While putting together the book, Football Manager Stole My Life, my co-authors and I trawled hundreds of personal accounts of virtual chalkboard addiction. We spoke to games journalists, psychologists and actual, real life footballers who had been afflicted. We even went back and played innumerable seasons of classic Championship/Football Manager too. Just for research. Oh Christ, here come the sweats.
We never set out to help cure anyone. All we wanted to do was to let people know that they were not alone. That there were others like them out there, wandering this world in body while their minds were elsewhere entirely. Probably scouting the Eredivisie for 19 year-old wingbacks. All roads lead back to Holland.
What follows is an amalgamation of stories designed to show you what lurks in the shadows of this hidden world, a bit like those one of those videos about heroin that they used to show you at school. This is what can happen when you play Football Manager too much.
DAY ONE: You feel a frisson of guilt that you ve just spent three hours on a pre-season campaign, but you shrug it off with a smile. It was fun, wasn t it? You assigned most of the more mundane tasks to your assistant, because you don t want to waste time on stuff like coaching, do you? That s what coaches are for. You re just happy enough to make a jokey bid for Lionel Messi and then play some games. And you did well too. There are now four Japanese second division teams who won t forget your name in a hurry. Well done, you.
DAY TWO: The season didn t start well and you think you know why. You were too casual yesterday. You just threw a team out, you didn t prepare them on a game-by-game basis. You didn t even work on set-pieces. Who are you, Harry Redknapp? While your partner is watching television, you devise an intricate corner routine that sends your strikers to the far post, hopefully dragging the opposition defenders with them, while the ball goes to the near post where your towering central midfielder lurks ominously. It pays instant dividends and you win the next game 3-0. You ve never felt such a profound sense of satisfaction. This set piece is probably what Hawking meant when he described looking into the face of God.
DAY THREE: After reading an article about Manchester United s Class of 92 , you resolve to pay more attention to your youth players. When your partner heads upstairs for an early night, you plough through until 1am, carefully tailoring individual coaching routines for every member of your U18 squad, teaching them new skills, assigning them new roles. They won t all make it, of course, there will be some casualties. Not all can earn the fabled black card. But every youngster deserves a chance, an opportunity to make the most of their potential. And that s what you re going to give them.
DAY FOUR: Your partner is out late tonight. You don t mind. In fact, you re quite keen that they stay out longer because European qualification is still mathematically possible. You need to find an edge somehow. You take over the youth team completely and use them to experiment with a back three, leaving one defender to cover, using another to push up and support your midfield. This might be the x-factor you ve been looking for. At 2am, you step away from the laptop and wonder if your partner is actually coming home. You pad up the stairs and check the bedroom. They re already home, already asleep. You never even heard the front door.
DAY FIVE: You spend two hours at work reading about the history of your adopted team on WIkipedia. As you scroll down the screen, taking in the stories of the past, committing the names of heroes long gone to memory, you feel a sense of swelling pride and an increasing responsibility to the badge. For a moment, you consider adding your own achievements to the page, but you hold back. After all, you re not that sad. When you get home, you get straight back to the grindstone, attending an England U19 qualifier to see how a young transfer target copes with the pressure of a big game.
DAY SIX: Success! You ve finished a season and booked your place in Europe. You click the button that delivers a short speech to your players, congratulating them on their success, but in your head, you deliver a far longer and far more personal one. You go through your players one by one, checking their stats, thanking them for their contribution. Then you hear laughter behind you. Your partner is standing at the door. You ve been speaking out loud. You are told to stop being so silly and to come to bed because you have real work tomorrow. Clough probably had to bite his lip in the early days too.
DAY SIX/SEVEN: That would have been a sensible place to save and exit, but you just wanted to see how the World Cup went. After all, a number of your players will be involved and it s a great place to scout for upcoming talent. You start to click through, but you see other teams making bids for players and you don t want to be left behind. Quickly, you run through your shortlist and start firing bids out. But you can t go to bed until you know if the bids were successful, so you keep clicking through. And through. And through. And then you hear the worst noise that any Football Manager can hear. Bird song.
DAY EIGHT: Your partner isn t very well and you have to cancel a night out. You re delighted. You pack them off to bed with a cup of tea and a packet of extinction level event Cold & Flu medicine. While they snooze, you cruise through your second pre-season. You ve got plans, you ve got ideas, you ve got targets to aim at. You know all this because while you were making a cup of coffee, you gave an extended interview to the Daily Telegraph s Henry Winter within the confines of your own head. He seemed nice. If you ever write your autobiography, you have a feeling that Henry will be the man to ghost it.
DAY NINE: It s all going so well. You re gliding through games now, tweaking and shifting formations, confident that you know what you can reasonably expect from your players. In an open and far-reaching interview with The Mirror s Oliver Holt, you explain the secret of your success: Trust. You trust these boys and they respond with consistently excellent performances. Of course, there was the incident with that young Belgian lad. He objected when you fined him for his dismissal at the Emirates, you argued and he ended up on the transfer list. Pour encourager les autres, you tell Holt. You both laugh heartily. Then you realise that you re in the queue for the deli in Sainsburys and people are staring.
DAY TEN: Your boss calls. He wants to know why you ve saved a Word document to the public server that appears to be a very long list of surnames with scattered comments like, needs to work on tackling, and, might develop after a loan spell. You tell him that it was an experimental staff assessment template and was something you had hoped to unveil at the next monthly meeting. He buys it and he s impressed. Too impressed. Now you need to come up with an actual experimental staff assessment template because you ll be unveiling it to the rest of the office at the end of the week. You tell your partner, but receive only a long sigh in return. That s so typical of them. Sometimes it s like they don t understand the importance of European coefficients at all.
DAY ELEVEN: A terrible knee injury robs you of your goalkeeper in March. You spend the rest of the night watching your games through your hands as your rusty reserve stopper makes a hash of everything that comes his way. You hold an immediate inquest and conclude that the only way to keep your back-up players fresh is to manually control your reserve team. But it s too late for this season. Your title hopes are dashed in a grim eight-match winless run, but you do at least reach the FA Cup Final. Injuries can happen to anyone, you tell Geoff Shreeves as you work on the washing up. In a way, it might be a blessing. It takes the pressure off and we ll learn from this experience. Geoff purrs politely then lifts his leg in the air and licks his own bottom.
DAY TWELVE: This is it. It s Cup Final day. You take a walk around the block to clear your head, imagining yourself to be strolling around the grounds of your hotel, idly chatting about the weather in an effort to calm your players down. And then it s time. And because things have to be done properly, you put on your best suit and blast Abide With Me through Spotify. That s not overdoing it, that s just enjoying the moment. Shaking hands with the door knob and pretending to introduce your team to Prince William; that was overdoing it.
DAY THIRTEEN: You argue with your partner about the amount of time you re spending on the laptop. You make a spirited defence, claiming that Football Manager is cheaper than gambling, healthier than drinking and safer than most of the drugs. It s a brilliant riposte and, had your partner still been in the house when you d thought of it, it would almost certainly have won the argument. But if the house is empty, then there s no-one to object to another few pre-season games, is there? Every cloud, eh?
DAY FOURTEEN: You look up briefly from a detailed report on a regenerated Peruvian right-back who s been turning heads in La Liga. Where is your partner? It s been quiet for a really long time. There s an envelope on the kitchen table with your name on it. You definitely saw it on the last coffee run, but you didn t open it. Maybe there s a clue in there. Maybe not. It doesn t matter. You re just one player away from challenging for the title. And then you ll be a winner. And then they ll see. They ll all see.
One of my favourite football stories is from a recent interview with charismatic Real Madrid boss José Mourinho. He relayed an anecdote about his time at Internazionale with football’s current enfant terrible, Mario Balotelli. The mercurial Italian was the one striker fit for an important Champions League tie, with all others injured. Booked three minutes before half-time, Balotelli spent the 15-minute break being begged by his manager not to get into trouble. Mourinho recalls what he said at the time: “Mario, I cannot you. I don’t have a striker on the bench. If we lose the ball, no reaction. If somebody provokes you, no reaction. If the referee makes a mistake, no reaction. Mario, please.” Mourinho grins. “Minute 46: red card.”
The point being that a manager is never entirely in control. Once those players cross that white line, your influence is relatively limited. You can bark instructions, adjust tactics and make substitutions, but for all the hard work you’ve invested, the game is now in the hands of 11 men you have no choice but to put your faith into. Football Manager fans will know that feeling all too well, and the latest entry in the series makes its most major tweaks in how and when you’re able to interfere.
The landmark addition is the new Classic mode, which rewinds the game to something more akin to Championship Manager circa 1998, delivering fewer options and quicker seasons. There’s also the initially worrying addition of paid-for unlockable managerial aids.
A high tempo attacking game can work wonders in Europe, particularly against Mediterranean sides.
I’ll get to both of those, but if you’re a long-time FM stalwart, you’ll be happy to know the game’s core sim mode better captures the caprices of the game than ever before. Certainly, the 3D match engine is more believable than ever. Look at the pitch, and you’ll see a wealth of improvements.
For starters, the animation is superior. It’s far from perfect, with the odd instance of players moonwalking onto through-balls, while substitute warm-ups are occasionally a touch too energetic. During a typically powerful run from an authentically industrious James Milner, my eyes were drawn to the Duracell bunny frantically bouncing up and down to his right. But watch the games from a more distant viewpoint, and you’ll notice subtle tweaks to positioning, movement and body shape that make it seem much more natural. If you’ve stuck to the comparatively abstract top-down perspective until now, give it a go: you might be surprised.
You will see the odd AI flub: instances where defenders and goalkeepers get awfully confused, with the latter thumping the ball into their own net. But you’ll also see off-the-ball runs, delicate chips, bamboozling deflections, goalmouth scrambles and sundry other subtleties that prove an altogether convincing facsimile of the real thing. The mistakes are only jarring because the rest looks and feels so right. And when ‘right’ involves a slide-rule pass through the heart of the opposition defence and your striker latching onto the ball to lash it into the roof of the net for an injury-time winner, just try not to punch the air in delight. But time spent spectating is only
You can extensively customise your match-viewing experience, down to the stats that pop up during play.
a tiny percentage of the Football Manager experience. The rest of the time you’ll be looking at screens full of words and numbers; a glorified spreadsheet, the detractors say. They’re still not entirely wrong, but this is a slicker, more intuitive and more readable interface than before. Sports Interactive has learned some tricks developing for portable consoles and smartphones. It’s a textbook example of how to make a game more accessible without losing anything important.
Ditto the new Classic Mode, which slices out many of the minor tasks to focus on the basics. Is that enough to win back those who’ve moved away from the series as it has grown increasingly complex? Certainly it’s possible to get through the season that bit quicker without having to worry too much about tax issues and the like. Press enquiries are now restricted to a single question – enough to give you a flavour of the media interactions modern managers have to deal with on a regular basis, but not so much that it distracts you from the bigger picture. And if you find that you miss dealing with the press, you can always revert to Sim Mode and ask your Director of Football to assume the responsibilities you’re not willing to deal with.
By contrast, if you’re particularly time-poor or just want to whizz through non-vital games, you can set up a series of Match Plans that automatically change tactics if you need to chase the game, or if you fancy adopting the classic catenaccio approach when you’re a goal to the good to keep things tight. In other words, it’s as hands-on or hands-off as you want it to be – or as your leisure time allows, at any rate.
It's worth training a few players specifically for set-pieces.
If you’re an inexperienced manager shakily taking the reins of a big club, it’s even wise to relinquish a few responsibilities. At Man City, I noticed almost all my players had low morale, with the vast majority expressing doubts about my ability to handle the job. Just to make things worse, Roberto Mancini would pop up regularly to comment on upcoming fixtures, warning of opposition danger men. Wary that he was casting a long shadow, I decided to hire a very experienced assistant to take responsibility for training and team talks. Delegation needn’t be a dirty word; control freaks may find that they’re unable to unite a divided dressing room without a little help.
You’re also given the opportunity to make life easier for yourself with a range of cheats (sorry, ‘accelerators’) you can pay real-world money for, although most are automatically unlocked along with certain accomplishments. After an indifferent start to the season as City manager – which in itself is pretty much akin to an infinite money cheat – I found myself with an apparent must-win Champions League game in just the third week of October. The press speculation was accompanied by the legend ‘become unsackable’, an option that proved extremely tempting under such early pressure.
You can refresh your transfer budget, remove work permit limitations, or even increase the likelihood that top players will join your League One stragglers. It’s fantasy football, then, but isn’t that what Football Manager is all about in the first place?
Begin a managerial feud during your first week in charge.
Cynics would point to the addition of cheats as evidence of a franchise dumbing down for the casual player. Yet they’re not even an option in Sim Mode so as not to upset the purists, so it’s hard to argue too vociferously against their inclusion. Not least because the game is as challenging as ever, even in Classic Mode, and even with this optional assistance. You might think you’ve happened across a formation to accommodate the egos of your striking quartet, but then you’re humbled 4-1 at home by Wigan and forced to rethink things. An entirely hypothetical situation, you understand.
Having played three full seasons across the top English, US and Italian divisions – as well as a bit of tinkering as an unemployed manager touting myself around the lower leagues – I’ve noticed a few things cropping up a little too regularly to be put down to simple tactical ineptitude on my part. While you’ll occasionally happen across more direct sides, most play a passing game that would shame the tiki-taka talents of the Catalans. You’ll frequently see drilled crosses from the byline tapped in by strikers, even when you get your winger to track back in order to double up against pacy wide men. Sure, you’ll benefit from a number of similar goals, but it’s an unrealistically common occurrence. You may also find that you concede an alarming number of instant equalisers.
They say you’re most vulnerable when you’ve just scored, but the game often doesn’t give you an opportunity to close ranks before your goalie’s picking the ball out of his own net.
Still, as with Classic Mode, it’s reasonably easy to ignore the gristle and concentrate on the juicy meat of the game, and there’s more than ever to chew on. The network game now allows you to take your side online to compete against other players, while a series of scenarios – typically lasting half a season – give you a more tangible end goal to work towards. Besides, few games regularly generate such brilliant stories as this one. One of my favourites came during a league match, when injuries, suspensions and a poorly-timed bout of food poisoning left me with just one fit striker. I needn’t tell you his name. He came in at the break having been booked for persistent fouling, so I made a point of adjusting his instructions to lessen the chance of confrontation. Minute 52: red card.
It's wise to keep an eye on players' condition during a game. Haul them off if they're struggling to keep up.
Expect to pay: £30 Release Out: now Developer: Sports Interactive Publisher: Sega Multiplayer: Up to 32 players Link: www.footballmanager.com
Football, to paraphrase the great Bill Shankly, may be more important than life and death, but sadly such inconveniences tend to get in the way of the digital version. In recent years I’ve found myself drifting away from Sports Interactive’s series as it grows steadily more complex – and with it, more time-consuming.
This season’s headline feature, the stripped-back Classic mode, feels made for me: I can whizz through a season in half the time, ignoring peripheral concerns and concentrating on buying players, picking my team and sending them out to do me proud. Crucially, it still feels like FM: convenient, rather than compromised.
I start the preview version by taking the reins at Man City. It feels strange: the point of FM is the realisation of the eternal fan complaint, “I could do a better job”. In the past, picking City gave you the chance to exceed low expectations, but no longer being the underdog brings pressures of a different kind. Still, a £100m transfer budget? Not the worst problem to have.
I follow my scout’s instructions and sign Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz. Ruiz arrives on a temporary visa – at which point a little shopping trolley appears at the bottom-right, allowing me to pay real-world cash to abolish work permits. That might sit uneasily with FM veterans – although it’ll never show up in Sim mode, paying to remove inconvenient design decisions, even those based on reality, never feels satisfying. The option to top up my transfer budget appears next, and more options turn up later in the campaign.
The pace is palpably quicker. You can even hit an Instant Result button, which puts match day responsibilities in the hands of your management team. I regret it the one time I try this – a match I’d comfortably won on a different save ends up a 2-1 bum-squeaker. Players and tactical selections are erratic, and one of my team is sent off, failing to understand the concept of a friendly by scissoring his opponent in a vicious touchline lunge.
That incident does, however, highlight the superior animation and match engine. It’s still awkward at times – player positioning is immaculate, but the ball takes some bizarre bounces, while players will shuffle sideways like crabs. Yet it’s more satisfying to see your striker slam one into the top corner than in the overhead view, and even with some kinks to iron out it’s a marked improvement on last year.
Sim mode, meanwhile, now allows you to get moody in press conferences. You can be timid, deadpan or aggressive as you praise or berate rivals or players. And it’s as authentic as ever: here, Balotelli turned up for the first day of training with whiplash, claiming he’d got it from a fall at home. Perhaps the bookies should consider revising those 7-2 title odds.
Developer: Sports Interactive Publisher: Sega Link: www.footballmanager.com Release: winter 2012
Attention, ballfoot fans! Get out the iron and flatten out those touchline suits. The latest iteration of Football Manager will go live on Steam at one minute past midnight on November 02, and you can get in two weeks early if you pre-order from one of these places.
That's according to an announcement post on the Football Manager 2012 site, which explains that the beta version "will be very close to the final game." It'll include "FM, classic mode & challenges," but no network game. Beta saves will be compatible with the full game when it's released.
You can hear about this year's updates, and the new classic mode, from the ever-affable Miles Jacobson in our Football Manager 2013 interview. If you'd rather get the goods via your eyes have a look at the Football Manager 2013 announcement video.
“I’m pretty happy with the way it is at the moment,” says Sports Interactive boss Miles Jacobson of the latest edition of the world’s most popular footy management sim. After yesterday’s video announcement, we rang Miles for a chinwag about challenges, cheats and camera angles – and why this year’s edition promises to be the most accessible Football Manager in years.
This year’s big new addition is the streamlined Classic Mode. What prompted you to introduce it?
It’s been in planning for a few years. There aren’t many features that we come up with immediately and put it into next year because we tend to work in three-year cycles - so at the moment even though I’m directing FM13 I’m still involved with designing 14, 15 and 16. But something we’ve seen happening more and more over the last few years, particularly in comments sections on more mainstream games sites and in newspapers for example, is that people are saying “we don’t have the time to play it any more”. After we finished FM11 I actually brought it up in the post-mortem afterwards: I asked how many people had played the game and most of the younger guys in the studio put their hands up. But some of the old-school guys…we’ve got 16 people here now who’ve been at the studio for more than ten years, and I think only three of the 16 put their hand up at that point. So I just asked the others, “Why haven’t you played it? You clearly still enjoy the game or you wouldn’t still be working here.” And they were all saying, “Yeah, but I’ve got kids and I have to spend some time with them,” or “My partner wants to spend some time with me,” or “I’ve got to go and see the family, so I just don’t have the time to put into it any more.” And that was basically the point where the bank broke.
We were already doing FM Handheld at that point, and I said to them, “Why don’t you play Handheld instead?” and got “Well, it’s not deep enough for me, I want to be able to do this stuff, I just don’t have the time to do it.” So that’s when a few of the very senior people within the studio including myself and Oliver Collyer sat down and started plotting. And then I put it into production this year. Actually, we were going to look at doing it as a completely separate game, but I just thought: why not have it as part of the PC package and reward the people who’ve played our game for years by giving them extra modes? Or let new players have Classic mode as the first port of call, and if they find that they like it maybe they’ll move up to Sim mode. Or maybe they’ll try out the Challenge mode or Network games. It’s all about trying to provide a game that entertains as many people as possible, really. And the only way to do it while keeping the simulation completely sacrosanct was to have a new game mode in there.
Are there any further options within Classic mode that players can turn on or off to further adjust the game?
We’ve tried to design it in a simple way. There are ways to turn other things off inside the game which basically involve DLC, as it would in a lot of other games. If you want to accelerate your progress and get rid of work permits, for example, you can do that, though none of that stuff’s available for the main mode because, as I said earlier, that’s remaining sacrosanct. So it’s basically the ideal game for people with kids and without a lot of time on their hands. You can play a season in a couple of evenings, say between eight to ten hours, so in two or three evenings you get through a season, whereas in the main game it’s going to take you a week to two weeks. Hopefully we’ve got the balance right, but I’m sure if we haven’t people will tell us we haven’t. And that’s when we’ll work on things for FM Classic 14!
Obviously since the last game you’ve worked on smartphone versions of the game. Have any of the refinements you made been informed by your work on the iOS and Android versions?
Very much so. For each game we release we have various things that we’re trying for the first time and if they work we’ll roll them out to the other games. The perfect example of that with Handheld was the Challenge mode which went down better than we ever imagined it would. And then when we released more challenges as extra purchasable content, they went down way better than we were expecting as well, so it’s helped steer us into adding that stuff on PC and Mac versions of the game. If people want that kind of thing in there, then great - we’ll give it to them.
Tell us a little more about these unlockable modifiers – are they essentially cheats of a form?
We don’t call them cheats, we call them accelerators - we’re allowing people to accelerate their gameplay if they want to. Because cheats is a bad word, apparently. Whereas I grew up cheating on games and POKE-ing Spectrum games - which is actually how I learned a bit about code back in the day. It was even better when games were written in BASIC and you could just find the cash line and change it. But yeah, we thought we’d experiment with it and see if people like it or not. Because no one has to use them, they’re not things that necessarily enhance the game. They just speed the game up for people.
Is that the thinking behind having some of them as premium content?
Yeah, completely. We don’t want to denigrate the game. Certainly, in the simulation mode you can’t use any of these things anyway, it’s only there for the classic game. They are completely optional, and besides, we need to experiment with DLC for the future because of the way that the games market is going. We also have FM Online which is a massively multiplayer online game coming out in Korea later in the year that’s free to play with microtransactions. What we enforced as a rule when it came to the extra content was that none of it would be stuff that people need. It’s just stuff that people want. So we’re not forcing anyone to use it at all, if people want to it’s completely optional. I think that’s quite a big difference between us and the way that a lot of other people are working it – other times you can’t get to a certain level in the game unless you do spend some money.
It’s a particularly common concept in smartphone games on the moment – you have to spend to access later levels, or you can only get a high score if buy extras that give you more power...
…and that’s something that we want to avoid. That’s why we decided to go down the route of allowing these things to be cheats. Seven out of the 12 or 13 unlockables are achievable in game by reaching certain targets, so if you win certain competitions that will the unlockable for you anyway. So you can think of them as extra features, if you like - you get some as rewards and then six of them are essentially cheats.
So there’s a Man City mode where you can top up your transfer money…
Well, it’s a Man City mode for much smaller teams. If you want to take over a lower league team in Belgium and buy Leo Messi for them, you can, but again there are people out there who just want the best team as is humanly possible. I mean, we’ve seen with things like FIFA Ultimate Team that people are really into this kind of thing. So why should we stop them having the possibility of doing it if they want to? We’re well aware that there will be people out there who don’t like this stuff - there are people inside this studio who don’t really like this stuff - but at the end of the day you’ve got to make the option for people who do want it, because who are we to turn around and tell people exactly how they should play this mode of the game?
You’ve modified the media interactions to allow for a range of moods. If you’ve been heavily beaten at home, can you send your assistant out there to talk on your behalf?
Yeah, you can do that in the Sim mode. In Classic mode you might get a question after the game but you’d only get one – there are no press conferences in Classic mode. And now that you’ve got the tone system as well inside Sim mode, what would actually be more fun is if you’d been battered at home after a game, to go out there and be really angry with the press. Before, all of the answers were given in one tone so you couldn’t really get your personality across. Whereas now you’ve got the tone system in there, and you can really go to town on your team or you can defend them as well, depending on the personality you want to have inside the game.
Is it increasingly hard to create a balanced sim of what has become an unbalanced sport in recent years, what with all the so-called ‘financial doping’ that’s been happening lately?
I think we’re more balanced than the real football world. This year the financial market inside the game has changed because the recession’s really bitten now. There are also other changes that have happened in the football world that maybe work better as a computer simulation than in the real world, such as 25-man squads. Having 25-man squad means that teams inside the game don’t tend to do a QPR and go out and buy too many players for their squad, so in that sense we’ve always been slightly more balanced than the real world. But then we do also have the sugar daddies in there and you do get stupid sponsorship deals every now and again. I mean, I’ve lost count of how many sponsorship deals Manchester United have now; it’s well into double figures. We have to be mindful of the fact that it happens in real life and so it happens in the game as well.
I suppose there are different targets according to how much money you have in the game anyway…
Yes, of course. The pressure on you as Man City’s manager is way higher than the pressure if you take over Weymouth.
You’ve introduced new tax regimes and Financial Fair Play edicts - at what point does that get too much? Do you ever think perhaps you might have to scale back a little from the real thing, or is the intent always to create a totally comprehensive simulation?
It can’t get too much because when we believe it gets too much for the person playing the game we will put systems in place to make it easier for them to understand it all. So this year the tax regimes is a big deal, Financial Fair Play is stricter, and you’ve got various other financial restraints from around the world that have been added into the game. All of which is why we now have a projection within the game so that people can actually see how everything they do is going to affect their budget – not just for the rest of the season, but for two years in the future as well. So when things become complicated, we find easier ways for it to be explained to people. You don’t need an accounts degree to play the game, although if you did have an accounts degree then you would probably have a better understanding of some of it as a result. We try to explain it simply enough so that even I can understand it – and I don’t have an accounts degree!
How have you changed the network game?
Well, we essentially threw away the old network game and brought it into the 21st century. We were still stuck in 1995, with people having to type in their IP address and be the host with other servers going into them. Now we’re doing it all through Steam. Effectively, we’ve got dedicated servers, though they’re not just dedicated to us – they’re also used for Team Fortress 2 and various other games as well. And because of that we kept in the other mode in case people still want to use that. But this time we’ve also added in a bunch of new online modes, so you can set up your own custom leagues or custom cups, and you can even take your team from your saved game and use that in network games so you’re not just restricted to the starter teams in the database.
Tell us a little about the more ‘televisual’ match engine. I gather you’ve been studying different camera angles during games on TV?
We have four different TV feeds coming into the office, so we watch a lot of those camera angles, particularly for replays. We try to do a lot of that stuff because of certain legal restraints there’s only a certain level of the pitch that we’re able to show, and we have to have a certain number of players on screen at any one time.
So are these legal requirements?
Yeah. Various licences work in various different ways. And when you’re working in a world where you’re covering 51 countries’ leagues you’ve got to be quite careful about the legal and licensing side of things. So there’s a certain level of zoom that we can go to, which is fixed. As well as there being a new camera angle called the rail cam, for all the other cameras you can zoom in as far as we’re legally allowed to go. In other words, the cameras are a lot more configurable for the user so that they’re able to get the view that they want to have. That’s obviously a nice thing to have, along with hundreds of extra animations, better-looking pitches… we’ve just added water bottles to the pitches next to the dugouts in the last few days. There’s a whole new physics engine in there, which isn’t a licensed engine, it’s something that we’ve written from scratch specifically for the ball movement. We’ve got improved collision detection as well, and there’s also the AI – it wasn’t so much ripped up and started again, but we ripped a few pages out and redid them. And that’s been ongoing for the last two years with Paul Collyer and his team. Last year there were some new animations but we stayed away from changing the AI because we were already working on it for this year.
It’s been a couple of years in the making and I’m pretty happy with the way it is at the moment. We’ve still got a way to go, and still got some things to fix with it which is one of the reasons we don’t have a release date yet apart from before Christmas. But we’re getting there, and we’re confident of it being the best match engine yet.
So when can we expect the release date to be announced?
Basically, it will be announced once we’ve decided what it is. Thankfully, Sega are pretty good with us on things like that because it doesn’t take long to manufacture a PC game - although it’s interesting to see another publisher announce that would be coming out in a couple of weeks today which they managed to keep incredibly quiet. We’ve got a target release date, but we won’t announce the date until we know we’re going to hit that date. Otherwise, sod’s law is that we announce and something goes wrong, and then I have to announce two hours later that we’re going back a week or something. It’s just not worth it.
It’s that time of year when the leaves turn brown, the air gets chilly, and the ass-shaped groove in your favourite chair gets a little deeper. Yes, it’s almost Football Manager time – and, much like a new boss cheerfully clutching a wad of petrodollars from an obscenely wealthy overseas backer, this year’s edition arrives promising wholesale changes.
The headlining feature of Football Manager 2013 is a welcome one for those who’ve grown rather overwhelmed by the feature creep in recent years. The new Classic mode – or ‘FMC’ as the press blurb is keen to refer to it as – cuts out many of the minor responsibilities, allowing you to focus on the fundamentals. “We decided to try to find a way to accommodate players with limited free time, without significantly diluting the experience,” says Sports Interactive’s Miles Jacobson. SI suggests that FMC allows players to complete an entire season in 8-10 hours.
Also new in FM13 is a Challenge mode taken from the smartphone versions of last year’s game. There are five challenges in total, each lasting around half a season, and all recreating scenarios common to the beautiful game: attempting to win trophies with a team of youngsters, for example, or escaping relegation after footing the table over the festive season. If the mode proves popular, SI has promised to provide further downloadable challenges throughout the year, which may or may not include being asked to win the title after losing your star striker to an extended golfing holiday for two-thirds of the campaign.
Elsewhere, you’ll be able to unlock additional modifiers to give yourself a mid-season boost, topping up your funds during the transfer window, or cutting the red tape that’s holding up your expensive import’s work permit. And if all this makes it sound a bit like FM’s gone all sports casual on us, fear not: the main game remains gleefully uncompromising. Says Jacobson: “I would, however, like to stress to our many, many fans around the world that the introduction of FMC will not impact in any way on the game that they’ve come to know and love.” Heck, how many games this year are promoting ‘realistic tax regimes’ as a new feature?
Other bits and bobs include a “more televisual” match engine, use of Steam’s network functionality, leaderboards, a new UI and the ability to create a more flexible training regimen. Media interaction has also been tweaked, offering a range of moods that will hopefully allow you to sulkily send out your assistant after a battering at home from your nearest rivals, or to nonchalantly dismiss your team’s title hopes when you’re ten points clear with three to play. It’s out on PC and Mac at some point before Christmas 2012.
It's one of the great breakups in gaming. Up there with John Romero leaving id Software, or West and Zampella walking out on Activision. The story of how the developers behind Championship Manager, one of the most profitable and successful game series of all time, left their publisher Eidos, and abandoned the franchise they'd spent years building to start again with Sega and Football Manager.
Until now everyone involved was legally unable to talk about what happened, but yesterday Sports Interactive's Miles Jacobson and Eidos' Ian Livingstone finally spoke about why the two split nine years ago.
The pair were brought together by the Game Horizon conference, where Edge reports Jacobson was asked about the situation. He replied “During our times with Eidos and Domark there were some run-ins. But legally I’m not allowed to talk about this unless I get permission.” At this point Livingstone agreed to let him continue.
Jacobson claims Sports Interactive felt they weren't getting enough respect at Eidos, with Jacobson saying “There seemed to be an attitude at the time in the industry that anyone could make games.” They were also asking for increased royalties on the series, arguing that they shared as much risk as Eidos.
Livingstone said he was concerned that Sports Interactive would leave Eidos in search of a better deal, believing they were speaking to other publishers, which Jacobson denied. So, while Sports Interactive worked on Championship Manager 4, Eidos signed Beautiful Game as insurance against such a split. Ironically it was this action that prompted Jacobson and the Collyer brothers to finally leave. "They told me that BGS were making a platform game," said Jacobson. "I thought our number was up."
So nine years later, we can finally understand why it all happened. Neither side trusted each other, both were convinced the other was out to undermine them. In such situations, the break up was inevitable.
SEGA have just announced that many of their European offices are about to close. New distribution partners have been announced across France, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
The veteran developer/publisher are "realigning" their strategy and closing all offices apart from the London headquarters. The UK office will be responsible for managing European distribution from July 1st, assisted by Koch Media, Level03 Distribution and 5 Star Games.
“SEGA is entering a new and exciting phase that will position the company as a content led organisation maximising sales with strong and balanced IP such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Total War, Football Manager and the Aliens franchise,” said Jurgen Post, COO of SEGA Europe.
Rumours of closures originated at E3 but were quickly snuffed out by Studio Director at Sports Interactive, Miles Jacobson. His crytpic tweet may or may not have something to do with the sport they call "footkick."
Good luck to all at Sega Europe with their transition into the digital-heavy strategy. Our sympathies go out to those affected negatively by the changes.