Month: October 2008

FIFA09: Semi-Manual shooting

It’s still not widely appreciated that FIFA09 offers a choice of Assisted, Semi-Manual, and full Manual control systems out on the pitch. Passing, crossing, through-balls, aerial passing, and shooting—any or all of these can be switched from the default setting (full Assisted) to any combination of Manual or Semi-Manual. You can leave the Assists on for everything and just choose full Manual passing, for example.

This can completely change the nature of FIFA09 and your emotional response to the game. It’s arguably one of FIFA09’s biggest attractions, especially in the longer term. Oddly, I don’t recall a single mention of these control options in any review of the game (and I’ve read a few). Discussion of the topic on the usual forums is also relatively muted.

It can take time to warm up to the idea of playing without the tried-and-tested, familiar Assists. At the moment I play FIFA09 with full Manual through-balls, crossing, and aerial passing, and Semi-Manual passing and shooting.

I barely glanced at these options in FIFA08. After a token game or two using Manual shooting, for example, I fled back to full Assisted and stayed there. I’ll admit that I found it too difficult and initially unrewarding. Dismaying, too: there’s nothing like blazing five yards wide in front of an open goal to send you scurrying back to the familiarity and comfort of Assisted. I bet lots of people who try Semi-Manual or Manual shooting barely last a full half on it.

But I’ve got religion about it now. My Damascene conversion happened in spite of myself, not because. I played online against a player who used a mixture of semi-manual and manual settings. I felt embarrassed about passing the ball around and playing through-balls and scoring goals using Assists. It motivated me to learn the semi-manual game at least, as a stepping-stone to full manual in the future. I’m really glad now that I did.

It’s certainly not easy. It takes time, patience, and the will to learn. I started myself off lightly, by just switching Shooting on its own to Semi-Manual. It was about five games in my case before I could see that it would work, if I persevered. It was about ten games before I started getting around 80% of my Semi-Manual shots on-target, instead of 99% miserably off-target. That was satisfying enough in itself—just hitting the target! And there’s no satisfaction like the satisfaction that comes from starting to score your first bunch of goals on Semi-Manual. (Doubtless I’ll go through the process all over again when I switch to full Manual. I can’t wait.)

I’ve been threatening to do this for a few weeks, so here’s my own individual take on the Assisted and Semi-Manual shooting systems. Each of my highly scientific and detailed diagrams assume the use of a player of average shooting ability, without the use of modifiers (finesse, pace control, etc.) that affect shooting in other ways.

Assisted Shooting

The assisted shooting scheme is pretty generous, as it should be. In fact it’s hard to miss when inside the box, particularly using the finesse button. Assisted shooting helpfully interprets a wide aim as ‘top corner of the net’.

Semi-manual shooting

That green ‘wedge of accuracy’ is much, much narrower. Effectively, that’s all Semi-Manual is: a shrinkage of the ‘sweet spot’. This is why you’ll be banging easy chances into the stands for several games after making the switch. Semi-Manual shooting still helps you in some of the ways Assisted does, but not much. There’s little forgiveness for aiming outside of a quite constricted area.

Semi-manual shooting from an angle

When attacking goal from out wide, the ‘wedge of accuracy’ (I’m calling it that now) rotates accordingly—and narrows even further. Obviously it narrows, since there’s a smaller amount of goal at which to aim.

None of the diagrams take into account all the factors that would actually affect shooting in a real match. These diagrams assume no defensive pressure. I think the Arena is a great place to try out different shooting schemes, especially as it shows how dramatically you can narrow or widen the aiming wedge through use of various shot modifiers. (But good luck with trying to reproduce it in a match…)

At the moment I’d say making the switch permanently has revolutionised my experience with FIFA09. And… it has completely changed what I expect from a football game. This decisively tipped the balance for me in regard to PES2009. Poor old PES2009 already looked like a museum piece; factor in FIFA09’s Semi-Manual and Manual control options, and there’s no real contest IMO.

I used to have a vastly different idea of what Semi-Manual shooting was all about. I believed that aim was determined by the amount of time you held the analogue stick in the direction you wanted to shoot. After a long and sometimes painful learning process, I now think the system is pretty much like the one sketched out above.

As ever, I stand to be corrected. I think there must be Semi-Manual (and Manual) ninjas out there who may smile at this post. If so, I’d genuinely love to hear from you. Pretty soon I want to be playing with EVERYTHING on full Manual controls. This is a whole new ball game for me and I want more of it.

I want to ride my bicycle

The other night I was trying and mostly failing to get my FIFA09 game back together after a week of PES2009. I went through a five-game spell of scoring no goals and being comprehensively thrashed by the CPU. On Professional difficulty. That’s the third of five difficulty levels, and supposedly quite easy this year.

I think my ‘best’ defeat was 2-0. I just kept trying to move the ball, PES-style, from defence to attack in the bare minimum number of passes. It doesn’t work in FIFA09. It can work, sometimes, as in real football; but overall, no, the game just thinks you’re having a laugh…

I scored one goal that lifted my spirits. In a custom Tournament group match, Russia vs England, I was playing as England and had a corner. Beckham the taker. It was a weak, aimless corner that bounced in no-man’s-land. But then, as it bounced up

And here’s a slow-motion view, from a closer vantage point:

Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? And it was a rare weather-affected game, too: the Russian snow swirled around the pitch.

For those who can’t/won’t view the clips, the goal’s a full-blooded bicycle kick from the edge of the penalty box. Lampard’s the scorer. The ball fairly rockets into the top corner of the net (and rebounds a weirdly long distance out). It’s a real showbiz kind of goal.

I was happy and smiling. But I didn’t actually mean it. I certainly didn’t aim it. As the corner came over I had just pressed the shoot button in hope, trying for a header, or maybe a half-volley. The bicycle kick was a total surprise. All I had really done was initiate a special kind of in-game cutscene.

I think you need to feel that a great goal has occurred naturally, as part of the normal pattern of play. FIFA09 does a great job of conveying this feeling with other kinds of exceptional goals. If EA’s brave new world of football gaming has brought us anything, it’s brought us an enhanced feeling of control. The game’s semi-manual and manual control options are supposed to remove assisted shots from your repertoire. This bicycle kick was the epitome of an assisted shot. The game was throwing me a biscuit.

Am I being too cynical? Maybe. The goal does look fantastic, and I was very happy with it. I spent several minutes uploading two replays and tinkering with the slow-motion controls. But I’d prefer a less… encapsulated feel to such goals.

Thank Fouque for that

I’ve had PES2009 for a week now. I’ve given it every chance to win back my affections. I’ve played it every day, after a few weeks of playing FIFA09 every day. After at first being horrified (frankly) by the relative crudity of PES’s gameplay—gameplay that I’ve known and passionately loved for the best part of a decade—I’ve now recovered a little. I’ve settled into it. I find there’s a lot to like in this game at the moment.

But it’s not really enough. Not any more.

I’ve finished the first half of my first season in Master League on PES2009. I’ve won a few games, but I’ve lost a few more. There’ll be no promotion for me this season. I managed to get to the second round of the D2 Cup, where I met Stoke in the first leg at my ground. That game ended 0-0. I was happy with that—no away goal. Sadly, I lost the second leg pretty comprehensively: 3-0 to Stoke.

Back in the league, I took the lead against Zenit St Petersburg and thought I’d hold on for the win. They scored twice late on to take the win. I had no complaints. The Default players are really showing their lack of quality now—and of course, as I always say, I’m an average player myself anyway.

I did stop the rot with a 1-0 win over Hammarby. After a great start to the season my goals had seriously dried up. I scored this one with Fouque, a dark horse amongst the Defaults.

This is a pretty ordinary goal. From now on, I’m going back to my old rule: only spectacular or peculiar goals will be posted from now on. I’ll be posting a FIFA09 goal tomorrow that’s pretty spectacular.

The goal won me the game, and lifted me up to 7th place. I suppose there’s a very slender chance of lifting myself back into promotion contention. I’ve never won promotion in the first season of any Master League career, ever. I hope to have a good negotiations period and pick up some better players.

But I don’t know when I’ll play the rest of this season. Master League is the greatest game mode ever. But I no longer think PES is the greatest football game. Historically, yes, it is the greatest game—it’d take another several years of good FIFAs to even threaten that reputation. But not in its current guise, in season 2009. Not with a bigger, bolder, and generally better rival on the scene.

Last night I put down my joypad, stopped playing PES2009, and started playing FIFA09 again. The re-acquaintance period was traumatic. I tried to ‘PES it up’ out there on the pitch. A decade’s-worth of PES muscle memory had come back to the forefront over the past week. I tried to one-two-three pass my way upfield, all the time. I couldn’t shoot at all.

I think it took FIFA08 and FIFA09 to show that PES is an arcade-style game and it always has been. Apart from the pitiful old-style FIFAs, we had nothing else to measure PES by; it was its own yardstick. PES hasn’t really changed over the past few years—it’s FIFA that’s changed. And lately, it’s me that’s changed…

To cut an already too-long story short: as of now I am going to play FIFA09 for most of the time, and PES2009 for some of the time. I don’t know the exact formula yet. I’ll play it by ear, see how it goes. I’m thinking maybe a week of FIFA, then a few days of PES. This might not work out. If there’s too much ‘cross-contamination’ between the games, I’ll stick with one game (FIFA) and play the other (PES) in the future, when I fancy a break.

I could change my mind at any time, do whatever I want. The forums are chattering right now about ‘FIFA fatigue’. I don’t know yet if there’s any truth to it. But I’m not bound by what I say on the blog. I do the blog in order to write about what’s happening in my football gaming, not the other way round.

But what does it mean for my Master League? This is what’s making me feel absolutely terrible, like some kind of miserable, snivelling traitor. I feel not so much a traitor to PES, as a traitor to Master League. But Master League is played on PES, and PES just isn’t satisfying to me now in the way that FIFA09 is. Having these kinds of thoughts always makes me feel that a thunderbolt is going to smite me from on high. But that’s how it is. A new reality has dawned. PES has been superseded, and it’s time to get over it.

Willem, it was really nothing

I’m glad I stuck with PES2009, because the game has opened up to me after I gave it the chance to. Sadly, I’m now seeing (and feeling) more and more the resemblance to PES2008, which isn’t good. I am enjoying PES2009 at the moment, but I enjoyed PES2008 for a few weeks last year, before it all went horribly wrong. I can’t help but worry the same thing will happen with PES2009. But we’ll see. For all the similarities to PES2008, there are some rewarding differences.

Whisper it, but PES2009 can play a slower game of football than FIFA09. The overall pace seems about the same to me. Your players even seem to enjoy a fraction longer on the ball in PES2009 than in FIFA09. Granted, this time enables the more arcadey dribbling style that PES is now notorious for; but it also enables a patient passing game, if that’s how you choose to play.

It’s a shame there’s considerably less freedom to do things with that time on the ball, but still—there’s a pretty deep PES engine under the bonnet. At this time of year every PES fan turns into an elderly aunt inspecting the newborn’s face for the first time. Who does PES2009 look like?! PES2008, most obviously—but going further back? At the moment I can’t shake the impression that PES2009 is a reskinned PES2. It just has that whole feel to it. When I won an International Cup I half-expected the credits to roll with We Are The Champions playing in the background. Anyone who ever liked PES2 should like this game. But after any amount of time enjoying FIFA09, PES2009 can feel like a step down.

As much as I’m enjoying PES2009 now, it still doesn’t compare to what I can get out of FIFA09. After I experienced these positive vibes from PES2009, I loaded up FIFA09 for a few games. Just to see.

And now I can feel one of those FIFA vs PES footballing metaphors coming on. Can’t. Resist…. Here goes. FIFA is up near the top of the table and boldly challenging for the title, while PES is just holding steady in mid-table.

I’m toying with several ideas of how to proceed. Whatever I do, it’ll be difficult. My favourite idea at the moment is one season on, one season off: a season of Master League followed by a season of Manager Mode. But what I want to do is play FIFA09 as much as I want right now, and come back to PES2009 only when I’m good and ready. I’ll probably end up doing that.


Second session on Master League. I’ve played another eight or so games. There have been some surprises. Among the surprises is that the Default players are better this year. Not much better, but just enough to make the experience of playing with them slightly less gruelling. Another surprise is that I’m still in the D2 Cup. I usually get knocked out in the first round in my first season, but I made it through 2-1 on aggregate. That’s another sign that the Default crew are better in PES2009.

My 4-3-3 formation is a ludicrously attacking one for such a limited bunch of players. But after years of Master League, and thousands of matches, I don’t know how to play PES any other way. I briefly played with a 4-2-2-2 back in PES4 (I forget why now). I experimented with a 4-4-2 for a few games last year. But otherwise it’s been 4-3-3 all the way. Maybe that could be a special mission for the future: play using a different formation, and win the Treble.

After a promising start to the season—an almost unprecedented two wins and a draw in my opening three fixtures—I was riding high in 3rd place. Sadly, the old Default player rot quickly set in. Soon I had no one fit, and those who were fit couldn’t play. They felt more like the Default players from last year: the worst ever.

My divisional neighbours STOKE CITY won a narrow 1-0 victory. That’s where it all started going wrong. For the next 5 games I didn’t win. I drew one, and lost four. I scored about two goals. Willem II thumped me 3-0 along the way.

The league table doesn’t lie. That’s what football managers say on television and I believe them.

My wild early hope for promotion in season 1 would seem to be gone. I’d have to pick up some decent results between now and the mid-season negotiation period, then sign some good players, and have a storming second half of the season. Outside chance, but still possible.