Month: November 2017

The Magic Clamp

The general, overall positive feel of PES2018 that I mentioned last time is continuing. I’m still playing very conservatively, setting up not to concede, and not committing too many players to attack while it’s 0-0 or even 1-0.

It’s an approach that works wonders in terms of slowing the game right down and making it more thoughtful. But I have to remember to stick with it. The last few years have ingrained certain bad habits in my PES-playing ways.

Example: next time you have a corner kick, but lose the ball, and the AI starts to pass upfield towards your goal – what is your instinctive response?

I would lay money that 99.99% of nuPES players instantly squeeze R1+X in an attempt to bear down on the AI immediately. Lots of sliding tackles too.

That’s not all. R1+X is for when you want to take it easy. 98% of the 99.99% will press R1+X+Square. And a good proportion of those players will have the nuPES presence of mind to go all-out with R1+X+double-tap-Square, which brings two secondary pressurers into the fray, as well as the X-man, all sprinting of course.

I still do this, and so do you, and don’t pretend otherwise. Sure, we like to pretend that we’re all about closing up space and covering the passing lanes and going with runners and all the rest of it. And yes, we do do those things (we really have to, against this AI), but just as often, perhaps more often, the Pavlovian response to a developing AI attack is to go all sprint-clampy on its ass, and hope the game wins the ball back for us on its own.

R1+X+Square (double- or single-pressed) works enough of the time that it’s still worth doing it. Another entry on the List of Things That Need To Be Got Rid Of To Make PES A Great Singleplayer Game Again. The online players would howl if they lost their precious sprint-clamp. But we’re never getting PES back from their sweaty clutches, so we can fantasise in peace.

I had the weekend off work, and time to spare on testing out a game mode that I haven’t looked at for several editions. I tried out PES2018’s version of Become A Legend. A mode that I like in principle, but which has a Massive Big Problem that has never been fixed, and which means I can never play it.

I set up my player as an AMF, not bothering with his appearance, as I knew I wouldn’t be playing for long if the Massive Big Problem hadn’t been fixed.

I chose Skybet Division 2 as my starting league – and was astonished to see myself picked up by Coventry City.

The first match was good and I played the whole 90 minutes, having started on Professional to ease myself in. I have always appreciated the gameplay of these modes. I have the required patience to play my position.

I got a goal in game number 2, which I again played all of.

And then came game 3 – my last in the Become A Legend mode for another year at least. The mode’s Massive Big Problem has not been addressed in PES2018.

I was subbed off at around 60 minutes. In BaL, this means having to sit and watch the AI playing with itself for the rest of the match. You can’t skip to the end of the match. Talk about a turd in the punchbowl. You can speed up the action to x2 speed, but it doesn’t ease the frustration of not playing.

After watching the Benny Hill CPU vs CPU action for a minute, I quit the mode with the same feeling of wasted potential that it has given me since its first appearance (in PES2009?).

As I remarked back in 2011:

cannot stand the enforced watching of the AI vs AI matches during periods when my player is either on the bench from the start or substituted partway through. I’m quite bad at the solo player type of football game. Bad enough for me to be a fringe player for just long enough for this to be a serious impediment to my enjoyment of BaL. Watching the AI play with itself uses up precious gaming time that I can’t afford to waste.

PES2018’s BaL Mode is unfortunately unchanged in this regard, and I have no idea why this condition persists. ‘Skip to end of match’ (or ‘Skip to being brought on’ for the ones where you start as a sub) should be easy additions. They should be no-brainers.

The Churning of the Screw

I finally picked up Peter Crouch from my Youths, after resolving a knotty salary problem. I had 50 million in the transfer funds, but a negative salary budget. As others have remarked, it’s a shame you can’t divert money from one pot into the other as you can in FIFA. Although I think I prefer it this way. It brings some old-school difficulty and proper consideration to Master League. The dear old mode has been dumbed down so much in recent years. So I was glad of the salary budget problem.

I got rid of a few high-salary players. It’s a sign of the times that I can’t recall their names, apart from one (see below). The salary squeeze was eased enough for me to be able to sign Crouch.

Crouch was a hero of PES2015, and is already showing his worth three editions later. Those long, spindly legs seem to get on the end of speculative balls that other strikers just can’t reach. Still only a Youth and still only 16, but I have high hopes for this incarnation of football’s national treasure.

Whilst browsing in the Youths and in the wider transfer market, I’ve come across quite a few instances of this:

Ugh. I’m assuming that last week’s Superpatch removed a few players for whatever reason.

But why do it this way? Why not just remove them completely? Why leave a ‘Player Removed’ ghost of their former presence? This is horrible to see and about as counter-immersive as it gets. Shades of PES3’s ‘Oranges009’. (In PES3 there was a problem with Dutch licenses which meant all their players were called ‘Oranges123’ etc.)

Thanks to regular commenter Paul for my all-new Season 4 kits. I was wowed by the Away kit at first sight, but after seeing the Gazza-era Lazio-style Home kit too, I have gone with the whole package, including the GK outfit. We are the only Sky Blues. Nobody else is.

I had a decent January transfer window, in which the following event just had to happen:

Veldwijk is gone. The hero of Seasons 2 and 3 faded badly towards the end of my promotion year, and did nothing this season in the Premier League. Even the in-game text says he’s past his best and should be moved on. So off he’s gone. How eerily reminiscent of last year’s F FRIDAY trajectory. Friday ended up returning multiple times, as he was a youngster, but I believe this is the last we will see of the 30-something Veldwijk. Unless I’m still playing when he Regens. That is entirely possible, despite all my moaning about the game.

I brought in a few bench-fillers and rejigged my formation to place Emre Can at the centre of everything. Baker and Can take turns being excellent.

I think I’ve discovered a way to mitigate the ‘churn’ effect and force PES2018 to behave more like a proper PES game than it often wants to.

Away to Man City yesterday, I feared a 4-0 thumping or similar. That’s what’s been happening every time I’ve played a big team this season so far. I have stuck with Superstar difficulty, by the way. It’s brutal.

Against Man City I put the ATT/DEF level down to level 2 (TWO) and left it there for the whole match. I literally did not touch that dial, no matter what.

I was happy to see my team sitting deep and not committing so many men forward. I had to play my part and be disciplined with player switching and not using secondary pressure much, or at all. PES2018’s ‘churn’ – that incessant attack/counter-attack rhythm – was effectively nullified.

The match ended 0-0, a superb result for me. I restricted Man City to something like 5 shots on goal, only 2 of them on-target. I even had a couple of chances to nick the win.

Normally I’d have gone up to level 4 (FOUR) on ATT/DEF immediately after kick-off and stayed there for most of the match – and then this fixture would have played out like the proverbial nuPES basketball-hockey game, with scoring chances for Man City in the high teens.

Instead the match was slower and more methodical, with purple patches of action in proper proportion. This is my preferred recipe for PES gaming.

I carried the Level 2 philosophy into my next match, at home to Leicester. Because we were at home and because it was Leicester I adjusted the ATT/DEF level dynamically according to the match scenario, but still favoured Level 2 for 70% of the time. Won it 1-0.

In the next match, away to Liverpool, it all went a bit wrong when I conceded early after losing concentration. I went chasing the match using high ATT/DEF levels, and took a proper Superstar thrashing, 3-0.

These matches were among the best I’ve played on PES2018. It was only one session, but we will see.

Here is the current table, in the first week of February of Season 4:

Comfortable lower-mid-table mediocrity. No danger of relegation, which I’m pleased about after playing 80% of the season on the almost impossible Superstar level.

The Patcher in the Wry

My Most Favourite Player after Season 3 was easy. Emre Can. In my Individuality Exercise a season or so ago, I said it was too early to give Can a rating, but that he hadn’t impressed me so far,.

Well, he has impressed me since. Currently he’d get an 8/10 on the Individuality front. I’ve even changed my formation to maximise his abilities, and now play him as an advanced CMF in front of a lone DMF, just behind the strikers. A 4-1-3-2, with the 3 stretched out in a near-horizontal line. It’s a formation that’s workmanlike rather than spectacular, but it brings results (see below). It’s all about Can being a great all-rounder. If he’s out suspended or unfit, I miss him – the test of a true PES individual.

I have more or less emerged from post-patch blues. I still don’t think the patch has done much, but I no longer think it’s done nothing. I would have liked a lot more from the patch. I would have liked PES2018 to be transformed into a proper single-player game. I knew the online multiplayers would get the first consideration, and that is what happened.

I think it’s the wrong direction, but I also understand that it’s the only direction PES can go in and still be a viable commercial property.

The game now has to sell X number of copies, and have Y amount of players playing kissmyfuckingarseClub online, and these ‘people’ have to spend Z amounts of money on micro-transactions while doing so – or the series stops existing. Such is the spreadsheet reality of life in 2017. 10-15 years ago, the world was very different.

Two patch acknowledgements. Three, really. First, I take back my paranoid Internet-era assertion that the patch was a phoney one.

Second, there do seem to be a few more matches with a foul-count above 2. But there are still too many with a count of 0 (ZERO), or at most 1 (ONE).

When it comes to fouls, it’s not about the fouls per se. It’s about the iceberg of which fouls are the tip: continuous play. The goddamn churning, nauseating, endless flow. Bring on a sub at half-time if you want to guarantee him getting on much before the end. There can be no forgiveness for this aspect of nuPES, ever, in my cold, cold heart.

And third, shooting-range free kicks do seem more numerous now. I have seen the above view – lining up a shot over a defensive wall before a free kick in shooting range – possibly 5 times over my first 14 matches in the Premier League on the new patch. Pre-patch, I’d have been lucky to see this view once.

I take back my early impression that the game felt faster now. It definitely did in those first sessions on Thursday and Friday, but over the weekend and yesterday I stopped noticing it.

Life in the Premier League, on Superstar, was tough, so I dropped back down to Top Player for a session, and have since gone back up to Superstar.

I’ve played maybe 6 matches in total on Superstar, and it is brutally tough. Getting anything out of this AI on Superstar is a major achievement for me right now.

I do continue to be mightily impressed with the AI. The variety of its play is remarkable. I can’t finish a post without taking a swipe at the online community. I will repeat that even the worst, most plodding PES AI throughout history has played better football and given me a better game (in every sense), on the whole, than the ‘game’ played by 99% of all human online players. The goddamn PES2018 AI might be the strongest we’ve ever had in this regard.

Of tightly organic responsiveness

Amid all the excitement over PES2018’s Patch of Destiny, I concluded my Season 3 in Master League, and won promotion to the Premier League.

Second place, as is traditional for me. I rarely go up by winning the D2 title.

Look at Middlesbrough’s final points tally. And see how many matches I – and the teams below me – lost and drew.

I had a good run-in, with some peculiar dips in form. Veldwijk scored just 2 goals in his last 15 matches, but still finished as Division top scorer thanks to his early-season exploits.

And he made it into the Team of the Season:

Along with his strike partner, Stepinski, and Emre Can in midfield.

With all the distraction of the Patch of Destiny over the last few weeks, I neglected to mention that those two players – Stepinski and Can (particularly Can) – have emerged from the shadows of nuPES-style poor individuality, and staked separate claims to be great and memorable PES players.

Can is a dominant, powerful midfielder who can play defensively or attacking-ly, fills in at CB when we’re desperate, and chips in with a respectable amount of goals. ‘Emre Can, Wonderman’ is my mental mantra when he gets the ball. If I was doing my Individuality-ratings thing again today, he’d get an 8, easy.

Stepinski would get a 7, and has become very important for me. I don’t think Veldwijk is going to cut it in the Premier League, and my finances are such that I can’t afford another striker. I’ve got £30m-odd (THIRTY MILLION-ODD) in the transfer kitty, but my Salary Budget is -£2m (MINUS TWO MILLION). It’s a somewhat pleasing callback to the days when ML finances would routinely handicap the human player for most of the first seasons.

Emre Can (Wonderman) is easily the cuplrit on the wages front. He’s on £3m-plus (THREE MILLION-PLUS) per year. I had a great transfer offer for him, but Master League is all about hanging onto your best players and getting by somehow, and that is what I’m doing.

Up to the Premier League, then, and my first opponents were Everton.

My preferred style of play is pass-and-move. I rarely try long balls into the box. Well, PES2018’s AI does such a good job of catenaccio-ing me out of things, that I have been trying the occasional long ball. Like this:

I uploaded that goal from within the match at a time when I confidently expected it to be, as titled, the winning goal. Just after I resumed play, I conceded the equaliser, and then Everton got the winner, and I lost 3-2.

I’m on Superstar now, by the way. It seems harder than Top Player, as it darn well ought to.

The Patch of Destiny landed yesterday, and really, it’s as if it didn’t. Yesterday I tracked my fouls-count across 13 matches (see the comments thread on the previous post for details). The final average was about 0.5 fouls per match. There has been no change on that front, and I see no changes anywhere else either. I’ll take people’s word for it that they perceive the general gameplay to be tighter here or looser there or more responsive in general or whatever.

I still have no real idea what is meant by any of those buzzwords. OrganicTightness Responsiveness. These words and many others have been knocking around for so long in the PES lexicon that we have stopped noticing they’re not really attached to any consistent meaning that players can all agree on.

I think that by ‘responsiveness’ we mean ‘as close as possible a correspondence between controller input and on-screen output’ – but isn’t that a bad thing from the point of view of a kinetic video game with moving parts (players) who are all meant to have different attributes that must therefore sometimes mean they have to be un-responsive, for the greater good of the simulation?

Is it not the case that as responsiveness levels rise, player individuality levels must fall?

Doesn’t this alleged responsiveness contribute massively to the relentless Keystone Kops feel of much PES gameplay since PES2014? Might responsiveness (or tightness, or organicness, or whatever) actually be the enemy of true PES values?

That is just one aspect of confusing terminology surrounding PES that puzzles and disturbs me in equal measure. It’s disturbing because I’m never sure that we’re talking about what we think we’re talking about.

So I don’t see, or feel, or intuit that the Patch of Destiny has done anything of note to the gameplay in any way whatsoever. I would never say that I have the most discriminating palate when it comes to footy gaming. I could believe that there have been some changes – the game has felt a touch faster – but such minor alterations that they don’t amount to a hell of a lot.

All along I have said that PES2018 could well be the final new PES game I will ever play. As I have documented quite exhaustively over the past year or two, the series has been taken in a direction that does not satisfy me. I’m no longer in the target market for this product.

As things stand, there will be no PES2019 in my life or on this blog. This time next year, I’d much rather be playing PES2011 than yet another slightly tweaked and prettified instalment of the egregious PES2016, which is what this current ‘family’ of PES games really is.

But I will not be hasty. PES has earned its place in my life.

Yesterday I played 13 matches, and that would seem to be enough to detect something – or nothing – but I will give it the rest of my Master League career to finally decide. That will be at least 2 more seasons’ worth of footy gaming.