Month: November 2007

Mid-season negotiations 2011

For the first time in five seasons, I completed the four-week mid-season negotiation period without signing any new players. That’s how it has to be sometimes.

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It wasn’t for the want of trying. I need new players. My squad is a little top-heavy. I have a good First XI, with several established stars and stars-in-the-making (such as Marcos, pictured left). There are some good players in the rest of the squad; a few of them are great players, who I leave out of the First XI for other reasons.

Shaw, with his dodgy Stamina and Body Balance, is a case in point. He’s come on a lot in the past season, as I’ve spent two pre-seasons training him on nothing but Stamina and Body Balance. He’s only a season or so away from being an automatic first choice again.

But looking at players such as Boyd, Folan, Frutos (all three are big, lumbering kinds of strikers, long past their best); Weir and Cafu (Cafu in particular has been somewhat disappointing; he has a shallow development curve that doesn’t peak for about eight more years yet); and even my old warhorse Donadel (despite his excellence in my Division 2 struggles) – all of these have to go, I think, and be replaced by players who can perform reliably week in, week out, if I’m to have the kind of squad that can challenge for trophies in Division 1.

So I’m not buying new players any more just for the sake of buying them. That’s a routine you get into when you start out with the Default players in Master League. They’re so rubbish that you become focused on getting any new players – doesn’t matter who, just anyone – to replace them. Anyone else is better than the Defaults. It takes a few seasons to shake the feeling during Negotiation periods that you must, must, MUST buy new players no matter what.

Armed with my new Team Ranking – ‘C’ – I hoped to at least get past first base in my usual attempt to buy Mathieu. (If and when I finally do get Mathieu, I will speak at length about why this player is so important – even talismanic – to me in PES.) His club has so far blocked all efforts to negotiate directly with the player. This time, however… This time, permission was granted. I was talking to Mathieu!

I slapped in a hefty bid straightaway. I looked down my list of players and decided that Mathieu’s club should find Frutos+7000 points completely irresistible. Mathieu himself should be unable to resist a three-year contract worth 1300 salary points.

I always bring the length of the contract down when I think a player might be difficult to sign for the full five years. After a shorter contract, the player gets a chance to negotiate with you for a higher salary a lot sooner.

Some tipsters in the wider PES community recommend offering key players one-year contracts at ridiculously high wages. They report success using this method, but how crippled is their wages budget afterward? If they’ve offered Thierry Henry, say, a one-year deal at 3000 salary points, after the year is up he’s never going to agree to take anything less than 3000. You’d have to offer 3100 or more to keep him. Then you’re stuck with that ridiculous figure (the salary, not Henry…) for good. Unless you ship him off. In which case, why the fuss to get him in the first place?

So as much as I value Mathieu (and any other great players I’ll be going for in the future) I’m not going to threaten the stability of my entire Master League career by offering them silly wages. No player is worth sending your budget all out of whack for. It’s Master League, not Mathieu League.

I went to the next week, all excited. I hadn’t even looked at any other players. I thought: this is it! I’ve got Mathieu. Bwahaha, as they say.

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I was disappointed to see a notification message saying ‘Negotiations broken down’ instead of the hoped-for ‘SUCCESS’. However I was cheered to see an encouraging message in the main menu window. It looked as if I was on the right road, in the ball-park, and so on. I just had to make the right bid, evidently.

I went back into negotiations, and this time offered the club Braafheid+7000 points, and Mathieu himself a two-year deal worth 1350 points. It was a wrench to contemplate getting rid of Braafheid – he’s been a great SB for me so far. But I figured that the prospect of getting a really good, rising star might tip Mathieu’s club’s hand. I thought the two-year deal on offer to Mathieu would clinch it.

Again to the next week, and again no joy. There were two weeks left. I started to think I’d better look at a few other players. It might not be the time for Mathieu after all. My Team Ranking was probably the culprit. Mathieu just didn’t want to come to me right now. His current club was ranked ‘B’. Mathieu himself was an ‘A’-ranked player.

I made bids for Mathieu, and again for Micah Richards. Just the two of them. (I checked my List again and tried to negotiate for Maldini (a 20-year-old youth at this stage of my ML), who is at Manchester United and not really playing for them. Man Utd refused to negotiate.)

Went to the next week, and the Mathieu and Richards deals had both broken down. I concluded that it was the players themselves who didn’t want to come to me right now. I got the message. I gave up for now. I didn’t want any other players. I wanted to hold onto the excess points and try for Mathieu and Richards again in the off-season. I went past the final negotiation week and into Week 19 of the season without placing any new bids.

Despite knowing that I don’t have to buy new players in every single negotiation period, I did feel that I’d wasted this one. I could and probably should have looked for another top-drawer striker. A superb CB would also have come in handy. The dead wood in my squad is still there, gathering dust. They only play when there is absolutely no one else available, which isn’t very often.

I also feel that I have a few too many players in the squad. 32 players is the maximum size allowed, and having 32 players limits my opportunities to get new players from the Youth and Unbelonging lists. At the end of the season I’ll be looking to get the squad down from 32 players to about 26 players. Make room for the next generation.

For now, it’s back to the ups and downs of my season. I took a look at the Calendar before Week 19, and was shocked to see two games per week for the next several weeks. Of course, when I won the Division 1 Cup last season, I automatically qualified for the PES equivalent of the UEFA Cup – the European Masters Cup. Caught up in a tense relegation battle at the time, I hadn’t realised.

So. Two games per week forever, eh? No problem…

Patchtastic?

STOP PRESS: The PS3 patch for PES2008 is now available – as of 15.30 on Monday 26th November.

At 130MB, it’s got to be a pretty substantial set of changes, Shirley? I’m hoping for things like kit changes as well as for an improvement to the offline game’s framerate. If they’ve fixed the online lag, I might have myself a few games with some actual ‘people’ later.

I’m downloading it right now as I type. It’s downloading very slowly. 14% after 5 minutes, and I’m on an 8MB connection. I should probably clear off here and give the data stream some room to breathe…

I’ll update later with what I see and don’t see, post-patch.

Fingers crossed for PES2008. And for Konami…

EDIT: 17.24, 26th November 2007

Well, I finished the download and played a full game to test things out. I set up an International Tournament to see if kit selection has been put back in the game. It hasn’t.

I played an Exhibition Game in the Bernebeu, with rain, and with the circular pitch pattern that always makes me groan when I see it in my Master League. Early results look good. I saw none of the Bullet Time I’m used to seeing under such conditions. There were occasional stutters, but really no more than 2% of what they used to be.

That’s all I had time for just now. Later today and tomorrow morning, I’ll be playing my Master League for a long period under all kinds of match conditions. I will be a lot better placed to report on how the patch has affected the offline experience.

Regarding online play, I have yet to try it out for myself but early reports from various forums on the internet are a mixed bag. Some say the online lag is still present. Others say it’s gone or vastly reduced. Hopefully I will get the chance to see for myself later.

#Spit on the Villa…#

Aston Villa away. After I started the season like a rocket, and grew concerned about PES2008 becoming too easy for me, the CPU teams have just stepped things up a gear. I’ve taken a couple of sound beatings. I not only want and need to put one over on the PES version of the Villa, I also would like the 3 points, thank you very much.

In real life, the rivalry between Coventry City and Aston Villa football clubs is mostly one-way. We care about beating them, and we used to beat them very rarely in the English top division. Villa don’t care about beating us, and they used to beat us a lot. There’s some kind of lesson in there somewhere.

In PES – the 2008 flavour, or any other – there’s a definite forlornness about the whole local rivalry thing. The FIFA series has all the real-life licenses, and has always modelled local rivalries particularly well. In PES, you more or less have to imagine it for yourself. This is something I have always done with gusto. Whenever I finally make it into the top division I always look through the calendar and make a mental note of the two league fixtures against the Villa. Then I start preparing for them a couple of games in advance, resting key players, and licking my lips…

I made a fantastic start. Literally, the stuff of fantasy: two quickfire goals in the first 10 minutes from that man Schwarz. I was punching the air here in my sad little room.2-0 up, then, and almost guaranteed to be in a winning position. You’d think. But this is PES2008.

All matches for me at the moment in Master League seem to follow the same pattern. Taking a 2-0 lead is almost guaranteed to invite a response from the CPU in the form of a cheeky goal that it seems you are powerless to prevent. Aston Villa got themselves a corner, and I braced for the inevitable.

Recently. I have started to be able to defend corners with about 95% success. I had been automatically trying to defend them using the method from the last couple of PESes. In PES5 all you had to do was stand a defender in the sweet spot on the corner of the six-yard box; in PES6, the sweet spot was a yard or two deeper.

I got hold of my defenders in the box and dragged them over to stand on the Villa strikers’ toes. Over came the corner. The ball was dropping directly at my defender, Mattsson. There was no way the Villa attacker – who was not only smaller than Mattsson, but standing behind him relative to the ball’s approach vector (bear with me here) – was ever going to get his head on that ball, right? Right?

I waited until the appropriate time, and then pressed for Mattsson to make the kind of routine clearance that I have been routinely performing for many dozens of games now, ever since I discovered how to do it. Mattsson didn’t move, and somehow the ball went over his head, onto the Villa attacker’s forehead, and into the net.

1-2, and I would have fumed if I had any fumes left with which to fume. PES2008 has almost completely defumed me. Bless its little heart.

At this stage, things can go several ways. The CPU will maintain its supercharged drive forward to get a goal. What you need is another goal yourself, to kill the game off.

I got it. Again it came from Schwarz, completing his hat trick:

The game ended that way: 1-3. I was happy to have bested my virtual local rival on their own patch. I resisted the urge to soil a sheet of toilet paper and send it to the real Villa Park along with a rude note (again). I’m way past that.

I moved onto the next games with increased confidence. It seemed I was through the bad patch. I beat Fulham 3-0 despite the CPU once again being in perma-God Mode. I’ve discovered – or rediscovered – how to cope with God Mode in PES2008. It’s simple: remember that you’re playing a game, not locked in a life-or-death struggle for your family honour. When you feel your fingers cramping up as though you’re trying to strangle the joypad, you’re doing it wrong. Pause the game for a few moments, take literal and figurative deep breaths, and then resume.

I played the return leg of the Division 1 Cup tie against Spurs. It was at their ground, and it ended 1-1. It was a hard match but I held on to go through on the away goal. It’s my Cup and they’re not taking it off me.

The session concluded on a downbeat note with a mammoth encounter against Arsenal. It ended 3-2 to them after I had been 2-1 up at half time. They got the equaliser on 70 minutes from a penalty that I thought was a blatant dive. Referee!

I quite like the inclusion of diving in PES2008. Like it or not, diving is a feature of the real-life game. Any football video game that aspires to represent the sport must include diving, however unsporting it is. Q.E.D. What’s next, then, an objector might, er, object. Hooliganism? Point taken, but diving in PES2008 enriches the game, in my opinion. It leads to contentious moments, exciting scenarios, fair and unfair outcomes. I’ve tried it myself, off and on, with almost zero success. But it’s still early days.

When Arsenal clicked into their turbo mode in search of a winning goal I started to ignore my own advice. I could hear the joypad creaking under the pressure, but I never let up. I was clamping again: pressing R1+X+Square. Will I never learn? Clamping doesn’t actually benefit you a great deal. All it does is drag players out of position, tires them, and send them into a virtual panic. While your players are hurling themselves pell-mell all over the place, the CPU delves into its box of tricks, with this kind of result:

Oh, the pain.

Going into the mid-season negotiations period, I’m still holding steady in fourth place, but Chelsea at the top of the table are starting to pull away. They’re 7 points clear of Man Utd in second place, and 12 points clear of me. It’ll be difficult for anyone to catch them now. I wasn’t expecting to challenge for the title this season, though, so I’m not disappointed. What I wanted from this season was to avoid relegation. I will avoid it, I think, so a top-6 finish and qualification for next season’s European Cup is now my new ‘bonus’ target.

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Another bonus: at the moment, Schwarz is second in the top scorers’ league. He has 12 goals. Rooney, in first place, has 15. I’d like to get Schwarz to the top of this list by season’s end. He deserves it.

I’ve always said to anyone who will listen (i.e., to no one) that the greatest PES striker ever was PES5’s Dennis Bergkamp (after he had regenerated, of course). Schwarz in PES2008 isn’t quite there yet. But he’s a contender.

The Empire Strikes Back

So I was finding this game easy, was I? Well. Playing against West Ham, they mugged me straight from kick-off and went 1-0 up. No problem, I thought. I can still score one more than you. And I did. I won the game 2-1. Wow. This Master League really is turning out to be the proverbial walk in the park…

Er. Not yet it’s not.

The first murmurings of rebellion within the CPU ranks came from Tottenham in the Division 1 Cup. Having won this trophy with relative ease last season, I felt protective of it. I was, as they say, up for the cup.

The game was at their ground. I didn’t lose the game. It ended 0-0. But it was… peculiar. It felt as if the game was destined to be a 0-0. So many games in PES always seem to be pre-determined in some way. Scripted.

Next up were the mighty Chelsea. The only thing I remember about playing them last year was that my then first-choice goalkeeper, Kim U Don’t, chose to run away from the goal when faced with a Chelsea striker one-on-one.

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This game was an eye-opener. PES2008 had woken up and noticed me winning virtually every game at a canter. This was the game where all of that had to end.

Chelsea started in ‘God Mode’ and stayed that way. They won 1-0. I picked up my first red card of the season – Delgado, for two yellow card offences.

Despite the relentless pressure from Chelsea I managed to keep them at bay for the most part, and somehow managed to finish the match with 60% possession. They had 6 shots all game. I had a massive 21 shots, half of which were on target. Half of those were shots that could and arguably should have resulted in goals. In this game, they either whistled over or were miraculously slapped wide by Cech.

Yes, the goalkeeper was world class, and this was a world class team I was up against, but… something smelt strongly of fish. We’ve all been there. You know what I’m talking about.

Next up were Blackburn – at home – and another rather turgid, apparently pre-determined game that ended 0-0. I was starting to get paranoid.

Finally, I was thrashed by Manchester United. I took the lead early on with a jammy goal from Schwarz. Whew, I thought. Back on an even keel. But it was all downhill from there on.

The magic threesome of Ronaldo and Tevez and Rooney had fire in their boots. I found it impossible to defend against Ronaldo’s quick feet on the ball in and around my box. Before the game, he had apparently glugged a Potion of Invinciblilty.

Whatever I did, Ronaldo did the opposite. If I stood off him, he ran around me. If I double-teamed him, he ran between my players as they stood like statues, ignoring any and every button-press. If I slide-tackled him, he evaded the tackle. There was little or nothing wrong with my timing, mostly. I swear. It seemed to be a case of the CPU blatantly gaining an advantage by using its foreknowledge of what button combos and directions I was pressing.

We’ve seen it before, to a lesser extent, in PES5 and PES6. In those games, the CPU used its foreknowledge to evade slide tackles in particular areas of the pitch – usually the wings. In PES2008, when it wants to, the CPU does it all the time all over the pitch. (So I rather bitterly think, anyway.)

The resulting 10/10 stellar match performance from Ronaldo may be a fair reflection of the Portugeezer’s sublime real-life skills, but is it fair to a human player in a computer game? Sniff. Maybe I’ll man-mark him next time.

After this batch of games, I’ve dropped to 4th in the league table. Despite my paranoid misgivings about the CPU shamelessly abusing its knowledge of what I planned to do, I feel slightly relieved. I was hoping that PES2008 still had a curveball to throw me. It looks like it has plenty.