Category: PES Chronicles

Loving the FIFApocalypse

Football gaming in a slow-motion Apocalypse like this one is a bit different, isn’t it?

It’s a bit more difficult to get into the zone of immersion required. Oh, you do get there, eventually, into that zone where you’re deep into the game, fully involved and avid for more – but then you remember that the Apocalypse is happening, and think, ah. Yes. Shit.

Maybe part of the strangeness is that there’s no real-life football to provide counterpoint to our virtual action.

So FIFA (or PES, or Football Manager, or any of the surprisingly many skeevy Steam knockoffs thereof) are likely to be our only new football content for some months until normality resumes. Which will be sometime in September if we’re lucky, it seems.

I’m aware of all the reruns of old football that are available from various sources. Nah. I’ll watch the odd highlight from yesteryear, but it’s more a light snack than the main course of new, weekly football.

It does strangely turn out to be the case that football gaming without real-life football is oddly robbed of a little bit of its authority. It’s probably similar to the summertime slump that we all experience in football gaming habits. Perhaps the summertime slump isn’t just about fatigue at the end of a long footy gaming year. It’s also to do with having no real-life counterpart to provide context and contrast.

I’ve played two more great sessions of FIFA20 since last time with huge enjoyment. I’ve won about the same amount of games as I’ve drawn and lost. Something like W4 D3 L4.

And after a very long time, it feels like, I have scored another goal with Hernandez worth posting. I could put together an impressive highlights reel of goals scored by this player alone.

This match was against Manchester United, at home. I took the lead with this goal but the opposition were just too strong. They stormed back to beat me 3-1. This goal beat De Gea but nothing else did.

FIFA20 in general gameplay terms is still, incredibly, holding steady at a constant 9/10 per session. It really is a phenomenon.

Granted I’m on the PC platform with plenty of lovely mods, so it’s not quite the same game as the out of the box version. But having played quite a bit of vanilla whilst waiting for mod updates at various times, it’s not so different that it’s completely different, if you know what I mean. In short: it’s good in its own right.

Deulofeu is continuing to be a great goal-scroer. None of his goals are special in and of  themselves but his goal-scoring is absolutely vital. Up to 9 goals in 13 games now, which is a rate of return that almost certainly guarantees no relegation battle for me this season. I’m still hovering mid-table.

A little moan about FIFA20 right now would have to be about its most transparent method of scoreline management: hitting the post or bar. Woodwork is hit noticeably more often than you would reasonably expect.

Every football gamer is familiar with matches where you know pretty much straightaway that you’re not going to be allowed to score, or win.

In one match that I already felt instinctively I wasn’t going to be allowed to score a goal in, I hit the right post, the left post, and the bar at different points of the match. And finished without scoring at all. Two of those chances were certain goals, they had seemed.

If this kind of occurrence was a rarity then it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. hat’s football, etc. But FIFA20 does it too regularly for it to be anything other than this game’s method of scoreline management, i.e. preventing the human player from scoring too many or winning too many at different times, based on their overall status and progress in the game.

Every football game does this. And it has to do this – if I was the designer, I would do the same.

‘OK, people, if the player starts scoring more than a certain average, then we need to give him a game or two where he can’t score much, or at all. Can’t have anyone romping to the title in their first season after promotion. Come up with an algorithm that determines it relative to team strength, have him hit the post or bar or just miss completely, and put it in there.’

They had a conversation like that at EA and at Konami probably more than 20 years ago. We’ve experienced iterations on that algorithm in every single game since.

No escape from reality

It was 100% the right choice to go back to where I started with FIFA20, and resume my Leeds Utd save in the Premier League. Playing a football game career long-term means putting down roots. I did that with Leeds and it was foolish of me to think I could walk away.

The three players on show above are three players with whom I had laid down roots for different reasons. Phillips is my CDM, a true rock, with a great shot on him. Colombo is a Youth promotee whom I am nurturing into the big time. Shackleton is a young midfielder with a touch of Rice about him – yes, I do mean Rice of Master League fame. The PES reference points are still very much alive with me, even if the game/mode isn’t.

My Castledine equivalent would be Hernandez, who is 34 and going to decline and/or retire quite soon. I could meddle in the PC editor and knock 10 years off his age, but I am playing this mode and this career ‘straight’. No messing with world parameters any more than I already have done with the Realism Mod.

Season 2 in total, and I am now heading firmly for mid-season.

All told I have probably played a full 2 seasons’ worth of matches, as I spent lots of time replaying the same sequence of matches at the start of this season in an effort to test out the PC mods I’m using and attempt to acclimatise to Tactical Defending. I have not so far attempted Tactical Defending again. I’m happy with Legacy Defending for now.

I bought one big new player at the tail-end of the August window. I shopped for a big new striker who would get the bread and butter goals, the tap-ins, the scrambled headers and the like. They’re the bricks and mortar (as well as the bread and butter) of any league campaign.

Step forward Deulofeu, whom Watford were willing to let go for £35m, a bargain at today’s inflated market prices, especially to a divisional rival currently on the same level as them. I doubt any such move would have been allowed in our so-called ‘real life’ (which has really jumped the shark lately). But this is why fantasy is so much better than reality.

Anyway, Deulofeu was quiet for a few matches, and I thought, uh-oh. ‘What a waste of money’ and so on.

Then he sparked into life, and started bagging all the Micky Quinn-style chances he was specifically brought in to score. Which helped propel us from bottom of the table to mid-table. Here’s a couple of those ‘ordinary goals’ that I posted in comments over the weekend:

And there’s more where they came from, as we shall see.

I concede far too many goals for me to make any meaningful progress in the league, as the table above shows.

I win a match or two and then get thumped. In FIFA20 it can feel that if you go a goal down you’re battling against a too-strong headwind and there’s no chance to come back.

I have come back once or twice from a goal down – as seen at the end of today’s ‘Miscellaneous Moments’ clip video.

We start with me attempting yet again to score a volley from a corner. One day…

There is also an amazing miss by the usually-clinical AI in the guise of Burnley. And then I punish that miss by scoring two late, late goals (Deulofeu and Barbosa) to take the win.

Proper Chopper Harris Stuff

In the end, my roots were sunk too deep. No matter what the bright lights had for me, my heart belonged elsewhere. And so it is with a heavy heart that I shut up shop for the foreseeable future and…

Yes, I am back on my Leeds Utd save – in Career Mode on FIFA20.

What, you didn’t think I’d unexpectedly slunk back to PES, did you?

When have I ever done that before?

Career Mode in FIFA20 is here to stay. I will see Leeds United through to domestic and European glory before I look at anything else now.

What clinched this decision? This moment clinched this decision – my very first match back in the save:

Yes, I know there’s a lot of space for Bessa to run into there. But I am still playing ‘only’ on Professional (modded to the gills, but still Professional).

It’s very tough in some aspects, admirably so, but it still affords a lot more space and time than you would get on higher levels, and more power to it for that.

We need this kind of trade-off in football games between skill levels and letting the human player have moments like that.

I’m one of a dwindling minority of football gamers who still loves to take potshots from all ranges. The goals from that range tend to just not be allowed anymore and so we’re getting out of the habit.

Another element of the mods I’m using: fouls. The AI aggressiveness, and the referees’ willingness to blow the whistle, has in theory been tweaked. How effective is it for me?

Early results are good, but I am always wary of feeling confident that the ‘fouls issue’ might be a thing of the past, or at least a bearable thing.

See the full match below for good evidence of this, versus a really aggressive Fulham side that conceded a few free kicks the like of which I don’t recall seeing before. Proper Chopper Harris stuff.

The moment I started up the save again I knew I was back where I belonged. I’d already made such connnections with the players.

Here is the full match. Worth watching to see the goal in its original context. A football match is like a novel or a movie, with opening acts, ebbs and flows, heroes and villains, and sudden unexpected moments of epic drama and chaos. At the time of writing it could be many months before we ever see a professional match staged in real life again. The world we have lost.

Staying in is the new staying in

Everybody who thought back in mid-January that me playing FIFA was a harbinger of dire events — step forward. I have medals for you.

So a new week and with it a new reality. No, I’m not talking about the Introduction phase of lockdown. (Hope you’ve all got printers at home for the public permits you’ll need by this time next week.)

I’m talking about FIFER 2.1 and the return of the modded Broadcast camera.

All on PC of course — which, as we discovered last week, also boasts a pretty-decent-actually standard of vanilla gameplay.

But modded is better.

The new modded version of FIFA20 on PC, itself recently updated by EA in various wholesome ways, feels just as good as it did when I first fell for the game a few long months ago.

Players have true weight and solidity — vanilla just seems to lack that a bit, for me. Passing is a joy, because you can’t get away with gamey-style no-look reverse passes, or only rarely. What did we always used to say of PES vs FIFA? That the former was a proper football game because it represented and respected player stats. FIFA has overtaken it now.

Two caveats go along with the joy.

Long-rangers seem to have dried up. I have not got a proper one since the early weeks with my Leeds save (which I still have and will drop in on out of curiosity soon). This could be because I am playing with lower-rated players in a lower league. One of the ways a football game can represent lower skills is by a vastly reduced likelihood of scoring from range. It is the most likely answer, if not a strictly realistic one — because in a compendium of TV highlights (oh, the days…) from all the lower leagues, you would see long-ranger goals scored every week, probably more than in the higher leagues thanks to poorer defences and goalkeepers.

The other caveat is of course the lack of fouls, which continues to, uh, plague me (excuse my language). In my first post-Restoration-Of-Mods session, I played about 8 matches, across a few modes (had a few Champions League mode warmups). I had my standard 0.5 fouls per match, for both teams. As ever in modern football games, it’s not only rare to be fouled, you really have to try hard to give one away yourself. We all know this is a deliberate choice by the developers of all football games over the past decade of games. We all know exactly why they’ve done it. We would all do exactly the same if it was our job to sell as much product as possible. So there’s no point flogging this dead horse.

Suffice to say on both caveat-ed fronts — fouls and long-rangers — that the PC platform equips the player with a suite of tools that should, in combination or alone, be able to mitigate or solve them.

And I keep meaning to get around to those tools myself, but I keep just wanting to play the great modded game I have with the time I have available.

Like many others I will have an increased amount of time on my hands for the foreseeable future, until our sci-fi-style emergency is declared over, or at least eased. (Which won’t be simply 3 weeks away. I’d pick June before the streets are open again if I was a betting man, which in fact I am, so June it is. Let’s look back on this post then.)

Back with my Cambridge United in their vastly superior made-up world, and for every step forward I also seem to take a step back. The current table:

I’m happy with my goal-scoring suddenly. I won my first two games of the new session 4-0 and 3-0, which at first made me concerned that Professional had been nerfed, somehow. But then normal service was resumed with a frustrating 3-2 defeat away to Salford, in a game where I was 2-1 up until the last 10 minutes. I got complacent and tried to play keepball and semi-showboat to the final whistle, and conceded two terrible goals. A lesson to be learned and relearned again and again.

To end with, another little highlight reel of goals, with a curious moment or two, and a couple of amusing sightings of what the Broadcast camera mod can do to the pre-match mini-games. I like the far-away view that the mod can provide as well as the low-down pitchside view, so I swap between them as I feel like it. With interesting results sometimes…