To create your free account, please enter your email address and password below. Please ensure your email is correct as you will recieve a validation email before you can login.
To log in to your account, please enter your email address and password below:
To reset your password, please enter your email address below and we will send you a link to reset it.
TVG runs onto the pitch at Beautiful Game Studios to see what the latest instalment in the franchise has in store for gamers...
It's a funny old game, football. It's also a game of two halves. It's also at this point that we're going to stop using centuries-old cliches, which are inevitably re-used time and again during post-match interviews. Instead, we'll take a first look at the upcoming Championship Manager 2009, the latest instalment in the sixteen-year old franchise, and the fifth for Eidos' internal studio, Beautiful Game Studios.
Since the split between the UK publisher and original Champ Man developers, Football Manager's Sports Interactive, in 2004, the grand daddy of the management sims has all too often been found languishing behind – even making backwards steps too. April 2009 however sees the first title in a resurgent Champ Man, thanks to a renewed push at BGS. Featuring a host of new tweaks and details, including some to be revealed within weeks, Champ Man 2009 seems to be shaping up to be the equivalent of a club with a new manager. TVG headed to the home of lawn tennis (and not football) to discover whether this renewed sense of optimism is well-founded...
The Beautiful Game
For BGS' new chief, Roy Meredith, the past four years worth of Champ Man titles have been built, not crafted. To be crafted is to create something with love, and with a total football fan like Meredith now helming the studio, it's clear that Championship Manager 2009 is being – for the first time in over four years – crafted. It's the level of thought being put into what is essentially a footballing spreadsheet which is beginning to prove this.
Visually at least, Champ Man 2009 is injecting a certain dynamism to the interface; there are national flags in motion above player stats, and there's an almost PlayStation-like ribbon in motion behind the tables. But the kinetic presentation of the interface is more than just a little gloss; BGS is also making it functional too. A nod to global sports news channels like Sky Sports News, animated tabbed league tables and top goal scorer lists scroll through in the bottom corner, giving breadcrumb facts of the footballing world. Not only that, but player status has also been tweaked to be more dynamic and yet functional. Rather than just show that a certain player is injured (and perhaps hiding other key facts like his contract renewal), the status scrolls through everything, ensuring that they're aware of interest on an injured or end of contract player before it's too late. It's a small addition, but a neat detail that will be appreciated by the football management fanatics. The interface design has also received something of a facelift, breaking ranks from the traditional Champ Man fare that made recent efforts look all-together generic and even dull.
The relationship between the manager and the outside world is something that's also being thought about for this year's effort. By splitting email up from in-game media coverage, coupled with the hiring of several sports journalists to compose a web of realistic-reading newspaper reports, BGS aims to develop a greater level of importance on actually reading the information and not just delete 'email' from the game's in-tray. It's all part of creating a game experience that also places importance on the run up to a match, and not just those precious 90 minutes on a Saturday or Sunday. The addition of selecting drills for training schedules, and a more fluid and intuitive means to create training regimes in general, is another area which BGS hopes to achieve with Champ Man 2009. The training in particular is being implemented so that it reflects the natural curve of improvement.
Of course the key to a resurgent Champ Man will mean an accurate database of players and stats, and a decrease in the bugs that have pretty much dominated the series even more since the split. Whilst this remains to be seen come 'hands on' time, it's at least worth pointing out that similar to SI, BGS has a core group of volunteers around the globe (not to mention full-time team members in the office) to constantly update the database. What's more, in a light knock to its number one rival, BGS points out that every one of its players are – potentially – available to buy, and not greyed out in a non-playable existence.
A Match Winning Plan?
Championship Manager 2009 isn't just an overhaul of key areas for the franchise, it's also going to be taking the first steps towards lifting the iconic brand back to where it belongs. The decision to reinstate on-the-ball and off-the-ball formations and tactics is an obvious one to make, and it beggar's belief why BGS decided to remove in the first place. All of the Home Nations are going to be represented once more, with the Northern Irish and Welsh premiers all finding their place alongside the English, and Scottish leagues. The Republic of Ireland's premier league will also making an appearance. CM 2009 also sees the inclusion of the seventh tier leagues of English football, the Isthmian Premier, the Northern Premier League, and the Southern Premier League. It means that Merthyr Tydfil and Mangotsfield United fans can finally realise their dreams and take their beloved teams to the top of the Premiership and beyond. Ah, Bless.
Adhering strictly to the old adage of 'If it ain't broke...', the tactics screen will be more than familiar territory for Champ Man (or indeed, Football Manager) vets. The classic chalk lines detailing runs, the circular representations of player positions, and the list of the starting line up, all – as you'd expect – feature heavily. That's not to say that BGS have stayed away from making a few tweaks. Beyond the reinstatement of off-the-ball tactics, players will also get an 'Auto Fill' option that does more than randomly throw in eleven players. Depending on the formation chosen, the option adds the team it feels is the best 11 at that time. Subtle changes in the midfield were evident during the demo, as the formation was switched from a 4-3-1-2 to a more traditional 4-4-2. Whilst some will no doubt believe that such advanced auto fill features is the equivalent of cheating, it does fall into Meredith's plans to make Championship Manager more accessible...though it's worth noting that's not the same thing as making it a casual game however.
The 3D match engine is also undergoing significant improvements, with the flow of the game being tweaked on a daily basis. There's also the introduction of motion-captured players running about the pitch too, each with a few hundred animations to bring more of an edge of realism over last year's cones. That's not to say that it'll be perfect come April – roller-skating players and some 'unusual' movement did occur during our time with the game – but it's something that BGS is looking to continue refining throughout both Alpha and Beta builds in the run-up to launch day. Further details are also being added to the match engine, including stadia shadows on the pitch reflecting their grandeur, weather conditions that affect the standard of the game (and the chances of injury), and the level of pitch-tearing. This last point in particular works in tandem with the stadia shadows, reflecting the quality of the pitches from the heady heights of the Premiership to the somewhat less hardy grasses of the Southern Premier. There are plans to change the seat colours of the stadia to reflect the home-playing sides too, although for now it's unclear whether this is a detail that will make it by April, although it's something that could be added in a later patch.
It's difficult not to get caught up in Beautiful Game Studios' renewed sense of optimism and hope about this year's Championship Manager. Already it's clear to see that great strides have been made over recent instalments, but what makes it all the more exciting is that BGS already knows the future direction of the franchise for the next three years. It really does seem like the phoenix is about to rise.
Like a football team with a new manager, Championship Manager seems to be turning a corner with this year's release. A fresh identity and a forward-looking strategy is shaping CM 09 into a solid launch pad for future iterations – of course, the strength of the game will also require the database to stand up to scrutiny, but the nitty-gritty details so far seem to be falling into place. TVG's feature looking at Roy Meredith's plans for BGS and the Champ Man series will be appearing soon, so keep your eyes peeled.