Category: gaming

Three posts to Christmas

Since my last post, it’s been the turn of FIFA16 to get another go. I quit this game last week. Or was it the week before? Silly season weeks tend to blend into one another.

Whatever, when I fired up Career Mode again I discovered the wreckage of my attempt to make the game feel great on World Class. Sliders all over the place, my team mid-table in the Championship, etc.

A couple of button-presses later and I was back on Professional with all sliders restored to their default states. And ready to play again.

What a good game FIFA16 is on Professional. I played a session of about 6 matches, and enjoyed every one of them.

I remain profoundly unimpressed with a very strange thing that post-2008 FIFA has always done when you get to the box.

I play semi-assisted passing. All is well until you get to the final third. Then the game overrules your passing direction and plays what it probably thinks are incisive through-balls instead. Passing laterally to another striker is fraught with danger, with the likelihood that the game will send a pass at 45 degrees to your chose direction.

‘Play manual, then,’ I hear voices crying in the background. No.

No, a good football game leverages player individuality and stats-based outcomes. FIFA16, as much as is possible given its bare-bones player individuality, does do that. Until it doesn’t.

I do still really like it, this FIFA16 business, but will be dropping it like a hot potato come the 14th. (The day before official release is when pre-ordered games traditionally drop through letterboxes.)

I continue disliking this hopping-about from game to game. It’s been unavoidable as I’ve had so little time recently. I haven’t had time to really sit down and get into anything.

PES5 remains a PC game, and PC gaming has never been convenient for me.

What I would give to be able to play PES5 on my PS4! I’d pay fifty quid, easy. ‘Get a mini-PC and hook it up to your TV!’ I hear the voices cry at me, off-stage.

Bloody hell. No.

Next week should see some sort of stability restored with a makeover for the blog and the final appearance – hopefully, time permitting – of the promised compilation of me playing old football games with voiceover commentary.

I’ve got all the footage recorded, but editing it all together into something slick and interesting would take hours that I probably will not have available. So it might end up with everything just glued together to the sound of me breathing heavily in the background. Prepare yourselves to be No Mans Skyed on this front, is what I’m trying to say.

The Evo That Men Do

Well, another few days of having other life-stuff to do (not to mention other gaming-stuff to do – more later) has limited my footy gaming time.

How many times have I said that recently? Quite a lot. Does it mean that FIFA16 isn’t quite filling the PES-shaped hole in my life? Possibly.

And here’s more evidence – this goal, scored on Wednesday morning, is from… PES2014:

This goal is from the weird post-season friendly you get in PES2014’s Master League.

I played because it was in the PS3 disc drive when I powered up the PS3 to put the console through its monthly maintenance.

Those of us with old, unused PS3s or 360s should warm them up at least once a month, install updates, put the disc drive through its paces, etc.

PES2014 was in the drive. Yeah, I thought. Why not.

And I found PES2014 very FIFA16-like. Will I go back to play it some more between now and… is PES2017 really just four or five weeks away? Bloody hell.

Anyway:

NMS opening screen

No Man’s Sky arrived for me this week – above is the first screen I saw when the game started. There’s a thing on Reddit about taking this screenshot for the sake of comparing starting worlds. I got a lush green planet with strange doughnut-like rock formations. I’m still exploring it.

This game arrived at the worst possible time for me. I won’t get real time to play it until next week, maybe later.

I’ve played about 2 hours, achieved spaceflight, but yet to have a space-fight.

The game reminds me strongly of Minecraft in the exploring sense, but even more strongly of one of those Journey-type arty games where it’s all about the experience than the edge-of-the-seat twitch gameplay. My kind of game, in other words.

But like I said: two hours in, and barely done anything.

And so the traditional yearly PES Chronicle busman’s holiday goes on.

I have played more FIFA16. World Class is not treating me well. I cannot buy a result at the moment and have dropped out of the top 3. The teams above me are also conveniently losing and drawing games in the same way I am. League table scripting is alive and well in FIFA16.

I’ve also been noticing that I attempt to defend the Pro Evo way, which simply doesn’t work in FIAF16.

In Pro Evo, we defend by swarming the ball-carrier until we get the ball back. That’s it. We pretend that we stand off and cover the passing lanes and all that stuff, and we do (I do), but only some of the time. Maybe as little as 5% of the time. The other 95% of the time is all about clamping sprint+X+Square, and charging the ball, and kung-fu slide tackling, and let’s stop pretending different.

This Pro Evo-style ‘sprint-clamp-swarm-sliding defending’, as I must now call it, doesn’t work in FIFA16. Not enough to make it worth doing anyway, and it’s costing me. Because I keep trying to do it.

Onward to a better tomorrow, citizen

xcom 2 loading screen 1

The nights starting to get lighter traditionally sees me starting to play other games, and this year is no exception. I have a new gaming passion, and there’s not a football in sight. The game in question is XCOM2. It’s shaping up to be one of the greatest strategy games I have ever played, and I’ve played a few.

The pleasure of a challenging, difficult game is what motivates my love of football gaming, and is what’s sent me to PES2014 currently. A high difficulty curve is intensely pleasurable – barely half an hour into XCOM2, a time when most strategy games are still holding your hand, my starting XCOM squad was completely wiped out. This is the pain I need in a strategy game.

The Soviet-style screenshot above is one of a collection of themed images that appear on XCOM2’s loading screens, meant to evoke the shiny dystopia of human society under the alien jackboot. It’s one example of the attention to detail and atmosphere that characterises greatness in gaming.

It feels good to have another game to play in parallel with my football gaming. It prevents the feeling of suffocation that sometimes overcomes even the most committed football gamer.

Back on the ranch, PES2014 season 8 is proceeding at a slightly slower pace, given the time I’m spending on XCOM2.

Here is the table after 12 matches:

PES2014 season 8 after 12I’ll do very, very well to mount any kind of title challenge from this far back. It looks like Season 8 will be another tussle for the top 4, which is within reach. Top-4 was my target at the start of the season. I’ll continue plugging away.

Master League famously allows chasing teams to pull close if they can string together enough results, but closing what is already a 15-point gap on the top spot against a rampant Man Utd will be a tall order.

At the time this game was published the Red Devils in real life had yet to start their current, ’80s-Liverpool-like swan-dive into relative mediocrity. So they’re tough as old boots to play against in PES2014. Not as tough as the typical XCOM2 mission, but getting there.

I’m top of my group in the Europa League after 2 matches. Tempting fate, I’ll say qualification for the Round of 32 is a formality.

Nothing’s really changed for me in gameplay terms. The overall experience is still of the most satisfying simulation-oriented PES gameplay that we’ve seen in many a year.

Fouls are here in their proper proportion. I firmly believe that we will never see AI fouls in single-player football gaming ever again, beyond the token one or two every so often. Over the last few years, EA and Konami have both clearly signalled their intentions on that front. So I’m enjoying the experience of playing a football game in which play is often broken up by free kicks. Imagine that! The game even dares to be quite dull sometimes. Imagine that!

I have tinkered with the camera in an effort to get more of a handle on the slow midfield play that sometimes bogs the game down. (What a condemnation of the direction PES has taken, that the ball often being ‘bogged down’ in midfield play is something of a novelty. Olympus truly has fallen.)

I played a few matches with the Blimp camera for the first time. It’s decent, and gives you a good sighting of all your other players, but the distance from the action overall makes things feel curiously remote. You need to be closer – I do, anyway.

So I went back to my favoured Custom Wide camera after a decent stab at Blimp and that’s the end of that story.

For the record, XCOM2 has its fair share of camera issues. The maximum zoom-out view isn’t quite far enough to get a good tactical sense of the maps, but that’s probably deliberate.

Thinking back over the past ten years of PES, when was the last time we never had to consider what the best camera view was? The PS2 years, surely. Since then, there’s never been a single camera view that’s hit the Goldilocks zone.

Match of the Groundhog Day

Something slightly different for this week’s two posts.

On Friday I’ll be taking my long-promised retrospective glance at PES2014. I wasn’t blogging for that game’s entire lifespan. I want to devote a special post to it now.

Today, a sidelight on PES2015, and an exploration of the perennial PES topic of scripting. I’m putting my Season 10 progress on hold to look at just one particular match that I played again and again to see if it was or wasn’t scripted.

(Spoiler alert: it was scripted.)

My FA Cup Quarter Final was away at Derby County. Or, as I affectionately came to call them, Derby Cunty.

I played this fixture, over and over, a total of 8 times, and lost every time. I didn’t even score a goal until the 8th and final attempt.

The first time around, unknowing of the epic to come, I lost 2-0.

Something about the match troubled me. No matter what I did, nothing at all seemed to work. I can usually make at least a couple of good scoring chances, even if I’m not ‘allowed’ to score them. On this occasion, in this match, I didn’t create a chance. Not one.

Normally I just shrug and sigh and move on. Strange matches that you strangely cannot win are a staple of PES and Master League. It’s probably best not to look too closely.

But every now and then, at least once per PES year, I like to look too closely…

Prior to this match, I’d backed up my ML progress to another file, and uploaded that file to online storage. So I had another copy of my ‘real’ ML, and I could experiment with replaying this strange fixture as many times as I wanted without compromising my no-reloading policy. (Once the experiment was over, I indeed resumed season 10 in the original timeline where I’d lost 2-0.)

I devoted an entire session to trying to beat Derby Cunty.

Match #1: lost 1-0. Match #2: lost 3-0. Match #3: lost 2-0. By this stage I felt unusually committed to the cause of beating Derby — or at least, for the love of God, scoring a goal

I played it again, and again, and again. #4, #5, #6. All straight defeats. No goals scored by me in any of them.

I had at least started to make chances. They went wide, or hit the post/crossbar, or were saved by the keeper.

I tried different formations. I tried different personnel. Each time I loaded up the parallel world, it had different squad members on blue and purple arrows, so I was forced to use different players. At some point of this process, my entire squad got a game against Derby Cunty.

The Impossible Match

Match #6 was interesting: with heroic defending I held it to 0-0 and took it to extra time. It looked like penalties until I inexplicably lost all control of my CBs, allowing a Derby player — let’s pretend it was dear old Paulo Wanchope — to waltz through in long-legged, languid style, and tuck away the winner.

Incredible. 6 matches (7 if you include the original), all of them defeats in which I had not scored a single goal.

I switched off the PS4 and returned the next day for a new session. And decided to have one more try at beating Derby.

Interestingly, the general feel of the match at once felt different, which supports what we all already know: that PES is different from day to day.

I managed to score a goal in the first half, my first in all these attempts, and held Derby off until the second half, at which point they jammied two goals from nothing. They held on to the final whistle. I wasn’t interested in prolonging the experiment. I’d proven what I already knew, that large chunks of my experience in ML are blatantly scripted.

But so what?

Back to my ML I went, hungry for more.

This experience is a handy reminder that we are always in the hands of a script, even when we believe we’re not. Freedom in football gaming is a carefully crafted illusion. And more power to it: illusion is the basis of all enjoyment. In PES2015, that’s truer than it’s ever been.

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