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Archive for July, 2010

Cause and Effect (“All hands, abandon ship!”)

July 23rd, 2010 No comments

FIFA Soccer 09 includes play-by-play by Clive Tyldesley and commentary by Andy Gray. Where’s John Motson? Anyway, I dunno about the other versions, but on the PSP, this game’s commentary has a ridiculous glitch where after a whistle for an offside, save, or what not, Andy Gray, thinking he saw one player bumrush another, claims that someone’s been hurt and needs to be wobbled away on a stretcher. Not only that, but he has been recorded crying the same conspiracy theory in every imaginable way:

"Well I think he may have to come off. It was a brilliant slide tackle, but I think he's injured himself."Was there even a slide tackle, let alone a brilliant one? Two players bumped into each other, and neither is rolling around with his hand in the air, looking in the ref's direction with the one open eye.
"Well, it was a great tackle; you have to admire that. But, he may have to come off -- I think he's injured himself.Well, that's an interesting observation. But, you just rearranged the clauses and downgraded "brilliant" to "great." I think I'm going to sidegrade the quality of that one from "dubious" to "repetitive."
"He may have to come off. He never held back with that slide tackle. But he's come off second best."Wait. What exactly are you saying? The guy who didn't hold back on the slide tackle is hurt?
"That was a great slide tackle. You have to admire that, but he may have to come off. He may have injured himself."Hold on. The player who's hurt is the one who didn't hold back on that slide tackle? What are you saying exactly?
"Well he didn't hold anything back with that slide tackle, but I think he's hurt himself."You sure are holding everything back on the variety. By chance are you burstin' for a pee, and need to quickly mail this one in?
"Well that was a brilliant slide tackle, but I think he's come off limping. Let's see if he can go on."OK. You're starting to sound like a crazy. Let's see for how much longer you can go on before you crap yourself and start drawing pentagrams on the wall with a chunk of your own stool.
"Well it was a lovely slide tackle, but I think he's come off limping. It'll be interesting to see of he can go on."Well blabbety blabbety slide tackle... this commentary is limping. It'll be interesting if it goes on in FIFA 10.
"That was a thunderous slide tackle, but I think he's injured himself in the process."I think you've injured your brain in the process.

As you approach the end of a game and hear one of these gems for the sixteenth time, you just want to punch someone in the mouth: Andy Gray, yourself, the testers who thought this was OK, the QA manager who doesn’t listen to testers, Billy Mitchell, Tyldesley — just ’cause he’s in the same room as Andy, the guy at EB Games who always asks me if I want the used version of the game I’m buying…

What’s that? Don’t shoot the messenger? Well it’s too bad I’m not playing the PS3 version. I could then download one of the non-English-language commentary packs, and while still getting some sense of atmosphere from the general tone of the play-by-play, hopefully not realize István B. Hajú or Evert Ten Napel are reading the same stupid lines over and over. Not exactly intended use, but it can serve a good purpose.

Goed was dat een briljante diauitrusting, maar ik denk hij limping. Zie of kan hij gaan!

Gee. Thanks a lot, Babel Fish.

Welcome Back. But Not Really.

July 15th, 2010 No comments

Due to a recent bout of World Cup fever, I picked up myself a copy of FIFA Soccer 09 for my PSP. It had been a long time since I last spent any meaningful amount of time with a footie game. It goes something like this:

Five Aside Soccer (Commodore 64) – I’m actually not 100% sure whether this was the title, but that’s the name that came to mind. Whichever it was, all I really remember is just before opening kick-off, a digitized rendition of guys singing the “here we go; here we go; here we go…” song would play, which actually sounded more like “herrgghheeegooossshh herrgghheeegooossshh herrgghheeegooossshh sshhhh shhtt…”

FIFA International Soccer a.k.a. FIFA ’94 (DOS) – EA’s first soccer game. This one was so cute, you wouldn’t think it was the beginning of a menacing cash-cow franchise. Funnily enough, it was a bout of World Cup fever in 1994 that prompted me to hit the shops.

FIFA Soccer 96 (DOS) – Real player names, clubs, and leagues. Multiple camera angles in 3D stadiums. Lots of player animations (including limping!). This was head and shoulders above FIFA ’94.

International Superstar Soccer ’98 (Nintendo 64) – Allegedly the best at the time. I really loved this one, although I didn’t have the manual, so I couldn’t figure out what I should do about those animated smiley faces beside each player name.

FIFA 99 (Nintendo 64) – Yawn.

FIFA Soccer 09 (PSP) – I’m back in the club! All it took was last year’s edition, a bargain bin, and a $9.99 price sticker. ‘Nuff said.

Note that big fat ten-year gap. Given the yearly releases (even with incremental improvements), and an apparent re-invention to stack up more favourably to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, after a decade away I assumed I was going to be overwhelmed with the flurry of change and heaped-on complexity. I’d be just like good ol’ Brooks Hatlen in Shawshank Redemption. Minus the hanging myself part.

Odo admires FIFA 09's workmanship.
The allusions to Odo from Deep Space Nine are fitting: he tried to resemble the real thing, but couldn’t get it quite right. Just like this game.

I can’t say my prediction was wrong. Before (feigned) mastery comes learning, and I found there was plenty to learn (the perfect example being all the set-piece options, including some eight distinct actions for a free kick). And after a series of miserable attempts at scoring a goal, defending a lead, winning a freakin’ match… I’m now in the midst of a semi-respectable season with Chelsea in the Premiere League. It still has taken a while, and has been frustrating at times. But I know that given the extensive control set, time is all it takes to imprint many a button sequence to memory.

But you know, it sure would help if the manual were better. With its paltry 14 pages, about half of which consists of obligatory legal and introductory material, it doesn’t amount to much. Never mind not having proper explanations for the very cool Be A Pro mode, or information on setting up tournaments (I’m assuming I’m not permitted to set up a 32-team tournament with national squads because I’m supposed to buy 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa); when it comes to controls, a list of supposedly every control in the game is spat out over a few pages.

What’s irritating is realizing the manual only explains the core aspects of these controls. For example, it tells you which buttons to press on a free kick, but fails to tell you that pushing up on the stick applies top-spin to the ball. It explains how to have your keeper throw the ball, but not how to fake one. It explains that holding the shoot button “increases power”, but fails to specify that “power” actually means lift, not force. I’m of the opinion that mastering the subtleties of control, not learning what the controls are, is what should be putting demands on one’s time. (It makes the payoff sweeter.) And that leads to another beef: the absence of a training mode. Want to try out chip shots? Any of the four types of corner-kick shots? Dribble tricks? Tough shit. None are available to me outside of a game situation.

Before someone dials me a waaambulance, I’m pretty sure my reactions are similar to but a tiny subset of FIFA players. I’m betting the majority are those who have religiously played past iterations, and start each new title already equipped with the muscle memory and knowledge about the game’s feature set to hit the ground running. Considering this, it can’t be easy for a developer to have a hit franchise on its hands. In a world of sequels, how much does your next installment cater to the expertise of the existing, loyal playerbase that made the title a success, and how much attempts to broaden the audience and win over new potential devotees? EA Sports is the poster child for this cyclic dilemna.

Perhaps I should make the most of my slow start with FIFA Soccer 09, and treat it as a rock-solid foundation on which I can build a renewed relationship with the EA Sports soccer franchise, one that has me plying my ever-expanding skill-set on each subsequent offering!

OR, I could join a local rec league, and go outside in the fresh air, and play the real thing.