12 Ways FM 2015 Has Totally Transformed from Its Distant Relation, CM 93/94
Friday, November 7, sees the release of Football Manager 2015, the latest version of a game that has seen a generation of men take to their computers and lose themselves imagining that they are in the hot seat of a football team.
The stories and legends that have come with this game are many.
From players you'd hardly heard of becoming cult heroes through their overachievements in various versions of the game, to stories of grown men wearing suits to manage a prestigious cup final and the game (and the obsession with it) being cited in divorce cases, FM is a storied game.
Every year, the game gets a little more realistic, and it's easy to forget just how much it has changed over the course of a generation.
So here is a nostalgia-fuelled trip through the game, showing what it looked like back in 1993 compared to this week's newest edition.
A caveat should be noted here: Championship Manager and Football Manager underwent a split in 2003.
The team who created the game divorced from the game's original publishers, Eidos, with the latter keeping the name and the "look" of the game and the former taking with them their engine and coding, before linking up with Sega to produce Football Manager.
Accordingly, Football Manager has to most fans felt like the true continuation of the series, though the name and publisher did change during that time.
Then: Before You Even Start
Piracy was just as much of an issue then as it is today, but the solution in 1993 was spectacular in terms of quite how unspectacular it was.
To prove you had a copy of the game, you had to enter a result at random from the instruction manual, which had five scores on every page.
This watertight system could only be cracked if you had access to a pen and paper.
Even today, it only takes a split second of Googling to establish that all those codes are still out there, somehow escaping the confines of the instruction manual.
Now: Security Stepped Up
Nobody said that piracy was easy to solve. This time a year ago, Sports Interactive's Miles Jacobson revealed, as reported by Edge magazine that there were 10.1 million illegal downloads of FM 2012.
It is a mind-boggling figure, although it is equally a reflection of the game's lure.
The modern authentication process through Steam means that, even though you don't need to look up match results in the corner of your manual, the game is much better protected.
Then: Starting a Game
It wasn't just a case of picking your team and getting started a generation ago—you also had to take a quick personality test.
What sort of personality would define your management?
Something tells me that very few people ever chose rash—and fewer still had it affect their game once they'd picked it.
Now: Getting into a Game
More leagues brings with it more choice.
Where in the old version you were up and running right away, you now need to think about how many leagues you want to run (running five nations in depth, for instance, means that the database loads up around 30,000 players and members of staff).
And when it comes to your own profile, that does take some thought. You can assign yourself some points according to your character and style of management, and that will have benefits (and hindrances) to the way you play the game. Boost your ability to work with youngsters, for example, and you're likely to fare better with your emerging talent.
But it might just come at a cost to your ability to set up a team tactically.
Then: Getting Things Done
The interface back in the the early 1990s was less than stylish, but those big tabs became iconic in their own way.
And it was pretty tough to go far wrong.
Now: Getting Started
Your game screen makes your inbox at work look straightforward. From the moment you enter the game, the challenge is real.
There are meetings to attend with your superiors and specific goals to achieve—in the case above, Nurnberg are not only going to have to impress in the second tier of German football, they're going to have to do it by dominating at set pieces.
To help you, there's an array of options, menus and tabs to get you around the game.
Remarkably, despite the intricacies, it remains intuitive—you're very rarely more than a click away from any task you need to set about.
On which note, it's time to take a look at the team.
Then: The Squad
Part of the joy of the game here was that there weren't too many taxing decisions to make. You had a team to select, plus a couple of substitutes and a spare goalkeeper.
And football in the early 1990s was much, much less a squad game than it is today. So in short, your core XI required precious little rotation on those wet Tuesday nights in the Coca-Cola Cup (as it was back then).
Now: The Squad
At first, it might seem as if the squad screens aren't hugely different from the classic version.
Of course, appearances can be deceptive.
For instance, your motivational skills are put to the test from the very first moment you meet the players and discuss your expectations for the season.
Seventeen of Nurnberg's squad were excited when I told them that I thought we could get them promoted; 10 thought I was overambitious and became worried. Two of them were turned around when I said words to the effect of "no, really, trust me on this one"—but the rest remained concerned.
Your interactions with the squad go deep, from forensic analysis of their performances in training and on matchdays to their reactions to the way you handle media discussions about them.
Tactics were straightforward: You had a finite number of places you could drop a player onto the pitch, as well as the dynamic forward and backward arrows to encourage movement.
There were revolutionary positions you could deploy—behind the striker, in between the defence and attack, as well as a sweeper—but those were the heights of fanciness. And if you wanted a 4-3-2-1, for instance, it wasn't physically possible.
Remember the days when you could just change a tactic from one week to the next and expect an instant turnaround in fortunes?
Not so simple—Brendan Rodgers can't do it, and neither can you.
Familiarity with the formation and all it entails will affect how well it works, which takes time. And fine-tuning the formation itself has never been more involved, with details on the jobs of individual players within the formation, instructions on whether you look for overlaps, how much you press, all entirely customisable and terrifically nuanced.
Whether your players listen to your instructions, of course, is another matter altogether.
Then: Player Profiles
This kind of detailed breakdown seemed incredible at the time. Statistics, attributes, raw data—it was all there, meaning you could make a decision on whether John Collins really was worth £800,000 and £3,000-a-week wages.
But this one page was, essentially, where the information stopped.
Now: Player Profiles
FM 2015 knows players better than players know themselves.
Having been scouted extensively and awarded attributes based on current ability and future potential, the profiles are a goldmine of information.
And with clever touches, such as the highlight attribute function, you can get a quick read on whether a given player has the right set of skills for a certain role within your team.
Of course, with the above example, Cristiano Ronaldo, his talents are known to just about everyone. For players in more obscure regions, the information is tantalising and vague.
Your midfield prospect from Curacao has some qualities you know, such as 15 for tackling, some you don't, such as no steer on his ability to take a free-kick and some you have only a rough idea of—so his flair is somewhere in the region of 12 to 19.
Only scouting will help you reveal all, and even then, only if your budget allows you to be sending your scout out to these far-flung regions in the hope of catching him in action.
Matchday was something special, when the fate of your team would be determined by scrolling text commentary.
As blog One Foot in the Game recalled: "The classic text commentary during matches provided such timeless classics as ‘he rounds the keeper... and (more often than not) scores!’, and bizarre non sequiturs of ‘Player X injured by Player Y... he was punched... Player Y spoken to’."
Some sense of how the game was unfolding was provided by the chance-counter and the continuously updating bars that showed how your defence, midfield and attack were doing.
But that aside, it was up to your imagination and the same few-dozen turns of phrase on the text.
The evolution of the matchday is possibly the most striking part of the game's progress in the last 20 years.
First, there were moving disks.
Then, there was a 3D match engine, which has been polished, refined and enhanced for several editions now.
The result is that players' behaviour is increasingly more real, logical and based upon your technical set-ups.
And perhaps most endearingly, the scrolling text commentary has never departed and is still present at the foot of the screen.
Then: Match Stats
A score out of 10 (come what may) for each player and not an awful lot more. Drilling down into a player's performance and working out why something wasn't working was almost impossible.
On a slightly unrelated note, this slide shows how the game dealt with the minor teams. Rather then give them fake names, they'd simply list them by position.
How the Maidstone manager in the screenshot above ever determined how to choose between Substitute A and Substitute B is anyone's guess.
Now: Match Stats
The initial post-match screen, with match performances for the players of both sides, is much the same.
But thereafter, what the game doesn't tell you probably isn't worth knowing.
Want to see where and when every single aerial challenge was won and lost by your players? Or, as above, every key run and move was made?
You can even go back and watch matches again in full, like Arsene Wenger no doubt does in the small hours of a Saturday night.
If your team ever flounders, it's not for a lack of information.
Then: Finding Foreign Players
Buying players was a fairly simple process in the early days of Championship Manager.
Admittedly, they were harder to pick up from abroad than they are in today's game—perhaps as much a reflection of modern football as it is the video game. Want to bring Paul Gascoigne back to the English top flight? Good luck.
But this is where the scale of the game truly becomes apparent. Outside the English leagues, there are nine-screen's worth of foreign players in the game, such as the one above. Nine.
And they weren't aligned to clubs, simply countries.
Now: Finding Foreign Players
Your scouts, despite their artificial intelligence, have somewhat human characteristics.
There are things—and people—they know, and there are things they don't.
So if you want to build up your knowledge of Argentina, you need to send your scout there, that or hire one who already knows the region.
Then: Scouting for Players
Scouting was an almost non-existent process in the game a generation ago—if you wanted to find a certain type of player, you simply ticked a few boxes on their type, their age, their position, at which point a list of players that fitted the bill would appear as if by magic.
Very convenient, but fair to say that it didn't make finding your next big signing an art form—you effectively picked the sort of player you wanted, and the game would throw them up for you.
Now: Scouting for Players
With so much information to sift through, it's just as well that your scouts are on hand to give you detailed feedback on the players you're interested in.
They report back on a player's temperament, their strongest and weakest points, their ability now and in the future, and their suitability for a number of positions.
Of course, that's all assuming that your scouts know what they're talking about, which is not necessarily a guarantee.
Then: The Art of Negotiation
Buying a player was a beautiful process—if as far removed from the real thing as you could care to imagine.
A bidding pool would effectively come into play, with you going up against the other interested teams over, typically, the course of three rounds of offer-making. Eventually, some, none or all of the offers would be accepted, at which point it would be in the player's hands.
It was a glitchy process, however, and there was a knack of circumventing the process. Usually, two rounds of low bidding to dupe the other computer teams into complacency, followed by a higher final offer would give you a clear run at landing your star striker.
Now: The Art of Negotiation
You've read enough transfer rumour mongering to know all about the clauses that can go into buying a player—and the agents who are dealing with it.
Football Manager reflects that murky world in great detail these days.
Of course, you might be at a club with a director of football, in which case all you can do is submit your list of targets and hope that he kicks into action on your behalf.
Once it gets to personal terms, it's you, the agent, the agent's list of other clubs he claims are interested in and your nerves in the negotiating phase.
Your relationship with the agents count, now, so you need to get on their side.
Then: The Art of the Win Bonus
At the best of times, the early Championship Managers were not difficult games.
If you put a sensible team together in a logical formation and had a bit of patience, the game would almost invariably reward you.
If, for any reason, you were still stuck, there was the win bonus.
Whatever the match, whatever the occasion and whatever your budget, you were in charge of setting a win bonus for your players. And guess what? They were always pretty motivated if you offered £10,000 per player.
Now: Getting the Win
Yes, the win bonuses still exist, set at the start of the season to give a little fillip to the squad before the campaign gets underway. But it's not going to turn your team into world-beaters.
Nobody said it would be easy.
And short of Googling a list of bargains who are destined to improve your team, you are going to have to earn every victory the old-fashioned way.
But it's going to taste oh-so-sweet when you seal that promotion, title and yes, even just a last-minute winner over Kaiserslautern.
What the Game Meant Then and What It Means Now
It's easy to poke fun at Championship Manager, but for a generation of gamers—this one included—it was a joy to play.
It was also completely revolutionary, with attention to detail and a previously unseen depth. Then, as now, the game felt immersive and ahead of its time.
Its foibles also made it fun—the cult stars of the game it churned out still now mean something to fans, from Cherno Samba to Tonton Moukoko. Those wrinkles were ironed out for the most part by having a network of scouts researching players the length and breadth of the planet.
What it also had that Football Manager for a while did not was a quick enjoyment factor. You could rattle through a season in a session if you were so inclined, and the relatively simple options and menus that you went through meant you could get on with the game without obsessively fine-tuning your training sessions for the U21 team or trying to identify the best untapped talent in Vanuatu.
It's for this reason that "classic mode" was reintroduced to Football Manager for the 2013 edition—to stand alongside the full version as an alternative way of playing.
But Football Manager is a Pandora's box—once opened, things can never go back to the way they were. Like Sir Alex Ferguson before you, you find yourself wanting to control every aspect of the team from top to bottom.
If the old Championship Manager is an old Nokia—indestructible, well-designed and easy to use—then Football Manager 15 is the latest iPhone—the sort of thing that has covered everything you ever thought of, as well as half a dozen things you hadn't.
And what a long way we've come.