Category: ISS

Once Upon A Time In ISS

Over the past week or more the tone of my posts may have given the impression, wrongly, that PES2012 is nothing but toil. That playing it is a Purgatory unlike any other. That I’m just biding my time and waiting for the right moment to move with dignity over to FIFA12.

Not so! When I’ve come to write most of my recent posts, I’ve usually done so on the back of a frustrating session or two. And then chosen to highlight the game’s problems in that post. I’m afraid that’s one of the drawbacks of the blog format. It’s only ever going to be a record of what I think and feel right now. Not so much what I thought and felt the day before yesterday, when (for example) I might have played the most majestic, symphony-like session of PES2012 ever.

And it’s not as if I’m unwilling to put a PES game to the sword if I feel it truly deserves it. In 2010 I quit PES2011 before Christmas. I’m more than capable of ditching a PES game if I find it unplayable.

I hope to play PES2012 until it reaches a natural end. I anticipate giving it a generally favourable end-of-year review in September. Because of that shooting, I anticipate giving it a poorer final review-style score than I might have done otherwise. PES2012 is a solid and enjoyable 8/10 game with bizarre and wonky 4/10 random shooting. That’s what I can’t get away from.

Meanwhile, back in my Master League career, after 12 matches of season 8 I’m just keeping in touch with the leaders:

My lack of goal-scoring is a problem that I’ll have to resolve if I ever want to do anything in this league.

I just had the misfortune of playing Manchester United twice in a row. First in the FA Cup, then in the league. Both matches were at their place.

I lost 2-0 in the Cup, and 4-0 in the league. In both matches I started well and held onto the ball. That’s something it’s nearly always best to do in PES2012. It often draws the sting out of the AI. This time, it just seemed to make Man Utd angry. I was trounced in both games, outplayed and outfought. I kept the Cup scoreline down to a respectable 2-0 only through some miracle.

Sharp-eyed readers may have noted a general slowing-down of my PES2012 progress over the past two weeks. It’s true—I have been playing the game less, and taking more time to move through the seasons than before.

Here’s why: I’ve spent about half my recent football gaming time playing old ISS and PES games for the book I’m currently writing. Over the past week in particular I have played long, glorious sessions on ISS, ISS98, ISS Pro Evolution 2, PES3, and PES4. Over the coming weeks I’ll play every PES and ISS game there has ever been.

What can I say? It’s pretty great. It’s an eye-opener (e.g.: there was PES2012-style ‘wrong-side shooting’ in ISS98!). It’s an unashamed trip down memory lane, a chance to wallow in nostalgia and remember what life was like in another time.

To anyone out there who still owns any of the early games: I do recommend having a look again. Even if it’s only to see how far we’ve truly come.

And to anyone who wants to start collecting the early games, either to play them for the first time or keep them as mementoes: you’d better start now. They’re all going cheap on eBay and/or Amazon. The PC versions of PES are always gettable through nefarious methods—although I own legitimate original PC DVD copies of PES4, PES5, and PES6, I’ll have ye know.

Master League is what I’m all about in football gaming. Even if the Johnny-come-lately of FIFA12’s Career Mode turns out to be as good as I hope and expect it to be, my Master League origins will still be there: a solid 13 years of great times and great memories.

It still amazes me that Master League began in 1999 in ISS Pro Evolution on the original grey PlayStation. That first version of the mode featured one  solitary division. The following year, in ISS Pro Evolution 2 that was expanded to two divisions.

I could go on here at length. I could just cut and paste some of the chapters I’ve written and others that I’m still working on, but I’ll save them for release. Which is still on target, roughly, for spring/early summer this year.

Steamboat Footy

Over the weekend I took a mini-break from PES2012. A few days off here and there always helps me to maintain my high regard for the game’s twisty, evil ways. I don’t recall ever having to take breaks in the Classic PES days on PS2—but it occurs to me that maybe this is no bad thing. Times change and people change with them. Why should everything always have to be the way things have always been? No reason at all.

I spent the weekend playing, in order of time given to them, FIFA12, ISS, ISS98, Disgaea 2, Football Manager 2011, Championship Manager 01/02, and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Two non-football games in there, both pretty compelling in different ways. I started Batman a few months ago while off work with a bad back. Got about halfway and had to return to work. I’ll finish it this week, I hope. As for Disgaea… words of praise fail me. Surely the most neglected ‘comedy strategy RPG’ in the gaming world.

FIFA12 was the big one for the weekend. And I really liked what I found, yet again. But yet again I also felt unmoved in my decision to stick with PES2012 until the latter game comes to a natural and proper conclusion. I will not become one of these yo-yo football gamers whom you see plenty of on the forums, forever tracking back and forth between the two games, forever wondering why they can’t seem to find what they’re looking for. That way lies dissatisfaction and madness.

FIFA12 felt slow and cumbersome at first, but that’s actually one of the secrets of its appeal. The ball is heavy, the players are heavy. The game is as hard in its own way as PES2012. Moving the ball and creating opportunities requires a different way of thinking.

I played about 10 matches in total of my Coventry City career in Career Mode. By common consent, somebody at EA—a fellow named Simon Humber—has done a fine job with the single-player mode this year. (Which leaves just one lingering question: where the hell was he for the past 4 years?)

For the first 5 of those 10 matches, I didn’t score a single goal. I hardly made a chance in some of them. I had to get back to grips with tactical defending, which emphasises containment and jockeying. Actual tackling is almost a subsidiary part of the overall defensive system. No wonder the online hordes hated it at first, and probably still do.

After a couple of hundred hours of PES2012, it feels natural to play FIFA12 like PES2012, but this is wrong, wrong, wrong, in so many ways. I suspect I’ll be talking about this a lot from around March or so, so I’ll let the topic alone for now.

As for ISS and ISS98, they were required in order jog my memory for the book. The games in their day, and for years afterward, were the cutting edge. But, just like an old black-and-white episode of Doctor Who or Upstairs, Downstairs, time has not been kind to the earlier ISS games. If there were no other football games on earth, they’d be worth playing, but nowadays their value is solely one of historical curiosity (in my view, of course).

If you’ve never played an ISS game and you see one going for a pound or two in your local store, buy it and take a look. If you’re an aficionado of football gaming at all, it’d be more than worth it. The original ISS game is the Steamboat Willie of football gaming. It changed history. You can see the embryo of all modern-day football gaming, right there.

I played a few weeks of my career on Football Manager 2011. I’m never going to have time to play this game, so my occasional dips in the water are no more than wishful thinking. I’m very impressed with FM these days. It’s become a phenomenally deep game in recent years. If only I had nothing else to do…

I also played a few weeks of Championship Manager 01/02 on a USB stick at work. I brought in a young Darius Vassell on loan from Villa, and played Crystal Palace away in the cup. The Palace manager? A man named Trevor Francis. Memories…

And so it’s back to PES2012. I played a couple of matches late on Sunday night. They felt good. I’m not forcing myself to play on. I very much want to, make no mistake. I expect to emerge from this footy game year having played and enjoyed both games.

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me

For book-writin’ reasons, I’m replaying every football game that I’ve ever played. Thanks to the magic of the Internet I’m even replaying a few from my ZX Spectrum days in the 1980s.

I’m not replaying them in any strict order. A few days ago I had an hour on ISS Pro Evolution 2 and FIFA97. Yesterday, I had a good session on FIFA11. Over the coming weekend it’ll be PES2009(PSP)’s turn.

It’s all been very enjoyable, I have to say.

I’ve even enjoyed playing FIFA11. I was prompted to head back to next-gen FIFA by Match Day 2 on the Spectrum and FIFA97 on theMegaDrive. (NB: I’m replaying the MegaDrive FIFAs on this little handheld. It’s not ideal but it does the job.)

The reason I’m replaying all the old games is to jog my memory about those times and those places, as well as the games themselves. I remembered that in Match Day 2 and FIFA97 I discovered a similar near-certain scoring method. You’d get the ball to the wing and cross it in a certain way, and about 8 times out of 10 it’d be a goal. (No funny comments about how nothing’s changed in the 21st century, please…)

Discovering that method effectively killed off both games. I could never take either of them seriously again. I can never simply ignore the existence of a game-breaking exploit. Once I know it’s there, the game’s almost dead to me. Next-gen PES2008’s ‘wonder dribble’ was a similar case in point.

It reminded me of how next-gen FIFA’s sprint-clamp ball-winning technique effectively destroyed next-gen FIFA for me

It is not good to be able to win the ball 90% of the time by squeezing several buttons and simply waiting. It was a huge reason why I’ve mostly turned against next-gen FIFA since FIFA09.

But playing FIFA11 the other morning, I had a really good time. The sprint-clamp technique was there and just as awful and stupid as ever. I tried to leave it alone, and succeeded partly. FIFA11—just like next-gen FIFA in general, whatever any PES ideologue may sniff to the contrary—plays a pretty good game of football.

Whenever I’ve played FIFA11 this year, I’ve been very impressed with its shooting. For the first time, I feel, shooting in next-gen FIFA is just about right. That’s a big step. If a football game’s shooting isn’t right, not much else can be.

It’s been interesting to note how long I’ve wanted to play each football game for.

The ISS games, shockingly, can only be played one or two matches at a time. I generally cannot wait to get off them. Oh, they still have their good qualities, but there’s so much about them that is unappealing and strange now. ISS’s automatic one-two, where you have no control over the second pass, is just plain wrong.

But I found myself playing FIFA11 on and on, for as long as I could play it. An hour and a half just before work.

I scored two goals, which I loved—both on semi-assisted shooting, and both finesse shots, which I was always good at in FIFA09. The second goal was a particular delight. A few days later I can still feel the rush of pleasure it gave me:

Poor old PES2011 has gone up in my estimation slightly. Playing all the old games has made me see that we were very close with PES2011.

If Konami had kept their nerve last summer and refrained from tinkering with the game to the extent that they did, the end of history might well be upon us.

We’ve never had it so good

I am continuing with my Master League in WE9LE, despite worries about the existing state of the player database and concerns about future Super-Regens and Mega-Youths unbalancing the ML ‘world’. I’m still a big admirer of the We9LE gameplay as it stands. It’s fascinating and rewarding on a number of levels. It plays like a cross between PES5 and PES2011 at their very best, with the instinctive old-school quality of the former and the methodical, break-me-down-if-you-can granularity of the latter. (Without any stumble animations or other glitches, needless to say.)

I want to explore WE9LE as far as possible before I start to fiddle around with other patches. The ‘steering committee’ behind WE9LE’s revival is rumoured to be preparing a much tidier patch for release in a few months. I’ll try to make it to then.

I am playing as Standard Liege, continuing my new tradition of conducting ML campaigns with Belgian sides for no particular reason. After several matches I’m mid-table in Division 2. I have almost been knocked out of the D2 Cup by Bruges. I lost 0-2 at home. I’ll need to play the game of my life to turn it around in the second leg.

Progress in this ML has been slowed by a side-project related to the forthcoming book I’m working on. As part of my preparation and research,  I am currently working my way through every single one of the ISS and PES games from 1995 through to 2011. I need to refresh my memory of them, particularly the ISS games.

I already have all the PES games and one of the ISS games (the original). Last week, I placed orders for the remainder with various eBay and Amazon sellers. This week, the games all started to arrive.

Here’s the full list of games I will be playing over the next week or two as the writing process for the book gets serious:

International Superstar Soccer, ISS Deluxe, ISS 98, ISS 2000, ISS Pro Evolution, ISS Pro Evolution 2, and of course all the games from PES1 to PES2011 (including PES6 for the Xbox360 and the PS2/PSP versions of PES2008, PES2009, and PES2010).

(NB: I won’t be blogging about the old games. It is just for the book.)

I ordered ISS 2000 by mistake, thinking it was ISS Pro Evolution 1. It’s not—ISS 2000 is from an alternate branch of the ISS family that I never actually played at the time.

When I saw the CD label for ISS Pro Evolution 2, I nearly had to sit down.

For most of 2001 that green disk on the left was a familiar daily sight in my old grey tobacco-stained PlayStation.

Seeing it again today is like seeing a picture of myself ten years ago, when I still had hair.

ISS98—the Ince-Ravanelli face-off edition—is, in my memory, the greatest of the ISS-era football games. But it is pretty shocking now.

I’ll save the close-up look at the ISS games for the book. For now, I’ll just say that the graphics are so bad that you can almost see the individual pixels that make up each player.

The commentary is laughable. Tony Gubba is the least worst of the bunch. Terry Butcher and Chris James seemed good ten years ago, but time and standards have changed. Terry Butcher’s flat reading-aloud of his scripted lines makes even Mark Lawrenson sound naturalistic.

There is good in the old games. After the shock wore off, I settled down. There is some good football to be played.

Perhaps the greatest shock was seeing Master League as an option in ISS Pro Evolution 2’s main menu. I would have sworn Master League didn’t start until PES1 at the earliest.

But there it is, bold as brass, with the old-school ML Default squad to boot.

There’s no choice about starting with the Defaults or not. You have to start with them. And there’s no PES United, no Editing, nothing. I started as Leeds United (this really is a game from ten years ago). There’s a full transfer system.

And of course that starting squad includes a certain classic player in his pre-Myth days…

So there’s a lot to like about the older games. But oh, how limited the gameplay!

There’s not even an aerial through-ball in some of the older ones. One-twos are completed automatically, with no choice about when—or if—to make the return pass. The delayed one-two and the declined one-two are key components of our modern football games. Missing these options is like missing a limb.

I got these old games to remind myself of what things were like back then, for me and for the game series that we all follow and love. Accordingly, I’ll be writing about them in the book mostly from a perspective of ‘back then’. I won’t be pulling them apart and judging them by today’s standards.

But speaking now from today’s point of view, it’s a timely reminder of just how fortunate we are. Even the most dubious football game from the current period is in a different class altogether. Even PES2008(PS3).

The 1990s, and ISS, are long dead. Long live Pro Evo.

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