Sunday, February 10, 2013

The (Digitally) Beautiful Game

It is another throw-in for Manchester United with 12 minutes to go.  They are now pressing hard to get the equalizer against AC Milan. Vidic throws the ball to Christiano Ronaldo’s feat. Ronaldo sprinted through the right wing with the ball in his feat, passed a couple of Milan player’s with his sheer pace. Then he cuts inside and passes the ball to Ronaldinho. Dinho was waiting near the Milan D-box, he receives the ball and for a split second thinks of shooting before giving a great through ball for Rooney near the left corner flag, Rooney crosses the ball for Van Persie who was there precisely in the exact place at exact time to head Rooney’s cross to the net and gives United the much needed equalizer. 8 minutes to go and it is game on!

After reading the above piece, if you think that I am little high on some drug or I am describing you a football match of some other parallel universe then let me correct you my friend. I am talking about FIFA, the computer game. Not only FIFA is the most popular video game designed by Electronic Arts but FIFA is a philosophy. It is a cult, FIFA is life. Scoring a 90th minute winner in FIFA with your favourite player can give you the best orgasms you can think of. For many men FIFA is the serious competitor for their girlfriends and the biggest reason for their poor grades in exams
Wonderful gameplay, latest technology and innovative game mode options are only the few things which make FIFA one of the most popular productions of EA Sports but the biggest quality of FIFA is to give the player a feel of the real footballing world while playing the game. There’s no fake name of the players or club (A big negative in other sports games like PES and EA Sports Cricket 2007) as EA Sports have the license from FIFA and other country’s football association to use the real names of players and club. And with the most realistic feel with their camera angle, scoreboard, transfer season and news headlines it makes the players like me enthralled with this game year after year.

I first played FIFA in 2006. I was in IITK and getting acquainted with LAN and DC++ in my new computer and then some of my batch mates downloaded this game called FIFA 2005. I knew about Football and cricket computer games but never played it earlier. So in one of those nights I downloaded the ISO file for FIFA 05. And thanks to my Friend Suddha I installed it in my computer. Suddha is also the same person who told me about the wonderful ‘Career Mode’ in FIFA and explained how to manage a team throughout the season and how interesting it could be. I decided to give it a try. So in that night instead of playing the usual friendlies I started a career as a football manager in the virtual world of FIFA.


It was 6 years back and I do not remember the details but at that time you could only start your career with small teams in relatively smaller leagues (Unlike now when you can start your career in Man United or Real Madrid) and I started with some Brazilian club and slowly graduated to manage Manchester United after managing Celtic to league win for couple of season. Quite Alex Farguson-esque you may call it.
FIFA 05: My first FIFA Experience
And then the game moves on. It was love at first session and I keep playing it in FIFA 07, 08, 10, 12 and now playing 13. Now I can say that I have seen this game to evolve, to grow in front of my own eyes. From a simple career mode where you just had to play your game keeping all your players fit and can buy almost anyone in Transfer season, this game now has become a complex but engaging exercise of man management which includes manage your players’ fatigue, keep reserves happy by making them play in unimportant matches and manage your team during international friendlies. Now a manager also has to keep the fans happy by playing their favourite players more and needs to do a thorough research in the transfer market before buying any players. Buying players from your rival is impossible and to buy players like Messi and Ronaldo you need to have a very solid team and bank balance. You also have to keep your board happy who can anytime come up with demands like ‘Buy a player below 22 years old’ even if you do not need one.  You also have to manage your finance by choosing the right sponsor and deciding on the best ticket price. It is a full-fledged strategy game now.
FIFA 10: One of my longest playing versions of FIFA

In last 6 years, I have played with various teams in manager mode. I remember winning EPL six times in a row with Manchester United before going to Real Madrid to win La liga for next 4 seasons and then finished my career with AC Milan by wining Serie A for rest of the seasons in my 15 years career.
And then there are times when I played in Championship with Hull City or played in La liga with Real Sociedad. The Real Sociedad one was memorable, as my target was to save relegation for the club. With some great results in the second half of the season thanks to some cheap buys in the January transfer window I finished the season in 10th place.  But when I checked in google, I found that in real footballing world, Real Sociedad actually got relegated from the division A. I played with clubs in MLS and clubs with Mexico and South Korea when I got bored of playing those big clubs.
Among all the clubs I played as manager, I most enjoyed managing Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan. It may be because these are my 3 favourite club teams in real world too.
If I again refer back to the first paragraph of this piece I can highlight another favourite aspect for me. I absolutely love how you can build a team with some of your most favourite players. I remember building a Real Madrid team in 2010 where Kaka and Ronaldo were my two wings with Ronaldinho and Ronney up front. It was a scary attacking force, scored whole lot of goals. And then there are times when you sign some relatively unknown players who become special in the real world after few years and you think not bad scouting ehh… Nuri Sahin was one such player which I can remember! I signed him in a low price in 2007-08, much before he achieves his stardom with Borussia Dortmund.
There are a few glitches in some versions!!

2012 was the year of change. My job was changed and I moved into a new city. The best thing which my colleagues and I found in our new office was that there is a play station with FIFA 12 loaded in it. What could be better for a group of young men in love with FIFA! It resulted in our top bosses finding us not willing to go home at 12 in the night! It was our first day in new office!!
And then the addiction only increased more and more. Now One vs. one, two vs. two even three vs. three players matches are going on whole day. For me it was a new experience in two counts. Firstly, I always played with my computer key-board and it was my first exposure to play station controllers. The second change was more interesting. For the first time I was playing against other real life players instead of a computer. It was completely new ball game with various players having various playing style and skill unlike a computer where you can pretty much decide the level you want to play. And I found this new style much more challenging than playing against computer even in its most difficult level.
Based on my experience of playing FIFA against other players in office and trusting my internet speed I plunged into world of online FIFA 12 games. I started playing matches against players from all over the globe. Players from Brazil, Slovakia, Germany, France and even India were my opponent at various matches. It was an awesome experience to sit in your easy chair in your room in Bangalore at 3 in the morning and play against another guy who may be playing from somewhere in South America during his post lunch break from study.
FIFA 12: More online games than career mode. I found Real Madrid to be  best team to play with!

Soon enough I found that there is a game mode where all your online game results will be counted and based on the results you will move up and down and get promotion of relegation in 10 division league system. And after playing for almost 8 months at various times of day from 5 in the morning after waking up to 5 in the morning before going to sleep, after many heart breaks and jubilation, after many curses thrown to EA for their mid match server disconnection I finally moved up to division one and then Won the league for the first time. And let me tell you mate, when I won it the feeling no less special than my favourite club wining the league after a hard fought season.
FIFA 13 was waiting on my desk from December when I got this as one of my many birthday presents by Shreya and I finally installed it. I have started a career with Atlético Mineiro because I wanted to play with a smaller team and this is a relatively unknown team (I am playing with it for the first time) with a great player playing for them.

FIFA 13: Just to show the improvement in graphic quality 
In some respect FIFA is similar to life. It is continuously changing like the real world and it lets you experience various emotions of life at different stage. I remember matches where I have conceded a 3-0 advantage and saw my opponent scoring 4 goals in last 15 minutes to win the match, I remember the pain, the disgust I felt that day. And then there were days where from 0-3 down in the first leg of a cup semifinal, I won the second leg 5-0 to reach the final. There are times when your star, someone like Wayne Rooney got injured in the first match of season and was out for six months and then there were times when you give chance to one of those guys from the youth academy with overall rating of 58 and that fellow scores a goal with booming shot from outside the box.

FIFA is an important part of my life for last 6 years and how much busy I may become in coming years I will always make it a point to keep it in its own place always.

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