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New Years Evolutions

A little look back to help look forward.

PES2012 is quite possibly bipolar. Konami’s latest is a game which can inspire elation and frustration in equal measure yet has a nasty habit of the player seldom experiencing both emotions in one individual match – let alone one sitting – as your understanding evolves (pun intended) over time. In one match it can all click into place; not only for the player and their input, but how the AI responds too and it can result in an admittedly technically lacking but very pure –though far from perfect – football experience. The next match it can – and often does – seem to fall apart entirely and feed back to the user something that is miles away from that purity experienced a mere 10mins prior.

‘’That is football’’ many will say and yes, football , specifically a videogame simulation of football, should try to present the ugliness – the war of attrition that is so often apparent – in the sport and it is something that contributes to the overall beauty of the sport we all love, albeit in a somewhat perverse fashion. PES2012 can realise this ‘’ugly beauty’’ make no mistake, yet it is found more often than not in those matches when the game fully clicks into gear as mentioned previously. It is a vital ingredient in inspiring the much required sense of involvement which in itself is key to enjoyment of any videogame in any genre. It would therefore appear the problem PES2012 is unfortunately one of stability – one of balance – and it permeates throughout the entire game, lurching from the near (but not quite) perfect to the ridiculous from match to match.

Football is a sport in which random factor plays a huge part but the basic rules and regulations remain consistent from game to game, refereeing decisions apart of course. It begs the question : what are the rules and regulations in football videogame terms and by extension who acts as referee? Also, who takes responsibility for the random factor which needs to be present in order for that immersion to manifest? This will all read as WENB thinking out loud and yep, even walking the fine line between bleedingly obvious game design theory and outright pretentiousness, but let us try and answer these questions; see if we can make some sense of it for your consideration. As always, your feedback is encouraged.

The Rules and Regulations

Football has its own set of rules and regulations that are needed in order to ensure – or at least try to ensure – balance and consistency in professional competition. It goes without saying that a football videogame needs these same laws of the game to be present in order to realise any simulation aspirations at a base level. With that in mind, a football videogame therefore requires its own set of ‘’laws’’ that will help achieve a balance and consistency in experience. This would perhaps fall on the technical assets to supply them, and I don’t think it would be too assumptive for us to say that PES’ fans (and non-fans) are in agreement that Konami have not equipped their game with technology that is either ambitious or completely stable.

For all that the great FIFA v. PES debate offers up many a polarising view on each games merit as a true simulation of the sport, you would be hard pushed to find many who believe EA have not blessed their franchise with great technical assets. Sure, you will find opinion out there that questions the realism (exuberant tricks/ebb and flow/variance in play) or quality of execution in some areas (the impact engine comes immediately to mind here) but it is near impossible to argue that so far as pure look in player movement and for the most part player interaction and physics go, FIFA looks like football. Consistently. Whether it plays like football is for another discussion.

PES2012 can look like football as well (not as good as EA make it look of course) but it is more oft than not dictated by certain criteria being met to make it so. Such things as camera angle, stadium selection and even lighting condition impacting on proceedings more than they should. Since football videogames have introduced such variables as stadium, lighting conditions and even the shade of the grass users will always have their favourites and of course, some environments prove to be prettier than others. Even in those tattie* field like surfaces that looked as though they were ploughed by a farmer eating too many of his own funny mushrooms that were found in some arenas in the PS2 days of PES, you never felt like the game wasn’t moving like it should or that control/response or physics felt a little off. This happens in PES on current-gen and, along with the already limited tech., makes the user experience all the more inconsistent and genuinely off-putting. PES needs this righted moving forward – it needs it’s technical and visual assets to act like the ‘’laws’’ of the real sport and provide as consistent an experience as possible.

The good news here? Well, the murmurings are that Konami are on the same page with users and are pro-actively looking to meet the demands of the fanbase. These murmurings are not coming exclusively from within the community either and well informed sources are hinting that “a nice shock might await”.

The Referee

Okay, hear us out on this one. The referee in the sport is tasked with controlling the match and ensuring the rules and regulations are applied and adhered to. PES, naturally, has it’s officials in place in order to tick a simulation box and are equipped with their own AI that is instructed to apply the laws of the game, for better or worse. In football video game terms however, would it be completely ridiculous to assert that the user is the referee? After all, they are the ones who are in effect ‘controlling’ proceedings and like the referee uses the set laws of the game to help them do this, the player has his own rule-set at his disposal – the controller and the executable actions available to them….and switching the game off being the equivalent of a ref sending a player off!

Naturally, with the referee being only human they can get it wrong or uncertainty can creep in to their decision making in spite of them having their own instructions, or ‘controls’, available to them. Sounds a little familiar to us PES players, no? Like the real sports referees, errors in judgment or decision by the user in PES are or should be forgivable…in some cases. Picking the wrong pass, misjudging the right pass, using a lofted pass when one across the deck would have been better, shooting with a players weaker foot, ballooning a strike at goal – these are acceptable errors that should be present in any football game. What unfortunately is also comparable in PES to referees/officialdom in the real sport is the ambiguity, lack definition and interpretation of some of the ‘’laws’’; the controls to be exact. In PES2012 the weird logic and confusion surrounding some of the control and instruction requires streamlining as well as better explanation. You know where we are going here – both passing and shooting need looking at moving forward.

Passing has improved from how it was initially since patching and is much closer to how it operated in the preview code we had the privilege of experiencing in August last year. However, the strange decision to have a five-tiered assistance setting remains and it not only causes some of the more OCD players among us to tear our hair out in frustration trying to find the best setting as we jump between the variables on offer, it lacks any real definition or explanation as to what actually changes. That and the fact the passing game can be pretty damn inconsistent makes it somewhat of a war of attrition, for all the wrong reasons. Looking ahead, it seems to be the general consensus amongst the community that the developers would do well to streamline the settings so as the default is PES2011-like in its freedom, while still making player individuality key, with the other option being full manual which of course would still have player individuality impacting on execution in some way. When the passing game is good, it is very good in PES2012 and the progress made in off-the-ball movement – both AI controlled and team mate controls – should be held up as a large step forward if not quite entirely perfected.

Shooting is where the next game – or indeed, hopefully a new patch for PES2012 – should see some focus. Let’s be honest, in PES2012 it just ain’t right at all, with placement being the biggest bug-bear for all. There is nothing wrong with the theory of having player individuality, preferred foot and alike impacting on results but users need a model which offers more in the way of placement. Players wouldn’t have an issue with ballooned or wildly inaccurate efforts on goal if they have a sensation of control over it all. It’s a shame as a great deal of what happens in the build up to a strike on goal can be very satisfying.

To summarise, if indeed the user is like the ref, then give them clearly defined laws and instructions to work with – shorn of ambiguity – that allow them to control the game for the better.

The Random Factor

This aspect of the real sport is apparent to a reasonably good degree in PES2012 and no, we wouldn’t say entirely in a negative sense. It is safe to say the development team reigned in some of the unwelcome random elements that were apparent in current-gen PES up until now. Again, they haven’t eradicated all that is unwelcome regards random elements (as the previous segment touches upon) but progress has certainly been made.

When looking at the real sport, the random factor is what keeps us interested and while the sport does carry some level of predictability when looking at results and title winners, out on the field the second by second predictable… erm… unpredictability of how play can develop is still very apparent. It’s just the chaos of nature, man!

For a football videogame, PES specifically, to look to realize yet more of the welcome random elements it requires that balance of ambitious technical assets to work in tandem with intuitive control and excellent AI. Let us not forget the importance of player individuality too in the mix – a vital ingredient in not only allowing for more random and organic play to occur but one which is key to making a great PES game, period.

The overall theory of prioritizing advancement in AI by the WEP team will go some way to producing a more organic experience for the user in PES but the general opinion is that the AI can in fact prevent PES2012 from producing a match experience that ebbs and flows with a wide variance in patterns of play. The reasoning offered by the community is that the COM AI is too efficient at shutting up shop and executing its defensive duties near flawlessly that it gives the impression of the code by-passing or overriding player/team individuality in favour of tactical solidity. While not being as clear cut as that, the more you play, the more there appears to be some sort of AI override in place. Such tactical awareness and efficiency by the COM AI should not be entirely discounted as being a negative. The challenge it presents is more than welcome but it lacks context due to the stamina model not being what it should be and the aforementioned sense of player/team individuality being compromised resulting in AI teams being near telepathic in their play as a defensive unit that it would make the likes of Arrigo Sacchi proud. It can heavily impact upon final third play as well, with it sometimes feeling as though you are being rail-roaded to play a certain way to succeed. PES shouldn’t be about that unless the situation/context demands it. It shouldn’t define the experience.

At the other end of the pitch we have the AI scripting. This is a thorny issue as there is a case for the defence of such scripting needing to be in place in order to mirror the reality, the random element present in the sport. The irony. The opinion held by some at WENB is that COM AI ‘’god-mode’’ can be neutered to some degree by playing somewhat agriculturally when defending. This in itself is realistic as it is a requirement of just about any team in real life at some point – the need to defend ugly – though it can be counter intuitive as to what gamers are used to – the ability to out game the game. That said, the coding seems to be such that it can interfere with the users choice to play in such a fashion anyway, with many a user having tales of players inexplicably buggering up a simple clearance as the code cruelly initiates ‘’late drama’’ mode.

Is there a way to eradicate scripting from a football game entirely which doesn’t compromise on the immersion and sense of drama? EA claim their game is completely unscripted and it could very well be but what has happened there is heightened COM AI response, which impacts heavily on gameplay balance itself.

PES2012 : Some Perspective

For as much as a lot of the above reads as a complete deconstruction of PES2012, it is important to offer some perspective here. The simple fact is many within the community – this includes some very outspoken folks in our own community as well as others – have racked up hundreds of games each on PES2012, this WENB contributor can be included. Playing any football game hundreds of times would suggest it is doing something right to keep us coming back for more. It should also be said that this does not mean those players are blind to the fact the game has its flaws and plenty of them in actual fact. Some of the best (and in some cases most scathing) feedback comes from these players and while we can’t speak for others, putting in that much time with a game surely isn’t down to blind loyalty, a desire to punish one’s self or stubbornly refusing to ”move with the times” . Maybe it is just a balanced approach to what the game does (and doesn’t) offer.

2012 promises to be a big year for PES and that includes the immediate future. The J – League DLC for Japanese users has been announced which although not looking likely to surface for fans across the rest of the globe, could point to how the game could be supported in a variety of ways in future releases. It will be interesting to see what in fact the J – League content will add to the gameplay, if anything at all. It certainly has many curious and should it prove that this new content adds to the gameplay in any fashion it could see a spike in imports of Winning Eleven 2012. Needless to say that WENB will be sure to provide content and comment on this and other developments as we progress throughout the year. It just remains for us to say…

Happy New Year! And be sure to share your thoughts below or in the forums.

*Potato

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