Thursday, 9 September 2021

Ultimate Soccer Manager, the not so ultimate game of the genre

 


Ultimate Soccer Manager was created in 1995 by Impressions Games, company that specialized mainly in strategy games, hence the rather... let's call it unique, approach to the genre. While the general appearance of the game is rather positive - you have pretty nice looking graphics, interface in form similar to German games of the era, where each bit of interface is "hidden" within graphics - players were described only using very basic parameters (goalkeeping, defense, passing, shooting, speed and fitness), playing a match was not that great (a top-down view that does not give you much data to work on) and plenty of options were done just good enough, without getting into details.

 


Simplicity could be a good thing in such game - it is easy for new players to get into the details and find the options they need, but in case of Ultimate Soccer Manager it was more like lack of depth than just simplicity. I mean you can buy any player you want, even from top division while you play in 4th Division, if you have enough money. The training was very simple, although with so few parameters to work with it was hard to make a training complicated.

 


All England professional leagues and the Vauxhall Conference (amateur league) are simulated. There was also a disc with data for Italian league, there was additional version for French league, where practically only the data of the clubs and the names of players changed. Overall, it is quite a fun game, the set of options to managing the club is rich enough and the atmosphere is quite pleasant, but it was rather offer for casual players, who do not like to get involved with all the details of club management.






Monday, 26 July 2021

Premier Manager 09 - last in the line of classic soccer manager games

 

Premier Manager 09 - retro football manager game

Premier Manager games that started in 1992 and all throughout its lifetime concentrated solely on English professional divisions simulating and in pretty much the same scenario - you take club from lowest division and work your way up to the Premier Division. Premier Manager 09 was the last game of the series (well, almost, there was Premier Manager 12) created after Gremlin Interactive (creators of original games) closed their studio and development of the games in the series were moved elsewhere.

Zoo Digital Publishing, which took over the title, changed the basics of the game in rather questionable move - instead of concentrating on PC, they adapted a PC Fútbol game and presented it as the next title in Premier Manager series. On one hand it was move towards making the game available on Playstation consoles, but at the same time the new game lacked the depth of original titles.

Premier Manager 09 soccer manager game

Apart from interface, which had to be simplified to allow Playstation users to operate the game, also the player and club parameters were changed. But there were also positive parts in Premier Manager 09 - you could choose any team and start in any division, you could give staff orders, you would get reports from staff members, news from media and feedback from players. At the same time there were some limitations, for example none of the foreign clubs was fully simulated, most of the foreign leagues were limited to just handful of team, player parameters were a bit too simple. Match engine offered top-down view on the pitch, but it is hard to actually call it inspired form of watching the match.

While on surface very rough and riggit Premier Manager 09 was in fact not that bad - the interaction via e-mails and notes with the staff members work quite well, players interaction can build quite immersive feeling, but all of it was spoiled by a very simple interface that looked like quite old Playstation production, not to mention that some of the elements lacked the hover explanation.

Premier Manager 09 - classic football manager game

 Overall a pretty good game that was dragged down by Playstation style interface almost useless on PC, over-simplified match engine view and limited player database.

 

Premier Manager 09 - retro football manager game


Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Championship Manager 2010 - last in the line of classic games

 

Championship Manager was last game in this popular series - at this point Football Manager games, made by the people, who left the original team behind Championship Manager (Sports Interactive studio), was taking over position as single leader in the genre of soccer management games for PC. While the original games of the ChampMan series were just amazing, the premiere of Championship Manager 4 and Sports Interactive leaving the project, the series was neglected, so say the least, by Eidos Interactive, which later became Square Enix Europe.

What went wrong? It is hard to point exactly, but bit by bit Championship Manager games under the wings of Eidos Interactive, were getting out of touch with its audience. First of all there was not much progress between 2004 and 2009, which Football Manager was introducing new features. Championship Manager 2010 was first with the 3D match engine, which was a move in right direction, the interface was improved, new divisions were introduced, new features were added... yet it failed to gain much attention comparing to its main competitor.



Unfortunately with each improvement there were some really, really weird mechanics or simply bugs that broke the experience. Simplest example is the match engine itself - what do you think are the chances that one of the teams will score a goal in first minute? No, higher than that. Nope, you're still too low. Or rather Championship Manager 2010 has this parameter far too high, because goals being scored within first 2 minutes is quite common sight. You can even find screenshots, where people show score 3-0 and it is 9th minute of the match...

Similar story was with the injuries - it is hard to get through a match without one. Literally injury, not someone just being bruised or tired, in most of the matches your players will get injured so they will have to leave the pitch and spend some time recovering. Match engine itself had some issues as well - often players with plenty of space to dribble would try some hopeless shots or goalkeeper saves shot and defender, instead of letting goalie to pick up the ball would send it in the stands.


On the other hand there were some good ideas invested in Championship Manager 2010, like scouting network, but then again it was implemented in such way that it can't be named anything else than a disaster. The idea was that you "hire" scouting network to be active in specific country or area of the world and from time to time you will get their reports pointing at good players. Sounds great, right? But when I mention that you will get those reports almost every day and you have no influence what they will contain, does it still sound great? You literally have zero influence on that network, so you will be flooded with reports about players that are too old, too expensive, too weird or absolutely useless. You will get reports that list same players over and over again, you will get reports about players that you already were told about or one who would never consider joining your club.

Scouting also had one good option that worked in surprising way. You can scout yourself by setting requirements (quite specific requirements) and game would filter out all players according to those requirements. And there was no problem with that, apart from making your scouting network rather redundant, because you can invite most of them for trial, when you will learn all of their parameters at once without spending weeks on observing them. That is quite useful, but also breaks the basic concept of the game, where you should gather the data with time and some of the parameters should be not fully known.

And there was one more problem with that, the problem that at some point you will realize there are tons of pretty good players available at any time on the out of contract list. And I don't mean good players, like decent amateurs, you can find really great talents and sign them for peanuts and with minimum effort put into it. That makes the whole transfer system almost redundant, because there are so many cheap and good players on free agent list that there is no point in negotiating transfers with other clubs, unless you are looking for real top quality player worth millions. Although, with time, you can find some of them on the free agent list or sign contracts with them when their contracts will be running out soon.

Overall Championship Manager 2010 was not a bad game, you can still enjoy playing it right now, but it is one of those examples, when rushing title to be published before it was properly tested is really not a good idea. ChampMan 2010 failed to beat Football Manager, but it had improvements comparing to previous games and with some more work put into it it could have been a very good game. Unfortunately we all know that Square Enix is not a fan of anything other than Final Fantasy series, so it not surprising that Championship Manager 2010 was last in the series of legendary games.