Sensible Soccer, Foot-to-ball And Me

By Kieron Gillen on June 11th, 2010 at 12:00 pm.

[This was originally published in a slightly different form over at the Escapist under the title "Sensible Soccer: How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Ball". I'm republishing it under a different title, because that one won't fit into the terribly restrictive page-width of narrow-set RPS. And I'm republishing it because... well, apparently there's some kind of Foot-to-ball battle-cup starting today. Or something. It's about the Amiga giant that was Sensible Soccer, the whole scene and how I can to actually grasp football...]

Football is the world’s greatest sport. It just took Sensible Soccer to make me really realise it.

When my Dad heard my Mum was pregnant he went out and bought his future child a present. It was a large, colourful book explaining how you played football, full of annotated diagrams showing the best way to head the ball, get perfect dribbling technique and all the other basics his child would need to become Stafford’s answer to Pelé. He didn’t know anything about the kid other than existed, but pretty much his first thought was to try and pass his love onto it.

When I was old enough to read it, I loved it. Of course, I took the wrong message. My dad gives me a book about football? It means my Dad wants me to read books.

Man!

You have to understand, I’ve never hated football. I just didn’t understand football.

Oh, obviously in a mechanical way, I understood football. I knew how it worked. I knew the names of the famous players. I could explain the off-side rules to foreigners. I knew what an Old Firm derby was and why they could be so messy. I’d watch a few games on the box, especially the big ones, and kind of liked them.

But I fundamentally didn’t get it.

It took the dawn of the nineties for anything to change, a collusion between three influences in my life: The Amiga, Amiga Power and Sensible Software.

Despite being a Californian import, the Amiga is in my personal history of the British scene, one of the two or three definitive UK videogame machines. Probably two: the third is the first Playstation, and it conquering the world kind of undermines why the machine was specifically interesting in a British context in the mid-nineties… but that’s another article. The first was the Spectrum, the cheerily-rubbish erotically-rubber-keyed fun-pixie which remains arguably the most loveable home computer ever made.

The Amiga was its spiritual successor, a true Home Computer; a hobbyist machine, which you were meant to do literally everything on. It had a keyboard and recordable media and all that, so obviously like a PC. But it was primarily used through a TV, had standardised hardware and lots of chips which were primarily of use for lobbing a mass of sprites around the screen. Even better, it had one processor called Fat Agnus, which made it have a little of the Spectrum’s quirky charm. This chimeric nature continued into what you actually did with the machine. In terms of its games, it straddled the gap between what the PCs and Consoles were up to. It couldn’t do the action games as well as the Megadrive or the SNES. They couldn’t do more heavyweight topics as well as the fledgling PC – specifically, it struggled with 3D, even early vector 3D, let alone when people started lobbing texture maps around. But since it could do manage some simulacra of both, you had a climate where both sorts of games were accepted, hybridised and a middle-ground between the two explored.

Yes, you can play a decent game of Pro Evo or Outrun 2 on a PC now. But you couldn’t then and the attitude – that, somehow, you don’t play action games on the PC (unless they’re first person and/or online and/or enormously macho) – has fossilised into dogma. That simply wasn’t true on the Amiga, which means that any time I hear a modern gamer say “That’s not my sort of thing” I end up sighing. Back then, it was all our sort of things. True gaming sluts, we were up for anything.

This attitude was personified by Amiga Power, unarguably the greatest magazine about videogames ever written. No, really. For half a dozen reasons, but here’s a relevant one: they marked the hardest anyone’s ever dared. Sub-10% was absolutely commonplace, even for relatively big games. By the time it closed there was a considerable list of publishers who’d just refuse to send their games. Because they were… well, to use AP’s own words, whining childish hatemongers.

AP were a bit juvenile at times. Which is fine, because games are a bit juvenile and being juvenile isn’t just a pejorative. Being idealistic and having a complete unwillingness to compromise are two of the absolutely primary juvenile traits. I’d swap a lot of quasi-seriousness professionalism for them.

(To be fair to AP, they also had critical teeth and had fairly hefty things to say about games. They shunned generalities, and were big on saying Why Something Was Bad Or Good. They just didn’t treat it ponderously. People who never got that seriousness and sobriety weren’t the same thing never quite got AP.)

If something got a mark in nineties in Amiga Power, it meant something. I didn’t always agree with them, but I knew that /they/ agreed with what they’d wrote and they’d lead me to enough interesting places for me to follow whatever they suggested. Hell, they’d already got me into pinball via the divine Pinball Dreams (It’s rare a single developer manages two separate classic games in lineages as separated as Pinball Dreams is from Battlefield 1942, but somehow Digital Illusions managed it).

AP gave Sensible Soccer their highest ever mark.

I trusted AP.

For what it’s worth, I trusted Sensible Software too. Everyone trusted Sensible. While it’d have been harder to call at the time, with the match long over, it’ll be fair to describe Sensible as the definitive Amiga Developer. Despite being rooted throughout the eight-bit scene, they came to their full power with Commodore’s sixteen-bit machine. They’re also definitive in a way that they ended up being tied to the Amiga, being unable to transform into something else as its age came to a close. While people like Bullfrog became a PC developer of note, Sensible disappeared down a hole of their own making with their infamous unfinished great-lost game, PC graphic adventure Sex And Drugs And Rock’n’Roll.

But before that, they left a string of genuinely classic games. Mega Lo Mania was Civilization as observed through an English surrealistic filter and one of those pre-Dune II proto-real-time-strategy games which people tend to forget about when writing the history books. Cannon Fodder was an over-head viewed action/strategy game using a mouse-control. Arriving at a similar time to Bullfrog’s Syndicate, it was a fascinating example of how two development studios could approach a similar concept with their own design priories and end with a radically different games. Where Syndicate was oppressive, Cannon Fodder was witty. Where Syndicate was black satire, Cannon Fodder was underwritten with a quiet moral rage at war. Where Syndicate strove to create a world, Cannon Fodder was determinedly a game. Of course, there was Wizkid, a game so delightfully warped that it makes Psychonauts look like Gary Grigsby’s World At War and probably remains the only graphic adventure/Arkanoid-clone hybrid the world has ever seen.

And there was Sensible Soccer.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, sitting down to play. Not quite true. Back on the spectrum, I’d played a fair chunk of Jon Ritman’s seminal Matchday II. I’d dabbled with Kick Off 2 before throwing it away. While I don’t think anyone could write this exact article about their experience of Kick Off 2 due to its divorced-from-Footy nature – put simply, learning to play Kick Off 2 well taught you how to play Kick Off 2 well, and nothing else – there’s certainly those who’d argue a similarly historic/nostalgic position for it. It was loved by many, but loathed by a considerable few, including AP and me. I’d also enjoyed Microprose Soccer, Sensible’s chunky eight-bit fore-runner. But Sensible Soccer was obviously something quite different.

It was obviously a Sensible game. Unlike Matchday’s side-on view – now the standard one ala FIFA or Pro Evo – it was viewed from above. And not slightly from above, but some distant point, perhaps suspended precariously from the bottom of a blimp. You could see huge expanses of the pitch. The men beneath you were tiny blurs of pixels. Even if there was masses animation, it’d be almost impossible to tell.

Sensible Soccer didn’t really look like the best game ever, if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

Admittedly, I did. The tiny sprite thing was just one of Sensible’s constant visual signatures. Sensible’s John Hare has since talked about how this minimalism wasn’t actually a weakness. In fact, Sensible Soccer is better animated than a modern football game, by using the impressively sturdy anti-aliasing of the human mind to fill in the gaps. When watching FIFA, there’s always going to be tiny problems which drag you out of the world where animation doesn’t quite match up. As you approach perfection, the errors scream. In Sensible, the reverse happened, with people claiming to have seen animation where there was none. It all happened so quickly, over-head kicks were pasted in our inner minds. Which reminds us that videogames are just the world’s most elaborate magic trick, and whatever works, works.

Meanwhile, thanks to its perspective and one-button control system, Sensible Soccer was reminding me of Kick Off 2, except where the latter was some bizarre impenetrable thing whose on-screen actions seemed to only bear the loosest connection to what I was doing with the joystick, the former was Audrey Hepburn elegant. Where in Kick Off 2 it was all desperate boot and chase, like the Scottish Second Division, in Sensible you were instantly passing the ball around the pitch in balletic movement, from player to player to player.

It took me time – I was only young – but I eventually worked out the reason. Firstly, the initially odd camera angle. Taken out so far, you saw most of the pitch. You were aware of the positioning of all your team at any moment. You could see who was free. You could see who was covered. You could just see. And since you could see, you could actually choose would be best to pass to.

Yes, other games had a scanner. But no-one, no-one, no-one ever used the scanner.

Secondly, the basic button press. In Kick Off 2, you charged up a kick by holding down the single button, with the ball being sent flying when it was released. In Sensible, the ball was kicked the second the ball was tapped. An instant, accurate pass at whoever you chose. Tap. Tap. Tap. The ball moves from one to the next to the next, in perfect movements. While there was very little skill in performing the action, with it automatically choosing the appropriate player, this freed the player’s attention to considering the higher level matters. Passing was easy, so – yet again – people were free to choose who would be best to pass too.

The result was strings of passes that had the geometrical perfection of cheekbones.

There was more to the game than passing, of course. Like Kick Off 2, it allowed for impossibly dramatic aftertouch to the ball, allowing it to swerve past the outreached pixel-fingertips of the keeper. You could abandon the passing, and just play the long hoof… but even that was more tactical than in a game with a closer view, and in practice proved an ideal way to take advantage of a lapse in the defence. Enormous leaping headers and sliding tackles allowed a sudden thrust to reclaim a ball or turn a cross into a goal-threatening shot. You could play with formations for strategic effects. And Sensible were always ahead of the world in terms of memorable sound effects, and the crowd-chants were as rousing as the period got: this added hugely to the atmosphere.

But the passing was always the skeleton around which the game was built, that everything else was added on. Even the basic skill of dribbling the ball up the pitch was – in game terms – defined in how it’s not passing the ball. When doing this, your players basically bobble the ball at their feet, a far, far trickier proposition than a pass, risking a loss of control. Your ability to risk a run was based around a tactical commitment, of giving up the ability to easily slide into a pass. You ran, and – in most situations – you were going to go for a shot, some manner of upfield lob or a something similar. You believed you could swap flexibility for a tactical gambit.

Which means that, compared to a modern football game, Sensible Soccer had a many less moves. In terms of “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game”, it was a far less accurate simulation of a football game… but I suspect that they wouldn’t have taught me to understand football in the way Sensible Soccer did. Sensible Soccer was a cartoon of a football match, and cartooning is the art of magnification by removal. What remains is what the artist consider important. And in this cartoon simulation of football, you’re left with what is – basically – the core of football.

And over those first few months with Sensible Soccer, that’s what it taught me. The core, the reason why people watch this bloody game. Yes, the atmosphere is one thing, but not the only thing. I’d been to matches before as a kid, and even then got the intensity of tens of thousands of people staring at a field of grass and desperately wanting a small ball to go one way or another… but that didn’t explain why they were doing it in the first place.

Equally, the iconic images confuse you. The absolutely showy seconds, caught on film, played forever in slow motion over recent AOR hits on evening television aren’t what football are about. Not really, any more the icing’s the cake or the orgasm’s the sex. You watch a ninety minutes game, it’s not really for the high-marks of skill. In fact, if you watch a game in real life, you can barely see the skill when it happens. It may be part of the payoff, but football – the bit you should be watching – is a structural thing. And the trick is that Football, more than any other major sport, is one of constant fluidity. Others have lots of handholding for the viewer, regular stops and consist of short bursts of play before the game comes to rest again and giving the observer a chance to consider. Football, relatively speaking to baseball or American Football or even basketball, never stops. You have to read it on the fly, following a long tactical sentence of meaning. To really watch a game of football, is to know why the ball is moving over there, why that defender is being pulled from position, what is going to happen next… or, rather, what should happen next and why someone’s being a bloody idiot if they don’t do it. That is, to understand its language and grammar; to read it. Sensible Soccer’s simplified form showed me the structures to watch for, in platonic-perfection. Sensible Soccer explained it all.

And what’s true of Sensible Soccer is true of other games that honed in on the finer details of life. Games can simplify a real world event, and impart that knowledge almost invisibly. Veteran Games Journalist Owain Bennalack telling me about how Wave Race prepared his body for the thump-thump-thump of a jet ski hitting a wave then crashing onto the following trough. After Guitar Hero fulfilled Harmonix’s desire to bring the joy of playing to non-musicians, Francesco Poli – somewhat outspoken blogger and Only Serious Student Of Gaming – ended up setting about learning to play the guitar. And so on. It’s all educational gaming in a way which no-one would ever dream of describing as such, as it’s so invisible, so fun – the presentation of a system that catches the soul of something else, makes it tangible, and puts it inside your head and makes you see the world and its possibilities in a new way.

After Sensible Software, I understood football. I was never going to love football as much as – say – any of the narrative forms, or a decent conversation or a movie. I was never going to love it like my Dad – the sort of love which redecorates the garage door with an enormous Everton logo when they got to the cup-final – but I get it, and know why – as far as sports go – there’s none finer, and why it’s the world’s favourite. And I like understanding it and I understand liking it.

The Bitmap Brother’s Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe taught me how to follow Speedball too, but that’s a whole different story.

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94 Comments »

  1. Heliocentric says:

    2 words: Cannon soccer

    • Brumisator says:

      You just made the nostalgia-center of my brain orgasm.

    • Rosti says:

      @ Heliocentric: Crikey, you weren’t joking were you? [Link for the lazy]

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      Chaz says:

      There was also a WW1 cover disk special where you kicked around a bomb on a timed fuse, which was fun.

    • Heliocentric says:

      That was sensible fodder right?

    • jonfitt says:

      I had that Cannon Soccer demo on my Atari ST. It was on the Atari Format cover disk too.

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      Chaz says:

      @ Heliocentric

      I think it was called Senseless Soccer.

    • Jimbo says:

      Does anybody remember Sensible Massacre? You played the goalkeeper and had to stop the other team getting past the line… by throwing grenades at them.

      Sport games aren’t what they used to be.

  2. Risingson says:

    I don’t know why, but every time I see that gradient colours typical of the Amiga/VGA era, it makes me shed a tear. Lost innocence, I guess.

    :’(

  3. Grunt says:

    Great article, Keiron. I’m another who doesn’t ‘get’ “The beautiful game” and will be doing my best to shelter from the impending TV storm of colour-coded tribalism and shattered dreams. I share your initial workman-like knowledge of various points of the game – picked up by osmosis as it’s one of the most talked about subjects on the planet today – but still regard it with much bafflement and, dare I say it, a growing condescension born of my increasing frustration with football’s ridiculous prevalence.

    But I have special fondness for Sensible Soccer, to date the only game of digital foot-to-ball I’ve ever enjoyed and, crucially, gone back to. I have two friends, twin brothers, who played this game for about 18 months – and nothing else. We spent many happy days creating our own teams, running cups, and generally humiliating each other in turn (in the game). Sensible software are sorely missed, for this and both of the other stellar games you mentioned.

    • Beanbee says:

      I’m not a fan either but I have to say I do enjoy the World Cup, mostly inspite of the football rather than because of it. It seems alot more tactical than most of the other truely international competitions like the olympics. I guess its because its the reaction that it gets out of a huge percentage of the world makes me feel glad to be human.

    • Beanbee says:

      Whoops, *tactile not tactical :)

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      Olympics <- well the 'real' olympic sports is about how far you can push the human body, ie in pursuit of the perfect 100m sprint or the perfect javelin throw.
      Soccer is just sports, I think you find most sports will give you the same sort of 'happy' feelings when you go and watch tens of thousands of people, screaming for their teams, and all – It doesn't matter what sport it is, humans are competitive and it's great =D

      except for peewee and kids games, parents seem to just go spastic =/

  4. Beanbee says:

    I used to love to manage teams, playing the harder games and raising random conference teams up to the premiership. Once you had figured out how to easiy score then the game really was about buying a fast striker and setting him to work.

    Lots of fun but damn do you need a joystick :)

  5. rxtx says:

    Really loved this back in the day, and the fact that I can remember exactly how the controls worked shows how good they were. Its really amazing how much you could do with just a stick and one button, compared to the 2 sticks, a dpad and 12 buttons you need in todays games

  6. Coca says:

    Amiga Power was the world’s greatest videogames mag. This article is a delightful reminder of the childhood I misspent reading every beautiful page, wondering who this ubiquitous ‘Ed’ character was, and what ‘natch’ meant.

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    sonofsanta says:

    Beautiful as ever. I’m probably biased towards these articles as someone who had an Amiga, and indeed still has thanks to the marvel of the World’s Most understanding Fiancée (I’ve even been allowed to fill a display cabinet with painted GW models. It takes my breath away).

    It’s all educational gaming in a way which no-one would ever dream of describing as such, as it’s so invisible, so fun – the presentation of a system that catches the soul of something else, makes it tangible, and puts it inside your head and makes you see the world and its possibilities in a new way.

    Absolutely. I never understood boxing at all until Fight Night Round 3 let me see the tactics, the patience, the counters, the sheer balletic delight of a good fight. Even The Godfather on the Wii, one of the more derivative games of a generation that should rightly be a black mark on the name Godfather, is the only reason I can enjoy the movie now – I tried to watch it before, so many times, but until I’d experienced the beats of the story by playing through it could I relax into the plot structure of the movie itself. I could probably list half a dozen more if I took the time to think about it, but it’s as if my brain needs to play through a situation before it can truly grasp it. Electric dreams, indeed.

    Sensible Soccer never did this for me in the same way, but probably because I played it when I was younger (and still pretending I liked football anyway) so I just approached it as a game. And as Grunt says above, the only one I’ve ever gone back to as a grown up.

    Probably two: the third is the first Playstation, and it conquering the world kind of undermines why the machine was specifically interesting in a British context in the mid-nineties… but that’s another article.

    Write it. British computer games in the 90′s are very dear to my heart, and I love all this perspective on it. Probably the only thing that ever makes me feel like I was part of a cultural movement, even if I didn’t know it at the time (but then perhaps that’s what’s so special about it).

  8. Ian says:

    Oooh, I asked you a question referencing this on Formspring the other day.

    An article I like very much indeed.

  9. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    I’m going to say here and now, Football, Soccer whatever you want to call it, IS NOT the greatest sport of all time – sorry RPS you are wrong!

    • a.nye.123 says:

      And what is, pray tell?

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      no sport is the greatest of all time.
      – That’s the way it is
      Soccer has good things sure – lot’s even, but it doesn’t have it ‘all’ hence why I believe it can’t be called the greatest ever.

      And BTW You are probably right in your assumption that I prefer many other sports before soccer, and couldn’t care less about the world cup.

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      tomeoftom says:

      Oh. I thought the first post was a set-up for a joke.

    • Bob Bobson says:

      @Corrupt_Tiki Saying “no sport is the greatest of all time” just means you have a non-functioning definition of the word “greatest”. Of course the greatest sport of all time may not have been invented yet, but I’m personally happy with the democratic definition of best current sport, and that makes it football.

      I could also build a variety of arguements as to why football is an excellent sport drawing in game theory, excitment points and the such but I won’t here because it is of course totally subjective.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      /wishes I was that good.
      hmm
      Tei! Come, make a joke of this =D

    • Tei says:

      The greatest sport of all time is War.

      how about a nice game of thermonuclear war?

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      @ Bob
      I agree with you on that the ‘greatest’ may have not yet come or been invented yet, but as for excitement points – I find the lack of; Fear, Aggression, Consequence in Soccer makes it really rather boring for me, again this is all opinions I’m just trying to give food for thought.

      I mean who can argue there is nothing in Soccer when It is really the one international sport, everyone has heard of soccer. (and David Beckham, but that is another much more serious gripe)

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      I am know convinced Tei, is the saviour of humankind!
      Thermonuclear war, ahh Rolls off the tongue doesn’t it, sounds exciting too!

    • Bob Bobson says:

      Football is full of those three things, especially consequence. Because a goal is a rare event (compared with most sports) when a defender messes up and allows an easy goal, or when a striker messes up and fails to take an easy chance it really really hurts the team. I’ve seen the defensive slip that gets a manager sacked, I’ve seen the unlucky bounce that relegates a team making 30+ people redundant. Football is full of consequence, and because of the consequence as a football fan I am often full of fear.

      1 goal up with 10 minutes to play is a horrible horrible situation to be in for a fan, although in theory that should be a good situation. But I dread 3 o’clock on a Saturday. As for aggression umm… clearly we have watched different games. The level of agression does vary from league to league though, and is less than the level in a variety of other sports.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      @ Bob,

      Your probably right there, I will not argue with your points but I watch mainly action sports and the level of Fear, Aggression and Consequence seems so much more personal for the competitors – not so much the fans.

      ie; I watch alot of Motocross and Supercross, and if you watched it ( The Pros anyway) The level of Aggression, and Consequence is astounding. (Not to mention fear, but I don’t think the pros have any)

      Where as from what you stated, the Fear and Consequence is more related to the teams/coaches/fans rather than the competitors.

    • DMcCool says:

      Football isn’t the best sport, but only because Cricket is better. Actually they are very different, football is truely, honestly about teamwork and working together for a common aim, whereas in Cricket members of teams take turns to help the overall effort. Its not really a team game, only pretending. Test Cricket is trancedental though, it contains every emotion, every test of character, skill, intelligence, endurance, willpower..you have to be pretty good at RPGs to get anywhere. Its really rather frustrating that theres yet to be a truly great Cricket game. Test Cricket contains so many gaming tropes – including the grind, it has to be said. A really good bowling simulation may be impossible though, it being too much of a cerebral, pyschological side of the game. Until AIs can be scared, we’ll still be waiting for the first great bowling simulator.

  10. fuggles says:

    Loved Sensi, absolutely loved it and I too am poor at real life foot-to-ball. I have the newer one, Sensi 2006 and it just fails at passing.

    I fondly remember playing unsensible soccer with apples vs oranges and pears in goal.

  11. groovychainsaw says:

    Sensible world of soccer piled on more depth still, although the original had a beautiful core, there was something even more satisfying about taking those lower league players (I remember picking Bury, at random) who really couldn’t dribble, and even passing was a bit hit or miss and working the ball so it could not fail but go in your direction. It really did open up the game. You have to stop, trap the ball first if you want to pass. Dribbling was always a 50:50 as to whether your player was going to sprint on without the ball. Ahhh – fond memories….

    God I miss the amiga. So many good games, so hard to get working reliably in an emulator/find the games nowadays. Oh! Reminds me – GOG.com are asking for people to put a comment in their current ‘question of the week’ as to what systems GOG should sell emulated games for. Including Amiga. Everyone go over there RIGHT NOW and vote for amiga, so they have to do it (surely?).

    • Paul B says:

      Glad it wasn’t just me who used to love taking a low league team to the Premiership. I used to spend ages making custom tactics, so all my players would grow in value by the end of the season. Also, I found a speedy attacker or winger was a must buy in the lower leagues. Even more satisfying was taking my home-team of Grimsby to the Premiership – a position they’d never be able to reach in real life (they now play in the conference).

      Then after my team reached the top, winning all domestic and European trophies in the process, I’d buy all the best players for each position, get bored, and start all over again. Fond memories :)

  12. misterk says:

    I always get a little thrill when old games like mega-lo-mania, a lovely little strategy game that I have failed to get to run when downloading emulated versions, gets mentioned- its a game that became mine in that no-one I know has ever played it.

    Sensible soccer was a marvelous little game, and such less a hassle to learn than newer games, which feel more like beat em up games than football games (to do a slide tack press left left up down A!)

  13. Gene says:

    I remember playing some strange version of this, with german vs english soldiers and instead of the ball there was a grenade which would blow up from time to time :D

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      Στέλιος says:

      It is what fuggles mentioned – unsensible soccer. Was on an Amiga Format coverdisk, I believe.

  14. Jubaal says:

    Funny, I actually stumbled across your old article just the other day and it reminded me of just what a great game it was. I still remember scoring a trademark and hugely satisfying flying header against AC Milan in the European final to grab the win. It was a game where the ball went where you wanted it to when you shot so you actually felt like you deserved the goal, rather than the later FIFAs.

    I recall with fondness in 1994 where to fill the void of England not being present at the World Cup I recreated all the teams present and had the computer play out all the individual matches so I got to watch the entire tournament in Sensible Soccer finery. I just wish I could remember who won.

    Sensible World of Soccer is still my favourite football game of all time by some margin. If only I could but a working copy that was compatible with Windows 7 64 bit…..

    “You’re a goal scoring superstar hero….”

    • Jubaal says:

      Ah I’ve managed to get it running again using a DOS simulator. Shame the found doesn’t work but it feels good to be back!

      For old times sake I’ve just got the computer to play South Africa vs Mexico. It was 0-0. I hope that isn’t the case in real-life….

  15. Dzamir says:

    If you didn’t played Sensible Soccer, watch this video:

  16. GreatUncleBaal says:

    A game I still play to this day, and still get a lot of fun out of – although the XBLA release means I have to deal with the 360 d-pad, which is, for this game, a poor replacement for the trusty Bug joysticks I used to routinely destroy with Career SWOS sessions on my Amiga…
    Interesting too that now minimalist graphics (and control design) are popular again, particularly with Indie developers, this game looks as fresh as ever. If only the player values had increased / decreased properly in the manager mode – I always disliked how you could have a 30+ goal midfielder who still dropped in value as the season went on.

  17. Azazel says:

    Hated/Was bored by football for the longest time. It just clicked at some point though – there is a ‘language’ to it, and once it clicks they have you hooked.

    Funnily enough I still can’t stand football videogames…

    • sinister agent says:

      Similar story here. It helps that the summer I first ‘got’ it was 2004, when there was a particularly entertaining european tournament on, and in a country where I wasn’t working when most of the games were on.

      Minnows defeating the giants not once, but twice? I’m all over that, me.

      As for football games, I actually enjoyed them a lot as a kid, including Sensi and Goal (essentially kick off 3). Modern ones are largely incredibly tedious though, with more spoddy fiddling around than the average space station. And yet because they’re about football, nobody seems to object to everyone taking twenty minutes to choose their starting lineup and tactics and how many leg hairs the left winger should show to the camera in the 23rd minute.

  18. Donkeyfumbler says:

    I’m probably in the minority then in that, while I liked Sensi (and more particularly SWOS) and played them both loads, Kick Off and Player Manager were my first and only true loves.

    I have still yet to find a game that married the management and player aspects of football so well as Player Manager – Pro Evo and Fifa’s attempts are pale shadows in comparison.

    I lost count of the number of Quickshot Pro joysticks my brother and I broke as we wrenched them back and left (or right) at the same time to send a shot into the top corner of the goal. I became an expert at taking them apart and using parts from all of the various half destroyed shells to create a working joystick again (until we broke it soon after).

    Yes it lacked the subtlety and finesse of Sensi but it more than made up for it in sheer pace and frenetic excitement – god my Mum hated the fights that would break out after particularly closely fought games.

    Sad thing is that at my now advanced age, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be able to get the ball from one end of the pitch to the other – the razor-sharp reactions required are but a distant memory.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      Donkey Fumbler just described my young life four minutes before I managed it myself.

    • Zwack says:

      Yeah, my experience is almost the exact opposite of this article. I love football and always have, for as long as I can remember and Sensible Soccer always just seemed like a decent computer game to me. Player Manager was the one that allowed me to drift off into an alternate world where I could actually PLAY football. I played it until my wrists no longer worked properly.

  19. Mr Bismarck says:

    I loved Sensible like a fluffy sock filled with kittens and had expansive leagues with friends with our own created teams which were played until the springs in our joysticks snapped, but I never found it to play a game of football as well as Kick Off II for the reason that there were repeatable “moves” in Sensi.

    Goalie have the ball? Roll it to your right back and start dribbling. When your opponent closes you down tap-and-rip-the-stick-back and then nudge left to drift the ball into your striker sprinting forward between defence and midfield.

    60% of the time it worked all the time.

    Perhaps it was simply the size of the pitch or perhaps it was that you had less control of the ball, but Kick Off II always felt like it contained the off-the-cuff beauty I saw on the field every sunday playing football, where you went into each game with the framework of a plan, then made stuff up as you went along – there were no repeatable, successful methods for moving the ball from Goalie to shot-on-goal.

    Of course, by the time SWoS came out Kick Off 2 was four years old and the balance then tipped heavily back to Sensi’s game, especially with its career mode that gave you a light management option – Paolo Poggi was both cheap and unstoppable – where its only serious competition was Dino Dini’s heavily bugged Player Manager.

    • Premium User Badge

      Dan Milburn says:

      In Kick Off 2 you could score from a kick-off about half the time by lobbing the ball straight away and bending it a bit.

      KO2 was the one that me and my brother played to death at the time. I didn’t actually get into this until I encountered SWOS a few years later.

    • Klick says:

      @Mr Bismarck – Kick Off 2 insta-goal: From tip off, run down to the wing at a sharp angle. As soon as you’ve overtaken exactly two defenders, come back up, mirroring the angle you came in from, and shoot, and score. Every. Time.

      Kieron’s right, being good at Kick Off 2 meant understanding the rules of Kick Off 2, not the rules of football.

  20. Tei says:

    The one thing that I don’t like about sensieble soccer, is that the ball is not glued to your foot, like all other soccer games.

    • Jubaal says:

      Heh I’m the opposite. It is the reason why I loved Sensi and Kick-off. It just felt more realistic and satisfying when you pulled off a good dribble.

  21. terry says:

    Beautifully written and sums up my feelings almost exactly. One of the things I really enjoyed about the Sensi series (mostly because I was crap at the actual game part) was the incredibly silly team name database and making my own cups and tournaments laboriously, just to sit and watch the matches. It had a sort of pinball-esque rhythm to it that hypnotised me after a while.

    Also I think it had the best foul tackles of any foot-to-ball game. The players would writhe while stretcher bearers trudged on. The dreaded ref would stump over and thrust a red card abruptly skywards. It was more like watching an early televised match because of the jerky movements and gave it a really unique charm.

  22. Henrik J says:

    I actually thought Goal was a better game.

  23. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    Just to add as well – Striker was actually my football game of choice as a child, not out of any significant brilliance on its part, but because as the better teams your defenders could dribble the ball the length of the pitch just by running in a zig-zag and then take it round the opposing goalkeeper and walk it into the net. At 8 years old this unfailingly induced great hilarity on my part and had enough challenge in doing exactly this to become the entire game for me.

  24. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    The Amiga is literally the reason I’m where I am today. (ie at work, as an IT geek), I simply can’t imagine how I’d be the person I am today without it, and without it’s games (always the most important) I probably wouldn’t be reading RPS today.
    In fact, if someone asks me if I’m a PC gamer, I have to hesitate, because deep down my 12 year old self wants to shout:

    “No! Of course not, I’ve got an Amiga, they’re way better!”

    • sinister agent says:

      I turned down a playstation for an A1200.

      The amiga was very nearly dead by then and everyone knew it. But I’d make the same decision now, to be honest, simply for the staggering number and range of games I had.

      Imagining my childhood without the amiga and amiga power, I feel a bit like I’m imagining growing up with one less parent.

  25. Ginger Yellow says:

    While I don’t think anyone could write this exact article about their experience of Kick Off 2 due to its divorced-from-Footy nature – put simply, learning to play Kick Off 2 well taught you how to play Kick Off 2 well, and nothing else – there’s certainly those who’d argue a similarly historic/nostalgic position for it

    I think part of the reason I loved Sensi Soccer so much was that I had spent years trying to master Kick Off 2 and mostly failing. It was such a revelation to have a game where passing was actually passing, rather than booting the ball in front of you, and where you could actually turn with the ball in a relatively small amount of space. Also, it didn’t hurt that I could play as Oxford United (after corredting the player names, of course).

  26. sfury says:

    I’m very sure I’ve played one of the Sensible Soccers on a 386/486, but that was a looong time ago. Still if it’s the same thing – I got hooked by it too, but sadly at that time I didn’t have a home PC so I couldn’t play it that much.

    What really got me hyped about football though were the later FIFAs ’98 to 2003. Surprising I played it that long and that much, given EA’s practices to fire up a sequel or two every year with little or mostly absolutely idiotic “innovation”. I’ve got very mixed feeling about the FIFA series but I can’t deny I learned a lot through it – the educational power of games indeed.

    Haven’t touched a foot-to-ball game since, except a trying a PES demo some years ago and deciding I’m now better off just watching lovely Barcelona on the TV. I think I was right. :)

  27. Jake says:

    My mum gave away my complete collection of Amiga Powers, was a sad day. I think Sensi is still probably one of the games I have racked up the most hours on, such good fun two player. Also making new kits and teams with hilarious names.

    • Heliocentric says:

      As a littleun i never bought (or pirated) games. But i’d buy cu amiga, amiga power and another i can’t remember. I used to have severe language skill problems and struggled to get motivated at school. Purging loved copies was always painful, thats part of why i love the net.

      Tldr: amiga magazines taught me english

    • Paul B says:

      Yep, my Mum also made me get rid of all my Amiga Power, CU Amiga and Amiga Format magazines. Even now, I miss owning them – I’d have kept them forever if it was up to me. Sometimes you see Amiga Power collections turn up on eBay, and I’d be sorely tempted to buy a few, if I had the space for them.

  28. BooleanBob says:

    I reckon DDM soccer 96 deserves a shout out.

  29. Ovno says:

    Screw the Amiga, Atari ST for the win!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And sensible soccer too of course only football game I ever liked

  30. jonfitt says:

    Wot, no love for the Atari ST?

    • Premium User Badge

      Dan Milburn says:

      I’ve had this argument many times in the past, but basically as someone who had access to both, the ST just wasn’t anywhere near as good for gaming on as the Amiga.

      Personally I wonder how the Amiga is the successor to the Spectrum and not the Commodore 64, but anyway..

    • jonfitt says:

      Precisely. The Amiga is the successor to the C64. They were both the rich boy’s computer of their day.

      I also owned the Spectrum which was technically inferior to the C64 back in the generation before.

    • jonfitt says:

      But since they both had largely the same games, we can all agree that Sensi was the best foot-to-ball game! Woo Seni!

  31. Radiant says:

    Match Day 2 was my favourite go to game to play WITH my brothers.
    That last of the great ‘ball stuck to your feet’ football games.

    Sensi Soccer was my favourite game to play AGAINST my brothers.
    Many a Quickshot 2 was smashed over a 10-0 drubbing.

    Great article, like, really great.

  32. Uhm says:

    Never really understood the excitement of experiencing football (or any sport, really) vicariously as a fan. And adorning everything in merchandise, etc. I’m a miserable soul.

    Sensi was ace, though.

  33. FunkyB says:

    Excellent article Kieron, enjoyed this immensely. Thanks.

  34. leeder_krenon says:

    Been playing SWOS the past couple of days, replaying every match of World Cup 94 with a pal. Just finished the group stages. Can’t wait to play the rest.

  35. Alex says:

    Soccer is most like baseball due to the suffering of the fans.

  36. Kalli Karlsson says:

    Thank you Kieron, that was a fantastic read; and you echoed most of my own thoughts on both Football, Amiga Power and the gem called Sensible Soccer!

  37. mathew says:

    I still play Sensi maybe every… couple of years or so. I didn’t find out until recently that there actually are some really great team updates for the game, the latest updates the teams to the 08-09 season (you can check sensiblesoccer.de‘s forums if you’re interested) and the game never, ever gets old.

    It is my desert island disc.

    Anyway, I really wish Codemasters cared for the franchise at all. I wish Jon Hare was able to make a new version with the “Be-A-Pro” mode that is so in vogue now. Sensible had a wicked sense of humour and a be-a-pro mode with lots of funny vignettes and events (like a Sensible take on the Japan-only modes in the baseball Power Pro games) would just be so amazing.

  38. dan. says:

    I’m a goal scoring superstar hero!

    I still play SWOS on WinUAE, and it’s still the best football game ever made. I’m disappointed that Codies never brought the updated XBLA version to PC like they said they would, though maybe it ‘s for the best after the horror show that was Sensible Soccer 2006 (9/10 Eurogamer? Really?).

    • Pace says:

      That is absolutely frightening.

    • Ed says:

      I challenge any right-thinking person to read that article and not want to track down the good Professor and kick him squaw in the nyuts.

    • Grunt says:

      Fascinating reading. But rather than decry the man outright I did dome digging wiv ma google and found, amidst the predictable reaction pieces from incredulous and angry bloggers this little gem that suggest Webb’s piece was intended as SATIRE, although a form of it that didn’t translate well from academic circles to the Inter-tubes, and that Dr Webb has since been taken to a game and thoroughly enjoyed it. He has since apologised for his original article.

      http://avoidingthedrop.com/2009/03/27/first-timers-stephen-h-webb/

      All is well. :)

  39. Curvespace says:

    Great article. Glory days. I also found my love for pinball via Pinball Dreams :)

    This is probably the single most astute observation into the essence of gaming that I’ve ever read:

    “…cartooning is the art of magnification by removal. What remains is what the artist consider important.”

    Whilst we are on a nostalgic tip, the Amiga pretty much determined the course of my life. No small exaggeration. It gave me a sampling and sequencing (trackers) when I was ten years old. I’ve not looked back since. Incidentally, the I remember making a workable snare sound out of the kicking ball sound from Sensi. :)

  40. WantOn says:

    Lovely article. Sums up my thoughts on SWOS, football, the Amiga and Amiga Power in ways I could never articulate myself. Which is why I keep coming here to read stuff I expect. More articles of this kind would be most appreciated. Like many other people, I grew up with a Spectrum, followed by an Amiga. I was extremely lucky that my parents knew what they were on about with technology and this has shaped the gamer in me today. More nostalgia-driven wordings please!

  41. TimA says:

    And from me, thanks for this article. Nostalgia levels running pretty high now.

    • Kieron W says:

      For me, Spectrum football games meant Emlyn Hughes International Soccer. The hours I spent grappling with that control system…

  42. Suprore says:

    The greatest sport of all time is fighting, guys. Judo, Boxing, Wrestling, mma, pankration.

    It’s good precisely BECAUSE the real subtleties of tactics are loveably impossible to videogameify. Until someone makes the perfect turnbased (dice based? please? Fighters already use the term ‘high percentage’ every time they discuss techniques) bare handed physics based deathmatch simulator, of course.

    Great article, though!

  43. Klick says:

    Like so many others, loved this article. Great stuff.

    Sensi’s combined ‘so easy to fumble on the ball’ & emphasis on passing made it so much better a representation of idealised football than something like the Fifa games with their loadsa-buttons-to-do-fartsy-tricks and action-replay-of-the-last-thirty-seconds tomfoolery.

  44. hotrodcadets says:

    Lovely article Kieron, thanks for that.

    I was another Amiga gamer, and for me it was definitely the spiritual successor of the Spectrum. And AP was great – I haven’t thought about that magazine for a long time!

    Unlike you, though, I have always loved football and I’ve never played Sensi. I must try and get it working on an emulator…

  45. Will Tomas says:

    Lovely article and it actually mirrors my own experience, weirdly, in that Sensi on an emulator about six years ago got me into football in a relatively big way. I’d always known vaguely about it but it was sensi that made me get it, that made me see how it properly worked, and eventually got me to buy PES 5, and then Football Manager, then I was away, and now I’m as proper a fan as you can be without holding a season ticket.

    Amazing things, these computer games of ours.

  46. bill says:

    I think i’m another who’s never “got it”. I watch football from time to time, and I’m excited about the word cup… but i think it’s more about the atmosphere and the spectacle.

    I rarely understand what the experts are blathering on about. Maybe i sould try sensible soccer again and see if i get it. I didn’t the last 3-4 times I tried to try this supposed classic.

    Then again, i’ve never gotten ANY football game… i always end up running upfield and passing in reasonably random directions. Losing badly and giving up quickly.

    Need lessons.

  47. Jerry says:

    Well… from the technical point of view Amiga should be considered the successor to the Atari 8-bit series. Same philosophy of design by the same main designer – Jay Miner. Lots of custom chips to take load off the main CPU. Both are the great machines!

  48. Frosty says:

    The best thing about Sensible Soccer was the ability to name your individual players. We were geeky enough to hold “starwars versus startrek” matches (you’d think Darth Vader would be able to stop that ball!), or to name the players after all our friends.