Month: August 2015

Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Fouled Me

Blue sky thinking

By this stage everybody has said everything humanly possible about the PES2016 demo that appeared everywhere over the past couple of days.

First of all – it’s a good game.

‘Only’ an incremental improvement on PES2015, maybe, but incremental increase has always been the PES way. When, in PES history, was there ever this ‘huge leap’ that seems to be anticipated every year lately? Where does the perception that that’s going to happen even come from?

Also: I liked PES2015, and I believe I will like PES2016 too.

And it is only a demo. When fine-tuning a slice of a football game for demo release, certain things are accentuated, and other things muffled.

I won’t do one of those Pros and Cons, + and – lists that you see at this time of year.

Passing and shooting – good. Graphics – excellent. (I’m genuinely baffled why the graphical leap isn’t immediacy obvious to all. Graphics have gone from PS3.5 to true next-gen PS4 levels.)

Fouls are the big question. The serious question.

In 10 matches at the time of writing, played on a variety of settings and with most of the teams on offer, I have not been fouled once by the AI.

I’ve had no free kicks in open play in ten matches. ZERO.

I don’t remember the AI even getting caught offside.

Crying foul PES2016 Demo

The absence of fouls is not a bug. It’s a deliberate policy decision. There can be no serious doubt about this. We can hope that it’s a demo-only feature – you know, designed to showcase the flow of gameplay to the max – but I think that’s a vain hope.

I spent most of one match dribbling slowly around the AI players trying desperately to pick up a foul. That was always the way to get free kicks on PES2015. Unfortunately, somebody on the development team has had the bright idea to equip players with the ability to auto-evade many tackles. Every time the CPU player lunged in, my players would perform a little skip-shuffle that evaded the foul…

This is the new reality of football games. Online multiplayer is now the principal mode from the perspective of the developers.

Us single-players have been able to see this time coming for years. It’s now well and truly here.

Take a look at this horror show – here I’m playing as Bayern against Juventus. I try to stop the ball and turn back, a favourite tactic, anticipating a flying lunge from Pogba. This clear foul was NOT whistled as a foul (or given advantage – I checked):

Every match has numerous instances like that. This is the worst I’ve seen, but there are others

Twenty years of football gaming. How did we get to this stage? How did we get to the point where a basic element of the game is just ignored?

We got to this stage because the driving force in gaming nowadays is the online marketplace.

The online players will be happy with this – they’re already happy, because PES2016’s default 0-speed, the online standard, is fast and frenetic, and that’s what they want.

Who can begrudge somebody having something that they enjoy? Not me.

But would it kill PES’s developers to make a two-tier fouling system for online and offline? Without something like that, we’re stuck with a system designed to facilitate continuous online play, and that’s not the kind of football gaming that inspires me.

I do feel rather inspired by the rest of PES2016. The game feels different, as it darn well should. The handling is different. In the game of family resemblance that we all play, I think it’s most like PES6, I really do.

My first goal in the demo also featured my first sighting of the new (new to me anyway) dinked through-ball. Yes, the CPU defender should have got to it first by running at it instead of alongside it, but hey. It’s only a game…

Okay, and you can criticise the keeper, but we all know that playing any football game is a matter of making allowances. Of surviving the faults. Of seeking out the ghost in the machine.

My PES2016 demo experience has been much like my PES2015 demo experience. Encouraged and dismayed in almost equal measure, but satisfied there’s a game coming that I’ll be happy to bust open on Day 1 and spend some time getting to know. Hopefully lots of time getting to know.

The fouls thing won’t be ‘fixed’. Nobody’s going to fix something they don’t see as being broken. Any noises we hear to the contrary will be, I’m pretty sure, just diplomatic PR-speak.

They know us single-players aren’t happy with the direction they’ve taken. But they also know that they can afford to ignore us, and we’ll still get on and play it.

But will we always be here?

——–

Very few football game demos have any long-term replay value for me, and I already know that PES2016’s demo won’t be one of them. It’s likely that I’ve already played the majority of my games on the PES2016 demo.

Maybe Tuesday I’ll do a wrap-up type post about it all, after digesting it further.

But the weeks between now and full release are likely to be dominated by other things. Who knows? FIFA15, PES2013, PES5? Actua Soccer? I really don’t know yet. God I love the silly season…

What about David Niven?

This post isn’t just an end-of-season compilation clips show, promise. But remember this?

Coy of the Rovers

And the shooting in that game — here are three long-range goals from two years ago:

That’s PES2013.

Remember PES2013? Remember Coynborough? Minandinho? Remember boots, boots, boots? Remember that shooting?

Ah, PES2013 — arguably the true George Lazenby of PES games. To continue the analogy: PES6 would be the Sean Connery — because (sigh) everyone loves PES6… PES2008 the Roger Moore. PES2015 the Timothy Dalton. PES2 the Pierce Brosnan. PES2014 the Woody Allen. PES2012 the Daniel Craig. And PES5 would be the Bob Holness. (Yes, each of those named people have played James Bond in some way. You don’t have to check.)

What’s going on? Am I playing PES2013? Why am I playing PES2013?

It’s the time of year when there are lots of traditions. Huge long forum postings of high-resolution player faces have already started appearing, and will be coming to all PES forums and fansites near you over the next week or two. I’ve never been one to gaze raptly at player faces but I appreciate there are those who like doing that sort of thing. Who am I to judge them?

One tradition I subscribe to almost every year is the Old Game Hypothetical Scenario. OGHS for short.

This is when in an idle moment between the end of one game and the arrival of another, you dig out and play an older game of PES (or FIFA) and enjoy it so much that you end up saying, in all seriousness: ‘You know, if [upcoming game name] wasn’t coming out in a few weeks, I’d be happy playing [old game name] for the next year…’

OGHS works because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It establishes football games on an equivalent footing with books and movies (because they are). Just like books and movies, football games can be critically reappraised years later, and you don’t have to wait for some Academy of Football Gaming to do it. You can fire up your old console and do it yourself!

I powered up my trusy old PS3 the other day for the first time in a  few weeks. I had come to play the only Metal Gear Solid game I’ve never played (MGS: Peace Walker). Instead I saw the PES2013 disc was sitting in the system tray for reasons unknown. And, what can I say — an irresistible impulse compelled me to start ‘er up…

I’ve played three full sessions of PES2013 over the last few days, and I love it.

With caveats. There’s a need for house rules of some kind with PES2013, as most people probably remember.

PES2013 blast from the past

What made the game a lesser light than its two close cousins (PES2012 and PES2011) were the ridiculously overpowered player development in Master League, coupled with the boots and accessories farrago, coupled with the howitzer-style shooting.

The shooting is still there, and is still sumptuous. (The halfway-line goal mentioned in the screenshot above is here.) In any ‘Best PES Shooting’ list, PES2013 would have to be near the top. (PES5 takes the crown for me, in shooting as in so much else.)

I started up a non-dev Master league, playing in Spain — fully licensed — with Atletico Madrid, because I’m shallow and I like their kits, home and away.

Original squad, because this brief window of time is no time to mess with Defaults.

Classic players ON, because it’s simply not Master League if there’s no possibility of signing Trevor Francis and Zinedine Zidane in one fell swoop.

Maybe my biggest decision was playing zero-bar passing assistance.

I recall attempting zero-bar passing back in the original Year of PES2013, along with a few commenters. We found that there seemed to be a last-third passing nerf where control seemed to be suspiciously overridden in a way that was often favourable to the AI.

This time around, I’ve yet to notice that nerf effect, and it’s been brilliant.

I haven’t scored any goals of note, but I’ve had some great matches. All on Professional difficulty. I’ve played 10, won 2, drawn 3, lost 5, including a 4-1 whupping in the Europa League group stages at the hands of FC Copenhagen, a dear old ML adversary.

Manual passing too often breaks down due to lack of attention, and devolves into (I have to say it) FIFA-style midfield tussles and turnovers that go on too long for comfort. PES has always had a beautiful flow, and rarely gets bogged down in stalemate (PES2015 possibly excepted).

But with focus and concentration, zero-bar passing on PES2013 produces some wonderful PES+ sort of gameplay: short, sharp passes, trying to pull the opposition out of shape and expose gaps to exploit. Football 1-2-3.

You know, if PES2016 wasn’t coming out in a few weeks, I think I’d be happy playing PES2013 for the next year.

——–

NOTICE: This coming Friday’s post will appear at 3pm instead of the usual midday, to allow me more time to digest the PES2016 demo. It’s always fun pretending that a PES demo gives us a great deal of knowledge about what playing the final game will be like.

LOL why u do dis

Hurrah for Chronica

My MyClub experiment has come and gone. I have got over whatever mania persuaded me that I might be able to play and enjoy myself online. I’m back playing offline now, mostly.

I love the MyClub mode itself – a very nice take on Ultimate Team and Master League. I’ve actually built up a lot of affection for my poor, battered team over the last week or two.

Somehow, in the blizzard of sprint-clamping, pressure-abusing monsters who lurk online (sorry, people, but monsters are what you are), I hung on and got a few wins and draws, and got promoted from the bottom Division 12 to the next-bottom Division 11.

And there I’ll stay, for there’ll be no more now.

MyClub promoted

I’ve discovered yet again what I already knew: that football gaming online is shit.

It’s pure shit.

It really is shit. Not to put too fine a point on it, online football gaming is fucking garbage. I hate it. I absolutely despise it. My loathing for online football gaming has reached a new level of disgust. I merely disliked it before. I absolutely despise it now.

Oh, to be fair, it’s not a complete waste of time. There are flashes of interest. There are sparkles of light down in the stinking muck.

On the whole, though, no. Just no. Never gonna happen.

The game online simply isn’t the game I’ve been playing and loving for more than twenty years now.

Here’s me scoring my winner against an online opponent – I’m the team in the Atletico Madrid strip. I had to be really quick to save this replay. There’s a tradition online of not letting anyone watch more than half a second of any replay, as you can see with the rapid fade-to-black at the end:

He was a decent opponent, as they come. Most online opponents sprint-pressurise 99% of the time. He only sprint-pressurised 98% of the time. I’ve never played any opponent who didn’t sprint-pressurise less than 98% of the time.

Every single player you meet online plays in exactly the same way.

Maximum pressure, all the time.

Direct passing, all the time.

If they’ve got Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic or some other superman (and nearly everyone has), their sole tactic is getting the ball to them and running directly at your goal straight down the middle of the pitch.

(Sometimes they do pass it around at the back, but it tends to happen when they’re already 5-0 up and you can sort of tell that they’re passing the ball around satirically, rubbing my face in the sheer ineffectiveness of trying to play football online.)

Why do they do this? Because it works. Simple, really. It works – it creates chances, it gets goals. Pressure-abusing combined with direct run-and-gun attacking is the optimal way to play online football. So that’s what has to happen. Nobody’s really being evil. They’re just doing what works.

The TS Problem

It’s absolutely terrible. It’s a travesty of the magisterial-by-comparison, sedate, thoughtful game that is played offline.

It’s interesting for a while. I’ve certainly found it interesting these past couple of weeks. But the interest has now waned.

Playing essentially the same damn match against essentially the same damn opponent over and over again is just what happens when you play online. I’d be very interested to hear any arguments to the contrary when it’s so easily demonstrable as the case. It needs to be shouted: EVERY ONLINE PLAYER PLAYS EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE ONE YOU PLAYED BEFORE. The exceptions are so rare (and the differences so minor) that they’re not worth considering.

I’m glad I’ve had this time. From now on, when I see a football gaming formumite holding forth about how supposedly one-dimensional the offline game against the AI is, compared to the joys of online, I’m going to laugh out loud – I might even ROFLMAO – instead of secretly wondering if he’s right.

He’s definitely not right. Online football is the one-dimensional game. In fact, calling it one-dimensional is probably overstating its complexity. Zero-dimensionality is the order of the day online. Online football gaming is more like Pong than PES.

my MyClub peak

One simple tweak would make everything better and solve the problems at a stroke. Two tweaks. First, a proper draining stamina model that would make it impossible to sprint-pressure the whole damn match. Second, a rigorous fouling system, akin to that last seen in PES5 (*genuflects and makes sign of the cross*), would provide a further death-blow to the reckless, video-gamey pressuring and tackling that goes on.

Neither of those things will ever happen. Market forces. Kids. What people have got used to. Et cetera.

And that, my friends, is why online football gaming is bullshit. Pure, unadulterated, horse manure. I know many reading this will be aficionados of the online game, and have great affection for it and for the times they’ve had, and in all honesty I have seen its potential greatness in scattered flashes.

But, oh dear. That pressure? That directness. That bulldozing star player? You call that football? Really?

Of course you don’t. Footy gaming online is really just an online computer game loosely based on football. It’s got more in common with Rocket League or Speedball 2100 than the Pro Evolution Soccer I’ve been playing and enjoying, against the AI, for all these years.

Offline, even the worst match against the most plodding and predictable AI is an order of magnitude better as a football game than even the best online game.

And I think I’ve bludgeoned my point home enough now. Online football gaming, it was nice getting to know you again. But you’ve worn out your welcome. Goodbye.

————————–

This time next week we’ll have played PES2016, or the demo version of it at least. I’m looking forward to it with my appetite well and truly whetted by the MyClub experiment. I tell you, playing online has reignited my fire in a big way.

Which only leaves the question of what to blog about on Tuesday. You know, I think it’s time to blow the dust off PES5…

Smells Like Team Spirit

A proper shellacking in MyClub

Well that hurt.

Easily my heaviest-ever defeat in any football game in any mode, ever. At half-time it was 0-8, so I did well to limit the damage in the second half and even grabbed a cheeky consolation goal with my one flowing move of the match.

It was an unexpected setback in my MyClub journey, as immediately prior to this match, I’d WON my first match.

It was a solid 1-0 win against a player rather like myself — a patient passer and mover. Judging by his username, which ended in 1965, he was an oldie like me. Perhaps that says a lot.

Then I met the player above: a 100% sprint-pressurer, and down-the-middle run-and-gunner. He blew me away completely. I can’t even pretend that I had given up after 7 or 8 goals. I was playing and defending all the way. Nothing was working.

Every single one of his goals was scored inside the penalty box, needless to say. He never even tried shooting from outside, not even when he was a million goals up. This lack of shooting from distance disappoints me more than anything else online.

But MyClub is a really good mode. I cannot ever see myself liking the way people play it online, but the supporting infrastructure is interesting and worth getting to know. I was never convinced by Master League Online and mostly ignored it bar a token few matches every year, but MyClub seems to fill in the blanks.

Success is all about the Team Spirit. Look at this side-by-side comparison of my average online opponent (the team on the left) and my own Best XI (on the right) — arrayed in an attacking 4-3-3 in this instance, as opposed to my usual 4-2-2-2:

Team Spirit Them And Me

I’m on a measly 62 TS, and that’s with everything tweaked and tuned to the best of my ability. It’s suicidal to head online with anything less than 80, from what I can gather, and 90 is considered optimal.

I’m bad at playing football games online, but I’m not that bad. For all my downplaying of my online skillz, it’s been quite rare over the years for me to be completely thumped.

I’ve been taking thumpings over and over again in MyClub, and lack of Team Spirit is why. Passes don’t connect, defenders don’t cover, the ball constantly bobbles, and easy shots miss.

Shellacking tale of the tape

I still got the most possession. But look at that passing %. That’s partly due to my opponent’s insane pressuring, but it’s mostly due to the low Team Spirit.

I go on. I’m loving the refreshing change after the rigours of Master League.

FIFA15 is still there waiting to be fired up again. This blog isn’t about me being a faux-journalist, and providing even-handed coverage to all football games, and giving FIFA15 a go because I feel I have to. I do hope to get back to FIFA15 before PES2016 arrives. But if I don’t, tough Titty Town.

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