The release is FM09 is coming around once again. We’ve reached the point where we’ve all won Champions Leagues, World Cups and brought non-league clubs to success. We have our favourite players, our hidden gems and wonderkids. Now we can start looking ahead. Every year, to stay ahead of the competition, Football Manager includes one major update to the game. Last year we had Facegen, a feature that some were quick to condemn. I however, love this feature. The fact that regens now have a face that grows and ages as the regen turns into (hopefully) a world star. They even have Beckham style changes of haircut. In future games, this will be refined and improved, much to the benefit of the game. This leaves me with a problem however. The new game needs a big selling point, something to get people excited and throw away their FM08 so that they can order the new game. All of the major leagues are already on the game, so that’s out. The national management needs tweaking, not revamping, so that too won’t be it. So we come to the one thing that people have been clamouring for – the 3D match engine. With Championship manager pressing ahead, Football Manager surely won’t want to be left behind. I however, have my doubts over whether this is a good thing for the game.
Way back in the days of Championship Manager 98, we didn’t have 2D match engines, just a bar at the bottom and basic commentary. Sometimes when I am nostalgic, I think back to the days of ‘Giggs runs with the ball. The Arsenal defence try to tackle him. Corner to Arsenal.’ Obviously, this makes no sense at all. It was a minor problem with the game, and one that didn’t dampen the enjoyment in any way. Sure, SI could have dropped this match engine, rushing into 2D match mode as soon as possible. They didn’t though. Instead they were patient, refining and perfecting the commentary match commentary before moving on. Now we had, ‘Giggs runs with the ball. He beats his man and crosses. Sheringham is there!’ This was a huge improvement, and allowed the 2D match engine to be slid into the game without fuss. Now actions on the 2D pitch could match those in the commentary. It would have been impossible to show my first example on a 2D pitch, but was a welcome bonus on the game once the commentary was running smoothly and sensibly.
Now, the early 2D match engine wasn’t a complete success. I for one saw it as an unnecessary waste of time. The dynamics of the match resembled sensible soccer much more than football, and there seemed to be a set number of moves within the game. However, when I began playing FM08 I noticed a huge step forward in the 2D match engine. Suddenly the game flowed. My team were stringing passes together, and my defence was stepping up as a unit, catching strikers offside. Suddenly the link between my tactics and what I was seeing on the pitch worked. Sure, there were bugs and glitches, but these were mostly fixed in the 8.0.2 patch. The number of disallowed goals for example, was reduced, as was the amount of last minute goals. However, as impressive as the 2D match is, there are still huge flaws that need to be looked at. For example:
Here any defender in the world would hammer the ball out for a throw. But, he doesn’t. Instead he touches the ball out for a corner. Obviously the hugely complicated Football Manager engine has indicated that in that phase of play, the opposition should have won a corner. However, that has failed to translate to the match engine. It should have had a striker closing the defender down, perhaps pressuring him into slipping and touching the ball out for a corner. This is one of a number of things that could be tweaked for the next version, and would make the 2D match engine closer than ever to representing football as it is played.
That is not to say the match engine doesn’t get things spectacularly right. Only the other day my new signing Rafinha crossed for Huntelaar. The defence pushed out, leaving him onside and unmarked. He looped a header back over the desperately scrambling keeper and into the net. I was left with that hugely smug feeling that only a manager who has just told his player to ‘cross from deep’ and seen it pay off gets. Another example would be a striker, streaking through on goal and placing the ball past the keeper and in off the post – Nihat style. Satisfying and so well done that even in 2D, you can see the goal quite clearly in your mind as your striker turns to milk the applause of the crowd.
So onto my main point. Everybody agrees that the only way forward for Football Manager is in 3D match engines. Perhaps one day we will have Pro Evo style matches, but that is a long way into the future. I do not want SI to rush into producing a 3D engine. They should look back to the days when the 2D engine was implemented. It was so much better because they waited until the original match engine was absolutely perfect. By waiting just one more year, and perfecting the 2D match system, they can quite easily translate that to 3D in future years. If the 2D system isn’t perfect, the 3D system will be a disaster, like watching chess pieces moving on a board. If you think the 2D engine is perfected, think back. Have you ever seen your team put together a move like Argentina in the last world cup? Have your strikers linked up in the area like Ronaldo and Rooney against Newcastle this year? Until the 2D engine can cope with that sort of play, Football Manager is not ready for a 3D match engine. I for one am willing to sacrifice another year of improved 2D play in order to have 3D just right when it finally comes in. Creating a 3D match engine just because Championship Manager has done it before the 2D engine is perfect would be like building a skyscraper with world class materials, top construction companies, but building the foundations from porridge.
So please SI, think of another feature to sell the game. Facegen was a stroke of genious, and I'm sure there are people working there with similar ideas that would enhance the game, and make the legion of fans takes weeks of school and work once the release date passes. Don't sacrifice quality for flashy boasts of 3D match engines. Carry on with the steady improvemnt of what remains the best sanagement simulation around. That tactic worked when introducing the 2D match engine, and it will work again for the 3D match engine.