Tag Archives: Tokyo
One of the most keenly anticipated dates in the video gaming calendar is the release of the latest instalment in Tokyo software house Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (‘PES’) series, the very mention of which is guaranteed to send past and present Sony PlayStation 2 users into spontaneous spasms of joy: spending hours lost in the immersive wonder of titles such as PES 3, PES 4, PES 5 and indeed PES 6 was one of the great joys of the early- to mid-2000s. Since the advent of seventh generation consoles, however, the general consensus is that the PES series has lost its way, with the consequence that legendary executive producer Shingo ‘Seabass’ Takatsuka has been booted upstairs; Kei Masuda, the youthful, diplomatic personality who seems to have supplanted Seabass, is confronted with an almighty challenge in trying to turn the ailing franchise around.
And yet, on current evidence, he is managing to accomplish precisely this: the first demo of PES 2013 (downloadable as of today on Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows) reveals a title that superficially looks similar to the two most recent iterations but in fact has undergone extensive reconstruction under the hood. Owing to a combination of improved sound, a CPU AI that is more adept at keeping possession and solid ball physics, the one-more-go factor might be returning to PES in an extremely serious way for the first time in what seems like an eternity. The amiable Masuda – a developer who first joined the PES team in 2003 and who therefore has more than a recollection of the good old days – appears to be putting his stamp on the series in no uncertain terms; indeed, it is simply incredible that while the period from PES 6 to PES 2010 was one of horrific degeneration and that PES 2011 and PES 2012 arrested the decline, Masuda’s thus far brief reign has resulted in what appears to be an awesome effort at rebuilding the brand.
1. Fouls, Cards and Injuries. Something that the PES series has never recaptured from the sixth-generation console era is the frequency and naturalness of fouls, cards and injuries, all integral parts of contemporary football which PES 5 and PES 6 in particular weaved wonderfully into the fabric of play. Playing most recent versions of PES is at times like inhabiting a universe where these vital elements barely exist.
2. Referee Identity. Perhaps linked into the first point, referees in recent versions of PES have been interchangeable functionaries devoid of personality and indeed names, all too keen to overlook wild tackles and off-the-ball nicks. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that arguably the most-loved PES game of all time to date – PES 3 – featured no less a figure than Pierluigi Collina as its chief endorser.
3. The Asian Connection. Aside from a sprinkling of national teams, Asia-based representation in PES is non-existent, a state of affairs which is a genuine mystery given that Konami’s Japanese version of Pro Evolution Soccer, the cutely-named World Soccer: Winning Eleven, features all club sides from the two divisions of the J. League. With Asian club football gaining strength almost by the week, Konami could gain a whole slew of new fans by including teams from nations such as Japan, China and South Korea; the software house could also save a lot of money by locking burgeoning leagues such as the CSL into long-term deals now.
4. Transitions and Replays. In-game replays in recent versions of PES, particularly from 2009 onwards, have been disjointed, too frequent, too fast, and lacking identity: a single, identifiable replay angle in combination with a caption naming the main protagonist in the clip was immensely powerful. Similarly, the fading to and from black on replays and breaks in play (free-kicks, offsides, throw-ins, corners and penalties) was a simple but brilliant device which gave the illusion of time passing (and all but erased the cognitive dissonance of playing a 90 minute game in ten) far better than the current, rather garish cutaways.
As regular readers of this blog will no doubt be aware, we at Mediolana have something of an obsession with Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (‘PES’) series, a selection of video games that has never failed to beguile us since the autumn of 2003, when a chance encounter in what was the old Virgin Megastore on the corner of London’s Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road led to a purchase of a title that even now evokes passion and devotion: PES 3. And by what appears to be a startlingly general (if hardly scientifically validated) consensus, PES has never really recovered from its transition to the seventh-generation consoles exemplified by Sony’s Playstation 3: graphical embellishments and a slowly-expanding empire of licences have been prioritised over core gameplay.
However, with this year’s iteration of PES – the by now predictably named PES 2012 – Konami, one of many software houses now surreally based in radioactive Tokyo – have seemingly gone out of their way to listen to fans’ feedback on their creation, releasing not one but three gameplay patches (1.01, 1.02 and 1.03) to modify various aspects of the game. Bizarrely, the official descriptions of the patches only seem to vaguely correlate with what players are experiencing; the latest patch, released on 15th December 2011, promises little more than improvements to shooting and some peripheral amendments, whereas in fact it is obvious to any seasoned PESer that the ball physics have totally transmogrified, resulting in an entirely different game.
After some quality time spent with PES 2012 with both Konami’s official Patch 1.03 and PESedit.com‘s magnificent Patch 2.5, Mediolana’s blogger-in-chief is fairly certain that in terms of ball behaviour, the present version of PES is as satisfying as any he’s played in a long while. However, there remains one overwhelmingly obvious problem: the computer AI, which in the days of PES 3 and its sixth-generation console successors yielded a fabulously realistic and intelligent opponent, is all-too-primitive in its approach to the game. Playing as SG Dynamo Dresden, a mid-table side from Germany’s Bundesliga 2, against a computer-controlled Manchester United at Old Trafford, one would expect to be up against a team who would dominate possession, yet the CPU insisted on bombing long balls to, from or in the vicinity of the always centrally-placed Wayne Rooney; United edged the match 1-0 while mustering a mere 39% of the ball. A similar story was seen in a 3-6 reverse for human-manoeuvred Beşiktaş against all-conquering Barcelona: the Catalans, who in real life pass the ball between themselves more than anyone sane can really stand, were reduced to a team which knew nothing apart from efficient, goal-engendering dribbling, mostly by Lionel Messi.
As well as being scared of the ball, the CPU AI in PES 2012 has one other crucial flaw: it does not know the meaning of the violent foul or rash challenge. Yellow and red cards – a staple of contemporary football – occur with startling rarity, with entire games passing without so much as ticking-off from the referee for a tetchy tackle. Again, this is a world away from PES 3, 4, 5 or 6, which prided themselves on being the closest representation of real football in an electronic simulation.
So the message from Mediolana is simple: the Pro Evolution Soccer series must – simply must – go back to its roots as a simulation if it is to capture the hearts, minds and ultimately wallets of the gaming, football-adoring public. If this means dusting off the old PES 6 code, adding 360° movement and manual passing and implementing some presentational tweaks, then so be it. Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka - a hero in our circles – has already promised a radically different PES 2013; the hopes of the global gaming public are resting on the execution of his undeniably noble intentions.
Today, the all-conquering Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola iteration of FC Barcelona splashed a little more ink into the history books as they won the FIFA Club World Championship (‘CWC’) – club football’s equivalent of the FIFA World Cup – for the second time, adding to their rather narrow 2009 victory over Club Estudiantes de La Plata with a comprehensive thrashing of Santos Futebol Clube.
Barcelona were breathtaking, and their vanquishing of Santos was all the more impressive given the fact that owing to Brazil’s burgeoning economy and appreciating currency, the club arguably most famous overseas for bringing Pelé to global attention in the third quarter of the twentieth century were not, unlike many prominent South American teams which have previously featured in this competition, heavily depleted owing to the transfer of key players to Europe and Asia.
But we at Mediolana found something about the 2011 FIFA Club World Championship even more stupefying than the Spanish and European champions’ virtuoso display of attacking soccer: the choice of the host country. Japan was originally designated as the location for the 2011 and 2012 editions of the CWC back in the summer of 2008, having also held the first four such tournaments (2005-2008; the United Arab Emirates was the backdrop for the 2009 and 2010 competitions). And while not a particularly original choice – the Intercontinental Cup, the precursor to the CWC, was played out in what was until recently Asia’s largest economy from 1980-2004 – Japan, with its fabulous transportation infrastructure, passionate fans and rapidly developing football scene, was in many respects as logical a host selection as most.
However, in the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan is going through a crisis of historic proportions that has not come close to being addressed: that engendered by the still-unfolding catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. As our regular readers will no doubt be fully aware, the level 7 meltdowns – a cluster of the most serious sort of nuclear accident – has rendered Greater Tokyo a metropolis more notable for its radiation hotspots than its wi-fi ones: the Japanese capital is less than 150 miles from the atomic cataclysm that according to some estimates is many thousands of times more serious than the 1945 Hiroshima bombing. Many of Tokyo’s residents are reporting symptoms of radiation sickness; some of them, having lost all faith in a government whose performance – even allowing for the extraordinarily trying circumstances of recent months – has been severely disappointing, have fled to Okinawa Prefecture, the largest in Japan that does not have a nuclear plant.
Which brings us back to where we came in: the venue for Barcelona’s mauling of Santos was Yokohama’s International Stadium, an arena located in Greater Tokyo. It seems to have occurred to no one in the higher echelons of football – not least FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who reconfirmed Japan’s hosting of the 2011 CWC in May this year – that far from being a gesture of solidarity with a stricken nation, the hosting of this year’s Club World Championship on the Japanese Archipelago will ultimately hinder the Asian giant’s recovery from its disastrous predicament. By partaking in the illusion that Japan is not in the throes of a radiation crisis and is a fundamentally safe country, FIFA have only contributed to the prolonging of the nation’s nightmare.
This blog has made no secret of its opinion on the desirability and feasibility of nuclear power generation in Japan following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, a natural disaster that spawned the nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in the now-evacuated town of Ōkuma. But recent developments have, if anything, strengthened our perspective that a country which was until recently identified most strongly with ancient martial arts, über-cute animated characters and seas of neon is now in real danger of ceasing to function as a normal entity: high radiation readings in Tokyo-Yokohama are being recorded at hotspots on pavements, atop apartment blocks and in soil, with alarmingly excessive levels of elements such as Caesium and Strontium 90 in evidence.
The implications of this are profoundly troubling. Greater Tokyo is the world’s largest metropolitan region by population and the economic, political and cultural capital of Japan: with approximately 35.6 million people within its borders, it is almost unthinkable that it could be so contaminated as to be uninhabitable. But as the months go by and it becomes more and more undeniable that the fallout from Fukushima did not contain itself to the environs of the prefecture of the same name, the very viability of Tokyo in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster that even the Japanese government’s own Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admits released an amount of Caesium equivalent to 168 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb looks to be increasingly questioned.
The Japanese administration has come under intense criticism for its handling of the Fukushima Dai-ichi crisis, but Mediolana believes that this maligning will pale into complete insignificance compared to the heat the government of Yoshihiko Noda – the new leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (‘DPJ’) and Prime Minister following the 26th August 2011 resignation of Naoto Kan – may face if it does not move decisively to draw up and implement a strong and credible post-Fukushima plan:
1. Transparency. The official Japanese government radiation measurements are not corresponding with those undertaken by private citizens using their own geiger counters. Sooner or later, the official readings risk losing all value in the eyes of the public; in order for the government to keep the trust of its people, it must adopt a policy of total transparency, even at the risk of short-term economic, political and social shocks.
2. Cleansing. The Noda administration should calculate the cost of a comprehensive clean-up of Greater Tokyo and other affected areas, and spare not a single yen in decontaminating these zones. The necessary expenditure is likely to be stratospherically high, but in terms of restoring confidence in Japan, this would appear to be the only realistic solution.
3. Imagination. To the current Japanese prime minister’s credit, he has affirmed his predecessor’s policy of a shift away from nuclear energy, with no new reactors to be built and existing ones slated for decommissioning; however, he has stressed the gradual nature of this process, which could take decades. Brand Japan does not have decades: it needs an ambitious but entirely doable deadline – such as that imposed by that unlikely visionary, Angela Merkel, for Germany – to phase out nuclear power within the next ten years or so, and to enlist the help of Japan’s numerous renewable energy behemoths, such as Sharp and Kyocera, to lead the charge in meeting it.
As the northern hemisphere summer elides into autumn, the attentions of virtually every sophisticated male mind are captivated by one thing and one thing only: the prospect of the forthcoming release of the latest iteration of Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (‘PES’). Having engraved itself into the hearts of all serious football fans during the sixth-generation consoles era, the general consensus holds that PES has struggled to assert itself on more contemporary machines: PES 2009 and PES 2010 were regarded as particularly flat titles. However, Tokyo-based Konami rebuilt PES from scratch for the 2011 version, and this incarnation – though buggy and inchoate – evinced tremendous promise; moreover, PES’s developers are ostensibly going out of their way to listen to the buying public, with no less than two demos being made available before the respective North American and European launches of PES 2012 at either end of a 19-day window in September and October 2011.
We at Mediolana have been fortunate enough to get our paws on the first Windows demo for PES 2012, and can say without hesitation that for the first time since PES 6 we are beginning to feel the force of Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka, the legendary Executive Producer of the Pro Evolution Soccer series whose every utterance has more ultimate meaning for most Generation Y-ers than the musings of Alan Greenspan; the game is smoother and more compelling than in many a year. Fouls – an endangered species since PES 2009 – are called with realistic regularity, the computer AI at last has a mind of its own again and the player modelling is often outstanding. Nevertheless, at least on the basis of this admittedly sketchy demo, Mediolana feels it apposite to make a number of suggestions to the development team at Konami:
1. Interface. The interface is still considerably less intuitive than in pre-PES 2008 editions of the game. For inspiration in this regard, Konami need look no further than PES 2011 for the Sony PSP, where the line-up selection mode is simple and clear while packing a lot of information into one screen, thus encouraging experimentation with formations and the definition of individual roles.
2. Entrance Scenes. One of the best features of PES on the sixth-generation machines was were entrance scenes which set the tone for the match to come: line-up diagrams which scrolled precisely into place, team photographs with plenty of camera flashes and excellent, appropriate crowd noise, with the ability to flick through all of these using . Later iterations of PES have needlessly lost such elements which contributed immensely to the atmosphere of the game.
3. Replays. A feature of the game since PES 2011 has been the automatic insertion of endless replays of any incident resulting in a foul or shot at goal, regardless of its actual significance. In television presentations, fouls given in favour of the defending team in their own half are almost never replayed unless they are particularly violent or interesting; similarly, not every shot at goal is worthy of being seen again. This is something that Konami grasped brilliantly in older PES titles – constant replays destroy the rhythm of the game – and would do well to realise once again.
4. Presentation. Next-generation PES has featured a presentational aesthetic which, while generally clear, inclines towards blandness. For examples of how informational elements such as line-ups, substitutions and goal scorers could be presented, Konami should take heed of examples such as the football coverage provided by the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) for today’s J-League, or going a little further back, RAI during the 1990 World Cup in Italy. A title notifying the player of the main protagonist in any replay – a great feature from earlier PES titles, and something still extant in the PSP version of PES 2011 – should be reintroduced.
5. Gameplay. While even at this early stage it is evident that the gameplay is considerably better than in PES 2011, in our opinion the demo makes it a little too easy for the human player to adopt a possession game – there is not enough closing down by the computer AI in midfield areas, with even skilful teams such as AC Milan all too eager to adopt a long-ball game instead of a more nuanced approach – as opposed to earlier iterations of PES, where it was arguably too hard for most human players to utilise a possession game with the emphasis on passing through the midfield.
Back in 1978, Japanese electronics colossus NEC – an organisation based in Minato, a quarter of Tokyo which hosts 49 embassies – began to implement its C&C concept, whereby it envisaged the integration of computers and communication technologies; in the same year, anomie-ridden Police members Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers roamed around the underground system of the Japanese capital for the video clip to accompany the sublimely solipsistic So Lonely. If the first decade or so of the hyperconnected twenty-first century is anything to go by, it seems that isolation is now so mainstream that a US comedy outfit such as The Guild – fronted by uber-geek Felicia Day, Alabama’s most unlikely export – can author a ditty entitled Do You Wanna Date My Avatar? without anyone raising much beyond an ironic smile.
However, as a recent report by United Kingdom charity the Mental Health Foundation – The Lonely Society? – amply illustrates, the issue of loneliness is something that deserves our sincere attention. Isolation is a genuine problem for significant sections of the population in the UK; the following findings will resonate across much of the developed world:
1. The percentage of households occupied by one person more than doubled from 6% in 1972 to 12% in 2008;
2. The divorce rate has almost doubled in the past 50 years;
3. A sense of community had eroded in almost every area of the UK over the past 30 years.
Students in particular should be aware that prolonged loneliness can have serious consequences, including but not limited to the following:
A. Higher stress levels;
B. A weaker immune system;
C. Negatively impacted cardiovascular function;
D. A higher propensity to risk-taking behaviours, such as alcohol and drug abuse;
E. Exacerbating mental disorders such as anxiety and paranoia.
In a digital era which is permeated by what Harvard professors of psychiatry Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz have identified as a ‘cult of busyness’, students – particularly those who are having to try to attain academic excellence under severe economic and/or personal pressure – should never forget that while discipline and a grasp of solitude are essential to success, they should never lose sight of the importance of investing time and energy in quality friendships of lasting duration; indeed, their psychological and physical health demand it.