Jon Murphy on Pro Evo 2011

Fresh from GamesCom

Jon opens our intimate Pro Evolution 2011 chat by explaining that the preview build available for public play during Gamescom has already been superseded by a new and superior version. With some audible disappointment he notes that Konami just fell short of getting the newer build ready in time to hit the show floor.

Jon Murphy: The differences between the [current] preview build and the version I got this week on Monday are quite extreme actually, they've done a lot of work since the previous version. And it answers a lot of the questions that fans have had - the code I have now demonstrates that.

From our perspective - having put the excellent Gamescom build through its paces - if the latter version is really so far advanced, Pro Evolution fans can look forward to some truly great football in the very near future.

We keep hearing that 'enhanced power bar integration' and 'total control' and 'scaled-back AI' are integral to this year's PES, should gamers be intimidated by Pro Evolution Soccer 2011?

It depends. If you've played PES then no, because you will get the hang of it. It kind of returns you to a feeling of PES where you do need to do a certain amount of relearning. As a non-PES player, then maybe you should [be intimidated], because it's not easy and we're not pulling any punches.

We want it to be more down to skill, we don't want somebody who's really good at the game to be beaten by someone who's just picked up the joypad. We want there to be a big difference between learning to play the game and coming into it fresh. Players should be daunted a little bit but shouldn't worry too much if they understand the basics of PES.

You'll be quite regularly putting balls in the wrong place to start with, but you'll soon get the hang of it. What will then happen is you'll find your concentration will go during games and you'll make howling errors... which will really cost you dear. But, you know, that's a good thing. It may be mentally hard playing 10 games in a row, but you want challenge and, personally speaking, I don't think it could get hard enough for the fans.

When it comes to recent PES editions and the rise of a certain rival football franchise, would it be fair to say Konami has been guilty of resting on its laurels?

Yes, I think that's fair. It may be that we became quite pompous about the fact that we quite easily had the best gameplay and no one was going to touch us - and now we've had our arses burned, there's no secret in that.

With PES 2010, we started to decide on big issues that would change and we started to get a feeling of how the team were now going to treat the product. But I think 2011 is the first time we've seen [instances of] 'right, that has got to be immediately and utterly changed,' like in the case of the animation system, for example.

These aren't just small changes. I mean, literally 90 percent of the animation was thrown out and we started again. They're big things to do, and it takes quite a lot of balls to uproot the game to that level, but we've hit the point where we've got to do those sorts of things.

It's been difficult for the team, because it's a taken a 'leap of faith' for them to have reacted like that. You know, it's risky. Their feeling is that the bigger the change they make, the bigger the risk of breaking the game.

But wouldn't you agree that it's riskier to make such changes when you're leading the genre, and perhaps less risky when you're chasing?

Yeah, actually that's what we're seeing at the moment. I think it's fair to say that EA have got their engine to a point they're happy with, but so far I haven't seen them announcing any big changes [for FIFA 11].

Do you feel that this is the first PES in quite a while that has a real buzz building around it?

To a certain extent, yes. I think there's been buzz before around PES but it's often got to the point where we haven't shown enough [ongoing content] and that buzz has died down. But I think this is the first year where we have a buzz around the game that we've sustained.

It's so important now that we prove to the fans that we are doing what we're saying, in the way that we're saying it, and it is making that big of a difference.

It's perhaps difficult for people to put 100 percent of their trust back in the PES team to sort things out, but, touch wood, they have stuck with us. And, I think when you receive review code, you'll see that we have continued the process right to the end [and that] we really have been frank and honest about what we can achieve this year.

How much onus has been put on the Online Master League as the game's unique selling point?

It's a big part, without question. It's different, it's very different. It's nothing like the [offline] system, so that's a risk, but the fact of the matter is we wanted to include an online Master League and we had to find a way of doing it. But we couldn't just transpose the Master League into an online situation because you can't rely on everyone else coming and playing their matches. If your league falls apart in that way, you're going to get bloody frustrated, bloody quickly.

When you get into a session of Master League, you want to spend hours and hours and hours 'tinkering and playing, tinkering and playing,' moving it forward, progressing, and building your team. You need to keep the momentum going in Master League and online that's very difficult to do.

So what we've done with the online Master League is try to take key areas for what it means to be involved in the Master League and put that into an online situation. It's not about the season and playing set matches within that, it's about playing very important games in a quite simple way and building the team around that. There's also a whole new facet to it in the fact that the value of players is constantly changing and you're always looking for bargains in a way that you haven't in the past when the game's been online.

Yes, we're pinning a lot on it because it's Master League, and it might be slightly risky because we've had to do it in a different way, but I think if you go back to the gameplay, we're pinning an awful lot on this being a really, really playable version of PES.

Has the gameplay been improved to allow for more intelligent A.I. overlapping and getting wingers to continue their runs more consistently?

There's a certain amount of shifting you can do with teammates, and there's a certain amount you have to rely on the AI and spotting where the runs are. From what I've seen, yes, they do make more intelligent runs but, on the other hand, I've also been frustrated by exactly this and then switched teams and found that it improved.

For example, when I'm playing as Chelsea I'm always trying to get the players down the left and right wings to make those runs, but they still seem to stop. But when I go and choose a different team I notice that the wing players will often continue their runs. I think that will just change from team to team and also depend a great deal on how you set your team up - but I agree with you, I think that's been a problem.

To a certain extent we've fixed it by you having to encourage the runs yourself, but I think you also have to keep the ball seriously as a team as well.

Why did you drop the mighty Lawro from the commentary team?

Why did we drop Lawro... (long pause). I think Lawro delivers in an authentic football way, a kind of feeling that does mean something to you in commentary and in emotional terms. But, unfortunately, what he's not good at is acting, and that's what we were suffering from. And that's what he was suffering from. His image was suffering because he couldn't deliver lines properly in our game.

As a natural commentator, he's a lot better, but he's got a lot of people that complain about him. If you look on 'who do you love and hate most' in [football game] commentary terms, people feel quite strongly about Lawro.

It was simply a case of, you know, we needed the lines delivered in a more convincing way.

Is this the most sim-like PES since fan-favourite PES 2005?

Yes, which is a bloody good thing. That's what I was trying to say earlier about the direction of the team etc., where we seemed to not know where we were heading. I think the belief was that we got to a certain level with PES that we could kick on and become, you know, not just a gamer's game but a family game that encouraged younger users. And I think that was damaging. Dumbing down PES was a mistake. So yes, it's definitely more sim-based.

There seems to be a genuine belief surrounding PES 2011, from the fans, from Konami and from you yourself. Is this Pro Evolution's year?

I've had faith in this version for quite a long time but, actually, if you went around and spoke to people within Konami nine months ago you wouldn't have had the same feeling. It's been something that's been developing because they've seen the way the product has been developing, they've seen there really are some fundamental changes to the way the game plays, and that we really can compete.

I don't want to sit here and say to you "this is the version of PES," I want to sit here and say to you "this is a really competitive version of PES." It's really different, it'll change the way you think about playing a football game in certain ways and it'll really develop a satisfying, hard game of football.

I'm not going to sit here and say this is the ultimate PES, because I hope there are bigger things we can aim for that enable us to improve. But, on the other hand, it's easy to say yes, these are the biggest improvements we've ever made to a game of PES in the space of one year, and yes, it's the most ambitious we've ever been with the series.

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