my heels. I got my goal when it was only 2-0, and felt that a miracle comeback was on the cards, but a killer third goal from a penalty put the final nail in the Treble-seeking coffin.

The table after 34 matches:

Season 12 after 34

5th in the table, and twelve points behind the leaders with 4 to play. I’d need to win all my remaining 4 matches about 5-0 each and hope all the teams above me lose most or all of theirs by similar margins.

No, not even Master League’s macro-scripting at its most generous will see me get back into this one.

So the league’s gone and with it the Treble, and PES2015 is guaranteed to stay alive for at least one more season.

I’m pretty glad. Life is better for me with a viable football game to think about and come back to. I pretty much always need to have a good book on the go, and in the same way, I need a football game. It’s an anchor in the midst of life’s turbulences. Whatever else happens, I’ve always got that reserved space.

Season 12 is not a washout. I still have two trophies to go for. One of which I’ve won before — the FA Cup. The other is one I’ve never won but would dearly love to, not least because of the cash. I want to be able to afford one more BIG player for next season’s campaign. The semi-final draw:

Season 12 CL semi draw

I’ve already played the first leg and won it 2-0 away from home. I don’t believe I’ve ever lost a two-legged cup tie in Master League where I have a 2-0 lead from the first leg. PES2015 is capable of doing that, so I’ll be properly careful.

By Friday I will definitely have finished Season 12 and played the FA Cup Final and (hopefully) the Champions League Final too.

PES Kart

Robben swoops

Season 12 had started as an annus horribilis that saw me marooned in mid-table by mid-season. But video racing games and video football games have something in common: they’ll always let you get back in touch with the leaders. In Master League, you’re never properly out of the race until late on.

Just a couple of good sessions, and I’m right back in the mix – well, almost.

Here’s the table after 23 matches:

Season 12 after 23

6 points off the top. Tantalisingly close. With 15 matches left, I should probably win the league from here. I’ve got a great chance.

It is almost cringeworthy, the way the league table scripting works in your favour in Master League. This season I’ve already lost twice the number of matches I lost all last season.

I’ll still have to play well to stay in the running and be there or thereabouts at the end of the campaign.

A schoolboy howler left me with a threadbare squad for this first half of the season. I got to mid-season and hit the transfer market. I picked up some players, leaving me with a much healthier-looking squad:

Season 12 the saviour squad

Two of those – EINEFERD and BELLARABI – are Youths, my first such in this entire ML career. Regen LOVREN has already proved himself a very capable squad CB. And ILICIC at AMF will help my exhausted internationals recover after one of their frequent road trips.

Here the danger is that the new players will dilute my team chemistry. This is the wrong time to start dropping points that I don’t need to. A few defeats and the leaders will pull out ahead. Master League scripting is generous, but it’s not magic.

Robben won the World Player of the Year. It should have been Crouch.

Season 12 world player of the year Robben

I’m still in the FA Cup. In the Champions League, I coasted to the top spot in the group table:

Season 12 CL Group final standings

It was a procession. I don’t know what I was doing with that one drawn game. I’ve seen the draw for the first knockout match. Feyenoord away, then home. Perfect.

Today’s video clip isn’t of a goal. It’s of a characteristic PES2015 moment that doesn’t exactly thrill me.

PES2015 has many negatives. This game has just as many ‘issues’ as any previous edition. Like every football game ever made. Yes, including my precious PES5.

When you’re playing catchup in the league, margins count. You need things to go your way. You need draws to be wins, and defeats to be draws (or preferably wins).

When you lose the ball on Superstar in PES2015, it can be a frustrating nightmare trying to get it back.

And this kind of thing happens rather too often:

The AI ball-carrier preternaturally evades the first lunge, from my Lizarazu clone, with a stylish drag-back. Then I actually do win the ball with another lunge from Gerrard, who then gets tangled up in the AI player’s legs and is prevented from reaching the loose ball.

My DMF, Pirlo, hovering nearby, is perfectly placed to swoop in and get that loose ball – but the game would not let me take control of Pirlo until it was just too late to stop the AI player (the same one Gerrard had tackled and then fallen over) from getting up and recovering the ball. As you can see in the clip.

The AI went on to craft an opening that led to a corner, which I cleared with difficulty.

That kind of thing – tackles that you ‘win’ but are scripted to lose – isn’t an anomalous moment in PES2015.

That can happen many times in a single spell of AI possession. It’s one of PES2015’s (and PES2014’s) little tricks to keep the ball away from you, and get the ball towards your goal in a stutter-start fashion, somewhat in the style of an American Football drive.

PES2015’s most infamous AI script – the dribble-in-from-the-wing that seems to be unstoppable – is such a common event that it’s almost not worth mentioning.

So this PES year has not been all wine and roses. Same as every year, there’s quite a few thorns among the roses.

But I’m 12 seasons in. 600 or more matches. Still playing.

Squad erat desperandum

Season 12 the horror the horror

The horror-show of Season 12 has continued. Last time, I’d only had a bad start — three defeats in three league matches.

This time, well — here’s the League table after 14 matches:

Season 12 after 14

11th in the table. 13 points behind the leaders. I’ve already lost 7 times (having lost only 4 times all last season), My goalscoring is pitiful, my defending woeful. It feels like one of my first seasons in the top flight instead of a Treble-hunting season.

I have played slightly distractedly, I’ll admit. I’ve played sometimes as if the game owes me easy goals and easy wins. Few people who have played PES2015 at length would say that it gives you anything easily.

I made a serious blunder at the end of last season that left me with a threadbare squad, as seen here:

First half of season 12 squad

I’ve already had more than a couple of suspensions and been unable to field a full subs’ bench, but thankfully PES2015 doesn’t then force a 0-3 forfeit the way FIFA15 does. You just play without a full subs’ bench.

I’m playing badly. I’m seeing some bizarre results, the likes of which I’ve never seen before:

Ridiculous 5-4 PES2015

That match went 1-0; 1-1; 1-2; 2-2; then I scored to make it 2-3 with 85 minutes gone, and I thought I had the win; it was 3-3 straight from their kickoff; I made it 3-4 straight from my kickoff, and cheered myself hoarse; but it was instantly 4-4, again straight from their kickoff (I shit you not); and just when I’d accepted the craziest 4-4 draw in my PES history, they nicked the ball and got the winner for 5-4 with 96 minutes showing.

It was thrilling, no question, and I confess to playing terribly to concede the goals I conceded.

The players don’t feel the same. I’m starting to wonder if there’s an automatic penalty levied on dumb-ass human managers like me who blunder into situations of having good players, but no squad to speak of. Apart from the obvious penalty where most of my players start most matches on half or three-quarter bars of stamina.

Bizarrely, things are going superbly in the Champions League itself. My draw was sort-of OK:

Season 12 Champions League draw

Juventus, PSV, Apoel FC. A standard sort of draw. I’ve played 4 matches and beaten Apoel home and away, beaten PSV away, and beaten Juve at home. Top of the group. I will qualify for the knockout stage.

With the Treble in mind it’s a shame I’m almost certainly out of the running for the domestic league.

Or am I?

Knowing PES as I do, and knowing Master League as I do, I know that if I just knuckle down and pick up a few results, then get to mid-season and bring some fresh players in, I can easily go on a run that will almost certainly see the game allowing me back into the title mix.

We might not like it, but that’s how Master League operates. There’s an auto-balancing script in play. The human player is never truly out of the running at this stage of the season. Even if I was rock-bottom now I’d fancy my chances of finishing in the top 6.

So that’s the plan: grapple with the game until mid-season transfer window, bring in some new decent players and a few Youths to bulk out the ranks, and then just go for it.

To finish with today, a brief pot pot-pourri of goals from the opening of this tricky campaign:

That first goal is from Pirlo, popping up in the DMF hole (the ‘Mathieu zone’ as my PES5-oiled mind will always think of it) to score one of PES2015’s signature types of goals (which I haven’t actually seen all that much of since the last few patches).

Goals 2 and 3 are from Drogba in full-on beast mode with two power-strikes.

And Goal 4 is Messi’s very first goal for me, coming after a long period of games where he did barely anything. He’s come good now, but still not a first-choice. Fit and in form, my front three remains the trio that helped me to the title last season: Forlan, Robben, Crouch. Drogba, incredibly, starts most matches on the bench, and so does Messi for now.

Season 12: the Quickening

One last piece of business from Season 11:

Peter Crouch UEFA Player of the Year

Oh yes. And so richly deserved. He made it into the Premier League Team of the Season too – my only player who did. Considering we finished as champions, that’s significant.

I don’t always go on about him the way I was a few seasons ago, but Crouchy continues to be my most valuable player, counted all in all. Goals, link-up play, and a good touch for a big man. What more can be asked for?

The World Player award, maybe, but perhaps that’ll come later.

Season 12 new home kit

Now, onto Season 12, and for this season I decided to go with a classic stripey home kit reminiscent of Argentina’s classic strip, in honour of my one big new signing, of whom more later.

Season 12 itself has not started as planned.

PES2015 hasn’t been reading the script (for once). The script went something like: in season 12 I should coast to the Treble (more or less) and then probably move on from PES2015 with a sense of grateful accomplishment.

First things first: I played in the Supercup match against last season’s European Champions, Saint Etienne.

I went ahead early and stayed comfortable until the last 5 minutes, when the game upped the pressure by a significant factor, and forced the equaliser.

Extra time flashed past as it always does when you play 10-minute matches. The penalty shootout came. I adore penalty shootouts in PES2015.

Penalties in PES2015 are very well-implemented. It’s a shame they simply don’t happen in general play. I’ve had one penalty kick in about 550 matches across 11 full seasons, which I acknowledge to be a disgrace.

It’s only in penalty shootouts that you get to experience what may be the best penalty system in any edition of PES.

The game doesn’t help itself by concealing what you’re supposed to be doing when you move the analogue stick. You’re moving an invisible aiming reticule with the analogue stick, which isn’t at all obvious on consoles. (On the PC version, the aiming reticule is visible.)

It works similar to corners and free kicks, where the dotted line is very trembly and sensitive. Slight analogue pressure puts the ball just to either side of the keeper. More analogue pressure aims for the corners, and this in combination with variations of power can fire the kinds of unstoppable penalties high into the corners that you always admire in real-life penalty shootouts.

Penalties in PES2015 never feel random, and in PK shootouts I always feel as if I have won or lost in a test of skill and nerve.

I blazed my first penalty way over the bar, trying to be clever, and spent the rest of the shootout trying to catch up. I scored all of the remainder and dived my keeper the right way on a couple of theirs. I won the Supercup.

Season 12 Supercup result

I’d also won the Community Shield match (also on penalties) against Manchester United.

Two trophies down. Another three in the bag in Season 12 would make for a nice Quintuple, and potentially draw a proper line under PES2015.

Except,,, erm… PES2015 has other ideas.

Season 12 feels so far as if I’m playing on Superstar+.

My opening three league fixtures have come against Crystal Palace, Norwich, and West Ham. Here is the table after those three matches:

Season 12 after 3

Yes, that’s me joint-bottom with Swansea. Alphabetical order’s the only thing keeping me off the bottom.

I swear that PES2015 feels different in the league this season. Everything is tighter and more hectic. The CPU feels superhuman. Yes, you can fanwank this as if the opposition are raising their games to face the reigning champions, and that’s how I prefer to think of it.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this kind of start isn’t the out-and-out disaster that it appears to be. This is the kind of thing heroic comebacks are made of. The kind of surge up the table that Master League, with its notorious results-matching macro-scripting, actively abets.

But there’s another factor in play.

I made a terrible blunder in pre-season that will drastically affect how my team plays for at least half the season.

I only bought one player – and what a player I bought. Step forward, L MESSI.

Season 12 Got Messi

I’ve only had Messi once in any Master League before. Interestingly, that previous time was in the edition of PES that’s most directly comparable to PES2015 – PES6 on the Xbox360. (If you want to make me seethe, leave a comment implying that PES6(360) and PES6(PS2/Xbox/PC) were the same game, which is what traditionally happens. Go on. Do it!)

Back then in PES6(360) I got Messi as a Regen, and the same again here.

19-year-old Regen Messi cost me £45m and almost bankrupted me, and led me into what might spell disaster.

I had no money left to get any other players, but a cursory look at my squad told me that I had plenty of cover. Things would be a bit tight at times, but I was confident that I had the players to cover every eventuality across all competitions in a long season.

But I forgot something. A very important something. Four of my old hands were retiring at the end of the season.

I got to the day after the transfer window closed and realised with horror what I had done.

This is my squad list for the first half of the season:

First half of season 12 squad

No new players will arrive until January 1st. It’s going to be a long slog of a half-season until then. More than one suspension and I’ll be short of a full subs’ bench. It’s common for me to have 2 or even 3 players suspended, as Gerrard is in the above image.

What a howler. What a schoolboy error. Fighting on three fronts for Treble glory, and I’ve left myself with the most threadbare squad imaginable.

This is the kind of thing that isn’t supposed to happen to an old Master League hand. But now it’s happened to me and I have to deal with it.

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