Month: July 2015

Everybody Loves Ronaldo

Online debutant

So as July becomes August, I embark upon a new venture. Exploring a strange, undiscovered country, populated by natives with one thing and one thing only on their minds: running in almost-straight lines and scoring goals that they give every indication of not really caring about. More on that later.

Earlier this week I wrapped up Master League for another year. Most years I then give FIFA a desultory try that fizzles out after a week or so, my juice having been all used up by PES.

Every year, at some point, I do play PES and/or FIFA online, even if it’s just a couple of matches in one single session on one single day.

This year so far, I hadn’t done so. Before I removed the PES2015 disc from my PS4 for good, I decided to rectify that. I played a couple of Online Seasons matches, which weren’t bad at all. The opponents were the familiar exhausting all-action types that you only ever meet online, but it was a novel experience. I was trounced in all 3 matches but I enjoyed myself. Crafty, determined human opponents are something fresh.

And so for my next trick…

MyClub main menu

MyClub. The team name is: CHRONICA. I was going to name it after the blog, but decided that was too cheesy, so this version of it will do. (Unless anyone has any better suggestions? In MyClub you can change your team name as often as you like.)

Way back in November I actually set this mode up, created a team, and played one single match against the AI. And then promptly forgot all about it – something that would benefit me hugely in the form of a bounty of GP (the mode’s currency) that was waiting for me when I logged in this week:

Give me that lovely booty

Take a look at the scrollbar on the right of the above screenie. All the messages in this Inbox were delivering a bounty of GP.

My GP and Gold

At the time this screenshot on the left was taken I’d already spent about 60,000 on players, including DIDA and XAVI. So my starting bounty was something close to 200,000 GP.

For reference purposes, the cost of a top player is 10,000 GP. I believe it takes some time to accumulate that amount of GP in the normal course of things.

So I had money to spend and a team to set up. At first you get a squad of no-name, low-rated players who would make the ML Defaults blush. But in ML, the Defaults were at least decent and capable. The MyClub defaults are terrible in MyClub.

After a few matches and cashing in some of that lovely GP, I had XAVI and a couple of decent strikers. I went with 4-2-2-2, for which I needed the relevant manager:

MyClub squad

That Ultimate Team-like display does little for me. Much better understood in the traditional view:

MyClub formation

Unlike other online modes, you can’t set up extravagant formations in MyClub. The mode simply won’t let you. It’s a deliberate corrective to the tendency for 1-1-8 formations and other lunacies. You have to stick to orthodox formations with very little room to move players around. You can still set up a swashbuckling 3-4-3 or 4-2-4, but you need the relevant manager.

There’s a whole other range of factors involved, of which Team Spirit is the most important. This is not a potted overview of MyClub – I doubt I’ll be playing it much at all beyond the next week or so.

The main thing is, as ever, the playing of the matches – and it’s here that online football gaming falls down flatly on its arse.

The game online bears little resemblance to the single-player game I love. ISS and PES as I have played them for almost 20 years are one thing. PES online as it has evolved over the past 10 years is a completely other thing. The latter is barely football at all. Competitive controller-squeezing would be a more accurate description.

There are points of similarity between offline and online football gaming, but in essence they are wholly separate entities.

Goodl old Titty Town

The human players simply don’t play football. It’s a soulless, abstract exercise in the manipulation of pixels on a screen, with the desired result of occupying higher positions on some leaderboard somewhere. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, but it’s not what floats my boat.

“The AI only plays one way!” is one of those ‘what everyone says’ things, and a traditional cry heard from the online lobbyists at the start of every PES year.

One glimpse of how most online players play shows the strange truth that is the opposite of ‘what everyone says’. Online players only play one way.

Even the poorest performance from the PES AI has more variety, subtlety, and football to it than any online player I’ve ever come cross.

Post-game stats MyClub

It’s human players who only play one way. Without exception they favour a central dribbling style that favours one or two star players. Minimal deviation from a straight line to goal. Maybe a couple of one-twos, maybe a floated through-ball to the fast star man, and bang – it’s a goal, always scored from about the same spot inside the penalty box.

The opponent above actually played a lot out on the wing – he had Ronaldo (everybody’s got Ronaldo) and liked to score thumping headers. A hat-trick of them in this case.

All 14 of the others played the straight-down-the-middle sprinting style that I call ‘run and gun’.

In 15 games played online at the time of writing, I have never seen any opponent attempt a shot from outside the box.

In 15 matches, I must have conceded 40-45 goals (averaging 2-3 conceded per match), and not even once has any opponent showed any sign of wanting to watch the replay.

Perhaps that’s the strangest thing of all for me, coming from a single-player background.

In a typical session of Master League, I’ll score at least 1 goal (usually 2 or 3) that makes me pay attention to the replay. Such behaviour is Forbidden online.

Yes, yes, I accept that this skipping-replays thing is an evolved custom. The players are trying to be polite to each other by skipping their replays. I know that. That skipping-replays custom started up in the days of PES5 online, and I was there to see it.

But there was also the custom of, every now and then, being allowed to sit back and watch a replay of something special.

About 10 of the 45-ish goals I’ve conceded looked special to me. Not one of my opponents wanted to watch them. I’ve often wished I could communicate with my opponents in some meaningful way and ask them: “Are you actually enjoying this? Do you enjoy this game? Do you like scoring these goals? What’s the point of this, for you? What are you getting out of this?”

The experiment goes on. MyClub is a swish mode, an enticing take on Master League. I want to explore more of it. I want to actually win a match. I want to see what the matches handle like with top players in every position in my team. Maybe my experience so far is just what happens to a new player turning up with a poor squad. We shall see.

——-

POSTSCRIPT:

Half an hour after putting this post to bed, tucking it up, and bestowing a creepy kiss upon its imaginary forehead, I won my first online match.

What happens in Master League stays in Master League

Arsenal vs Coventry finale PES2015

Season 14 is over. PES2015 is over. Master League is over, and will not be resumed until PES2016.

And – the Treble. Is it over?

I’ll tell you straightaway — by means of a short clip that is worth watching because of how it neatly encapsulates the whole PES-playing, ML-playing, Treble-seeking experience.

Regular readers will remember that I was still in all three Tournaments of the Treble. I was facing an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea. I was dangerously confident about progressing through.

Predictably, it was a tough match, one where Chelsea netted first and early. My fellow Master League 2015’ers will all nod their heads and sigh, knowing what I subsequently went through.

We join the action in the 74th minute. It’s still 0-1 to Chelsea. At this stage I have been battering the Chelsea defence for a good 60 minutes of game time, and only rarely forcing a save from the keeper.

The Treble was teetering in the balance. And then…

Well. Take a look (and listen):

The score at the end of the match was the score shown at the end above.

The Treble was over, not just for this season, but for PES2015. There will be no more seasons. I’m not tempted to have another crack. That was the last chance, and it’s gone.

It was gutting, and I considered reloading for the first time in my Master League life since… since… since ever, I believe.

Reloading and replaying matches to get a different result is against everything that I play Master League for. So it just cannot happen, ever.

I play ML and adore it for the up-and-down storylines it delivers. For the unfolding, over many weeks and months, of memorable, personalised, lived experience. Reloading and replaying would undermine the very essence of what I’m looking for when I play Master League.

So there was no reloading. If my Master League playing style had a motto, the motto would be: “Whatever happens, happens.” Accidat quicquid accidet.

The Treble was gone – but an almost-as-good, last-season Double of League-and-Champions-League wasn’t.

Let’s wrap that up right now.

I breezed past Monaco in the Champions League semi-final and beat PSG comfortably in the final 3-0, and that was that. The Champions League could do with a healthy dose of domestic league difficulty. It’s rarely a problem once you get good enough to progress past the Group stage.

The last-but-one match in the League was against Arsenal. Away.

All season with me and Arsenal at the top of the table it’d been nip-and-tuck, neck-and-neck, and so on.

Here’s another 1-minute clip. There are no audio tricks with this one, just a straightforward clip of footy game action.

It’s 0-0 at the start of the clip. Just as with the first clip, the score at the end of this clip was the final score at the end of the match:

That Arsenal shot was close, wasn’t it? Was that a stroke of luck, or was it a good save by Friedel (my ever-present keeper since he was a 17-yr-old Regen)? Whichever, it was huge for me, and potentially decisive as things turned out.

As I expected, it went down to the last day, but with a slight goal-difference advantage I went into my last match (at home against Newcastle) knowing that a draw would almost certainly do me. I won. The final League table:

Season 14 final table

Yes! Only my second league title on PES2015, and my last. That, coupled with the Champions League, rounded off a great season, all told – and a very good Master League.

I let the calendar run forward a few weeks, interested to see my updated club ranking:

PES2015 Final Club Ranking

A good point at which to bow out. I’ve definitely had enough to eat at this table. I’m full.

I’ll have much more to say about PES2015 in my end-of-year retrospective in early September

My general feeling for now is that PES2015, and its Master League, couldn’t be said to be classics. They’re both in the second rank of PES and ML. I don’t think that’s a controversial or surprising view.

I love PES2015. I’ve loved playing Master League. Which doesn’t mean either one is automatically a classic that I’ll look back on with wistful longing in years to come. I also loved PES6, and loved playing PES6’s Master League – but I’d go seriously against the grain of PES fan sentiment, and only assign PES6 to the second rank of PES games. When I think of great PES games, I rarely think of PES6, but there’s no denying PES6 was a great game. PES2015 will occupy more or less the same position in my personal pantheon.

Experienced PES players will know exactly what nuance of opinion I’m straining to express here. Another good example: when you’re an enthusiastic, committed fan of a TV show, there are no bad episodes (or so few as to make no real difference) — there are just less-great episodes. There’s plenty such nuance to be teased out of PES2015, but I’ll save it all now for the retrospective.

I can safely say it’s been another epic Master League. The latest of many such epics, stretching all the way back to the turn of the century.

And on that blaring trombone note of triumph, Master League 2015 has left the building.

The last but one post about Master League 2015

Season 14 Forlan lucky kit

Superstition is a big part of human life in general, and also sporting activities in general – and football in particular. The player who has to be last out of the tunnel. The rituals of changing clothes in a certain order. The lucky shirt you used to wear when going out on the pull (which never worked, but the one time it did seem to work, you never forgot…).

At the moment I’m more than halfway convinced that my 2nd strip – the ‘bumblebee’ as it’s affectionately known in my mind – is bringing me the kind of good fortune that is promising to bring me an unlikely last-gasp Treble.

PES2015. Master League. Season 14. Superstar. In all this time I’ve won every trophy in Master League, but never all at the same time. Never a Treble of League, Cup, European Cup. This is my last season and I’m still in the mix. It’s been a hell of a slog getting here, not least because PES2015’s players are often frustratingly anonymous when I need them most.

Forlan being a case in point. So often missing, Forlan is a veritable goal machine in the bumblebee kit. There he is above, acclaiming himself for another goal. (It was a standard sort of goal that’s going in my bumper end-of-season compilation of ordinary and extraordinary goals alike from the last couple of seasons.)

The table after 30 league matches:

Season 14 after 30

Neck-and-neck with Arsenal with 8 matches left. Goal difference virtually the same. Slight disparity in goals scored, but that’s unlikely to cost me (famous last words?).

Call me Nostradamus (or Mystic not-Greg), but I anticipate a last-day decider, and I’m mentally preparing for the pressure ahead of time. The Treble would be nice, but I want to sign off with at least another League Title (only my second in the whole career).

I’m still in the FA Cup, through to the semis where I’ll meet my first Premier League opposition – Chelsea. That will be a tough match. The big guns of the Premier League usually are in any context.

And in the Champions League, I’m through to the semis too. Monaco shouldn’t offer much of an obstacle.

It’s the League that’s the tough one. There’s nothing like playing West Brom at home and losing 0-1 in inexplicable fashion.

And there’s also nothing like playing Stoke away and getting a precious result – sealed with a very ordinary goal:

I’m really liking these real-time, 1-minute snippets of action. You never can tell what’s about to happen and that’s why they’re more attention-grabbing than the standard 10-second goal+replay snippet that I usually post. I think we’ll be seeing more of these 1-minute excerpts of the action on the blog in the months to come.

It’s pretty obvious to me, and doubtless to most readers too, that after nigh on 800 matches my enthusiasm for playing PES2015 has dwindled almost to nothing.

I’m running on fumes here, and partly resenting the time PES2015 is taking from FIFA15, Skyrim, XCOM, Civilization, and – yes – Rocket League.

But I want to finish what I started more than I want to stop, and it’s that impulse that’s carrying me through. I don’t doubt that when I shut the game down following my final fixture – probably sometime early next week – it’ll be with a huge sigh of relief. School’s out for summer, that kind of thing.

The Crouchening

Season 14 Crouch rare goal

Now here’s a sight I haven’t seen all that much in recent seasons – Crouchy on the scoresheet and celebrating as only he knows how.

It was the nicest goal I’ve scored in a while. Below is a minute of actual gameplay leading up to the goal. I like to pass it around and await my chance, because trying to get the ball back from a Superstar AI determined to keep it is no fun at all.

These deft headers past an onrushing keeper are one of PES2015’s signature goals.

The above was the first thing of note that Crouchy’s done in about 3 seasons. He’s often just a missing person, along with Robben, Gerrard, Homemade Hagi, etc. Occasional flashes from each star name simply aren’t sustained. There’s a definite behind-the-scenes nerf of players who do good things.

PES2015’s player-nerf has been counterpointed by my own decline at the game on Superstar level. I struggle to cope against the AI at times. After floating the idea half-jokingly last week, I’m now convinced that there’s some kind of under-the-hood RPG-style levelling-up of the overall AI difficulty that takes place as the seasons pass.

The sweet spot would therefore be when you’ve got a few good players but most of your squad are still just above-average or even below.

No, it’s not been very enjoyable in recent seasons. Mostly this is due to straightforward normal fatigue, but the tailing-off in performance of my key players has contributed to it.

Which isn’t to say the game’s bad overall. It’s certainly not. And with this as my final season I’m very motivated to do well.

Every match is getting maximum focus. And it’s paying off. In 8 league matches played since last time, I’ve won 6, drawn 1, lost 1. Master League tables always reward that kind of effort, and so I’m joint-top after 21 matches:

Season 14 after 21

The frustrating thing here is that Arsenal just will not budge. And even more frustrating (and slightly whiffy) is the familiar way in which, when I lost and drew those two matches, Arsenal also dropped points. All to keep me close.

Still, we’re used to playing Master League with ye olde suspension of disbelief firmly in place.

Season 14 CL group table

A couple of scares in the Champions League group stage. I drew 3 matches that I shouldn’t have. Careless of me. I secured top spot with a swashbuckling last-fixture win over Bayer Leverkusen.

I’ve also sailed through the FA Cup opening rounds. Until I meet the likely big guns in the later rounds, the FA Cup holds no fears for me.

This last-gasp Treble is still very much on. At the rate I’m currently playing – not every day, but long sessions when I do – and all being well, by this time next week Season 14 (and PES2015) will be over.

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