Month: January 2020

Through the CAM hole

Heading towards Christmas in my first season of FIFA20’s Career Mode. Leeds United. Professional difficulty. On the PC platform. Mods installed.

How’s it going? Pretty bloody fantastic, is how it’s going.

I’m currently enjoying a consistent 9/10 per-sesssion experience across all sessions of FIFA20. I’d even say it’s at a 10/10 level, but that’d be getting silly (even though it’s pretty much the case). Because everyone knows that I can’t play FIFA, right?

Somehow though, I am playing FIFA. Everything else has receded into the background momentarily. I was (and still am) hip-deep in a great FM2019 career, but even that has been relegated to a supporting role for now. I haven’t played my probable Strategy Game Of All Time, XCOM2, at all for two weeks, the first time that’s happened in a long time. Death Stranding is still going, albeit at a reduced rate. (Death Stranding will never end. I think that’s the idea of it.)

Why is FIFA20 so great? Well, for well over a decade now FIFA has been good, at times verging on great, so it’s no real surprise that an edition in the series can close up the gap to the next level that takes it over the line for this diehard PES player. It’s important to remember that I’m playing a souped-up, modded version on PC. Would I be as enamoured of FIFA20 without the mods? Possibly, but I don’t know, and haven’t got the time to play vanilla and find out. I’m having too much of a good time trying to guide Leeds United into the Premier. The Championship table after 12 matches:

Modded FIFA20 on PC has great, slow, heavy gameplay, the stuff that I need at this time of my football gaming life.

And most importantly – the game allows the player to score great goals. Great, satisfying goals. Great, long-range, net-bursting goals…

One of the complaints I consistently had about PES2020 was its almost complete lack of inspiring goals. There was the odd one ‘allowed’, yes – a goal here or there that would have me grinning and shouting and fist-pumping in the non-masturbatory sense and all the rest of it. But fully 99% of all PES2020 goals were of the so-effing-what variety. Sad to say.

FIFA20 does the bread-and-butter goals as well, but it also does long-rangers, thumping headers, free kick routines, toe-pokes, instep swingers, laces rippers, the lot.

Whole weeks of real time would pass in PES2020 without me scoring a single goal worthy of posting on this blog.

Here’s a video of a few goals from my first full week on FIFA20 Career Mode. I didn’t come out with a video like the one below in 8 full seasons of Master League.

Regular readers will know how much I adore scoring from that ‘DMF hole’ about 30 yards out in front of goal. I might have to call it the CAM hole now I’m on FIFA. It’s been a few years since PES allowed scoring from that kind of position with any regularity.

Some might point out that there’s a few too many such ‘CAM hole’ goals on show above. That’s fine by me – I’m playing on Professional only, a middle difficulty level where the amount of space on the pitch and ability shown by opponents is scaled down accordingly. I would expect to be able to score a few goals like this, and I gleefully am scoring them. I’ll be moving up to World Class and perhaps beyond in due course, and I doubt they’ll be so freely available there.

I’m immersed in Career Mode. I almost can’t believe it myself. Bamford is adequate but not spectacular. Hernandez is great, a real gem, but he’s 34 and won’t be here forever. Phillips is a pony-tailed CDM worth every penny of the £16m that teams keep offering me for him (I refuse).

I only bought one player before the transfer window closed. I kept messing up negotiations for players I hadn’t Scouted. You have to Scout in Career Mode. Another layer of complexity.

I Scouted and bought Weimann, who got injured but has come back and started scoring. There’s Training to do. There are Youths to nurture (properly nurture, not simply play and watch develop).

For a FIFA game to come out of the blue at me in January of the football game year is almost without precedent.

I have to look back – way back – to the early PS3 days to find any comparable scenario to this. Back then, from FIFAs 08 to 10, I mixed it up quite a lot and spent whole months at a time playing Manager Mode, as the single-player career was then called.

This has been a long time coming back, but here it is.

Light and Shader

FIFA20(PC) is still happening.

The modding-and-testing phase is pretty much over. The playing-properly phase has begun.

Career Mode, Professional difficulty, Leeds United.

Incredibly there are still over 7 months of our September-to-August football gaming year remaining. We won’t be halfway through until early March.

A long way to go, and a long time in which to have a proper Career Mode/FIFA experience – for the first time in 5 years. Many readers will be amused and sceptical and just waiting for the ta-da! of a return to PES in some form.

My several seasons of FIFA15 were a long time ago – and even they only happened because PES2015 was delayed to November that year.

I think this time is different. The main reason being the capability on PC to modify the game more to my liking. FIFA20, like all its recent iterations, is already a good game out of the box, but traditionally one that eventually palls for me. With mods, all of that changes.

I completed enough of a modding setup to get going. A Realism mod, a gameplay mod, a graphics mod. All I have to add are a couple of scoreboard mods. There aren’t many mods – FIFA modding is much more centralised and straightforward than PES modding, because it’s so curiously unknown.

Back at the actual game – the main reason for everything – Leeds United are a decent enough Championship outfit for me to have the possibility to progress. Or get sacked after 1 season, which is probably more likely.My avatar in this game. The beard is the colour my beard used to be, 20 years ago. If I grew my beard out today it’d be silver-grey with gingery tufts here and there.

Post-match interviews with visible effects on Team Morale are a thing. My recent Football Manager adventures (still going strong, by the way) have prepared me for this sort of  thing, and if anything the options in FIFA20 are a touch more elaborate.

The game moves and plays brilliantly. Here is a full match from last night. One of my early league matches at home vs Nottingham Forest.

This match had something of everything. Goals, a penalty (for me), a sending off, the lot. Best viewed in 1440p, although this will make playback stutter on some browsers/connections.

Is that green too green? It’s like when Charlie Bucket transitioned from his drab grey reality into the glorious Technicolor of Willy Wonka’s factory. In the Gene Wilder original, of course.

I like the colours for now, but if my eyes start complaining about things (as they do a lot these days) I can adjust things down a notch or two if I want, via an in-game overlay that can be summoned with a keypress.

For comparison, here is a little clip I made before I applied the Reshader mod:

Derek Rae and Lee Dixon are fantastic commentators, it should be said.

I’ll want to see the tactical settings having palpable effects on play and how I run the club. Having picked Leeds United, they have a Board Expectation of winning the Championship this season. I already know that is going to be very difficult to do. I accept in advance the conditions of the game I choose to play.By Friday I should have three or four huge sessions under my belt, and we will know if this really is it – a FIFA Career Mode, from nowhere! – or not.

My PS4 is a Death Stranding machine right now. I’ve also got The Witcher 3 on there and intend finally getting around to that this summer. I’m happy with the PS4 because I already have games for it that I plan to attend to, but I wonder if I will ever buy a console game again. I also wonder if I will be at the front of the queue for the PS5 next winter. Waiting to see the rumoured specs in action.

FIFA rises again?

FIFA is… back?

And this time for real?

No more single-season, shilly-shallying, toe-in-the-water, yes-it’s-nice-but-I’m-ready-to-go-back-to-PES-now?

A true and proper, in-depth, Master League-style Career Mode career?

One that could potentially continue for several weeks, months – or even for the rest of the football game year?

IS IT POSSIBLE?It bloody is possible.

In fact, it is happening.

At the time of writing I have played three full-fat, hugely impressive sessions on a modded version of FIFA20.

I’m playing on the PC platform, using several mods that alter certain fundamentals of the game. Which needs to be understood right off the bat.

This is NOT the FIFA20 that comes out of the box. From next week on the blog there’ll be a new sidebar info box containing a list of all the mods and tweaks in use at any one time, that will be updated as time passes.

And that is the key to this exciting new FIFA era: mods.

Vanilla FIFA20, which I played several matches of a few months ago, was still firmly in the ‘good but not great’ category, for me.

Modded FIFA PC is currently in the ‘great’ category. Possible even the ‘bloody fantastic’ category.

I’ll expand on all of this over the next few weeks (and maybe months).

At the moment it’s safe to say that it’ll be a good FIFA test this year. I’ve used up a lot of footy gaming energy on PES2020, to the point where I can barely stand to think about the very idea of PES2020 anymore. I imagine there’ll be some PES along at some point before season 2019-2020 is over and done with…

But for now – modded FIFA PC! Hereafter known simply as FIFA20(PC).

Here’s a taster of the game running with scoreboard, pitch and texture mods, and most significantly, a gameplay mod (much credit to FIFER for this – I was a sceptic). There’s also a comprehensive Realism mod for Career Mode running that might or might not have taken root in my save – it’s one of the issues I will have to hammer out before getting up and running properly.

For now, here’s a glimpse of match action within a Leeds Utd CM save that I started at random to do some testing. I have already taken so much of a shine to it that I might  even continue this save. I could change my manager name – A A Manager – using a handy PC utility, predictably.

Or I might just leave it at A A Manager…

(Best viewed in 1440p.)

It’s hard to convey just how different and good the above action feels in the bones of your gamepad-holding hands.

It’s slow and steady and majestic. The world ‘rugged’ would not be out of place. One of the dislikable things about vanilla FIFA of recent years has always been how it can quickly spiral into a frantic, hand-cramping melee that reminds you you’re only playing a videogame. So far, that isn’t happening.

I’ll be doing my best to show and tell what I mean by all this, over the coming weeks.

I haven’t mentioned fouls yet, because I don’t want to jinx them. One of the supposed features of the FIFER gameplay patch is to make fouls more likely. Such ambitions in football game patches and mods tend to be so much moonshine, in my experience, but so far I am seeing a few fouls in every match. Not at excessive number, usually in the 2-4 range, but any amount is a higher number than the usual 0 foul-count of recent FIFAs. I have free kicks in shooting range that I comically have no idea how to take. More practice, of course.

Career Mode’s time in general has come. Master League… poor old Master League. I don’t even want to think about what they’ve done to Master League. Year on year, it has only got worse when they claim to be making it better. Ugh.

Some context: I am also playing Football Manager 2019 right now, and loving the whole thing more than is healthy. So my thoughts and general attitude are in sync with the greater complexity of Career Mode. The stars are truly aligning here.

I traditionally do a 1st Impressions post for every new PES and award it a playful score out of 10 rightaway. At the time of writing I can safely say my first impressions of FIFA20(PC) merits a 9.5/10.

FIFA on this blog has a deep and lively history all of its own – more than you might think, if you are a reader of recent vintage. The curious can go back and look at how I played some FIFAs for months. Particularly the likes of FIFA08, FIFA09, FIFA12, and FIFA15.

FIFA20? Let’s see. Let’s just see….

The busman’s holiday continues

You might think there is no circumstance where you could ever have real fear of an away trip to a club called BK Frem.

I thought the same a few weeks ago. Then a casual encounter with a random internet post about the joys of ‘Starting Unemployed’ in Football Manager piqued my interest.

Starting Unemployed is a thing in FM lore, it turns out, a thing akin to the ML Default Challenge in PES. You’re young, you’re inexperienced, nobody knows you. How fast can you navigate up the football world to a Big Job? Or can you take the no-hoper club that you inevitably start out with to Big Club status?

I spent a few weeks jobless at the start of season 2018-19, applying for jobs and being knocked back. Then I had two proper interviews and a choice: Aberystwyth in Wales, or Avarta in Denmark. I plumped for the latter because it was more money and the club were only two leagues below the top flight.

And now here I am, gritty-eyed from yet another 3am session last night. Two full seasons played.

Normal service  – i.e., reports about me playing a gamepad-football game – will resume in this Friday’s post.

That will be with FIFA20’s Career Mode, although I might do a warmup with Ultimate Team (offline of course) to get me used to the game engine. I have received a package of mods from regular commenter Paul, and there are other mods to change the entire nature of Career Mode, and possibly gameplay too.

For today’s post I still have this monkey on my back called Football Manager 2019. I’ve finished Season 2 in Denmark’s 2 Division. It’s the 3rd tier of that country’s domestic league setup, and it takes place in two phases. I took the screenshot at the top of the page after going top for the first time in the 1st phase.

I’ve since navigated my way through them both and won promotion in the 2nd phase, in 2nd place, to the NordicBet Liga, Denmark’s equivalent of the Championship. Where I am expected to ‘do a Norwich’ and spend most of the season at the bottom and come straight back down. Last night I spent two hours looking for players.

The famed addictive qualities of Football Manager are something that I’ve mostly been resistant to for most of my gaming life. I’ve had spells of enthusiasm (who hasn’t), most notably with CM4 back in whenever-that-was, then with FM2005, and a few short spells here and there since.

I have never won anything in Football Manager. Not a single trophy. I have got a few promotions in all my time, but that is where it traditionally all falls apart for me. I end up buying the wrong players, or too many players, or too few players, and then stubbornly trying to stick with the same system that worked in the division below.

My 3am sessions on FM2019 have been every bit as immersive and enjoyable as any Civilization V or XCOM2 session, and that’s saying something. FM has undergone a design change in recent years. This is my first time sampling it, and it is a total success in my view. You can do as little or as much as you want. I hand off all training to my coaches. And let them take care of press conferences too. I get the players and pick the team and the system played. I have a simmering conflict with the board about the lack of investment and am on the verge of starting to threaten to leave if they don’t develop facilities and allow me to take on more staff.

As ever the casual observer may chortle about FM being basically an interactive spreadsheet – but you can analyse anything enjoyable in that spirit, so what’s the point?

As I say, normal service will resume this Friday with FIFA20, but I will mention my FM2019 progress from time to time. I can already feel it starting to settle down and become an occasional 3am-session thing, rather than a nightly one.