How many times have we gone through the whole Eidos/Sports Interactive/Championship Manager situation? Honestly, it's been an experience as draining and monotonous as waiting for Sven Goran Eriksson to finally make an intelligent tactical decision.
So we're going to skip over the whole issue like Ronaldinho skinning another flailing defender. The important thing about Championship Manger 5 is not who makes it or what name is on the box. It's whether it's any good or not.
Unfortunately, the PC version released a few weeks ago has taken a bit of a critical drubbing. Numerous bugs - some addressed on launch day with a patch, others still waiting to break your PC's legs with a dirty studs-up challenge - and a general inferiority to Sega's gargantuan Football Manager mean hardcore dugout lovers may finally be ending their love affair with the Champ Manager brand.
But all is not lost. Championship Manager 5 is also limbering up for an outing on PS2 and Xbox at the end of this month. With a separate development team working on the title and the happy lack of any direct competition from the Sports Interactive bunch, Eidos will be hoping CM5 on console can bring back the glory days.
There is still competition to defeat, mind, with the Codies' LMA Manager series and EA's Total Club Manager already established on console. So to find out if Champ Manager 5 has what it takes to compete in the footie management premiership we ducked into the dugout with Simon Phillips, managing director at developers Gusto Games.
Is the console version of CM5 a straight port of the PC version?
Simon Phillips: No, the console version has been written specifically with consoles in mind. That way we can make the most of the limits like joypads and memory cards.
To what extent have you had to cutback on stats and info for the console version?
Simon Phillips: It's not really a case of cutting back, to be honest. Yeah, there is a little less statistical information than the in PC version, but we've been a bit clever with how we've packed the data in.
Is it a very different game because of this?
Simon Phillips: We have made a game that is what a Championship Manager player would expect, and we don't think it's different or limited because of the console.
Is the scope and scale of the game the same as the PC version - like the number of leagues, countries and so on?
Simon Phillips: When it comes to simple data storage, the void between PCs and Consoles is getting bigger by the minute - PCs have what, 512MB to 1GB RAM, the PS2 only has 32MB, so naturally there is going to be less data, but we have managed to pack in an awful lot and by being a bit cleverer with how it's used we can keep the game feeling very large and deep, certainly when compared to stats available in other console management titles.
Can you give us a numerical breakdown of players, leagues, countries and so on?
Simon Phillips: We've included around 52,000 players in around 2500 clubs from 146 nations.
Will players have to choose a restricted number of active leagues?
Simon Phillips: We decided to keep the active play to one nation, this makes sure that the balance between depth and speed is just about right. There is little point in being swamped in info if it's gonna take days to get from match to match.
What particular problems has developing the game for console thrown up?
Simon Phillips: It was always going to be tricky putting something like CM onto a console, where you don't have a mouse, TVs are fuzzier, memory cards are tiny etc. But we knew we would face these problems from the outset, so we could find some clever solutions from day one.
And have there been any benefits offered by the console architecture?
Simon Phillips: The consoles can do a lot of cool stuff, but unfortunately most of the hard work in Champ Man is simply processing and number crunching, so a lot of the custom chips don't really get pushed to be honest!
Have you kept the 2D match engine and stat heavy interface?
Simon Phillips: Yeah, with the spec of consoles as they are we didn't want to waste memory on representing so-and-so's latest haircut, we wanted to make sure that it was all used on what is important to a real football management game: Stats. Some of the other titles choose graphics over depth, but this is Champ Man we are talking about! It's about playing, not watching!
Do you think this type of footie management game can be successful on console, considering LMA and TCM's more graphical approach?
Simon Phillips: They are different games really, some feel that they have to do this, and have to do that, "because it's on a console". We wanted to make Championship Manager, and that means depth and quality stats, so until we have all the players ever with all of the stats ever in all of the leagues ever, then that's the focus.
What does the 2D match engine have that a 3D match engine doesn't?
Simon Phillips: It allows you to visualize what's going on in your head, without having this generic stadium and pseudo-generic player forced upon you. If I play as a second division Israeli team, I don't expect to see a three tier wraparound Millennium-style stadium. Consoles don't have the capacity to represent all of the possible stadiums and players, but your mind does.
Sounds like a daft question, but how hard is it to make the cursor move comfortably on screen using the joypad?
Simon Phillips: This is one of the first things we had to tackle - no mouse. We have created a system that feels comfortable and natural to use on a joypad, we didn't want to just replace the movement with the analogue stick, because this can become tricky and frustrating to use.
Any plans to bring out a CM5-branded console mouse?
Simon Phillips: No.
Will CM5 be online on console and are you planning downloadable content?
Simon Phillips: How about that? The number of consoles connected online is growing rapidly. But at this point in time, there aren't really the numbers to do some of the cool stuff that we've banded about. But we've got a lot - and I mean a lot - of really cool ideas.
How has feedback from the PC release of CM5 affected the console version?
Simon Phillips: Obviously we use feedback from wherever we can get it. We need good feedback to make a game that more and more people enjoy playing, and it may be little things like, "some people can't find the passing stat for so and so". That way we can get a good heads up on what the fans want.
PC games can be patched. How important is it to get the console version spot on for release?
Simon Phillips: Yeah [smiles]. It's a good and bad thing. The console versions go through some really rigorous testing procedures so we have to make sure that they are bug free and don't fall over at all, which ultimately means that it's going to be stable. But if there are features that haven't made it into this version, they have to wait until the next one.
Who's your real target audience with CM5 on console? Is it the hardcore footie fan or the more casual player?
Simon Phillips: I think it'll appeal to all sorts really, there are a lot of console players out there that want more than just a pretty, shallow game. I for one love being able to play a good honest version of Champ Man on my sofa in front of the telly.
What single aspect of CM5 on console are you most proud of being able to include?
Simon Phillips: God, there is so much! Just the fact that is has been possible to bring it to consoles without it being "too dumbed down" or having to turn it into something it's not.
Finally, Jose Mourinho. Total nobhead or genuinely The Special One?
Simon Phillips: In my opinion he's a sour-faced old tart. Rafa's my man - come on you Reds!
Championship Manager 5 will be available on PS2 and Xbox towards the end of this month and we've spunked our transfer kitty on a whole bunch of brand new screenshots. The PC version is already available.