Pro Evolution Soccer is a football (soccer) video game with legions of fans around the world. PES games are produced for all major consoles including PS3, XBOX 360, Wii and PC and are distributed across all five continents making it a global powerhouse.
Pro Evolution Soccer games have now been around since 1996 when the uniquely titled Goal Storm started the Konami franchise. Along with the FIFA series from Electronic Arts (EA) the two games have gone head to head and dominated the football video game scene throughout this entire time. PES games have always focused on the playability and likeness to real football, whereas FIFA has predominantly been about being ‘official', sacrificing game play for licensing and an arcade style of play.
The franchise has undergone several name changes in Europe and North America, at the moment the games are called PES followed by the next year to release year, so this year's latest installment released this October, will be called PES 2013.
The initial name of Goal Storm was kept for just one year, before being changed to ISS Pro in 1997. Then it changed to ISS Pro 98 followed by ISS Pro Evolution in May 1999, making this the first time that ‘Evolution' had appeared in the title. At this point in the history of the game, updates weren't released at regular intervals and the first time I was introduced to the game was in 2001, with the arrival of ISS Pro Evolution 2.
Unlike in Europe and North America, in Japan – home of Konami, Pro Evo has retained the moniker ‘Winning Eleven' since inception, with the prefix of ‘World Soccer' being added after the first few years.
What made Pro Evo stand apart from other football games was the way the game played. The view of the action was side on and the ball could be kicked in any direction, unlike the FIFA games in which any directional shot would always fly towards goal, making the game seem staged.
Previous games which stayed true to football, such as Sensible Soccer, had top down views, which meant you played by either running up or down the television/monitor screen. Graphics were limited back in the 1990's, but FIFA and Pro Evo started to change all of this – taking their respective games in different directions game play wise.
From the onset Pro Evolution Soccer never had naming rights for the players or teams, so early on in the franchise an editing option was created in the game. This allowed savvy gamers to edit the players and teams, replacing fake names with real ones. I remember spending hours recreating football strips and renaming all the players, until PES fan forums started a trend towards option files and max drives.
These saved option files were created by groups of fans and then uploaded via the internet to forum pages and download sites, so that all fans could quickly save and rename all the players in the game. Now they had better looking players, kits and real names, but it still didn't compare to the official licenses of FIFA, but it didn't have to, players simply wanted a resemblance, as it's always been the game play that brings back fans year on year to Pro Evo.
This game play was honed over the following years as ISS Pro Evolution 2 became Pro Evolution Soccer in 2001. Game play was being tweaked all the time with AI (artificial intelligence) making the game smarter and the game speeds changed regularly, sometimes speeding up and then slowing down for the next release, as Konami tried to find the balance. Tackling became more of an art, instead of just button smashing and training modes were introduced to allow players to practice before doing things in real games.
Discussion on PES forums alluded to FIFA getting literally shirty with Konami on licensing issues, by forcing Konami to make the fake team names even more obscure (Manchester United were no longer ‘Man Red', they were now ‘Aragon!'). This provided new challenges for the edit masters and fans always hoped that Konami would battle for the licenses for the next game – to date this still hasn't happened taking into account PES 2013.
In Pro Evolution Soccer 2 commentators Peter Brackley (voice of Football Italia on Channel 4) and Trevor Brooking were introduced to add a new dimension in the realism stakes. Hearing somebody famous talk about your team during play sounded exciting in principle, but limitations in the technology meant that this could quickly become boring, monotone and often, irrelevant.
By comparison, music was introduced to the menu screen, with Queen belting out ‘We Will Rock you' and ‘We Are The Champions' amongst other artists and tracks. Music in the menus was a welcome addition as you could very often spend long periods of time negotiating these pages, especially if you were editing. This has been a feature Konami has maintained and improved over the years, right up until the present, often using small, unheard or unknown groups and giving them a platform to reach people through with their music.
In Part Two of PES games we'll look at the continuing battle with FIFA, the movement to online and high definition gaming and how PES hopes to regain its football video game crown with PES 2013.