Month: November 2016

You’re just too good to be true

Another sighting of my team’s somewhat random JIMMY HILL banner:

jimmy-hill-forever

What a time I’m currently having on PES2017. I’ll rate my last 5 matches, out of 10: 9-8-8-9-10.

A typical 5 matches on Top Player, particularly in the last half of my promotion season, would be something like: 3-6-4-8-5.

What do these scores mean, here? What exactly is being measured?

I’m measuring something intangible and deeply subjective: how PES-ish each match was. How satisfying it felt, passing and shooting. The intricacy of trying to craft a chance against the Superstar AI. The extremes of elation and despondency when chances are taken or squandered. The way that trying to squeeze performances out of players highlighted their individuality. In short, a gestalt of everything that PES has come to mean and represent, sentimentally, historically, and actually.

pes2017-season-4-4-3-3

I’ve alighted on a formation that seems to work for me, providing the required balance between defence and attack. It’s a narrow 4-3-3 with a single DMF. This is the exact formation that I played with in every PES from PES2 to PES2008 (with the exception of PES4, oddly, where only a 4-2-2-2 really worked).

This 4-3-3 is slightly different from my old PS2-days one. Back then it was a back four, a DMF, two central AMFs (no CMF or SMF), and three CFs (none of this fancypants ‘Support Striker’ nonsense). Nowadays I’ve compromised somewhat, and plumped for one CMF-AMF combo, and one CF flanked by two SS’ers.

One thing has not changed: this is the formation that created an air of mystique around the PES DMF position for me. PES5’s Mathieu remains my most memorable player in any Master League ever. Not just by a bit, either. By a long way.

In this kind of 4-3-3 the DMF is critical. He’s the last line of midfield defence and a crucial link to the front. He’s got to be superb, with a big, booming shot on him as well.

Petsos is a decent DMF, in fact he’s a bit more than simply decent, but I’ll need a truly top-calibre DMF for the future. At the time of writing I’ve just landed on the mid-season transfer window (of which more below). I’ll be seeking my main DMF for PES2017. I might not have to look far with a young Darren Fletcher waiting in the wings, but he might need another few seasons to be ready.

Januray 1st, a new signing waiting in the wings showed up — courtesy of my Scout, I now have this versatile CMF:

hojbjerg-pes2017-joins

I hope he’s not just another midfield clone in the style of Bartual.

A boatload of new Youths appeared. I treated myself to Gary Cahill, Michael Carrick (more future DMF material), and Fernando Torres. The latter was a key man for me in my still-recent PES2014 campaign, so it feels like welcoming an old friend.

pes2017-season-4-torres-joins

And of course Torres was a star man in PES5. And my current Home kit is very reminiscent of the homebrew kits I used to make for myself back then…

All in all, it’s as if a magic spell has settled upon me and PES2017. I don’t want it to end.

I’ve got a few clips saved up from recent games — a few goals and suchlike — that I’ll stick together into a little compilation for Friday’s post.

SPEAKING OF FRIDAY… the great man continues to be a shadow of his former self.

If it wasn’t for the still-vivid memory of last season’s heroics (top scorer in the Championship), I’d be shipping Friday out in this window. He’s got the rest of this season to come good again, or I might have to consider moving him on.

Still just two goals all season. One in the Cup, one in the league.

He seems to have no touch, no shot, no aerial prowess. I’ve tried balls to feet, I’ve tried pumping long balls endlessly from all angles, everything. The only thing that’s worked recently was when I dribbled with him, skinned a defender, and lobbed over a simple cross for one of my Youth debutantes to tap in an easy winner late in a game. So Friday got an assist on that occasion, which was nice. This goal is one of the clips I’m saving for the compilation next time.

I’ve already dropped Friday for a few matches in favour of the promising Jarvis, who scored a massive late winner for me versus Manchester United that I spoke about in comments on the previous post.

I’ve also taken the risky step of dropping Rice. He’s maintained the same battling form that first brought him to my attention in the starting crop of Defaults. But he’s no longer all that indispensable now I have so many good midfielders. Rice naturally makes way for them sometimes. Could another early-doors favourite’s star be falling?

Today’s TL;DR version: PES2017 is currently cruising along at a solid 9/10 experience. If this keeps up, the title of Best PES Ever might well be up for grabs. This was so unthinkable just one week ago that I can’t realistically foresee it happening.

You shall not pass

With a mere 25 matches left in Season 4, and no sign of any form whatsoever, my relegation from the Premier League is absolutely certain:

pes2017-table-after-13

I jest, of course, but with a serious undertone: I just can’t win. I can barely even score a goal. Look at those stats. I don’t even remember where those 6 goals came from.

Friday finally scored his first league goal of the season – in game 12. It was a rebound after good work from my newbie Youth, Cassano:

Still no sign of last season’s Top Player/Championship heroics from Friday or from any other member of my team. Worrying.

season-4-ccfc-just-cant-win

The entire fundamental nature of the game has changed on Superstar in the Premier League – for the better.

Every match now is about breaking down one of the most stubborn AI setups I’ve ever come across in PES. Possibly the toughest-ever.

Finally I see what people have been talking about when they’ve been saying the centre of the pitch is almost completely closed-off to approach play. My problem is that the wings are too.

PES2017 is still NOT a crossing-friendly game for me. Hence my lack of goal-scoring, and my relegation-threatened status.

Fouls are still absent from almost every match. Too many times the only times there’s a stoppage in play are for corners and throw-ins. Sometimes you don’t even have any of them, and the true dreadfulness of ‘continuous play’ is on show. When will this appalling trend end? Never, is the probable answer to that, we must acknowledge.

The time is soon coming – perhaps it’s already here, and has been here for a few years – when old-school PES players will have to play old-school PES to get their old-school PES fixes.

Certainly I can only tolerate nuPES ‘continuous play’ (the very phrase makes me groan) for so long. Thankfully I’m not routinely having those appalling 1000mph, anti-PES matches that rear their butt-ugly heads all too often.

This match was superb – check the fouls columns:

pes2017-season-4-vs-liverpool

What I loved here was that Liverpool never, ever let up: they were snapping and biting and niggling at me the whole match long. This was a superior-quality match in every way.

One last note of interest. When I start a PES match, I’m a ‘Press Start immediately’ sort of fellow. I don’t allow the pre-match introduction to go on for any longer than I have to. With the result that I have never seen the pre-match intro sequence.

One time I let the pre-match pseudo-TV-style intro wind on for longer than I ever have before, and accidentally saw the game’s version of my 4-3-3 formation:

pes2017-odd-pre-match-formation

That’s not my formation. That’s not how I have it on my Squad screen.

This is what it looks like on my Squad screen:

pes2017-season-4-4-3

The forwardness and centrality of Lobato as an AMF is crucial, in my conception of this formation. In the game’s pre-match version. Lobato is a centrally-placed, right-sided AMF. I don’t like that.

It’s strange how the game’s pre-match version rotates my entire midfield 90 degrees clockwise. Seeing things like this make me uneasy about what might be going on under the hood. Do all our tactics and formations really do anything? Does the game respect them as much as we think it does?

It’s probably a simplified abstraction as part of the TV-style build-up. Still, it’s a puzzling, needless niggle. Just another bizarre presentation issue in the world of PES.

There’s many a script ‘tween the FA Cup and the lip

Season 4, Superstar, PES2017, and a certain something has started to seem standard – look at the stats in this match, a 1-0 defeat:

pes2017-superstar-the-standard-shutout

About 5 of my 16 off-target shots were gilt-edged chances that ‘should’ have been goals. Each shot hit the post or crossbar. I hit the post or crossbar 5 times in this match.

Scripting is an old debate on Pro Evolution Soccer, and in football gaming generally – but it shouldn’t be. This match was the very acme of a scripted PES match.

The game has always massaged outcomes to matches, always, without question. The only concession I would ever make to the scripting-sceptics’ camp is to acknowledge that if I replayed the above game 10 times, I would score goals and win some of them. Perhaps I’d even score goals and/or win in most of the 10, but only because this first match had prepared me for what was to come.

So the scoreline of 1-0 to Everton with me having 24 shots, 8 on target, and hitting the post/crossbar 5 times isn’t a literal, scripted outcome. The general tendency within the match is the scripted element.

pes2017-season-4-losing-streakAll scripting and repeat-woodwork-hitting ridiculousness aside, I loved this match. Personal and work commitments this year have limited my time on the game compared to previous years, and will continue to do so. My progress meter is about 60% of my usual rate. This is reflected in a heightened appreciation of the game when I do get to play it.

The Everton match was my first one back after a few days away from the game. The brightness of the pitch, the lithe athleticism of the players, the weighty smack of the ball – I loved the whole thing. Football gaming is great. PES is great. PES2017 is… I cannot say great, not yet. It’s a good football game.

Look at the fouls/free kicks stats. I managed not to concede a single one, and got only 2 myself.

It’s a measure of how impoverished our expectations of single-player football gaming have become that those 2 fouls against me would be considered satisfactory by many football gamers in the year 2016. Perhaps even most would be happy with 2 fouls per match. (2 is in fact a lot for me. My average fouls-per-match is still around 1.)

But 2 fouls per match isn’t enough. Isn’t even nearly enough. I will not be satisfied with the fouls/free kicks situation in PES until we get back to PES5-style levels of fouls and free kicks. Yes, I am calling for an average of 7-10 fouls per side, per 10-minute match.

I know. The chances of that ever happening are so slim that you could add it to your Brexit/Leicester City/Donald Trump accumulator and multiply the odds by a staggering amount.

pes2017-season-4-4-3

I’ve abandoned the 4-2-4 that served me so swashbucklingly well in Division 2 on Top Player. It just wasn’t standing up to Premier League teams and Superstar. I gave Youth promotee Darren Fletcher his debut as a DMF in the 4-2-4’s last outing and the poor lad was just swept aside.

I’m experimenting with a 4-3-3 at the moment. Early results are not encouraging. I’ve played 3 matches with the above setup and scored 1 goal, losing two of them. Friday remains goalless in 7 Premier League outings now, and I can’t even recall a decent chance falling to him.

I did hold Man City to a 1-1 draw after extra time in the FA Cup 2nd Round, and then won the penalty shootout, so I’ve got that going for me.

In the league, I’m slipping dangerously near the relegation zone.

Another few defeats and I’ll be able to join the elite club who declare their relegation completely certain with only 30-odd matches remaining.

pes2017-season-4-after-7

Freaky Friday

jimmy-hill-bannerIf you want to see your own banners hanging in stadia in Master League, you have to edit them before the mode starts.

Careful readers of the blog will recall me mentioning, a couple of months ago now, that I casually edited a single banner whilst browsing the menus when carrying out my pre-ML edits.

At the time, unable to think of anything else, I simply made one banner say ‘JIMMY HILL’. The great man is always on our minds in Coventry.

I catch poignant glimpses of my JIMMY HILL banner occasionally, hanging on the fences among my edited club’s other, German-language banners, and it always strikes me as amusingly incongruous. Just like the man himself.

(In passing: what is that pile of stuff supposed to be that’s partly blocking the view there? It looks like a pile of Christmas parcels and mattresses to me. What’s it doing there?)

going-up-and-coming-down

I had the strangest start in the Premier League. My first three matches were against West Ham, Aston Villa, and Burnley. What do these teams all have in common? They all play in a version of claret and blue. My first three matches were against teams that looked exactly the same as each other.

First up were West Ham, away, and I scored my first-ever Premier league goal in some style, as seen on Tuesday’s sickbed post.

Then came Aston Villa, a solid 0-0 draw with lots of fouls, and a properly rancid ‘derby’ atmosphere that was reflected in that goalless scoreline. It was one of the highest-quality matches I’ve played on PES2017. PES never used to be afraid to dish out a stop-starty 0-0. These matches were one of the reasons the series acquired its exalted reputation.

One big concern, though, can be seen in this screenshot:

a-proper-rivals-match-at-last

Zero shots on goal from the home team, on Superstar. That is already a concern for me on Superstar – the peculiar toothlessness of the AI.

I recall pre-release one of the Konami PR team, Adam himself, indicating that Master League on Superstar would be an extraordinary experience that he had to lobby hard to keep in the final game. That led me to expect something like a PES2012-style, rampant, unstoppable AI. So far I have seen no sign of that at all. I suspect the PES devs quietly undid Adam’s souped-up AI at the last moment.

No goals yet from last season’s star man, Friday. I have just played the FA Cup match, against Leeds, and Friday got a scrambled late winner there. But nothing so far in the league, and that’s where strikers earn their stripes.

Here’s my Season 4 Starting XI and Squad – I’ve started with the 4-2-4 just to see how it fares:

pes2017-season-4-starting-xi-and-squad

Maicon, Fletcher, Damonte and Cassano are all place-fillers from the Youths.

I sold Giorza after some rumination. I got £11m for him. He is a quality player, but I had him all through 9 seasons in PES2016. I’m giving his understudy, Komano, a chance. Maicon will share the RB berth.

That’s Ghulam on loan at LB.

My big signing was a big defender – Sokratis at CB, a £10m import from Juventus.

sokratis-arrives

The overall experience of the gameplay on Superstar is good – even great, sometimes. PES2017 has settled down again after a somewhat ‘grey’ spell a week or so ago.

I still find that the pace increases to obnoxious levels far too often. There are now too many passages of play that are exactly like PES2016. Thrash-metal video game football is the worst.

How did we get here? Is it the game adapting to me, or me adapting to the game? Did patch 1.02 do something to unpick the threads that made PES2017 feel so distinctive and solid after release? Or have I just adapted?

Whatever the truth of the matter, the game needs an injection (or re-injection) of fouls very badly.

Yes, I know, I’m going on about fouls again. Fouls are my thing. The PES forums feature lots of obsessions: nets, kits, pitch textures, foot planting, etc. My thing is fouls – a real gameplay concern, rather than a cosmetic one. I will never stop obsessing about the relative absence of fouls from all football games of the modern era.

(You get fouls? I’m very happy for you. I wish I was you, and I mean that in a literal, Freaky Friday kind of way.)

Fouls are a barometer of quality in a football video game. Lots of fouls = a high quality football game played at a proper pace with regular hiatuses and dimensions of thought. Few or no fouls = a crazy frenetic blur where you have to queue substitutions in the 50th minute to be sure of getting them on before the end.

Fouls in a football video game enhance the experience so much that they cannot be missing without causing a serious degradation in quality.

A match with a decent amount of fouls in it has regular pauses that function the same as ‘beats’ in music, or linebreaks in poetry. Coherent and consistent refereeing enforces restraint in defence. No button-mashy, easy-squeezy sprint-clamping when there’s a whistle-happy referee on the pitch. I want that in every match. I want shedloads of fouls and free kicks in every single match. I can’t have them. Why?

Sigh. I’ve been going on about this for three years now. Fouls in PES are the very definition of a lost cause. Nothing is ever going to change.

This doesn’t mean that PES2017 is on its way down the tubes. PES2015 was also a fouls-free shambles, but it did a lot else that was right (individuality, shooting), and was a 9/10 game for me. I hope PES2017 will be too. PES2016, though, got a kicking on several fronts, so we’ll see where this one falls.

The early table – I do always enjoy my first glimpse of my team nestled in amongst the big names of the top flight:

seaason-4-after-3-pes2017

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