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The “official games” of major sporting events such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup have traditionally been terrible. Short on polish or features, the games have felt like they were made on the basis that people were buying them more as a souvenir and without any regard for whether they provided any actual entertainment.

EA Sports FIFA World Cup 14

“Official” games have often had wonderfully rendered stadiums but offered very little interest inside of them.

I had heard however that the 2010 FIFA World Cup game was actually quite good. So I decided to make the investment this time and see how the game is. The short answer is that it is a good game, but you can get that from any other review. What I am going to look at here, is whether the game actually makes the whole ‘experience’ of the World Cup better.

In my opinion, there are two main things that a game like this needs to do. Prior to the tournament it needs to enable you to get ready and hyped up about the games ahead, and during the tournament it needs to allow you to play the games you are about to/just watched as realistically as possible.

This game achieves both of those very well.

Prior to the tournament

The obvious thing which the game needed to do out of the box was make it possible to play through the World Cup tournament. Unsurprisingly, it does this quite well. All the basic things are there, the stadiums, fixtures, the 32 qualified teams and their correct uniforms.

Beyond that, it also needs to make it possible to play through the tournament with a few “what if” situations, for example, you should be able to play through with teams that didn’t actually qualify, or using players for whom your personal attachment doesn’t match the opinions of the actual real-life manager (e.g. Carlos Tevez). The first part of this it does quite well, pretty much every single nation in world football is represented. Unfortunately it isn’t so good on the latter. The squads for nations, while larger than the final 23-man selections, don’t go far and have some strange omissions, so you can’t call up Tevez for Argentina.

Want to experience the World Cup the way it is in Zlatan's head, now you can!

Want to experience the World Cup the way it is in Zlatan’s head, now you can!

In addition to enabling you to play the finals tournament itself, the FIFA World Cup game put a lot of attention into telling the story of the qualifiers. This is a common inclusion, but always a bit interesting, since qualification was well over by the time the game came out.

The game presented qualification in not one, but two ways. Firstly, it allows you to play a complete qualification campaign with any team from any confederation. The best part of this was the presentation, which came complete with excellent radio commentary between the games, talking through the significance of each match and providing general interesting banter. The low point of the qualifying campaign is that there are apparently some nations, particularly in North America, where the scheduling is broken, so they can’t actually qualify for the World Cup. A fairly fatal flaw, made reasonable only by the fact that those nations are for the most part the smallest of minnows.

The other qualification-related mode is the “Story of Qualification”, a series of scenario-based games which cover over 50 of the most interesting and significant games of the qualification campaign. For example, it allows you to play both sides of the decisive playoff game between Sweden and Portugal. For anyone who has played FIFA games in the last few years, these scenarios should be familiar from the game of the week scenarios that you get – typically they boil down to needing to score a crazy number of goals in a very short amount of time.

The Story of Qualification mode allows you to play through some of the great games and performances of the qualifying campaign.

The Story of Qualification mode allows you to play through some of the great games and performances of the qualifying campaign.

The game genuinely has absolutely helped me build hype and excitement for the tournament. I have played through three world cup tournaments, full European and South American Qualifying, plus a large number of scenarios. Between these, I have been able to get a much deeper understanding of the squads and how they have made it to Brazil. In particular the Story of Qualifying scenario mode was excellent. I don’t think many people, even fairly serious fans, ever truly get an idea of what qualification is like in confederations beyond their own. But now I feel I have a fairly good idea.

During the Tournament

As I hinted earlier, in my opinion the key function of the game during the tournament is to allow you to “play along”. Again, this is something that the game does quite well.

Firstly, it was quite easy to set up a tournament in such a way that I can play the World Cup as every team. This allows my mates and I to play an “alternate reality” version of the tournament where we play every game between us and see how it goes. As it turns out, our version is a little less interesting, the first three games were draws and then Spain beat the Netherlands 1-0.

It is also very easy to play one-off games. You can pick your teams, pick the right stadium and even select the right round of the completion (group stage, quarter final etc). The teams are quickly and regularly updated for injuries and current form, so if you want to play out tonight’s big game, or get revenge for last night, you can do that well. You just might struggle sometimes, because Casillas will probably be as bad for you as he was for Spain.

With regular form updates you too can put five goals passed Casillas in the World Cup.

With regular form updates you too can put five goals passed Casillas in the World Cup.

Finally, they have also extended the scenario system through to the Finals, called, unsurprisingly, “Story of the Finals”. Within hours of each day’s games finishing, they put up scenarios which allow you to play out the morning’s action. Sometimes this is about repeating reality, such as coming back against Japan as the Ivory Coast, and other times it is about changing it, such as winning the game as Australia, or making Argentine put four goals past Bosnia. In general this is excellent. I applaud them for making them available so quickly, and unlike in previous games, making them available permanently – previously they would just have the previous night, so you could miss out if you didn’t play them immediately.

I do find however that the whole “score lots of goals in a short time” which most scenarios tends to boil down to is not only samey, but also quite annoying, and only representative of the attacking aspect of a game. I often find I have to play the scenarios at a much easier difficulty level than I normally do, simply to make it possible to achieve without replaying the scenario 100 times.

I wish that they would make the scenarios either much longer, or much shorter. Allowing you to play the entire opening game with the objective “Win as Brazil” with bonus points for doing so without conceding a goal would allow you to actually appreciate the ebb and flow of the game. Alternatively cutting the scope right down to “Replicate Neymar’s stutter-step penalty” would show-off little features like that in the game which you otherwise might not notice or use. In both cases, it would also make it easier to simply enjoy playing the scenarios at my normal level, rather than have to get bored hammering in goals against the dumbest version of the AI simply to get through them.

Conclusion

Despite a few minor foibles, the game genuinely does make the whole World Cup experience more enjoyable!

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Given that the european football season is now into its most interesting time of the year, it is perhaps unsurprising that I’ve been playing a lot of FIFA 11 lately.  There’s nothing quite like watching or reading about a game to put you in the mood to play a couple of quick games after work.

Over the past couple of years, I have particularly enjoyed FIFA’s  “Live Season” mode which allows me to play through the season of my team, one game at a time, with the correct formation, team selection and form, lovingly crafted for me each week by whatever funky gremlins they employ at EA.

Awesome as it is, the downside of this is that rather than being able to play a season at my own pace, I need to wait a week between games for the next one to first be played, then coded and finally arrive for download. This isn’t enough football for a natural obsessive like me and has required me to be more creative in my team choices.

My normal plan over the years has been to try to play with Grimsby Town FC, a lower-league English team from a town famous for being very cold and making fish fingers. Times have been tough for them lately, the fish-finger factory closed down after a fire in 2005 and I think that the team has dropped to a league so low that it no longer exists in the game. Even if they are still there, there’s simply too much of a time commitment involved in dragging them through 3-4 leagues to get to the top now, and playing with such poor quality players is fairly limited in terms of fun.

Plan B has been to try and find interesting teams from around the world. First up was Stabek of Norway. They were tempting because I’d visited their rather nice stadium recently, but after playing about a dozen games with them I realised that, like Grimsby, they were just too poorly skilled to have fun with in FIFA.

I then moved my attentions to the Russian league. This promised more skill, a bit of a transfer budget, and ultimately quite a lot of fun. I had a great time playing through a season with Rubin Kazan, terrorising Russian defences with the pace of Obafeme Martins.

But then what next? A little disappointed by the fact that Russia, like most leagues, has a massive disparity between the few good and many bad teams, I decided to try out the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga is one of the most evenly matched and athletic leagues at the moment, and certainly contains a lot more skill than I’d seen in my teams on the coastline of the North Sea.

The only problem though, is that I’ve never even watched a Bundesliga game and had absolutely no attachment to any of the sides. I searched through the teams, trying to find one that matched the style I liked to play with a couple of players I liked. I didn’t have much luck.

Then a friend of mine heard about a cheat that allowed him to get 2 billion dollars in career mode, he went on a spending spree buying a bunch of talented youngsters (he set himself a rule of no-one over 25) and started having a lot of fun as Kaiserslautern.

I didn’t want to cheat, but suddenly I was inspired. I liked the youth approach, and the idea of starting off with a team built to play exactly the sort of football I wanted. I wasn’t going to “cheat” too badly to get it, but what if I could do it in some sort of fair way?

The plan

So, I picked a side to be the shell of the team I would use. I decided fairly quickly on Wolfsburg because;

a) I always thought it was awesome that around 1998/99 they were coached by a man called Wolfgang Wolf,

b) It was fun to displace Steve McLaren as their coach

3) they are owned by VW, and I own a VW

I set myself three rules for the project

  1. No players over 25 in the entire squad
  2. No players from other Bundesliga teams
  3. Every player transferred in must be replaced with a player out, of similar quality basic position (GK, def, mid, att), so the team should get younger, but not necessarily be much better in terms of ovr ratings.

Part I; building the team.

Wolfsburg had around 13 players under the age of 25, three of whom were a really solid foundation for the new team. These were

Dzeko, a lethal striker who in real life had been sold to Manchester City for big money mid season, I was not going to make that sale.

Diego, a skilful Brazillian attacking midfielder who also filled the valuable role of free-kick specialist

Kjaer, a monstrous Danish central defender, tactically sound and strong in the air.

It would be heartless to break this up.

Of the oldies I was trading out, the best were Benaglio, the Swiss goalkeeper, and Wolfsburg captain, and Josue a regular defensive midfielder for the Brazillian national side.  The rest were a mix of solid first-team regulars and fairly ordinary back-ups. I wasn’t going to be a galacticos, but as a 4-star (out of 5) rated side, I was going to be rather competitive.

After an afternoon spent scanning the FIFA player database I came up with the following side

GK,

Hugo Lloris (Lyon), taking advantage of the very high rating of Benaglio I snagged Hugo Lloris, despite being very young he’s captained Les Blues and is rated amongst the top few in the world between the sticks.

Mannone (Arsenal) a 6’3” keeper, currently on loan to Hull in real life.  22 yrs old and Italian, very much a back-up.

Marwin Hitz, young swiss goalie, already in the squad

Wing-Backs,

Kolarov (Man City), very good defensively and solid going forward, strength at left-back is important for dealing with the very fast and talented right-wingers I could expect in the Bundesliga.

Ilsinho (Sao Paolo) Capped once for Brazil, extremely skilful dribbler, an attacking threat of my own down the right.

Carlinhos (Fluminense), essentially a slightly watered down and left-footed version of Ilsinho.

Centre-Backs

Simon Kjaer, 6’2” Danish defender, 21 years old, already in the squad, has played 15 games for his national team.

Ranocchia (I got him from Genoa, in real life he’d been on loan to Bari and has just been bought out by part-owners Inter) 22 years old, 6’5”, has played one game for the Azzuri

Bonucci (Juve) 6’3”, 23 yrs old, can play centre or right, has played 8 times for the Azzuri

Zelao (Saturn Moscow) a 6’2” Brazilian centreback with good all-around ball-skills, figured he’d be useful for games where the other team sits back a lot and I need defenders to be able to open up space with passing.

Midfielders

Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), a direct trade for the defensive midfield prowess of Josue.  At 6’2” he gave me a very tall, strong, and happily in terms of keeping a Bundesliga feel, German presence in midfield.

Afellay (PSV, in real life has gone to Barca), don’t really need to say much about him, was happy for him to be eligible.

Montolivo (Fiorentina), I didn’t have a player to trade for him, but I was able to buy him with the transfer funds available at the beginning of the game. He’s my favourite young Italian player at the moment, 5’11” playmaker, 19 games for the Azzuri.

Marlos (Sao Paolo) Very skilful passer and dribbler, a back-up for Diego

Elias (Atletico Madrid), classic box-to-box type midfielder, good passing, dribbling, and stamina

Ja-Cheol Koo, only brought in because the club had acquired him in real life, was very much a back-up

Medel (Boca, although in real life has been traded to Sevilla) a defensively oriented Chilean midfielder, bit of a Mascherano type, has played 28 games for his country

Forwards and Strikers,

Diego

Dzeko

Doumbia (CSKA Moscow) speed, skill and finishing.  Shame he isn’t a little taller.

Hernandez (Palermo) 20 year old, 6’1” Uruguayan striker, a useful back-up with similar pace to Doumbia.

Diego Ifran (Real Sociedad) 23 year old 5’8” Uruguayan striker, a super-sub type player, quick, skillful and good at finishing, but not much of a physical presence.  Can also play in Diego’s slot behind the strikers.

John Rodriguez (Burnley) a project player traded with an old and slow guy that probably needed to be cut, not likely to start any time soon, but has some promising basic skills, he’s quick and 6’1”

Part II, Tactics and Formation

I grew fond of the team immediately. It was packed with players that I like, in the positions I needed to build my favourite strategies.

Over the course of the season I settled on three different formations, and a small variety of tactical set-ups.

4-1-2-1-2

A very narrow but effective formation. Made by slightly modifying the base 4-2-1-2 in the game by moving the CAM to CF. In my experience, CAM is actually quite poor in the FIFA AI, neither making attacking runs against the opposition defensive line, or hanging back deep enough to pick up balls deflected behind the strikers. By moving Diego up to CAM I had all three of him, Dzeko and Doumbia making dangerous runs through the middle of defense.

In terms of tactical settings, I borrowed the default settings for the German national team, with the small change of Chance Creation from Organised to Free Form. What this gave me was a high-possession but unpredictable structure as I passed through the centre of the field.

As a formation and tactical combination it was extremely effective against teams with a high defensive line, and most teams that played a 4-2-3-1 for some reason (which is a lot of the Bundesliga). It was terrible against teams playing 4-1-4-1, 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-1-2 as in all cases the midfield became too crowded to work in.

4-2-2-2

The Brazilian box formation. I’ve liked this formation in a lot of football games over the years, and once again it didn’t disappoint. The basic theory of it is that apart from the wing-backs, everyone has a central position, which provides a lot of strength defensively, and then a lot of room to run into down the flanks when in attack.

For this team it worked extremely well. Kolarov and Ilsinho thrived as wing-backs with all that space in front of them, while Diego and Afellay proved to be perfect LAM and RAM players respectively. Tactically I either used the same approach as above, or one that I’d modified with a much higher cross setting to make more use of the runs down the wing. This was a good formation for breaking down the 4-1-2-1-2 and 4-1-4-1 formations as shifting the creative midfielders to the outside moved them away from the defensive midfielder.

4-2-3-1

This is the vogue formation of the moment in real life, and particularly in Germany. It was the formation that dominated the world cup, being employed by Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Brazil each in their own way. I chose the Brazilian variant, created by modifying the 4-2-2-2 above by shifting the second striker back to become a CF.


The result is a formation with a lot of skill and numbers in the middle of the park. It works quite well with the modified German tactics, and the crossing variant discussed above, and also with a copy-pasted set of the tactics from Barcelona. Mainly I found this to be a good formation to shift to in games where either the 4-1-2-1-2 wasn’t providing enough width, or where I wanted to shut the game down by maintaining possession. I did also settle on it as the formation from the start of games against 4-4-1-1 because with a 5 vs 4 outnumbering in midfield I found that it was completely dominant.

Results

Building a team to my own specifications proved to be both very fun and extremely dominant.  I won the Bundesliga by 14 points with a record of 26 wins, 8 draws, 0 losses, 86 points..  It was all over when with 4-5 games to go, I had a rather well-timed match-up against second-placed Bayer Leverkeusen who I thrashed 3-0 in their home stadium.

Dzeko finished the season with 29 goals, 11 more than the next highest scorer.  Doumbia was the 5th highest scorer with 16 goals.  Overall the team finished with 63 goals for, 7 against.

The cup final was against Bayern, Dzeko scored early, within 30 minutes it was 3-0, and by the end of the game it was 4-0.

Overall it was a really great way of playing FIFA. A team I liked, playing the type of football I wanted, in a league that was actually really challenging along the way, despite the appearance of my dominance. As a play-style it fell neatly between the proper in-depth league simulation of career mode and the trading and grinding of Ultimate team. I strongly recommend it as an approach for anyone looking for a way to get a bit more fun out of FIFA or just to try out a wacky theory. In fact, right now I am in the process of setting up a second experiment, is it possible to win the English Premier League with an all-English team?

I love sports games, particularly how they provide their own, almost organic, heavily layered narrative. Every button-press matters not only in its effect on it’s own microsecond of play, but also in the context of a match, and ultimately a season. One late hit of the X can be the difference between scoring a goal that will decide whether many hours of play have been successful or in vain. It’s far more than any quick-time event will ever be.

 

Of late, my sports game of choice has been FIFA 11. I particularly love the “Live Season” mode which allows me to play through the season of my team, one game at a time, with the correct formation, team selection and form, lovingly crafted for me each week by whatever funky gremlins they employ at EA.

 

Awesome as it is, the downside of this is that rather than being able to play a season at my own pace, I need to wait a week between games for the next one to first be played, then coded and finally arrive for download. This isn’t enough football for a natural obsessive like me and has required me to be more creative in my team choices.

 

My normal plan over the years has been to try to play with Grimsby Town FC, a lower-league English team from a town famous for being very cold and making fish fingers. Times have been tough for them lately, the fish-finger factory closed down after a fire in 2005 and I think that the team has dropped to a league so low that it no longer exists in the game. Even if they are still there, there’s simply too much of a time commitment involved in dragging them through 3-4 leagues to get to the top now, and playing with such poor quality players is fairly limited in terms of fun.

 

Plan B has been to try and find interesting teams from around the world. First up was Stabek of Norway. They were tempting because I’d visited their rather nice stadium recently, but after playing about a dozen games with them I realised that, like Grimsby, they were just too poorly skilled to have fun with in FIFA.

 

I then moved my attentions to the Russian league. This promised more skill, a bit of a transfer budget, and ultimately quite a lot of fun. I had a great time playing through a season with Rubin Kazan, terrorising Russian defences with the pace of Obafeme Martins.

 

But then what next? A little burned by the fact that Russia, like most leagues, has a massive disparity between the good and bad teams, I decided to try out the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga is famously one of the most evenly matched and athletic leagues at the moment, and certainly a lot more skill than I’d seen in my teams on the coastline of the North Sea.

 

The only problem though, is that I’ve never so much as watched a Bundesliga game and had absolutely no attachment to any of the sides. I searched through the teams, trying to find one that matched the style I liked to play with a couple of players I liked. I didn’t have much luck.

 

Then a friend of mine heard about a cheat that allowed him to get 2 billion dollars in career mode, he went on a spending spree buying a bunch of talented youngsters (he set himself a rule of no-one over 25) and started having a lot of fun as Kaiserslautern.

 

I didn’t want to cheat, but suddenly I was inspired. I liked the youth approach, and the idea of starting off with a team built to play exactly the sort of football I wanted. I wasn’t going to “cheat” too badly to get it, but what if I could do it in some sort of fair way?

 

The plan

 

So, I picked a side to be the shell of the team I would use. I decided fairly quickly on Wolfsburg because;

a) I always thought it was awesome that around 1998/99 they were coached by a man called Wolfgang Wolf,

b) It was fun to displace Steve McLaren as their coach

3) they are owned by VW, and I own a VW

 

I set myself three rules for the project

  1. No players over 25 in the entire squad

  2. No players from other Bundesliga teams

  3. Every player transferred in must be replaced with a player out, of similar quality basic position (GK, def, mid, att), so the team should get younger, but not necessarily be much better in terms of ovr ratings.

 

Part I; building the team.

 

Wolfsburg had around 13 players under the age of 25, three of whom were a really solid foundation for the new team. These were

Dzeko, a lethal striker who in real life had been sold to Manchester City for big money mid season, I was not going to make that sale.

Diego, a skilful Brazillian attacking midfielder who also filled the valuable role of free-kick specialist

Kjaer, a monstrous Danish central defender, tactically sound and strong in the air.

 

Of the oldies I was trading out, the best were Benaglio, the Swiss goalkeeper, and Wolfsburg captain, and Josue a regular defensive midfielder for the Brazillian national side.  The rest were a mix of solid first-team regulars and fairly ordinary back-ups. I wasn’t going to be a galacticos, but as a 4-star (out of 5) rated side, I was going to be rather competitive.

 

After an afternoon spent scanning the FIFA player database I came up with the following side

 

GK,

Hugo Lloris (Lyon), taking advantage of the very high rating of Benaglio I snagged Hugo Lloris, despite being very young he’s captained Les Blues and is rated amongst the top few in the world between the sticks.

Mannone (Arsenal) a 6’3” keeper, currently on loan to Hull in real life.  22 yrs old and Italian, very much a back-up.

Marwin Hitz, young swiss goalie, already in the squad

 

Wing-Backs,

Kolarov (Man City), very good defensively and solid going forward, strength at left-back is important for dealing with the very fast and talented right-wingers I could expect in the Bundesliga.

Ilsinho (Sao Paolo) Capped once for Brazil, extremely skilful dribbler, an attacking threat of my own down the right.

Carlinhos (Fluminense), essentially a slightly watered down and left-footed version of Ilsinho.

 

Centre-Backs

Simon Kjaer, 6’2” Danish defender, 21 years old, already in the squad, has played 15 games for his national team.

Ranocchia (I got him from Genoa, in real life he’d been on loan to Bari and has just been bought out by part-owners Inter) 22 years old, 6’5”, has played one game for the Azzuri

Bonucci (Juve) 6’3”, 23 yrs old, can play centre or right, has played 8 times for the Azzuri

Zelao (Saturn Moscow) a 6’2” Brazilian centreback with good all-around ball-skills, figured he’d be useful for games where the other team sits back a lot and I need defenders to be able to open up space with passing.

 

Midfielders

Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), a direct trade for the defensive midfield prowess of Josue.  At 6’2” he gave me a very tall, strong, and happily in terms of keeping a Bundesliga feel, German presence in midfield.

Afellay (PSV, in real life has gone to Barca), don’t really need to say much about him, was happy for him to be eligible.

Montolivo (Fiorentina), I didn’t have a player to trade for him, but I was able to buy him with the transfer funds available at the beginning of the game. He’s my favourite young Italian player at the moment, 5’11” playmaker, 19 games for the Azzuri.

Marlos (Sao Paolo) Very skilful passer and dribbler, a back-up for Diego

Elias (Atletico Madrid), classic box-to-box type midfielder, good passing, dribbling, and stamina

Ja-Cheol Koo, only brought in because the club had acquired him in real life, was very much a back-up

Medel (Boca, although in real life has been traded to Sevilla) a defensively oriented Chilean midfielder, bit of a Mascherano type, has played 28 games for his country

 

Forwards and Strikers,

Diego

Dzeko

Doumbia (CSKA Moscow) speed, skill and finishing.  Shame he isn’t a little taller.

Hernandez (Palermo) 20 year old, 6’1” Uruguayan striker, a useful back-up with similar pace to Doumbia.

Diego Ifran (Real Sociedad) 23 year old 5’8” Uruguayan striker, a super-sub type player, quick, skilful and good at finishing, but not much of a physical presence.  Can also play in Diego’s slot behind the strikers.

John Rodriguez (Burnley) a project player traded with an old and slow guy that probably needed to be cut, not likely to start any time soon, but has some promising basic skills, he’s quick and 6’1”

 

 

Part II, Tactics and Formation

 

I grew fond of the team immediately. It was packed with players that I like, in the positions I needed to build my favourite strategies.

 

Over the course of the season I settled on three different formations, and a small variety of tactical set-ups.

 

4-2-1-2

 

A very narrow but effective formation. Made by slightly modifying the base 4-2-1-2 in the game by moving the CAM to CF. In my experience, CAM is actually quite poor in the FIFA AI, neither making attacking runs against the opposition defensive line, or hanging back deep enough to pick up balls deflected behind the strikers. By moving Diego up to CAM I had all three of him, Dzeko and Doumbia making dangerous runs through the middle of defense.

 

In terms of tactical settings, I borrowed the default settings for the German national team, with the small change of Chance Creation from Organised to Free Form. What this gave me was a high-possession but unpredictable structure as I passed through the centre of the field.

 

As a formation and tactical combination it was extremely effective against teams with a high defensive line, and most teams that played a 4-2-3-1 for some reason (which is a lot of the Bundesliga). It was terrible against teams playing 4-1-4-1, 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-1-2 as in all cases the midfield became too crowded to work in.

 

4-2-2-2

 

The Brazilian box formation. I’ve liked this formation in a lot of football games over the years, and once again it didn’t disappoint. The basic theory of it is that apart from the wing-backs, everyone has a central position, which provides a lot of strength defensively, and then a lot of room to run into down the flanks when in attack.

 

For this team it worked extremely well. Kolarov and Ilsinho thrived as wing-backs with all that space in front of them, while Diego and Afellay proved to be perfect LAM and RAM players respectively. Tactically I either used the same approach as above, or one that I’d modified with a much higher cross setting to make more use of the runs down the wing. This was a good formation for breaking down the 4-1-2-1-2 and 4-1-4-1 formations as shifting the creative midfielders to the outside moved them away from the defensive midfielder.

 

4-2-3-1

 

This is the vogue formation of the moment in real life, and particularly in Germany. It was the formation that dominated the world cup, being employed by Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Brazil each in their own way. I chose the Brazilian variant, created by modifying the 4-2-2-2 above by shifting the second striker back to become a CF.


The result is a formation with a lot of skill and numbers in the middle of the park. It works quite well with the modified german tactics, and the crossing variant discussed above, and also with a copy-pasted set of the tactics from Barcelona. Mainly I found this to be a good formation to shift to in games where either the 4-1-2-1-2 wasn’t providing enough width, or where I wanted to shut the game down by maintaining possession. I did also settle on it as the formation from the start of games against 4-4-1-1 because it dominated that formation with more numbers in midfield, and an ability to completely shut it down defensively.

 

Results

 

Building a team to my own specifications proved to be both very fun and extremely dominant.  I won the Bundesliga by 14 points with a record of 26 wins, 8 draws, 0 losses, 86 points..  It was all over when with 4-5 games to go, I had a rather well-timed match-up against second-placed Bayer Leverkeusen who I thrashed 3-0 in their home stadium.

 

Dzeko finished the season with 29 goals, 11 more than the next highest scorer.  Doumbia was the 5th highest scorer with 16 goals.  Overall the team finished with 63 goals for, 7 against.

 

The cup final was against Bayern, Dzeko scored early, within 30 minutes it was 3-0, and by the end of the game it was 4-0.

 

Overall it was a really great way of playing FIFA. A team I liked, playing the type of football I wanted, in a league that was actually really challenging along the way, despite the appearance of my dominance. As a play-style it fell neatly between the proper in-depth league simulation of career mode and the trading and grinding of Ultimate team. I strongly recommend it as an approach for anyone looking for a way to get a bit more fun out of FIFA or just to try out a wacky theory. In fact, right now I am in the process of setting up a second experiment, is it possible to win the English Premier League with an all-English team?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defensively I had the option to play the very aggressive Brazilian right-backs, or shut it down by putting Bonucci there.

 

Midfield is probably my weakest area, but I’m expecting Khedira to be an absolute rock, and I can choose to attack in front of that with players like Afellay and Elias, or shut it down with Medel and Montolivo (who is also quite good going forward).  Up front I have a really nice mix that allows me to choose pace, height, strength and finishing.  Diego looks like he will score a lot of my goals, but the pace of Doumbia is very hard to handle, and he is great at setting up Dzeko with chances.  I’ve played two friendlies against a brazillian and a dutch side, won 3-0 and 4-0 respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From what I can see, that means they have 13 keepable players, 4 or 5 of which might be solid starters, so a lot to replace.  Because the rosters don’t seem to have been updated for a while they might still have Dzeko, that’s a good thing, and in fact I might break the rule to bring him back, purely because at the start of the season he was there, and he certainly qualifies otherwise.  I’ll also claim Ja-Cheol Choo, because he was just signed by them, and is very young.

 

 

I’m half considering doing a season similar to yours, only with a team made of the under 25’s that you haven’t picked (helped by the fact that I will use the roster editing method to grab the ones you couldn’t), with a bit of fancy exporting I then might be able to set it up so that we can play games against each other with our respective teams.  If you give me a full list of your squad then I will work around that.  I might do it with Wolfsburg.

 

Ok, so it is;

 

GK:  Akinfeev, Scott Carson as back up (I may change this as I just selected anyone).

 

Def

Oscar Wendt,

Fabio Coentrao,

David Santon,

Micah Richards,

Per Mertesacker,

M Sakho,

Gary Cahill,

Adil Rami,

vd Wiel

 

 

Mid

Antoine Griezmann

Ganso

A Turan

Eden Hazard

Steven Defour

Nuri Sahin

 

Att

Lukaku,

Gervinho,

Neymar,

Toivonen,

Llorente

 

Hmm, that is interesting; I suppose I’d look at something like

 

GK, Neuer, Viviano, Romero

 

Def

Bonucci,

Di Silvestre,

Subotic,

Ansaldi,

Azpilicueta,

Beck,

Santon

Otamendi

 

Mid

Dimitri Payet

Brahimi

Sissoko

Pareja

Yarmolenko

Rudy

Reinartz

Trasch

Strootman

 

Att

 

Aguero

Podolski

Rossi

Berg

DongWon

 

 

Hmm, ok, I’ve decided.  I’ll play Wolfsburg and go with 3 rules;

 

 

From what I can see, that means they have 13 keepable players, 4 or 5 of which might be solid starters, so a lot to replace.  Because the rosters don’t seem to have been updated for a while they might still have Dzeko, that’s a good thing, and in fact I might break the rule to bring him back, purely because at the start of the season he was there, and he certainly qualifies otherwise.  I’ll also claim Ja-Cheol Choo, because he was just signed by them, and is very young.

 

It’s a different approach, but should create an interesting squad. I’ll try to build it tonight, I’ll let you know who I wind up with.

 

Well, there’s plenty of players to move, just how good they will be, I don’t know.  I reckon I’ll mainly pick the players based on searching the FIFA database for people that are going to match the formation and style that I want, so I really don’t know who I will wind up with.  That heightens the anticipation I reckon, it could be a very interesting squad indeed. I’m rather excited about it.

 

Oh, and of course there’s a 4th rule which we knew but I didn’t write below, none will be players that you have So it will be a case of a team built to match my style, vs a team of almost all the young players you wanted.  Could be a very interesting match-up.

 

Incidentally, the choice of Wolfsburg is a) because I always thought it was awesome that from 1998 they were coached by a man called Wolfgang Wolf, b) it’ll be fun to displace Steve McLaren as their coach 3) they are owned by VW, and I own a VW

 

Ok, so as it turned out, I couldn’t get those guys because a) they were better than what I had to trade away, b) Muller plays in Germany.

 

So, the two best players to keep were Dzeko, a slow but otherwise amazing striker rated 85 overall, Diego, who is happily an amazing free-kick taker (and despite being brazillian has a bit of a resemblance to Ballack), and Kjaer, a useful Danish defender.

 

The best guys I had to trade out were Benaglio, the Swiss goalkeeper, and my captain, he is rated 86, and Josue, a defensive midfielder who played 28 games in Dunga’s selecao (high praise to be picked to play Dunga’s position by Dunga), he is ranked 80.  The rest were a mix of mid-high 70s and a couple of high 60s, I also have a bunch of young guys from the club that are rated in the mid-60’s I kept them to give me depth, but won’t be getting any game time soon.  The best position to trade from was centre back, they had a pair of 79’s (one of whom was Barzagli, a player I’ve always wanted to see at Milan, he’s only about 26 and was sad to let go).

 

Unfortunately I left my pad with all my notes behind, but this is my team as I remember it;

 

GK,

Joe Hart (Man City), a decline of 4 points from Benaglio, but the best u-25 goalkeeper from outside the Bundesliga (would have loved to get Neuer).

Mannone (Arsenal) a 6’3” keeper, currently on loan to Hull in real life.  22 yrs old and Italian, very much a back-up.

Marwin Hitz, young swiss goalie, already in the squad

 

Wing-Backs,

Kolarov (Man City), very good defensively, wanted to invest in security there to be able to deal with right wingers, that’s an Italian thing

Ilsinho (Sao Paolo) Capped once for Brazil, extremely skilful dribbler.

Carlinhos (Fluminense), essentially a slightly watered down version of Ilsinho.

 

Centre-Backs

Simon Kjaer, 6’2” Danish defender, 21 years old, already in the squad, has played 15 games for his national team, is rated around 79

Ranocchia (I bought him from Genoa, in real life he’d been on loan to Bari and has just been bought out by part-owners Inter) 22 years old, 6’5”, has played one game for the Azzuri

Bonucci (Juve), as we discussed the other day, 6’3”, 23 yrs old, can play centre or right, has played 8 times for the Azzuri

Zelao (Saturn Moscow) a 6’2” Brazilian centreback with good all-around ball-skills, figured he’d be useful for games where the other team sits back a lot and I need defenders to be able to open up space with passing.

 

Midfielders

Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), biggest signing, but a fair 80 for 80 trade for Josue.  At 6’2” he makes it a very tall centre of my defence to break down.

Arouca (Santos) A back-up for Khedira at CDM, very different player, 5’6”, skilful on the ball, but fit and defensively sound.

Afellay (PSV, in real life has gone to Barca), don’t really need to say much about him, was happy for him to be eligible.

Elias (Atletico Madrid), classic box-to-box type midfielder, good passing, dribbling, and tireless

Ja-Cheol Koo (acquisition actually made by the club) rated about 68, I don’t know if he’ll get much of a game.

Medel (Boca, in real life has been traded to Sevilla) defensively oriented Chilean midfielder, bit of a Mascherano type, has played 28 games for his country

Montolivo (Fiorentina, not traded, purchased with transfer funds after the game commenced), my favourite young Italian player at the moment, 5’11” playmaker, 19 games for the Azzuri.

 

Forwards and Strikers,

Diego

Dzeko

Doumbia (CSKA Moscow), need I say more, speed, skill and finishing.  Shame he isn’t a little taller.

Hernandez (Palermo) 20 year old, 6’1” Uruguayan striker.

Diego Ifran (Real Sociedad) 23 year old 5’8” Uruguayan striker, a super-sub type player, quick, skilful and good at finishing, but not much of a physical presence.  Can also play in Diego’s slot behind the strikers.

John Rodriguez (Burnley) a project player traded with an old and slow guy that probably needed to be cut, not likely to start any time soon, but has some promising basic skills, he’s quick and 6’1”

 

 

When I bought Montolivo I also had bids in for Muller, Podolski and Banega (from Villareal).  Muller refused to leave Bayern, and of the remaining three I decided that Montolivo gave me the biggest bonus over what I already had.

 

I’m really fond of it as a team, it’s full of players that I like, and it gives me a bunch of strategic options. Defensively I can have the very aggressive Brazilian right-backs, or shut it down by putting Bonucci there.  Midfield is probably my weakest area, but I’m expecting Khedira to be an absolute rock, and I can choose to attack in front of that with players like Afellay and Elias, or shut it down with Medel and Montolivo (who is also quite good going forward).  Up front I have a really nice mix that allows me to choose pace, height, strength and finishing.  Diego looks like he will score a lot of my goals, but the pace of Doumbia is very hard to handle, and he is great at setting up Dzeko with chances.  I’ve played two friendlies against a brazillian and a dutch side, won 3-0 and 4-0 respectively.

 

Ozil must have been slightly too high (I had the search set to 70-80 overall, he must be a bit above that).  I was very tempted to grab Obafeme Martins (who is miraculously still 25) to go up front, but I wanted to try something a bit different and Doumbia looks like an equally perfect (and slightly lower rated overall) pick.

 

The team was 4* before I started, and 4* after all the transfers, but slid up to 4.5* after I purchased Montolivo.

 

Ok, so I finally managed to finish the season.  I won it obviously, 26 wins, 8 draws, 0 losses, 86 points, 14 clear of the next best team.  It was all over with 4-5 games to go, I had a rather well-timed match-up against 2nd place Bayer Leverkeusen who I managed to thrash 3-0 away from home.  I actually had a really strong finish to the season, a bunch of high scoring games as Dzeko just went off.  He finished the season with 29 goals, 11 more than the next highest scorer.  Doumbia was the 5th highest scorer with 16 goals.  My team finished with 63 goals for, 7 against.

 

Cup final was against Bayern, Dzeko scored early, within 30 minutes it was 3-0, and by the end of the game it was 4-0.

 

Then I got to have the off-season.

 

First things first, I re-signed with Wolfsburg, turning down offers from Bayern, Inter and Manchester United.  Between the tournament rewards and the general generosity of the club I had 43 million pounds to spend, which I immediately began augmenting by selling off players that I hadn’t used all season.

 

First things first, I spent 30 million on a little Argentinean guy from Atletico, a certain Mr Sergio “Kun” Aguero.  Gives me some more flexibility up front, I’ll be able to push Diego out wide if I want now.  It was a tough call to buy him, I was also strongly considering Bendtner and Falcao, who are both the “good in the air” model of striker that I was interested in, but I just couldn’t turn down Aguero.

 

The second guy I bought was a young Moroccan/Belgian, from Everton, Fellaini.  Again he gives me a bit more flexibility in the middle, should allow me to shut things down a bit more.  Also, he can play CF, so if I really want to cross into the box I can throw him up with Dzeko in the box.

 

I now have about 8 million pounds left, if I can sell one or two more of my fringe players then I intend to use the money to buy some more depth or quality at wing-back, my weakest position now.

 

My squad now looks something like;

 

GK

Lloris

Mannone

Hartz

 

CB

Rannochia

Bonucci

Kjaer

Zelao

 

WB

Kolarov

Ilsinho

Carlinhos

Karimow

 

CDM

Khedira

Fellaini

Medel

 

CM

Affelay

Montolivo

Elias

 

CAM

Diego

Marlos

 

Forward

Dzeko

Aguero

Doumbia

Hernandez

 

My best team is probably;

 

Dzeko

Aguero

Diego                                                    Montolivo

Khedira                Fellaini

Kolarov                                                 Ilsinho

Rannochia           Bonucci

Lloris

 

With Affelay and Doumbia on the bench

 

We both seem to have completely dominated our respective leagues, I think we’ve definitively proven that young teams can be uber-successful.

 

I think that there was a massive separation in my league too, although I think it might have been a case of me – daylight – Leverkeusen, Bayern, Bremen – daylight, everyone else.  Kaiserslautern came dead last.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Wolfsburg didn’t look so good in your league either (given that they are struggling near the relegation zone in real life).

 

I thought Aguero might give you some pause for thought.  I think he will do quite well, I have a theory that he will be amazing at making through-runs onto the ball, I also think Falcao has that skill set, but that Aguero’s dribbling and finishing skills made him more promising.  I did VERY seriously consider the heading experts, in both cases Falcao  and Bendtner fall about half-way between the level of Dzeko and Llorente (by my calculation, Lukaku is between them and Llorente).  The main thing that stopped me in the end is that I don’t have a team of amazing ball-crossers (highest are Diego and Montolivo around 80), and none of my 4 formations really make extensive use of crossing.  Fellaini does give me that back-up ability to throw him forward in games where it is really the only option for me, and should definitely be a force at set-pieces (by my count he is as good as Llorente).  Also I was reluctant to give away the pace of my attacks, which has been my primary source of goals with Wolfsburg and Rubin.

 

I’m definitely hoping that my maximum defensive box of;

 

Khedira                Fellaini

Kolarov                                                 Bonucci

Kjaer                     Rannochia

Lloris

Should be able to deal with even the most physical of attacks.  I think the shortest person in that list is Kolarov at 6’2”, a few of them are 6’5” and all of them have very high strength, balance and jumping ability.  They aren’t extremely quick (although they’re not bad), but with that sort of presence I should be able to hold them back and narrow, and that I’m hoping will allow me to deal with the various threats posed by the Champions League (and by your team).

 

I find that I can use skill moves in some games, but not others, it depends a lot on whether the formation and pressing settings give you the time and pace or not.  The goal in there with all the moves is actually scored by two subs that came on, they often are very successful with their high ball-control against worn-out defenders.

 

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Its that time of year, where instead of counting months, we’re counting days until the new year.  And what better way to start a count down to the new year by marking each day with a video game from yesteryear.  Think of it as kinda like an advent calender – except healthy. (updated 19 December 2010, guessed by LewisPackwood)

1984 – SKULL

Think of this game as a very early and less complicated Etrian Odyssey for the Commodore 64.  But in reverse insofar as instead of a map being charted by you, it is being taken away from you as time goes on, which essentially forces you to rely on memory to navigate the maze and find the treasures hidden within.  Oh yeah, by the way there are skulls chasing you through the maze that mean insta-death if they catch you. Again, kinda like Etrian Odyssey.

26 Years ago – 26 Days to Go

1984

 

 

Do you know the game? Post your guesses in the comments section.  Come back tomorrow for another game in the countdown to 2011!

 


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My taste in videogames is kind of hard to pin down. I grew up playing equal parts innovative Amiga 500 videogames and crazy Japanese Role Playing Games and platformers. It may be easier to tell you what I don’t like. Sports games. Even then, it’s not that clear cut. Lets just say I like games. The problem is, even amongst the games I do like, most games don’t hold my interest for more than five hours or so. These days, I tend to lose steam about half way through your average length videogame – and if a game frustrates me, then it has no chance of ever making back onto my TV screen. So what is going wrong? Is it a case of “its not you, its me” between the gaming industry and I, or is it time for me to rethink my own gaming habits?


The Industry

So why do I play games? I’m an economist, so in my language what utility do I gain from engaging in this ‘time wasting’ activity? It’s an issue that has been tackled by all of our parents at some point; rather tactlessly I might add. But after 40 years of gaming existence the question still remains, why do we do it? I guess it’s the same reason we read a book, or see a film; but there is one main difference. The act of playing videogames in itself is a resistance upon society. Yes, videogaming is still in its relative infancy, and as such society as a whole still hasn’t grown to accept it as a legitimate use of one’s time. It’s not until we, as gamers, come up with a valid answer to the age old question of “why” that it will become legitimate in all pop culture circles. And that’s where it gets hard. Thinking about the question has caused me some soul searching to answer you this question “why do I play games?” But instead of an answer, I have become more disillusioned with my favourite past time. So sit down, relax, and enjoy the journey through my rather erratic train of thought on the issue.

I’ll start with the end. I think that video game industry, to some extent, has gone backwards. Somewhere along the line it lost partial sight of what it was trying to achieve. Lets go back to what gaming was about until not that long ago (and in some quarters, how it still is [no pun intended…]). Space Invaders, Galaga, Joust, Defender and Donkey Kong. What do these games have in common? Well a hell of a lot, but there is one very cohesive line running through all of these titles and it relates to what the player gets out of playing the game. You see there is no endgame in these titles. There are no cutscenes. no half-baked narrative and generally no morality choice you are forced to make (that’s no fair, Mass Effect 2 is probably the single most significant video game since Half Life). That’s right kids it wasn’t about that; but what it was about was something much simpler. Good old fashioned unadulterated fun. Has this changed? I posit that to some degree it has and that we play games for entirely different reasons now. The question here though is what is this change a function of? Technology advancements? Consumer choice perhaps? Or just a natural progression of the medium? Like it or not our past time has grown up; but it certainly has me considering whether its outgrown me. Allow me to explore this idea further.

Narrative has become a form of crack for gamers. I’ll plead guilty to saying on more than one occasion that I don’t read books because I satiate thirst for a good story from the games I play. I’ll now caveat that statement with this: games cannot replace film or literature. Yet. But I’ll ask you this question; do you feel satisfied with the closure of a videogame storyline as the credits role, or is there a sense of relief that its over? Me, well its probably about 75 per cent relief in cases and 25 per cent closure. Not a great strike rate. Of course it varies game to game, but there is one driving factor that usually will give me the push in the direction of seeing a game through to the closing credits; the next big release. Like it or not, we are somewhat slaves to the industry. Sure we can choose whether we do or not buy a game, whether we buy the next generation of console, even down to the level of supporting a game vocally on the various online forums. But in somewhere in that decision making process, we are bombarded with propaganda from not only the publishers but also those outlets of the press who are less strong in their convictions. When games are pitched as the ‘must have game of the year’, its hard to see it as a choice. At that point you are confronted with the internal dilemma, am I really a hardcore gamer? Imagine a film buff admitting he’s never seen Citizen Kane. Truth be told, that’s a ridiculous term – but it’s a construct of the way in which games are marketed and discussed in today’s industry. And as gamers it adds pressure, almost forcing you into somewhat of a time constraint to the point where it actually starts to feel like work. So while you do have a choice, it’s at the expense of being considered ‘in the know’. And it’s human nature to want to be ahead of the game.

Okay so we play games to be experts. And while I expect that when whoever gives my eulogy does so, they incorporate a long list of the games I have ‘completed’, I’ve come to the realisation its not the end of the world if I don’t finish a game to its end. And it doesn’t make you any less of a gamer. I hear a sudden sigh of relief from those who have played Gradius or Ikaruga. I’m with you. But this sentiment is ultimately lost once we start talking about the way videogames are treated by Sony and Microsoft. I see the merit of trophies and achievement points. I do. It is giving something ‘tangible’ to a player as a reward. But the question here is why do we feel the need to achieve something – and are these games so poorly designed that it doesn’t give the signal when you’ve achieved all it had to offer, whether it be credits rolling or a ‘good ending’ out of a number of possible endings? The answer here is ‘no, they’re not’, well at least no worse than previous generations have done.

The Player

Fellow Piranha poodle Senor Tubbs would characterise me as ‘otaku’ (hey, Otacon was cool, right?) noting my preference for the latest JRPG. Of course I’m not – at all, but I am a tragic for the genre – even going as far as to play the Dark Spire on the Nintendo DS (which is strangely awesome). But I am also a self confessed lover of the 2D fighter and the proposition of sitting down and playing BlazBlue for hours gives me no end of excitement, and defeating some tough-guy at the arcade (yes, we have a few left) in Street Fighter IV is about as outwardly excited as I’ll ever get.

BlazBlue Screenshot

Blazblue, you and I will be seeing a lot of each other over the next year...

The problem is, I don’t find time to play these games because I’m too busy playing everything else. So do I like the idea of videogames more than I like playing them?

The answer is a resounding, yes.

I remember when I lived at home, working a part-time job to pay my way through an Economics degree. Of course, outwardly that is what I was earning money for. But for anyone that was privy to have access to my bedroom saw a different story. Piles of videogames. Most unplayed. And some stretching as far back at 1991. “Why do you buy all of these games, you can’t play all of them” I vividly remember my parents saying. Although I disagreed with them at the time, I’ve grown up and realised that they were right. I couldn’t play all of them. Some I will probably never play.

So why do I buy them? Because I like the IDEA of them. “What’s that, Hideo Kojima has a new game? Oh, Tetsuya Nomura did the character art for this? – I love zippers”. I love the mythos behind videogames, the history, the personalities, the art. But I just can’t seem to enjoy the act of playing them quite as much. Folklore, I’m looking at you. And Cross Edge, you’re JUST as guilty.

The world ends with you

Tetsuya Nomura character design is like crack...

So its time to call it quits, so to speak.

Not completely of course.  But its time to quit old habits, if only for one reason. Being a gamer is expensive. There’s no doubt about it. I spend a significant proportion of my income on video games and video game related wares over the span of a year. As a trained economist, its easy to justify these purchases, much in the same way a petrol head would justify the purchase of something that makes their car louder, faster or just plain look cooler. I look to theories such as opportunity cost, utility, consumer preference, propensity to consume. All those good things. The thing is, I just can’t justify them anymore. Its not you, gaming industry, its me.

Which is why I am issuing a challenge to myself. The year 2010, ending with God of War III will henceforth be known as the year I don’t buy any new videogames. Sure, I have Heavy Rain coming next week, Final Fantasy XIII a few weeks after that, followed by BlazBlue and finally ending with God of War III, but that is it. It is. Really. I promise. The upside to all this is that I’ll get around to all those games I’ve been putting aside. Folklore here I come. But even better, I’ll get to dedicate more time to posting (sometimes) insightful articles on this here humble blog. So while you can’t expect me to be writing about the latest, you can expect me to touch on just about everything else.

Folklore PS3

Folklore, you're next.

Wish me luck.

Old Gaulian

(on a side note, check out 101videogames.wordpress.com where two British lads are counting down 101 games that made their lives slightly better.  The only site i’ve seen in ten years to discuss personal classics such as Stunt Car Racer and Colony Wars.  Be warned, they seem to love the Amiga 500 just as much as I do…)

(In order: images courtesy of Aksysgames.com, gamespot.com and playstation.com.au)



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