MAGFest 11: Arcade game assessment

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Space Invaders

Space Encounters

Space Encounters


Classic, of course. Perfectly calibrated. You wonder, should I eliminate the enemies row by row? Clearly I should, because that gives me more time long-term. Or should I go column by column? After I shoot one guy, it’s easiest to shoot the guy right behind him, so this makes sense practically if not in an ideal world. Which of these is best if we are concerned about minimizing the amount of damage to our shields? We need our shields. Like Centipede, this combines mutually unmaximizable objectives with a milieu that rewards patience rather than frantic reflexes.

Space Encounters
Like its near-namesake, there’s a colored overlay on the screen which helps define the zones of the game. But the important part of this game is the controller. It’s fantastic! You actually lean forward to push your ship forward, and pull back to pull it back. It’s also a steering wheel and of course you shoot with it. The controller is so heavy, requiring physical effort to manipulate, that it gives a better feeling of being within the space of the game than any other game I’ve played. And the other interesting feature is the lack of enemies. There really aren’t many things to shoot. Which is good because to shoot them you have to get really close, or at least I did since there seems to be no way to aim. The haptic controller and realistic-in-a-way randomness make this a unique experience.

Bosconian
This is a space shooter with a huge map. Your ship stays in the same place, and the background scrolls behind you. This was revolutionary at the time – before Sinistar! There’s a mini-map next to the background, telling you where you are, and where the ships you need to blow up are. It’s quite optional whether you blow up the smaller things – they aren’t that much of a risk, though it helps if there’s fewer of them. In addition to the free scrolling and the mini-map, this game pioneered having a computer voice, and pioneered the continue screen! Players must have been infuriated that a continue screen had been possible all these years. But how is the gameplay? Excellent. The ships you need to blow up have one spot in the middle you need to hit. If you approach from the right angle you can destroy the ship right away – otherwise its 8 projectiles (which you can also destroy, rendering it helpless, if you want to do things gradually) shoot at you. Some need to be approached from above/below, and some from left/right.

Centipede
Exceeded my high expectations. You’ve got the ordinary mushrooms you have to destroy. Then more appear from the fragments of any unkilled centipedes. Then more are dropped by these snake guys that go sideways, and by these other guys that just fall accompanied by a loud BLOOP. With the interplay of these various sources of trouble you need to be reactive, while still focusing on eliminating the mushrooms at the bottom of the screen first. Then in carrying OUT this challenging combination of tasks, you use a trackball and a fire button. You generally move left to right only, which seems odd for a trackball, but it’s great because you can fine-tune your speed to catch up with or overtake your foes. And whacking the ball to go as fast as possible, unlike in most games where it’s a sign of desperation or a cocky flourish, is actually a strategy when you want to overtake the centipede before it makes a U-turn. Finally, the ball’s 3D capabilities soon become essential, when the creatures reach the bottom of the screen and you need to shift paradigms and go above them. A real game of skill.

Donkey Kong
Frankly it is amazing that this is where the empire started. The enemies move slowly. Mario moves slower. The enemies follow rules that are frustratingly unclear. It’s unclear whether it’s safe or deadly to be in a certain pixel. There are no surprises except death. The action once you reach the top of the screen is a little different from the action you take to get there, but not different enough. Even among single-screen platformers, which I never spend much time on, this is lacking.

Donkey Kong 3: Where Donkey Kong becomes King Hippo

Donkey Kong 3: Where Donkey Kong becomes King Hippo

Donkey Kong Jr.
An improvement over the original. I like how you climb slowly on one vine, but if you grab two vines you climb quickly. That adds a little complexity. The enemies don’t follow clear rules again, which is now more “caution-inducing” than “maddening” despite increased speed and difficulty. And right off the bat, Mario has gone from good guy to bad guy! Maybe there’s a reveal at the end showing Mario was framed or impersonated, as has become so popular in later decades of the franchise?

Donkey Kong 3
Where’s Mario? Instead, there’s some Fix-It Felix looking guy. Where’s Donkey Kong? He’s just sitting there taunting me. This isn’t a platformer? I just shoot these bugs? Wasn’t this a Game & Watch game? It was! I call shenanigans on Donkey Kong 3 and deny its existence.  The progression of the franchise has a lacuna here.

Gorf
A “best of” of various shooters. Slick and enjoyable. If it was less predictable or had any mash-up qualities this would be a great one to own at home.

Joust
I played this for a while without reading the instructions. All I perceived was a NICE use of inertia. Inertia is satisfying. Upon finally learning the rules it became an exhilarating experience, somehow enhanced by my inability to figure out why I was sometimes zooming super-speedily [horizontally speaking] and sometimes couldn’t build up the slightest head of steam. The basic premise is you crash into the enemies and whoever is higher, vertically speaking, wins, that being the rule of the lance. An epiphany hit after a while: This is almost the same as the paradigm of “jump on your enemies, otherwise any contact with them is fatal.” Nice new perspective. I just wish the look of the enemies or other graphics would change between levels. Maybe it does after a while.

Berzerk

Here’s something I could play for hours. Why aren’t there more classic games where you walk from room to room? The Guardian Legend‘s indoor segments owe a debt to Berzerk. The “walk from room to room” function allows you to ease into difficulty levels. If there are too many robots to shoot, you can bail out, leave the room and come back. If the bouncy smiley face pens you in, run away and leave the room and come back. You can play this game evasively And the robots talk! And they make fun of you! The only problem is, you can’t touch the walls. I think it would be just as hard to shoot the robots if you COULD touch the walls, so dying as a result of wall contact is a constant source of frustration. The robots are challenging enough despite their slow pace. No need for even slower, even deadlier enemies in the form of load-bearing constructional elements.

Berzerk: "Intruder Alert. Stop the Humanoid"

Berzerk: “Intruder Alert. Stop the Humanoid”

Excitebike
This is the one game that let me get a high score. So right off the bat, it’s recommended. That being said, it would be nice if the stages were somewhat randomized. In theory. It would be nice for me if the game were EXACTLY LIKE IT IS because this is the game I have mastered, relatively speaking. This game was lodged in a Mario Bros. cabinet so I don’t know what the instructions look like, but it’s probably hard to explain what the buttons do. You can push one button to accelerate, but don’t push it for too long or you overheat. You can push the other button to maintain speed, or to accelerate but less effectively but with no risk of overheation. Also, on my 298749823948th play, my little bikey fella suddenly turned yellow and black, and the rules regarding overheating SIMPLY DID NOT APPLY. That was awesome. According to a YouTube comment and no other sources, this happens if you unbrokenly wreck five other guys without wrecking yourself. I couldn’t do it again, but it was awesome. All this game needs is well-known Nintendo characters to be the racers. I would have played 23974239842398742 times instead of merely 298749823948 if I could race as Kirby or A Boy’s Blob or Alex from River City Ransom. Has any chapter of the Mario Party saga EVER included an Excitebike level?

Marble Madness
One of my favorite NES games so I can’t quite judge this one except to say the joystick makes a lot more sense than the D-pad for a diagonally oriented game. Much like Excitebike, the gameplay is a few discrete stages and it would be nice if you could start at a later stage instead of wasting time in lower stages again and again. And this is such a good idea for a game that it’s a missed opportunity. Make longer stages. Randomize the geography a bit (for NES at least). Why not have 3-minute-long stages? You get more margin for error and more gameplay.

R-Type
This game is super hard and the enemies are grotesque and off-putting. Nonetheless, I like the unified color scheme, and the game advances slow enough that you can memorize what to do pretty well.

Zaxxon: Maybe the 8-way joystick that comes with the handheld game works better.

Zaxxon: Maybe the 8-way joystick that comes with the handheld version works better.

Zaxxon
Kind of like R-Type in that you advance slowly and need to memorize what to do. This one has an even steeper learning curve because of its use of 3D space (traversed diagonally) combined with a controller that doesn’t move diagonally. You move it one way for horizontal, another way for vertical [northwest/southeast[, as you advance toward the northeast. It’s quite hard to know where you are vis-a-vis the other things on the screen (missiles mostly). But it looks great, with walls and fences and buildings that almost compare to the original SimCity. I would have hated this one if I had to pay a quarter per turn.

Robotron 2084
Man, does THIS one look lovely. For a game where each level is a single room it is so nice. So many colors. Each robot enemy is multi-hued. The game has another punishing learning curve and I would detest it if I was paying per death. But it seems like I should be able to figure it out, since you can run in one direction but shoot in another. Two joysticks! The first two levels are simple, and the third lets you get situated, and it’s such a relief to see those brighter-than-bright colors that you don’t need to spend much time in it. On a darker note, there are so many enemies that it sticks with you. It’s a tough world, especially when humans have been enslaved by robots. And in terms of basic logistics, having played Berzerk for so long before this one, it was hard not to wish I could back out of a room and reenter when the robots were proliferating uncontrollably.

So many robots

So many robots

Mappy
This is a platformer that is easier to figure out than Donkey Kong and less frustrating because it scrolls a bit. The artwork is pretty bad, but I like the door-based combat, and far prefer trampolines to ladders when it comes to inter-platform travel. The doors look pretty terrible, though. In terms of graphics this is the cartoon mouse game equivalent of The Langoliers. If made one year later it would just look like it was done on a budget instead of looking eye-bleedingly cheap.

Asteroids
Total classic. And it’s all about inertia. Your ship has inertia, and so do your enemies. So you can tell what they’re going to do, you can tell they aren’t going to suddenly switch directions unfairly, the whole thing is perfectly calibrated. The button you just pushed combines with your existing trajectory to make smooth curves. Another good thing about the inertia is you don’t necessarily have to shoot in the same direction you’re moving. It would take a while for this to get old.

Defender
For a game generally recognized as the first side-scroller, it’s impressive that it already contains the “rescue your allies” motif as well as the shooting motif, and it’s even more impressive that the rescuing mechanism works and is often more fun than shooting at enemies. Who are these enemies anyway? I have to avoid the terrain, I have to rescue people, violence is a low priority.

Eyes: Look, they're eyes

Eyes: Look, they’re eyes

Nibbler
This is just a version of Snake / Rattler Race. Being limited to the Pac-Man style map is not ideal for this kind of game, and the cabinet had a joystick that couldn’t make two turns in quick succession.

Eyes
Another weird game in Pac-Man maps, this one hit a chord with me. Imagine Pac-Man as a shooter. Yep. You have to shoot the pellets to accumulate them – running over them has no effect. You can run right through the enemies, because what matters is whether you shoot them or they shoot you. [Although by the time you run through one, he’s probably had enough time to shoot you.] The requirement to shoot the dots, and the fact that you can’t shoot THROUGH the dots but your enemies can, makes it challenging despite the enemies’ slow pace. As for why it’s called Eyes, you control an eye. Your looking part is at the front, and the back is red. Your enemies are alien eyes [yellow, green]. Yes, all the characters are Eyes. This game [like Nibbler] was made by a company called Rock-Ola that didn’t really have any hits. I want a copy.

Arkanoid
I was a fan of Alleyway on the Game Boy, despite the lack of power-ups. I love the circular version called Vortex on the iPod Classic. In the original [so to speak] Arkanoid, there are power-ups, but they barely improve it because they don’t last long. You should be powered up until you slip up and lose a ball — it’s only fair. Also it would be nice if brick color meant something, but all we get is that the gray ones don’t break.

FIFA 11 diary 4: Scotland the bravo

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FA Cup scoring leader Jason Scotland

Disaster! The written record of my FA Cup deeds has been lost. Maybe I could unearth it somewhere in the FIFA interface if I had an HDTV. Short synopsis: After beating Man Utd, Everton lost 3-1 to Wolves even WITH a 4-2-2-2 formation. Kevin Jarvis didn’t get all three goals this time. Ipswich and Cardiff kept dominating with Bellamy and Scotland being easily released by through balls to go one-on-one with the keeper and then pass back to someone else who scores. Eventually Arsenal beat all my teams and triumphed behind Marouane Chamakh, the second best striker in the world behind Eto’o in FIFA 11’s estimation.

St Mirren are plugging along, a solid third in the SPL. Every time I think we need to step up the difficulty, one of the Old Firm takes us down a peg. We do have two of the six double-digit scorers in the SPL (Higdon, Dargo, Kenny Miller, Anthony Stokes, David Goodwillie, and Andrius Velička who in reality scored a whopping 1 goal in his Aberdeen career). Game-by-game SPL results to follow after these isolated observations.

  • How can Hamilton be so terrible, both in reality and in ludic simulacra, when they have the SPL’s fastest player, Marco Paixão?
  • It’s very impressive that they got a clip of Martin Tyler saying at least one player’s name for … every team in the game? Every first-division team and every English team? Either way, it’s more than I expected and it’s especially impressive that, of all the players on K.A.A. Gent, the one name you hear Tyler pronounce is “Ljubijankič”. That’s going above and beyond.

Zlatan Ljubijankič, World Cup hero and scourge of U.S. fortunes, teams up with John Terry for the halftime three-legged race in Port Elizabeth.

  • But it’s odd that for some players the name is only said in a certain situation, which the game tries to identify but sometimes gets wrong. Is Jamie Carragher ALWAYS in with power and purpose? “That’s Lúcio’s tackle” may be the most obvious example. “Feed the Yak and he will score” was a nice surprise since in Everton’s default formation the Yak is absolutely never in a position to score. (No special soundbite for Saha?) When either Finland or Swansea play, Tyler practically harmonizes with himself, he’s saying “Now, Kuqi” so much.
  • Everyone notices the inaccurate comments, like “Great save by the goalkeeper! / Top, top stuff” for the most basic save, but most view it in good humor — particularly people who remember how awful the commentary was five years ago. I only get irritated when the game sends out contradictory assessments. The game’s Mind knows all and sees all within the game, am I right? It knows where every user- and algorithm-generated pixel is, and communicates the result of my actions visually on the screen in real time, auditorily through its twin larynxes Tyler and Gray in real time, and at a slight delay through the actions of the referee. I can understand when they compliment me on a clean tackle that then becomes a red card — that happens in real life. But what’s happening when I steal the ball, the opponent steals it back a second later, and two seconds later I’m complimented on stealing the ball? What kind of irreversible neural network was set into action? How can it possibly be irreversible? And why, when every single offside call is followed by an NFL-style replay using parallel lines to display exactly how far offside the fellow was, do they so often say it was just a hair offside when it was actually five feet, or vice versa? Some reminders of the fallibility of humanity, or the curse of the commentator as robo-Martin Tyler likes to call it, are welcome, but some are clearly forced.
  • There’s more than one team with Polonia Bytom’s sickly red-and-lavender color scheme. SM Caen do it in real life although they don’t look as purply in the game. And then there’s Catania, but they pair the red with more of a Marseillaise brilliant blue.
  • Can it be possible that there are more Irish kids joyful over the new addition of League of Ireland teams to the game than there are Irish kids embarrassed about how horribly every Irish team is rated?
  • ADO Den Haag always put up a good fight, but I always beat them. More satisfying guaranteed victories than those over utter tomato cans like Drogheda United, Bray Wanderers, Bohemians, St Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians, or Strømsgodset.
  • Wikipedia reports of Pascal Bosschaart that “Strangely, he has never scored a goal in his long and relatively successful career.” Well, he scored a goal playing against me in FIFA 11. An own goal.
  • That game (Fluminense – ADO Den Haag) would have looked brilliant in HD.
  • More bad luck with Moroccans, following Zaaboub’s FA Cup snafu. Abdelghani Faouzi of Vitória de Guimarães got knocked out with a broken leg in the first 2 minutes against SM Caen. That was one of three yellow cards Caen accrued within a quarter hour of kickoff. In real life they’ve avoided going one-and-done from Ligue 1 so they must be doing something right.

    Faouzi does look like he might have a delicate bone structure. Definitely a delicate hair structure.

  • I swear it used to be that the green button did the through ball to where a teammate is going to be, and the yellow button did the pass directly to him. Now it’s the opposite.
  • It’s nice how the blue button clearance seems like it’s going in a random direction but it ends up going to a teammate. Whereas the red button clearance actually does go in a random direction, to make up for getting it off quicker.
  • Is it wrong that my main substitution method, presuming no injuries, is to wait until the 65th minute and put in three guys at once? I like to think of it as the ice-hockey style of subbing. “And here’s the second shift.”

Generation V Pokémon, or bisphosphonate drug?

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A Generation I treatment. Notorious for its side effects.

Listed here are ten of the new Generation V Pokémon, and ten commercial names for bisphosphonate drugs [generally prescribed for osteoporosis or related conditions].
Click to see which are which!
  1. Accelgor
  2. Aclasta
  3. Actonel
  4. Aredia
  5. Basculin
  6. Beartic
  7. Bonefos
  8. Boniva
  9. Clasteon
  10. Didronel
  11. Durant
  12. Emolga
  13. Fosamax
  14. Fraxure
  15. Kyurem
  16. Skelid
  17. Solosis
  18. Virizion
  19. Zekrom
  20. Zometa

FIFA 11 diary 3: Drinkbitter and Leadwater

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Console time has been hard to come by lately, with my good lady wife embroiled in AssCreeBro, BioShock 2, and now BioShock DLC: Minerva’s Den. And my console time has been spent mostly on a more multifarious endeavor than the SPL season: a many-pronged assault on the English FA Cup, in the form of an array of teams, good and bad, that all wear blue. Plus a lot of exhibition games practicing skills such as “placed shot” which then atrophy when they turn out to be unnecessary for winning against Semi-Pro competition. [Necessary to get near double figures, perhaps.] Here’s the journey as yet unfinished [in fact I have no idea how many rounds are left].

Take one.

  • Southend 0-0 Charlton
    We may have been outshot 11-3, but we outtackled the ex-Curbishleyites 42-12. Playing as Southend United is not what you’d call exhilarating.
  • Southend 0-1 Charlton

    Wipe that smirk off your face, Zaaboub.

    Shots were equal at 13 this time. I committed a red card in the person of someone named “Zaaboub”, who “struggled for fitness and … had his contract cancelled” after only 3 games with the Shrimpers IRL.

  • Bolton 10-1 Bristol City
    First double-digit scoreline in Semi-Pro. Elmander, Zat Knight and Davies truly are kings among men.
  • Cardiff 0-4 Swansea
    Outshot 17-10 [10-0 in shots on goal]. As it turns out, the game settings switched to Legendary difficulty and 4-minute halves again. Am I pressing some sort of button combo that makes that happen? Let’s just restart the whole thing, because the main reason I chose all these blue teams was to be Cardiff. Bolton aren’t even supposed to be blue, no matter what their away shirts look like. Let’s stop using them for symmetry’s sake.

Take two.

  • Ipswich 0-1 Leicester
    What the hell! After a couple practice exhibitions at the normal, reasonable settings, I start another FA Cup and end up with Legendary and 4 again. And I’d like to say I’m getting better at keeping the score down when there’s no hope of my team scoring, but really it’s just that Márton Fülöp is the best goalie in all of FIFA 11. He was magisterial for these 8 minutes.

Take three.

  • Southend 3-0 Burton Albion
    [Paterson/Corr 21, Mohsni/Spencer 76, Zaaboub/Corr 79]
    Third time’s the charm as we get a fine performance from not just the chastened Zaaboub, but Mohnsi as well. As of this writing, Southend United, the 77th-place team in the English pyramid, have players of six different nationalities. Albeit the Welshman and the Barbadozer were really born in England. Burton Albion, yes, Burton Albion, have a guy who keeps doing stepovers, which I may not have seen in FIFA 11 before.
  • Everton 1-1 Peterborough
    [Osman/Saha 77]
    Great googa mooga, why is it so hard to play as Everton? The answer may be Louis Saha. No matter what the situation is, if he’s the only person attacking, and he has the ball, and it’s him and the goalie, he is not going to score. Even if I try to do “placed shot”, he hits the bar. If I don’t do “placed shot”, he hits it right at the keeper. And no other Evertonian ever follows him into the box. It’s almost as if we should change the formation or something.
  • Southend 0-5 Wolves
    Well, at least we had 50% possession. Track back!
  • Ipswich 3-0 Charlton
    [Townsend/Edwards 10, Edwards/Wickham 45, Wickham/Townsend 51]
    Symmetrical scorers. I’m sick of hearing Andros Townsend’s name already. What kind of name is “Andros”? I assumed Martin Tyler was saying “Ambrose”. And it actually sounded like he was saying “Ambrosch“.
  • Cardiff 3-0 Portsmouth
    [Olofinjana/Chopra 44, Chopra/Bellamy 69, Chopra/Bellamy 70]
    You may be noticing that I don’t score unassisted goals anymore. In fact, if I’m running up to the goalie unmarked, and I don’t have anyone to pass to, I’ve started just passing anyway, and then the other team clears it. That’s how unlikely I am to score one-on-one, no matter who the attacker is. Will have to work on the green button-red button shot fake thing. Or start using the right analog stick.
  • Everton 4-2 Peterborough
    [Arteta/Saha 28, Beckford/Saha 46, Bilyaletdinov/Arteta 52, Baines/Beckford 74]
    That Baines goal was a beauty, from a corner and several passes. May not have scored from outside the penalty area in Semi-Pro before. And guess what … I changed the formation. Now Saha isn’t by himself up there, for God’s sake. 

    Leadbitter (with Sunderland) and Drinkwater (with Huddersfield)

  • Ipswich 0-0 Sheffield Wednesday
    In addition to Ambrosch Townsend, I’m now sick of hearing Marcus Tudgay’s name. And this “Leadbitter” on Ipswich is the same player as Cardiff’s “Drinkwater” with different hair. Are they the two skinniest guys in the game?
  • Everton 3-1 Manchester United
    [Saha/Cahill 58, Saha/Cahill 64, Saha/Fellaini 74]
    Two thirds of this match was spent trying to confirm Everton’s status as the team of misfortune. Then I changed to 4-2-2-2 and scored within ten seconds. And then two more. Rio Ferdinand’s red card didn’t hurt. Saha’s hat trick means Phil Jagielka was Man of the Match. Does that yellow checkered flag thing really mean MotM? Because it takes a five-goal glut for any attacker on my teams to receive that honor – otherwise it’s someone who spends his time getting the ball off the opposing striker.
  • Cardiff 5-0 Bristol Rovers
    [Chopra/Bellamy 6, Burke/Chopra 24, Chopra/Drinkwater 45, Bellamy/Chopra 51, Chopra/McNaughton 84]
    Chopra gets Man of the Match with a mere three goals and two assists. Bristol Rovers have a nifty 5’7″ guy named “Kuffour” who runs circles around his foes. I like these short and elusive Allen Iverson types. Unlike Collin Samuel, his counterpart on St Johnstone who loves to dribble it into the goalkeeper, Kuffour is programmed to cross to teammates who could easily put it in but choose to sky it into the crowd.
  • Ipswich 7-1 Sheffield Wednesday
    [Norris/Edwards 8, Norris/Townsend 29, Scotland/Townsend 45, Scotland/Townsend 46, Scotland/Townsend 48, Scotland/Townsend 59, Scotland/Priskin 83]
    Turns out every team is better in 4-2-2-2. It’s so obvious now. Man of the Match: O’Dea.

Collin Samuel, back when he was with Toronto FC

I can’t read the dates or tournament details on our TV, so we might be in the quarterfinals already or we might be only a third of the way through. Whatever ineffable improvements have been made to my talents now need to be taken back to Perth and the rest of the SPL, to meet back up with Collin Samuel as soon as possible. And when we return to the FA Cup, we must remember to always check the Game Settings to make sure they aren’t on Legendary difficulty and 4-minute halves.

Captain Potter’s log, March 11th, 2011.

Recent accomplishments:

  • Learned not to use the blue button for heading when facing my own goal. The blue button seems to lead to the most powerful and directed headers.
  • The yellow button turns out to have a use after all. It’s for passing to where someone is going to be, rather than to where he is like the green button. You have to use it judiciously, but it’s good for getting the ball to a winger in his stride, so he can outpace the defense.
  • Have accepted that there is no way to control the keeper, until he has the ball. But it’s possible to get out of his way.
  • Can choose to play defensively. And rediscovering the yellow button for passing makes counterattack more feasible.
  • Can pass interminably back and forth to protect a lead.
  • Have successfully used the red button-green button fake shot. Once.
  • Have figured out how to shoot penalties.

Things to work on:

Jo Kuffour reptates through the Chairboys

  • How to switch back fakingly when running toward the goalie, without then running into a crowd of defenders.
  • Corner kicks. Does it matter which direction I’m facing, or which direction I point the stick when I kick it, or both, or neither? My corner kick technique seems to be regressing.
  • Chip shots, and “placed shots”. Presumably will be needed at higher skill levels.
  • Am now unable to succeed with formations other than 4-2-2-2. Am unclear why I would need to do so.
  • Have forgotten how to control the keeper on penalties.
  • That world-class striker Matt Jarvis racks up a hat trick whenever he plays my team. Maybe we should just let him enjoy it.

FIFA 11 diary 2: Skyscrapers of St Mirren

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It’s time for a full season. A season in the Premier League seems daunting, so who to choose?

I can’t claim to be a supporter of any team other than Everton and Bolton [they aren’t rivals, I can have both]. Because I can’t watch games, or even highlights, of any other league on TV right now. Sympathies arise for various teams [Schalke, Fiorentina, Udinese, Lokomotiv Moscow, Molde], but it’s all superficial. The virus-laden aggregator websites that people keep lauding on discussion boards are intriguing, but watching long videos on the computer is intolerable. We don’t have Fox Soccer Channel. I’m excited about the Philadelphia Union, but haven’t been to a game yet and I know the roster in the video game is going to be vastly different from the eventual 2011 Union. So where to go, outside the English Premier League?

After all these years of sponsorship, Ūkio Bankas is no closer to dominating the wallets of the Scots.

I don’t have any ethnic or tourism-based links to any countries outside Britain [and Lithuania, whose league sadly is not included here], so you’ve got the other levels of English football, and Scotland. Playing as Cardiff was fun, but the SPL will probably let me detect progress better by having to play every other team at least thrice.

Vague SPL sympathies lie with Motherwell, Hearts, and St Mirren. Why? They aren’t dominant, and they have distinctive color schemes. And in Hearts’s case, it’s the Lithuanian connection. St Mirren get a really low rating in the game, significantly below Motherwell and Hearts [they were 10th, 5th, and 6th last season, respectively]. Being a low-level team unable to dominate would be good. And I know more about St Mirren than other teams at the bottom of the league, like Hamilton, St Johnstone and Kilmarnock. Is there even a city called Hamilton? Where are they from?

Facts I know about St Mirren:

  • They represent a city called Paisley, west of Glasgow.
  • They wear black and white stripes.
  • They used to play at a place called “Love Street” which was legendary for being windy.
  • Their name is spelled wrong. Saint Mirin was an Irish saint of the first millennium.
  • Two of their players’ names: Billy Mehmet and Andy Dorman. Neither of whom is on the team anymore, as it turns out.

The virtually unreadable text in FIFA 11 when played on a non-high-def TV is certainly irritating, but I’m trying to turn it into a positive. Who are these players? What does that say exactly? What do these weird marks mean in the Team Management / Squad view? How do I know who just got injured? It’s like using a shortwave radio to find out how the Hamilton Tiger-Cats game is going. I thought a player named “Weir” had been my Man of the Match in 2 of 4 matches, until the camera finally showed him and it turned out his name was “Mair”. Aha!

  • To get into the St Mirren spirit, go here to see the Paisley Panda. Go here to see him dressed for his day job.

So, how has the season been going? Well, Amateur level quickly got boring. I went from 4-4 against Dundee United, to 4-2 against Rangers [one of their goals was a penalty, the other came when my computer-controlled goalkeeper dove into my defender’s legs as he was about to clear it], to 7-1 against Motherwell and 7-2 against Kilmarnock. Higdon has 8 goals, Dargo has 3, McQuade has 3, van Zanten [I think that’s his name] has 1, Thomson has 3, Barron has 2, and Potter has 2. I can’t get Dargo to do what I want, and subbing in McQuade works better. Potter and Lee “Weir” Mair have both been man of the match twice, with about 18 tackles per game for each. The fact that my center backs are constantly having to clean up after my attackers give the ball away is a bad sign. And yet, it’s just too easy to score goals and too easy to win the ball, so it’s time to switch to Semi-Pro.

First game at Semi-Pro: 1-4 at home against Hibernian. 1 goal from Potter [assist from Travner…in other words, from a corner]. 2 of their 4 were penalties, but I got exactly 2 shots on goal, when I’m used to having 15. Deep breath. Let’s regroup with some time in the wilderness until I figure out how to pass with the yellow button no longer being magic.

Polonia Bytom's red and bluish army

Inter 3-3 Polonia Bytom. This is a struggle. I can’t pass between people while charging upfield. I just can’t. Polonia Bytom have a bizarre color scheme, like it’s supposed to be red and blue, but it’s actually red and lavender. In real life it’s closer to blue, but there is  something off about it.

Cardiff 3-3 CS Sedan. I was down 3-1 between the 50th and 82nd minutes. This may be a turning point.

Cardiff 4-3 Nordsjælland. Two extra-time goals this time in an all-time classic of mutual incompetence.

Bolton 1-2 Southend. Holy beans, it’s like wading through a swamp. Lee Chung-Yong managed to dribble between six people to score from beyond the penalty arc. I don’t know if I completed a pass of more than two yards.

Bolton 5-1 Hønefoss. Wow! Hønefoss just might be the ideal patsy for these situations. In addition to overall slowness and inability to shoot, their keeper barely ever kicks it. He rolls it out to the fullbacks like he’s Tim Grgurich running a basketball scrimmage. The EA programmers know a lot, but is it possible that they know the Hønefoss keeper does this in real life more than other keepers? Maybe he sustained an injury against Bolton and I didn’t notice.

Udinese 1-1 Grossetto. Low-scoring calcio in action…

Lokomotiv 1-0 Sibir Novosibirsk. Or maybe I’ve figured out how to defend, but not how to pass in attack. Well, at least I can keep the score down while working on other stuff. Let’s go back to the SPL.

Hønefoss GK Thomas Solvoll, either figure out how to boot a clearance, or sit out a game and give ex-Oakland University Golden Grizzly Steve Clark (center) a shot.

St Mirren 1 (Higdon 34), Hearts 2 (Elliott 6, Elliot 78). Yellow card for Mair.

St Mirren 1 (Dargo 18), Celtic 4 (Stokes 20, Hooper 22, Stokes 61, Samaras 82). Yellow cards for Mair and Higdon.

St Mirren 3 (Dargo 8, Higdon/Dargo 45, Dargo 49), Aberdeen 2 (Velicka 17, Velicka 25). More patient passing does the trick. As does the good odds that I can run up to the keeper, boot it at his face, have it bounce up in the air and then put it in. More importantly, why does a team other than Hearts have a Lithuanian star?

St Mirren 4 (Higdon 10, Potter/Brady 13, Brady 55, McQuade/Thomson 71), St Johnstone 1 (Hardie 86). Things are falling into place. St Johnstone is a really abject team, probably the first relegation candidate I’ve played. The guy at the point of their spear is about 5 feet tall and decisively prefers to dribble it into the goalie rather than shoot.

And let’s just do a little experiment.

Semi-Pro mode: Inter 2, Brann 2. Either the gulf between St Mirren and St Johnstone is huge compared to the gap between Inter and Brann, or I’m starting to tailor my attack toward St Mirren’s unique qualities, whatever those are. Had my first instance of an opponent diving, by way of “girly man-forward” Erik Huseklepp.

Amateur mode: Inter 17, Brann 1. I feel bad habits re-emerging. Martin Tyler says “That’s Lúcio’s tackle” about 25 times. As for Huseklepp, the feminine frontman‘s wiles fail to tempt the officials into handing out cards.

Captain Potter’s log, February 5th, 2011.

Recent accomplishments:

Figured out that sometimes I might like to pass laterally or backward.

Figured out which defender I should be controlling when the opponent has the ball. Hint: not always the one covering the guy with the ball.

Figured out to wait on corner kicks until my teammates have gotten into a promising position. It does make a difference.

No longer hitting the colored buttons as soon as I get the ball. The ball is occasionally under control now.

Current playing strategy:

Offense:

  • Blue button: lofted pass. Must be hit very very quickly to work.
  • Green button: fast pass.
  • Yellow button: sluggish pass. The yellow button is no longer a sure bet to get the ball to a teammate, so I’m using the green button almost all the time now.
  • Red button: shot.

Defense:

  • Same as before, except that a slide tackle is no longer a guaranteed foul.

Throw-ins:

  • Blue button: powerful throw that always goes to the opponent.
  • Green button: short throw to a teammate.
  • Yellow button: short throw to a teammate.
  • Red button: N/A

Things to work on:

  • How to score on a chip shot. Am now ~0 for 50 including practice games.
  • How to aim a lofted pass towards somebody instead of having it go in a random direction with a random amount of power. Am tantalizingly close to being able to do this.
  • Try out different formations, split between halves of a game.
  • Stop falling into the habit of using only the green button.
  • Watch the tutorials and read the manual again. There has to be something in there about what to do on a header.
  • Figure out how to get music to play during the games instead of the commentary. I’m sick of these guys already.

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