Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Review - ProCycling Manager 2007, full version

I reviewed the demo of this game earlier. I thought the game had potential but it was hard to tell just from the demo. Each time I tried the demo (and the one stage it offered), it'd offer me the download of the full game when I quit. Each time I absentmindedly closed the full version offer window.

Then, one day, I realized that the pop up ad wasn't asking for $49.95 (the retail price) but only $19.95. I guess after you play the demo countless times the game folks figure you'll buy if it's a bit cheaper.

They guessed right and I ordered the game right away. Downloaded it. And tried a few things.

First off I chose a different team and tried a nice Classic. I think I gave Milan San Remo a shot because it just happened. I chose Discovery and tried what I could to win. No luck. I tried another race or two, figured it was all sort of the same, and went exploring for other game options.


That sounded pretty interesting. So I signed up, selecting Discovery again (since I recognized a bunch of the riders), and started out. I had no idea what I was getting into.

I think it took me an hour to finish the first day of the season.

Fine, you can sort of wing it and get on your way, but I started delving into things. Basically you become an operations manager for the team. Will Frishkorn talks about some of the realities of this in his VeloNews diary. He says that the riders and directors get together at the beginning of the season to plan out the whole season in mind boggling detail. Who goes where, equipment, support staff, vehicles. In the game, you basically do it in the first couple "days" of the game.

What is kind of strange is I absolutely love this kind of stuff, the planning, the riders, the races, even the equipment. Naturally I dug in and started poking around.

I found a few key things that set the tone of your team, your season, and your goals. You have to take these into account if you want to have a happy, successful team.

The team's sponsors have goals. If you want to retain your sponsors, you need to try and meet their goals. They'll target races which may not seem important to you (I've never heard of some of them) but they're the sponsor so they dictate what they want you to do. Money talks, and this is the most direct way of making sure you hear it talking.

The riders have goals. Each racer has a list of three races they'd like to do. Some are unrealistic (Tour de France, for a team that isn't a ProTour team), and some are inconvenient (like one racer really wanting to do a race that conflicts with sponsor and teammates' goals). Riders also have preferred weather, either cold or hot, snow or rain, stuff like that.

The team is invited to certain races. They seem to be somewhat important ones, and I don't have the heart to not go. Since these races inevitably don't coincide with sponsor or racer goals, you need to allot some racers to fly the team colors.

The riders get better by training or racing. They are ranked on how much training they have plus how many days of racing they've done. Training camps are a good way to get your racers up to speed. Racing works too, but I think you can have too much racing. I haven't gotten far enough into the game to see how burnout works, but I can tell you that my guys love training camps.

The team has trainers, and some trainers really help some racers. I don't get the correlation, but it seems like it's much easier to get a not-so-good racer help. A strong racer doesn't improve quickly, but it's better if that racer is targeting a later race, like the Tour or the Vuelta. You don't want your Grand Tour rider to peak in February. At the same time, it would be nice to be able to improve such a rider's fitness a bit quicker. I'll have to see how it goes.

You can sign unattached racers for a while, like 10-15 game "days". There is a long, confusing list of racers out there. I decided not to burn any bridges and just go for unattached racers desperate for a contract. It helps to sort them by their salary. If their salary is a "-", you can hire them. Feel free to negotiate salary - usually going down 500/month from their "estimation of self worth" is okay, especially if you give them a better title, i.e. "luxury teammate" instead of just "teammate". Check their 3 favorite races to make sure they won't screw up your schedule, make their strengths complement what your team lacks, and of course you have to stay within your monthly salary cap.

I started with Discovery, didn't learn about 4, 5, and 6 for a bit, and struggled through some early season races. I missed races simply because I didn't have available racers (I scheduled too many training camps), I totally forgot about some of the racers' favorite races (so they weren't as happy as they could be), and my designated leaders all seemed to falter.

I found, though, that winning climbing jerseys was pretty easy. Get two guys that can climb and who aren't GC threats, alternate going with the moves, and each time I found myself with some guy way up front, pushed him at the top of each climb, and handily rode away with the climber's jersey in a couple stage races. As a bonus, in one of the sponsor's goal races, there was a split in one of the final sprints and my leader somehow won the overall as well.

However, for the life of me, I can't figure out a field sprint on this thing. Me. I mean, c'mon, if anyone should be able to win a field sprint using tactics, it's me. It's supposed to be easier if you have virtually unlimited power and speed. But I can't even get second or third. It's tough. You need to jump at about 2k to go and the guys just keep going like mad until the line. I have to work on this a bit, but for now I'm no longer Sprinter Della Casa. I'm more like Grimpeur Della Casa ("climber of the house").


I learned about the Trainer thing (how they help a racer train, not the stationary indoor things for bikes), and with Discovery's huge budget, I just hired a boatload of trainers, experimenting with which trainer helps which racer the most. A trainer can handle only a limited number of racers so I just threw money at the problem and kept hiring more and more trainers. Some racers really benefit from certain trainers, but I never understood the correlation. I tried same country trainers, same "type" of trainers (i.e. for TT, climbing, etc), but a trainer's effectiveness just seems random to me.

Injuries make you select a doctor, and, again, I just hired a bunch of doctors. Ditto on my lack of knowledge on what makes a good doctor a good doctor.

After a while the game seemed a bit stale. I had too much money to throw at problems, my team wasn't racing well (except for the climber's jerseys), and I felt like I was playing with a stacked deck, i.e. one stacked in my favor. I didn't win any sprints but I had such depth in the races I showed up for that it seemed unfair. I decided not to count the races I simply forgot about or where I decided I'd let the computer race for me.

I decided to start over again.

This time I chose a much smaller team. With my recent and controversial Tyler revival, when I realized he was on the list of racers I chose his team, Tinkov. Talk about a controversial team, the Tinkov guy basically used the list of banned riders to fill his roster, or so it seemed. I'm a somewhat fan of the short, muscular (and unfortunately convicted doper) Commesso, who's on this team as well, and I thought, well, maybe I can get him to win a stage in the Giro or something. Tyler, Danilo Hondo, and I think one more controversial rider make up the stars, but there is a lot of depth in the roster. It looked promising.

Along the lines of point number 6 (New Racers), I hired three riders, all climbers, to fill in the gaping hole the team had in mountainous terrain. Since Tinkov is poor, I upped many of them in status (their title) while offering them a little less money. They all accepted, and I maxed out my available salary.

With regards to point number 5 (Fitness), I hired one trainer I kept, bumping training bonuses up to 60%. I also hired and fired a bunch of guys on the same day, losing the signing bonus each time I fired one. I'd fiddle with assigning trainers to one guy or another but I quickly learned that the expensive guys aren't necessarily better. I must have spent 100k just on experimental signing bonuses, only to find the trainers were charlatans.

And, in a fit of total obsessive compulsive behavior, I decided that instead of chicken scratch all over the back of junk mail, I'd organize the season based on sponsor goals, racer goals, invited races, and "free time".

Crazy, right?

I'd have done it in a spreadsheet but I hate Alt-Tab-ing out of a game (computer crashes, uses too much memory, etc) so I had to do it in "real". I got some graph paper, wrote the names of the racers down the first column, put the dates (1-31) across the top, and made 11 copies of it. I didn't need January because Tinkov had no races in January - no sponsor goals, no racer goals, and no invitations. So 11 copies for Feb-Dec.

I left a space next to each rider so I could write down their fitness, mood, and their riding style (i.e. climber or TT or whatever).

I mapped out each racer's three favorite races on these 11 pieces of paper, put down the sponsor races, and sat back to see what I had.

A huge mess.

I have no idea how the real directors do all this. I have a bunch of guys who want to do the Tour, but we haven't gotten invited. The sponsors want us to do real well in a race that conflicts with the Tour. So if we get invited to the Tour, I have to put aside a bunch of good guys to go do this dinky race I've never heard of.

It goes on and on. You need to schedule a day of travel for racers to get from one place to another. You need a nice balance of climbers and flat landers for most stage races. I'm skipping sprinters because, embarrassingly enough, I can't sprint well in this game. If you (or your sponsors or your riders) want to win, you need a guy who can climb and time trial. Unfortunately those types of riders cost a lot of money and they need to be fit.

I decided that I'd split the team into three groups, each group essentially a full team on its own, each group following a specific schedule. I'll move individuals around to make sure they hit their favorite races, but for the most part the racers will stay in their sub-team.

I spent a bit of time over two or three days getting to this point, and I'm only at January 15th of the year in the game! I have yet to split the team up into its sub-teams but I have the calender worked out, I have enough climbers to threaten the overall (and climber's jerseys) in at least some of the stage races, and I'll wing it for the rest of it.

The Tour of PA sort of disrupted my game and I was smart enough not to pack my "team director spreadsheets" in my laptop bag, else I'd have gotten a hair less sleep than I actually got. I'll have to look into perhaps scheduling the first game "month" of racing. This means getting the three sub teams organized - selecting leaders, climbers, domestiques, and a sprinter if I have one. I have to keep in consideration the racer's favorite races, the sponsor's favorite races, and the various race promoter's various invitations.

And then I have to actually race the race. It's kind of interesting, starting a race with no backsies, no do overs, and a relatively unknown race ahead. Yeah, there's a terrain map, but the game is such that if the field stretches out and suddenly splits, huge gaps open right away. I don't know the courses well enough to know where those little hidden hills or wind pop up.

And if your guy is tired, he's tired. He can't do anything. Getting into a break that actually works seems nigh impossible because the rider inevitably runs out of water before the finish (riders go into "limp mode" when that happens and they soft pedal to the finish).

For some reason this whole organization thing really appeals to me, almost more than the actual racing (although if I can win something I feel good about it). I'll have to see how it goes.

I wonder if real teams accept game results as part of a resume.

"And in Pro Cycling Manger 2007, I won the Tour with a Continental team."

Well that's a moot question anyway.

I have to win the Tour in the game first.


Anonymous said...

Sounds cool, Aki. Any screenshots of me and the team in action you can share?

Aki said...

tyler - I'll get a screen shot of you and the team in action when I start racing. Right now it's just (non-video/picture) training camps and hiring trainers and such.

lol. Too funny.