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Sing when winning: Pro Evo 13's bid to recapture the title

As the titans of the video game premiership prepare for their latest head-to-head, Stace Harman speaks to the Pro Evolution Soccer team about the past, present and future of the beautiful game.

My summer with PES

There are two things that I most fondly recall of early Pro Evo games (for me, it’s never been ‘PES’, the official abbreviation is too closely associated with small, sweet brickettes and their cartoon dispensers); the first is scoring the best goal that has ever been scored in any game of football anywhere in the world, ever. That includes real life, a video game, pub foosball, Subbuteo and your wildest dreams. I can’t even begin to explain the intricacies and exact movement that went into its creation because, frankly, I don’t remember much about it.

What I do remember is that it constituted one of those perfect moments that cause a rush of unbridled joy and that it had me jumping from my seat and tearing around the house shouting “goooooooooooooooal”! Everyone reading this will know exactly the feeling that I’m talking about because everyone reading this has scored that goal. That’s the beauty of playing video games or of being Lionel Messi.

The second thing I recall of early Pro Evo games is my youngest brother sitting cross-legged in front of the TV, patiently applying his encyclopaedic knowledge of the beautiful game to players, teams and kits using the in-game editor; a feat made necessary by Pro Evo’s lack of full official licenses.

One of these has long been one of Pro Evo’s strengths, the other has traditionally been a weakness. In the early days, the lack of full official licensing mattered less, because while FIFA was generally more popular, Pro Evo represented the thinking man’s football title, but as the years went by, Pro Evo’s star began to wane in comparison to the increasingly dazzling FIFA supernova.

FIFA had always been popular, of course, but it began to close the quality gap too, and it soon reached the point where the millions EA spent on endorsements, player likenesses, motion capture and music licences were the icing on the cake, rather than the cake itself.

A solid, well-formed game began to take shape beneath the glitz and glamour as FIFA turned itself from an arcade kickabout capable of producing ridiculous jumpers-for-goalposts score lines or runs of no-score-bore-draws into a closer, simulated facsimile of the beautiful game. At the same time, Pro Evo wasn’t so much doing anything wrong as it was doing anything at all, simply failing to fully deliver on its promises or evolve the way that FIFA was, but then it’s often easier to catch the frontrunner than it is to lead the pack.

A new generation

Like the arrival of a new manager or superstar player, current gen consoles herelded much promise and excitement amongst Pro Evo’s avid supporters; it even piqued the interest of lapsed Pro Evo players like me, who hadn't kicked a digital ball for some time.

Watch on YouTube

Pro Evo 2013 E3 Trailer

Unfortunately, Pro Evo’s initial efforts on the current gen were a mixed bag, which allowed FIFA to gain further credence with even the most discerning football console connoisseur and it started to attract defectors, further widening the gap between the two in the popularity stakes.

The discrepancy between the two in sales has been particularly noticeable in the football-loving UK, where EA claimed that last year’s FIFA 12 outsold its Pro Evo counterpart by an enormous 25:1, something that Jon Murphy, Pro Evo team leader, later claimed was not representative of his game’s success in wider Europe and its native Japan.

Murphy also expressed his frustration at constant off-kilter comparisons between the two rivals and stated that FIFA’s rise in quality over the years and its more authentic approach to digital football can be attributed to EA’s willingness to learn from its rival or, as Murphy more bluntly phrased it “...we shouldn’t forget that PES innovated all of this stuff and they did copy it”.

It was bait that EA refused to take, instead presenting a united front in claiming that the company is “very respectful” of its closest competitor, but you can be sure that won’t be the last that we hear on the matter from either camp.

Future prospects

As with all good football rivalries, real or virtual, there comes a point at which you have to stop focusing on your opponent’s achievements, the attention that it garners from the media and the perceived preferential treatment it might get from purveyors of the sport and instead focus on your own game. To Konami’s credit, it appears to be doing just that with the recent announcement that the Japanese company is to open a new UK-based Pro Evo studio, which should help it recapture some of the ground it has lost to EA over recent years and help Murphy in his campaign to have the Pro Evo team in Japan connect more closely with the fans in the UK.

“It’s probably fair to say that PES has suffered a little due to not having full officialicences.But we need to differentiate ourselves from FIFA, so that we don’t have totally the same licence, otherwise there will be no distinction, so, we're trying to focus on gameplay mprovements."

There’s also the host of new and refined features that Murphy highlights will be part of this Pro Evolution Soccer 2013, such as Player ID.

“Years and years ago, PES was known for being the first game to represent a player properly; like when we introduced Beckham's distinctive style of taking a free kick,” Murphy recalls. “Player ID is an expansion of that concept that covers skills and animations across all parts of the pitch. It also includes some unique skills or animations to specific players.

“There’s also the Proactive AI which responds more intelligently to where the ball is, meaning it will track up the pitch with you. With full manual passing you can lead players to have them run into space and with deft touch dribbling you can hold the ball up and the AI will spot that and try to create space for you.”

It’s clear that Konami will not be humbled by unflattering sales comparisons and distracting talk of “the glory days” of Pro Evo; its focus is on the road ahead. Additional improvements to other areas of this year’s Pro Evo include an overhauled tackling system, more responsive defending and intelligent goalkeepers who will be better at using different parts of their bodies to keep the ball out of the net, making it clear that Konami’s focus extends to all areas of the pitch, not just the sexy goal scoring positions.

Murphy’s presentation suggests that both the training system and myPES Facebook app will also receive attention. All of which means there’s just one major area that has not yet been directly discussed and it’s an area that, despite the willingness of many to make use of the comprehensive in-game editor, has contributed to Pro Evo losing out to FIFA in years gone by.

“It’s probably fair to say that PES has suffered a little due to not having full official licences,” concedes Pro Evo’s senior producer Naoya Hatsumi. “That’s why we’re in negotiations to add additional licensing to the franchise.

“We would point out that we have improved the edit functions to change the teams to look how the player wants them to. But we also need to differentiate ourselves from FIFA, so that we don’t have totally the same licence as FIFA, otherwise there will be no distinction and that’s why we’re trying to focus on the game play improvements.

“But, yes, as far as the licensing thing goes: we’re going to do our best.”

If football has taught us anything, it’s that the result of any one match is never a foregone conclusion. One team may have a swankier stadium and its player’s drive flashier cars, but you never know when the opposition is going to produce that moment of magic that sees it snatch victory. Footballing history is rife with just such stories and Konami is working to make the 2012-2013 season the one in which it rewards its fans, delivers on its promises and starts the long campaign to bring home the cup.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is out later this year on 3DS, PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, and Xbox 360.

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