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Previews

Championship Manager 2009

Preview: New season, new features

In a recent visit to our headquarters, Beautiful Game Studios general manager Roy Meredith admitted that Championship Manager had "fallen on rough times" when he assumed his post at the developer last year.

"As a brand it's still really valuable," he said, "but in terms of game quality it's really not so valuable. Our intention is to produce over the next few iterations of Championship Manager something that gets a much higher Metacritic." It's all about Metacritic these days.

So how exactly is the developer going to go about this, beginning with Championship Manager 2009, which is due to kick off the new season late - in April - following a longer-than-usual development cycle?

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Championship Manager 2008, says Meredith, was "built but not crafted", and looking at comparison shots of the last CM and the upcoming one we had to agree with him that the older title looked "dull, dull, dull". So, for starters, CM 09 will benefit from a graphical and engine overhaul.

"People take the piss out of these sorts of games, saying they look like PowerPoint slides powered by Excel," said Meredith.

"I know the point of what they mean and we need to move away from that, but we have to be careful because the fundamentals of a game like Champ Manager are its numbers, statistics and its sports analysis, and so we still need to have a lot of information on the screen... but we can make it more dynamic and interesting."

A brighter overall appearance with some new graphical flourishes make CM 09 easier on the eye than previous series entries. New animated icons and other indicators are being introduced to the game's menus to make them easier to navigate and to alert players to pressing matters.

Overall, BGS says it wants to make the game more "tactile and touchy-feely".

These factors will also help to make the series more accessible, another of the developer's stated aims. As well as appealing to a traditional audience that'll spend endless seasons in the virtual manager's dugout, BGS wants CM 09 to attract and be easily playable for gamers looking for more of a quick fix.

Accessible means "fun to play", but it doesn't mean being able to go and play golf, or to have a WAG on your arm, Meredith added, stressing that it needs to "stay true to the football manager experience".

The biggest of CM 09's new features has to be its fully animated, 3D match engine. It utilises a "far out camera angle" because "close-up match engines are rubbish for a football management game... as it's very important to see the whole pitch... so you can make tactical switches on the fly", said Meredith.

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While the match engine is said to feature 500 fully motion captured animations per player (excluding goalies), the video of it we saw running showed off a number of bugs that won't be completely ironed out until "right up through alpha".

It's actually quite funny waiting to see your player send over a corner only for them to start bonking the corner flag (ok, they didn't really do that, but there were some random slide tackles going on in the middle of the pitch).

The match engine can be used to watch specific training drills or practice matches between your club side and reserve team, both of which you control.

While it's still a work in progress and is "nowhere near finished" graphically, the point is clear - the match engine enables you to see which players are or aren't performing as expected from a completely fresh perspective.
And it definitely looks set to help submerge players more deeply into the whole experience.

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