Category: Barcelona

A kick up the Barca

I’ve settled into FIFA09’s Manager Mode a little better now, after feeling pretty fed-up with it yesterday. I still have grave misgivings, and I seriously doubt the mode’s long-term staying power. But, for now, I’m hip-deep again in my Atletico Madrid career.

I’m doing great in the League—top of the table and undefeated after 17 games. Granted, I’m ‘only’ playing on Professional difficulty. It’s the middle of 5 difficulty levels in FIFA09, and a fairly easy one after you get used to the game. Combine it with a juicy enough array of semi-manual and manual control settings, though, and you have a pretty tough game nevertheless.

I played my last season with these settings. It was a disappointment, with numerous niggly defeats that left me a miserable 6th in the table. I’m allowing myself to finish this season using the same settings, and then I have to go up to World Class and stay there.

I have suffered one notable defeat. It came in the first leg of a Spanish Cup tie. I met Barcelona at home and went into a 1-0 lead early in the second half. It was a satisfying breakaway goal. I finished it off from just outside the box, a bread and butter strike past the keeper. Who says you can’t score regular kinds of goals from outside the box in FIFA09?

That’s the new YouTube for you: all widescreen and stuff. Shame about not being able to see the damn ball after a while. I still haven’t found a satisfactory home for my FIFA09 goals. Something’s happened to LiveLeak, which used to be pretty good. Their upload routine has gone all weird for some reason. At least YouTube has now started accepted .flv files directly, but the quality is pretty awful, as seen above. The quest continues.

1-0 up against Barcelona at home in FIFA09 is a pretty good place to be. The same kind of scripting that would ensure a comeback in PES2009 under the same circumstances never really happens in FIFA09. It does have its own kind of scripting, but it’s a bit more subtle.

When the Barcelona fightback came I barely noticed it until I was 1-2 down. That’s when I started getting annoyed. The one scripting element that PES2009 and FIFA09 have in common is the drugging of your defenders when the CPU wants to exert pressure and/or score a goal. They all suddenly start moving in slow motion and reacting seconds too late to your input. Even spring-heeled youngsters fresh off the bench.

1-2 was the final score. With two away goals against me I’ll have it all to do in the return leg.

The Return of the Kim

My opponents in the quarter-final of the European Cup were Barcelona. In between the two legs of that tie, I played a crunch league game against Real Madrid. In most Master Leagues these three games taken together would have been among the hardest that I could ever (not) wish to have. But in this Master League, the fates have decreed that both Barca and Real are fairly average teams by the usual standards. They’re both still pretty good, but they’re nowhere near being the uber-opponents that they should be. It’s just the way things have gone.

At times I regret setting up this Master League in such haste back on March 1st. I do kind of wish I’d taken more time and at least included the English teams in a custom super-hard league. As much as I love my faux-Spanish league setup, I do miss playing against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. It would have been nice to at least have the possibility of meeting them in European competition. Back in March, I was pretty tired of the English teams after incessantly playing them (and effortlessly dribbling around them) on the version-that-must-not-be-named of PES2008. When I cracked open my PSP copy and set up an all-new Master League, I fancied a change.

Before the first leg of the European game against Barcelona, I implemented a change to my First XI that’s been in the wind for some time. Since I dropped the promising Kim Cyun Hi from my starting line-up a season or two ago, he’s been superb when filling in for Giggs up front on the left. This is despite Kim’s natural footedness being very much on the right.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that players can be as good (or even better) on their ‘wrong’ side in PES. Back in PES5, I played Bergkamp on his ‘wrong’ side, with staggering results. Kim Cyun Hi may be the same kind of player who’ll truly flourish for me on the ‘wrong’ side of the pitch. He was only ever competent for me in the middle and over on the right, not brilliant. I’m hoping he can be brilliant now he’s back in the regular first team.

All of which means that a place must be found for the mesmeric Giggs. In amongst all my good players, I only have about four or five gold-plated, undeniably brilliant players—Giggs is one of them. I decided to switch him back to the left-sided AMF role. He’s slightly more of a natural midfielder than he is a WF or CF. And he’s a better AMF than Burdner, who has been curiously anonymous for me so far. In PES6, Burdner was a star midfielder for me. Not so here. Not yet.

I’ve decided to stick with my 4-3-3, despite being strongly persuaded that an alternative formation might serve me better. The arguments for a 4-1-4-1, or a 4-2-4—or even my own demented brainchild, a 3-3-4—are variously compelling. But what can I say? I play PES every day, with hypnotic fervour, for a reason—it gives me more or less the same experience, day in, day out. I’m like a child who has to be told the same story in the same way, word for word, every day. Any departure is a cause for distress.

4-3-3 is an intrinsic part of my PES experience. I don’t know if I could stomach switching my main starting formation from my beloved, and familiar, 4-3-3. But never say never. The most I could do is to design an alternate formation and map it to a strategy button, and use it on the fly at selected moments in-game. I might do that in the off-season, when things are a mite less hectic.

——-

I won both legs of the Euro Cup tie against Barcelona 2-0 and it was pretty easy. I was barely challenged at all, which is actually quite rare for the latter stages of the Cups, I’ve found—even against an ‘average’ Barcelona. Or have I finally ‘aced’ PES2008, and will this be the norm for me from now on? I hope not. I still get enough awkward moments every season for me to know that the game still has a few nasty tricks up its virtual sleeve. Admittedly these tricks now can only come in the form of God Mode, a.k.a. good old scripting.

So that was me through to the semi-final of the European Cup. In the league game that formed the meat in the sandwich, I absolutely thumped Real Madrid 4-0.

Real Madrid are a mid-table team this year, and it shows. Their one bright spark is the almost peerless Kaiser, who usually torments me all game, but on this occasion he wasn’t playing.

So now I’m 13 points clear with 7 league games to go. Feasibly, I could have the title wrapped up with 4 games to go. I’d like that.

The shape of things to come

I had a good start to European competition in the group phase. I beat AC Milan 2-1 in a very testing game that had looked as though it was heading for 0-0 until the last 15 minutes.

Game 2 of the group was against one of my old PES adversaries, Galatasaray. They’ve tripped me up in so many ways in so many guises over the past three or four PESes that I always head out onto the pitch against them with some trepidation.

And this game justified my fears. They scored with their first attack of the game, in something like the 3rd minute. That’s how it stayed thereafter—the game ended 0-1 to them. I spent the entire match after they scored mounting the most insanely attacking spell of continuous pressure that I think I’ve ever mounted in PES2008 so far. But it just wasn’t to be. All my shots went wide or over, or the keeper saved them, or a defender got that annoying last-gasp blocking leg in the way… It’s a familiar story.

Back in the league I took on Barcelona for the first time this season and beat them 5-1. I was disappointed to concede that one goal—Rooney got it for them near the end. It was certainly 1 goal more than they deserved. It was a comprehensive rout and I could have had 10 goals.

Rooney is still running around up front for Barca at the age of 92, or whatever he is now. It all makes me feel impatient for the day when he finally retires and reappears as a 17-year-old Regen. I’ll sign him immediately when that happens, along with a few others—Torres and Gerrard to name just two.

In my mind’s eye I can see these glorious Regenned superstars, all in their early- to mid-twenties, playing in my team circa 2030 or so. It will happen.

I should just have time to get to season 2030 in this career before FIFA09 and PES2009 come along. At the moment I’m getting through a season roughly every week or ten days. I’ll be playing this ML career until at least the release of the full FIFA09, which will probably be in late September now. Assuming I maintain the same speed, and assuming that FIFA09 comes out on September 19 (for example), I could feasibly make it to 2030 just as the shrink-wrapping slides off my fresh-smelling new copy of FIFA09.

If FIFA09 is any good (and something tells me that it will be), it’ll be my sole game until the release of PES2009. If PES2009 is any good (and something tells me that it, ah, might be), I will continue playing both games for the whole 2008/9 season—although if FIFA09 is very, very good, I might play it as much as (or more) than PES2009, and the blog’s formula might have to change to reflect that.

Shenanigans Wake

I went through all four mid-season 2019 negotiation weeks without picking up any new players. I just don’t need them. I do all my important shopping in the off-season nowadays. Mid-season is ideal for newer teams that need to accumulate cash through the playing of games in the first half of the season. By this stage of an ML career, 13 seasons in, mid-season is just an annoyance that makes you have to temporarily disable autosave and press X four times to navigate through. There was a time when I looked forward to the mid-season negotiations period as a starving man looks forward to food, but lately I’m just glad to get it out of the way.

Game 16 was tough. My opponents were average mid-table fodder—I forget exactly who they were—and I went 0-1 down early on. I had to fight doggedly to get it back to 1-1, which was how it ended. I felt fortunate to have got the draw. At least I hadn’t lost. One of my aims this season is to remain unbeaten in the league.

Next was the second leg of the Division 1 Cup quarter final against Barcelona. I was 1-2 down after the first leg. At least I had an away goal to carry into this home leg.

It was another tough, tough game where I had to dig in and fight for everything. By the 80th minute nothing had happened for me in front of goal. I thought that was it—the Treble was gone for yet another season. In all this time I’ve only won one Treble, and that was a pretty lucky one. It’s getting embarrassing.

Then I got the ball out wide to Komol up front on the left. I haven’t mentioned Komol for a long time on this blog, but he has been and remains one of my most valuable players, even at the age of 31. In the year 2025 (#if man is still alive#) or soon after, I’ll be selecting an all-time squad of 22 featuring my best players in every position. Komol will have a strong claim to one of the front three positions. He’ll definitely be in the 22. Anyway, enough gushing about an imaginary computer game football player—he got the ball and ran in on goal at an angle. And slotted it into the far corner of the net, low past the keeper’s outstretched hand. I won the match 1-0, making it 2-2 on aggregate. I progressed thanks to the away goal, and thanks to Komol at the end there.

Next in this little trio of games I met Sparta Rotterdam in a league fixture. At the start of this season I absolutely battered them 8-1. This time the game was a rather more sedate affair. I scored early—a nice flicked header from Schwarz—but then had to endure the most turbo-charged, ridiculous spell of CPU God Mode since the last spell. Sparta got their equaliser from a corner before half time. Fine. I wasn’t happy about it but at least now the God Mode should be toned down, or even switched off completely. Right?

No, actually. I should have seen this game coming. By the 70th minute I was 1-3 down and there was no way back for me. The game ended and I’d lost my unbeaten league status (believe me, that hurt). I’d also conceded 3 pretty soft goals. I don’t think I’ll hit my target of conceding less than 20 goals this season either. Never mind—the Treble is the big one, and I’m still on course for that. Fingers crossed.

I moved on to the next games, as I always do, but the Sparta Rotterdam game had left a nastier taste in my mouth than usual. The CPU had pulled some serious funny business.

It seems the only way an experienced player of PES can lose a game against the current PES AI is due to shenanigans going on under the hood. Deep in the bowels of the programming code, certain things have to happen. Translated into plain English, the game thinks something like: “Right, Player 1 has won four games in a row now and scored lots of goals. Okay, I won’t exactly make it impossible for him to score goals in this next match against, ah, Bottom Club FC or whatever they’re called—that’d be far too obvious; no one would play Pro Evo if I did that—but it’ll be very unlikely. He was scoring one chance in three until now. Now he’ll have to really work to score one chance in ten. Hehehe.”

And that’s not all. As well as calculating hidden macro-difficulty levels on a game-by-game basis (what? too paranoid?), the AI has lots of other tricks up its virtual sleeve. From moment to moment in-game, it’s always watching, always assessing, always interfering.

My ‘favourite’ CPU God Mode moment is when it brazenly re-directs your passes to its own players’ feet. This is nowhere more apparent than when you are leading and the CPU wants to get back into the game. Obviously it needs possession of the ball to do that. The simplest way for it to get possession from you is not by tackling your players or intercepting sloppy passes. Nope. That’s too old school for the current PES AI. What it’ll do instead is simply make your most straightforward, short, ABC passes go to its player instead of yours.

Here’s an example illustrated by a sophisticated scientific diagram (left). In the diagram, the blue circles are my three attackers, streaming upfield on a counterattack. The red circles are the CPU’s sole two defenders. The upper blue circle is the ball-carrier. Here, faced with a defender in front of him, the natural and obvious thing to do is to play a simple through-ball to the central striker, who will then have a clean run-in on goal. It’s just a tap of Triangle in his direction. The diagram shows what should happen.

What actually does happen, time and again, is that the ‘simple, straightforward’ through-ball will not go the player next to you. Oh no. It’ll mysteriously travel four times as far in the direction of your other, more distant player, who just happens to be closely marked. And the CPU defender will say thank-you very much, and intercept the strangely over-hit and misdirected ball, I have marked this occurrence on sophisticated scientific diagram no. 2 (right) with a cartoon explosion and a humorous KER-POW! Because I’m just so wacky.

During the nine months that this blog has been going, several recurring themes have emerged—scripting is one of the major ones. But it might seem that I’m a lot more annoyed about scripting/God Mode than I really am. If the frequency with which I return to the topic in my posts is any guide, I spend 90% of my time whilst playing the game just frothing at the mouth and heaping curses upon the hapless head of Seabass & Co. While it’s certainly true that I do heap those curses upon the poor fellow, it actually accounts for roughly 2% of my playing experience. Not 90% or more…

There are several good reasons why I keep returning to the topic of scripting here on this blog. First and foremost, it doesn’t belong in the game. I think we can all agree on that (those of us who agree that it exists, of course). PES would be a better football game without the AI’s God Mode. PES was a better football game without it. I’m sure that scripting existed to some degree before PES4, but I never really noticed it. I don’t recall it being a hot topic of discussion and debate among the PES community back then (in the mists of time…). But it is now.

The second major reason why I keep banging on about scripting is that it furnishes me with something to talk about. Let’s face it. The daily chronicling of how I play a computer game is only interesting—if it’s interesting at all—if I come into conflict with the game, or with myself, or with both. Without conflict I’d have nothing here. Scripting is the narrative dynamo that drives my entire blog. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But it’s not much of an exaggeration.