Ian Football, Part 3: Interlude

By Alec Meer on February 13th, 2012 at 12:57 pm.

Actually a pretty good likeness for my mental image of Ian

Ian Football, manager of Worcester City football club, can’t come to the phone right now, so I’m here to hold the line until he gets back.

I just wanted to say: I am really enjoying Football Manager 2012.

It’s hardly a secret that the majority of the many-fingered RPS hivemind is dismissive to the point of scornfulness about football, a sport/insane fantasy world so beloved of hyper-testosteronal, hyper-territorial peabrains who care more about the fortunes of a coloured shirt and a few multi-millionaire charisma vacuums than they do those of their own family. However, despite appearances it’s not true that I personally despise the sport itself. I have been known to occasionally find myself in front of a screen depicting 22 men running around, while holding a pint of alcoholic fun-juice in my hand. Only occasionally, mind.

While my mugging-to-camera faux-idiocy probably conveyed the impression of total ignorance, I didn’t go into Football Manager entirely unaware of its strategic charms, but nonetheless I’m taken aback by how absorbing it is to get behind and far away from the headlines about whether a ham-faced embezzler is going to take up the abandoned mantle of an overpaid Italian who couldn’t be bothered to learn the native language of the country he was working in, and find myself in a far smarter land. How fine it is to look so closely at football itself, away from the endemic racism and aggression, the absurd speculation, the mad identification with perfect strangers and instead to focus only on what it’s really about: honing a machine, coming up with a strategy, running a business, becoming a success.

This is not football. This is just some twats.

There is much I still don’t understand – not in terms of the words or concepts, but in terms of what are the effective, smart ways to approach hiring, transfers, loans, budgets, training, play styles. I will, quite inevitably, mess it all up horribly. Ian Football, let’s not kid ourselves here, is absolutely doomed. But Alec Meer (hello!) – he’s relishing the chance to learn and experience something new, both in terms of strategy/management gaming and of the football industry, the real world behind the pop-cultural frenzy.

It is a deeply thoughtful and nuanced game, and the derisive calls of ‘it’s just a spreadsheet!’ from the uninitiated have it all wrong in a profound way. It is a game about football… but it also isn’t. It is a videogame first and foremost, one with all the depth and cleverness and complexity that some folk round these parts ritually claim has been eradicated from today’s titles by the money-hungry hordes of mainstream console action games.

And an uncanny similarity to how I picture Worcester City FC

Sure, it’s visually crude, even clunky, even after all these years – simply cramming in untold amounts of information clearly takes precedent far above presentation, writing and tone. But I’m fine with that. Watch it churn away to itself even on an overclocked Intel Core i7 chip and a fast SSD, and it’s clear it’s up to a hell of a lot. It’s making the brain of my PC work in a way it rarely does. It’s making the brain of me work in a way it rarely does.

On top of the number-crunching, the player-juggling and the book-balancing, it’s also a quietly remarkable roleplaying game. I am Ian Football, a character of nominative determinism who, self-evidently, was designed as something of a joke. But I am also a calmly positive and encouraging manager of a football team, a man who doesn’t like to diss his rivals in the newspapers, a man who wants to appease any unhappiness among his players, rather than boot them out the door in favour of someone who’ll just get on with things.

I can play the game in a way that reflects my own character, and not purely my forward-planning and risk-taking. And, in turn, my character and my decisions affect real (well, a simulacrum of real) situations and people, not the fate of a race of aliens or a shopkeeper who’s lost his magic key or an immortal amnesiac in search of purgation.

One day, Ian will be Malcolm Allison

Everyday roleplaying. Roleplaying with plausible events and results. Roleplaying that isn’t about what cutscene I’ll see at the end or whether I’ll get to have sex with a woman made of gas. Real roleplaying.

I don’t want to gush emptily, however. There’s much I don’t like, of course – it’s an incredibly complacent game and coldly, hilariously unwelcoming even to people who know football but don’t know Football Manager. Doesn’t stop me. This is a fascinating game.

Oh, by the way – I can confirm that Ian Football was indeed offered the England job, but he turned it down because he felt he’d be compromising his moral values if he worked with John Terry.

Ian Football will return very soon.

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60 Comments »

  1. pertusaria says:

    Thanks! I was beginning to wonder what Ian was up to these days.

  2. IDtenT says:

    The one problem I have with the later iterations is that it doesn’t have the instant gratification of the older titles. You can’t just jump into a team and play a few matches – no, it requires a lot more attention. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it puts off those of us with less free time than we would want.

    Whatever the case, Sports Interactive has been making superb football management games since days gone by. Football Manager really is the pinnacle of management gaming.

    • Moni says:

      It’s an interesting discussion, is Football Manager becoming too realistic and in-depth for its own good? Funnily I remember reading a pretty extensive discussion about it years ago, the community have seen this coming from a long way off.

      I think Sports Interactive have made some half-decent efforts to make the game a bit more accessible, with the backroom staff giving advice, basically having them make most of the decisions for you.

    • Teronfel says:

      That’s true and it’s the reason i can’t play FM anymore.I remember CM 01-02,it was awesome,easy to play,fast,i would just go play a few matches(go on holiday until the next transfer season if things didn’t go well:P) ,fun times:D

    • DiamondDog says:

      I see a lot of this talk about the complexity of FM and can understand it, but for me it’s always felt like a natural progression. As in, every year I learn a new aspect of the game and add it to all of the experience I’ve gained from playing previous versions.

      For me, I like the extra control I can have over the club and the way the team works. I enjoyed the simplicity of earlier versions but honestly, if they hadn’t changed the game from what it was I’d have got bored of it. At some point you just learn all the tricks and winning becomes too easy. Now there is a lot more risk and reward, because it’s easy to screw things up.

    • battles_atlas says:

      Wrote a long moan about how FM’s problem was crap UI as much as feature bloat, but RPS comments system ate it…

      Quick summation: enable scroll wheel to run through players in a search or team without the endless clicking back and forward. And for fucks sake, allow me to change the size of the fonts!

      Game instantly 20% improved.

  3. President Weasel says:

    The trick is to find an assistant manager with excellent stats (motivating, judging player potential, judging player ability, training stats are a bonus) and let him do the team talks most of the time. Of course, the chances of persuading such a paragon to come to a lower league club are vanishingly small, so you need to be successful before you can really apply this recipe for success/removal of annoying fiddly thing.
    I do strongly recommend trying to find the best assistant you can, and also checking internets to find the slightly obtuse formulae that connect a coach’s stats to his training ability in each of the disciplines. If you can put three stars into all the training categories while your lower-league rivals have fewer, you ought to see your team improving over the season compared to the rest of the table.

    I like to spend the time I save by appointing a competent assistant and letting him do the talks in obsessively searching for coaches who can give me that elusive half a star more.

    • IDtenT says:

      As a low level club, booting your assistant should be your number one priority. After that get a new one in and build your club around him, not you. It’s still far too difficult to compare players on your own basis – you need a good assistant manager.

      That said, I’ve never given much thought to the other supporting staff. Yes, I hire the best in terms of abilities, but I don’t really check how many stars they offer me.

    • NathanH says:

      I rely on my scouts mostly at lower levels, I can’t usually get a good enough assistant manager. But then again I am in a modded lower division so I can play as Durham City, so I’m probably a bit lower down than everyone else. Assistant managers on my budget are basically all rubbish but the scouts are still decent.

    • battles_atlas says:

      “It’s still far too difficult to compare players on your own basis – you need a good assistant manager.”

      Unearthing gems and watching them blossom into whiney overpaid primadonnas is surely the best bit? No way I’d outsource that enjoyment.

  4. torchedEARTH says:

    I wish I knew what it was like to enjoy a football game or support a club. I feel like I landed here from a different planet sometimes.

    • DodgyG33za says:

      @ torchedEarth & Alec

      If you are interested in understanding the lure of football, find someone who does go to the games, preferably with others, and go with them. I did so back in the 90′s, and went from talking about ‘them’ in the first game to ‘us’ by the second. A few beers before the game, a few afterwards, the camaraderie of the group and the near religious experience of the chanting on the terraces was just about as perfect a Saturday arvo as I can imagine.

      I moved to Sydney, so sadly my trips to see the Arsenal came to an end. But fond memories indeed.

      Oh, and Alec – GET ON WITH IT. I wanna hear how Ian Football does. Even if it ends in relegation.

    • DougyM says:

      Just play Football Manager and you will invariably end up getting into real football.

      Being from Scotland i always had a team of choice but i was in no way active in supporting or following them.

      Then i played FM and ended up following the real team and going to games, taking part in fan forums etc.

      Had some excellent times at games, cup finals, seeing players come and go etc.

    • Ian says:

      @DougyM : Which team, out of interest?

    • Hematite says:

      NO TEAM COLOURS!

    • Leandro says:

      I can confirm that. Until FM 2008 I was only a mild football fan. Now I find watching football relaxing. I’m not even talking about supporting a club specifically, just enjoying the game.

      Now I enjoy watching football of many leagues in the world and make tactical remarks to my girlfriend that I like to think make me look wise in her eyes.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      I disagree with Dougy. I’ve been played since the very first Amiga version from Domark, and I still barely watch football.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Heh. I haven’t played a sports-manager game in a very long time (I’ve played some german ones in ancient times – during the early nineties – on account of not having that many alternatives). They always seemed to combine a topic that didn’t interest me that much (football is fine, but I don’t really need to manage a team) with exceptionally dry gameplay. However, reading about Ian Football’s exploits is quite entertaining – it seems like this kind of game is less uninteresting than I thought.

    Also, that cigar is ridiculous.

  6. SiHy_ says:

    “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

    • The Godzilla Hunter says:

      Which, of course, implies the corollary that sometimes it ISN’T just a cigar.

  7. Ian says:

    I think there’s more roleplaying (even if much of it is projected) than somebody who’s never played the games might imagine. When more personal player management was introduced to the series I never really thought about how I wanted to do it. I just sort of…. got on with whatever felt natural. (Which in my case is trying to make nice with everybody and being incredibly bland in press conferences.)

    Looking at people posting about their game and talking about how their playing style was that of a motor-mouthed tyrant who bawls at his players, instantly cuts ties with any who don’t like it and gobs off about anything and everything in the press conferences astounded me. Not because I didn’t think it should work (there are after all real life managers who do this) but because it’d never even occurred to me that you’d play it that way.

    Nice that you’re enjoying it anyway. Partly because it means we might get more Ian Football than I’d expected and partly to show it’s not just football enthusiasts who can get something out of the game.

  8. RogB says:

    I’ve tried to get into Football manager games before, but I just cant do it. Something about the ‘business’ side of football turns me right off.

    I’m having trouble with Crusader Kings 2 aswell, perhaps its some sort of ‘Analysis Paralysis’ problem that I get presented with too many options and I cant get started.

    Both of which (combined with Spartacus on telly) make me want to write my own ‘Gladiator manager’ game where you run a ludus, live as decadently as possible, and try not to get yourself killed.
    Not sure anyone else would be interested though!

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Where’s your Kickstarter? ;)

    • Hordriss says:

      I’d be interested – that’s a great idea.

    • Buceph says:

      Gladiator Manager sounds like loads of fun.

      I’m trying to learn to programme at the moment. I’ve done some reading on a programming language, have signed up to a course in Java, and am currently reading about AI. The thought of the game/app I want to make is always in a management game style. I just keep thinking about creating a world, where you poke and prod and try and understand it, but it still has some life of it’s own.

      And it’s that life of it’s own that translates to stories and the RPG aspect we make of it ourselves. Which is why FM is so good.

    • IDtenT says:

      God yes. Gladiator simulator sounds awesome. Training your best, the consistent losses, the intrigue… Get to it already! Spartacus the game, here we go!

    • Premium User Badge

      Faldrath says:

      “Analysis Paralysis” perfectly describes my attempts to play FM as well. Funny thing is that as a teenager, that would never have stopped me, but now that I’m old and grumpy, if a game doesn’t have an excellent tutorial I find that I often don’t persevere. It’s a shame.

    • DuddBudda says:

      If I knew how to write code I’d be modding CKII to hide all the numbers, make it into an RPG instead of a maths excercise and hopefully stop me wasting time calculting and start playing instead

      unfortunately noone on the forum who knows how to code cares to hide the numbers :(

      mr ludus manger? would you like to code some?

    • Apples says:

      But failures with things you don’t understand are usually just as fun (or funny) as knowing what to do after a tutorial. I totally understand the ‘too many options’ syndrome, but I like to try and push past it. Flight sims and management games are hilarious if you ineptly press all the buttons, retracting your landing gear before moving an inch or firing all your players. I guess the reason why kids don’t get bothered by it is that they have enough free time to never consider a failed effort a waste of that time…

    • Jimbo says:

      Not exactly what you’re talking about, but Gladius on the Xbox was a TBS where you ran a gladiator school. It was a great game too.

    • RogB says:

      ahh, so maybe its not just me that would be interested after all. Best get cracking then… ;)

      @Jimbo
      cheers! i’ll check it out

  9. PJ says:

    Football is the best game ever, period.

    There is a rabid following of FM here at RPS, and all for the reasons you described, Alec. It’s a bloody fantastic strategy/roleplaying game in the guise of a football management simulation, with all the right stuff.

    By the way, for lower-level management: 4-4-2, shorter passing, two wingers, one deep-lying forward, one poacher. For the last guy, get the fastest lad available on your player research, preferably on a free or as a loanee.

    He will probably become your team’s greatest scorer, ever. :D

    • NathanH says:

      At least one massive thug in central midfield is also critical. Actually this is true at pretty much every level.

    • DiamondDog says:

      NathanH speaks truth. Any formation, any setup, big or small club, a midfield with pacey wingers or a group of technical midgets, will always need a guy that can bust heads. Even if you get a more cultured version who can pass, he still has to win the ball 9 times out of 10. If he ends a few careers at the same time, so be it.

  10. Premium User Badge

    mrpier says:

    One of my favourite things about Football Manager (Championship Manager then) was finding obscure players somewhere, and watching them score 50+ goals in a season for my team. I got Marseille to be an european behemoth with Maxim Tsigalko and Martin Knutsen on top scoring ridiculous amounts of goals. Vitaly Volodenkov from Ukraine was never that good if you just looked at his stats, but he was a perfect fit as a wing-backer in my 5-3-2 system, averaging about 8.0 each season. I gave up on the game a bit into the Football Manager era, I don’t know if the game became too complex or of I just burned out on it after several hundred hours of playing, but it really left me with some good memories.

    • DiamondDog says:

      I pretty much live for the transfer window in FM games. The satisfaction of finding an unknown youngster for pennies and building him into a world-beater is one of the most satisfying things in the game.

    • Ian says:

      This is a relatively new thing for me. Probably because it’d been years since I had one lengthy save. I’m still on my FM11 save at the moment. In the year 2028 and I’m nigh-obsessed with building through youth now. I’ve since changed teams but the Man United team I’d built was 80% or 90% from youth and the rest through the odd outlandish purchase (I think I spent more than £15m about six times in 12 years.)

      And I think it’s that which has kept this save interesting to me. Buying some kid as a 16 or 17 year old and knowing I need to play a while to see them come good.

  11. YourMessageHere says:

    I must admit I’d often wondered at the popularity of management sims, and this column is doing wonders to solve that riddle. So, is there anything out there that shares these admirable qualities described above, but isn’t about sport? Sport and I, we’ve never really seen eye to eye.

    • IDtenT says:

      Sport is the side issue. The game is out and out about management, football is just the hook.

  12. Soon says:

    How odd. I named my manager “Barry Football”, any relation? Although he managed a division 1 team in China so is referred to as “Football Barry”. Also, I get messages informing me that my scout has compiled a report on Beijing’s Wang which is endlessly entertaining.

    I had 100% wins with my Beijing Baxy team. Then I got promoted to the Super League. That put me massively in debt due to bonuses, and now I’m lucky to pull a draw. Promotion was the worst thing to happen. Still, it’s been my first go at FM. It’s been surprisingly enjoyable.

  13. Apples says:

    So what’s a good game to start with for this sort of thing? Preferably an easy-ish one, because I know absolutely nothing about football except that it has some number of men who try to kick a ball into a goal. I did play a football (not management) game once but most of my players got red-carded for inappropriate slide tackling (my style was more akin to rugby really), and the few remaining ones scored own goals because I couldn’t remember what side of the pitch I was supposed to be running towards. But the diary has been so good I sort of feel like trying it for myself.

    • IDtenT says:

      2012 apparently has good tutorials, so I’d start there if you’re new to the series.

    • NathanH says:

      Somewhere there apparently is a free Championship Manager version from about a decade ago, that might be worth a look. The modern foot-to-ball managers are really quite detailed and so even with tutorials and helpful backroom staff it might be a bit much if you don’t know about football.

    • Ian says:

      It’s 01/02 I think. I believe it takes a bit of arsing about to get it working but Eidos made it available.

  14. Ultra-Humanite says:

    I would seriously kill someone for a Basketball Manager.

  15. Brass_cankles says:

    Got Southampton to the Champions League semi-final in 2015 and my save corrupted. 100+ hours of game time right down the drain. The lesson I learned: Use the rotating saves feature, dammit…

  16. Om says:

    I’ve been saying it for years: FM is one of the most impressive and important games out there. Despite being little more than a crude match engine on top of a database, it manages to produce some amazing memories. Ask any FM veteran and they’ll have tales of triumphs and loss; it’s a level of engagement, an ability to write your own story, that you just don’t get in most games

    Which is why it always hurt to see RPS dismiss “foot-to-ball”. I don’t think that anyone can speak as an authority on computer game narratives until they’ve built one of their own in FM

    • Apples says:

      What if they’ve played Dwarf Fortress? Which I think may be slightly the superior story-generation engine just because it has more range and scope.

    • dsch says:

      Crude match engine? The FM match engine is quite possibly the most sophisticated simulation of any sport. Even when it consisted of numbered 2D dots, by the time you were familiar with your team, you can see how each player behaves differently.

  17. Tomo says:

    The complexity of the most recent FMs has put me off buying them, as I just don’t have the time any longer. The PSP and iOS versions are excellent pared-down FM games though: they’re much closer to the old Champ Manager games. Still lots of depth, but not so much that you can’t dip into it and be up and running relatively quickly.

  18. Soon says:

    Are there any games where you manage some sort of RPG-esque adventuring party in a similar way? Putting together your crack team of adventurers and they go out …adventuring. On adventures. And you’d have your typical management role of handling the injuries/deaths, hiring/firing, etc. Somebody must have done this, right?

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      A bandit sim, Fight Club sim or street gang sim? Hmm…

    • Premium User Badge

      Andy_Panthro says:

      That sounds like something I would really like.

    • RogB says:

      hah that sounds great. why is nobody making these games?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      I believe there is one that’s either in development or exists.

      I know this, as I actually was sort of dabbling with the design myself. It struck me as a simple design that could be expanded, in the alternating switching between managing your team and sending them for games (i.e. Quests). There’s lots of things you could build on top of it agreeably. I’d work on party dynamics as much as anything, so you have members getting in a huff when they sleep with one another and stuff.

      The same would go to the people upthread who were talking about a Gladiator game. I’d love to see all of these.

      KG

    • Agrona says:

      Are there any games where you manage some sort of RPG-esque adventuring party in a similar way? Putting together your crack team of adventurers and they go out …adventuring. On adventures. And you’d have your typical management role of handling the injuries/deaths, hiring/firing, etc. Somebody must have done this, right?

      Final Fantasy: My Life as a King was basically like this. A little light on the management elements, but you had to build up your town to attract adventurers, hire them, pay them, build and fund potion/equipment shops, etc.

      I’m not aware that it’s out on anything but WiiWare, and it sort of chugged like hell there once the town got to a-bustling, but it was delightful enough.

      Edit: apparently you can play it on Dolphin somehow, so it’s sort-of-PC related! yay!

  19. Berzee says:

    It’s all Shove.