So what do we already know about Championship Manager 2009? Well, we know that for the first time in the series' history the game will feature a 3D match engine sporting 450 unique player animations (350 for goalkeepers) and player tendencies such as Ronaldo stepping over the ball 116 times before pretending he's stepped on a landmine. What else? How about the fact that most parts of the game have either been revamped or redesigned, such as the tactics screen that now features rotating info buttons, or the ability to set separate formations for attacking and defensive phases of play? There's also an all-new newspaper feature capable of generating 500,000 unique stories with the ability to filter the information that's of interest to you while discarding the guff you couldn't give a toss about.
It would seem then that we already know plenty about Eidos's forthcoming football management game. But we don't know it all yet, like what Championship Manager 2009 has in store in terms of scouting, or what awaits during the match-day experience. Which is why Eurogamer has pootled up to Wimbledon to meet with Beautiful Game Studios' general manager Roy Meredith and brand manager Tim Hodges for a peek at what's in store.
"The more you work on games like Championship Manager, the more you realise just how much they blur the line between fantasy and reality," begins Meredith. "You also start to realise more and more what needs to be improved, like how scouting works." As Hodges guides us through the scouting screens, Meredith provides commentary. "You can still filter players by position in the traditional way, just like in previous CM games. You can search for the players and try to find a bargain. You can also send out your scouts to look at certain players just like before."
However, this year there's a twist. As well as the old-fashioned way of tracking down new or relatively unknown talent, Beautiful Game Studios has also incorporated an innovative new approach to scouting. "The impression of scouting is that you send a guy out to Brazil for a month with a pad and he comes back with a comprehensive list of players that he thinks could be of interest to you. But that doesn't happen anymore in the modern game. Arsenal is an excellent example of this. Their head scout Gilles Grimandi has set up scouting networks in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which is why they have so many excellent African players. We need to start reflecting this new type of scouting set-up in our game."
Hodges promptly loads up the new scouting network screen featuring a world map, each country shaded in different colours representing their investment levels. "The most effective way of scouting is to start investing money," continues Meredith. "The new scouting map shows where you've started to invest. The money you spend here comes out of your transfer and wage budget, so you're going to have to carefully balance your scouting expenditure." After Hodges takes me through the five levels of investment (none, poor, average, good and excellent), Meredith explains how the level of investment will influence both the number of players that are discovered through scouting and the level of knowledge on each player. The more you invest in a certain country, the more accurately the stats of the nation's hidden gems will be reported back to you.
"If you have 65 per cent knowledge of a player, you'll be shown their stats as a spread. The more knowledge you have on a player, the shorter the stat spread will become. You cannot judge things like leadership and concentration by scouting a player once, but if you have a scouting network you'll gain more knowledge on each player and more accurate stats. If you have 65 per cent knowledge of a player, you may find that their shooting stat is somewhere between 85 and 100. So if you're working on a restricted scouting budget, you may have to gamble on players and hope their stats are closer to the higher estimate."
The revamped scouting network could also help complement Championship Manager 2009's new real-time training options, which allow you to invite trialists to your club and set up any number of practice matches to determine their suitability to your team and their best position. You'll even be able to train players to learn the necessary skills to adeptly play in new positions and drill your squad in custom-made set pieces.
"You can set up a free-kick in five phases, with each phase ending when the ball has been played once," Meredith reveals. "You can set up as much as you like during each phase, such as having all your outfield players making a run. There are also a number of readymade free-kicks you can use. The more you practice set plays the better your attack will be at executing them, but your defence will also learn how to defend against them." But your squad members won't be the only ones able to learn how to defend against certain set pieces, as Meredith promises that rival teams will begin learning how to counter set plays if you overuse them.
Another new reveal is CM09's new match-day experience. While stadiums will feature static crowds, attendance levels will vary vastly, as will the amount and type of noise generated by the baying (or prawn-sandwich munching) crowd. "Crowd noise is based on attendance, opposition strength and the amount of home and away fans at the game," explains Meredith. "We're planning to give out chant packs for specific clubs that people will be able to download after release. You'll also be able to link in your MP3 player so that teams can run out to the music track of your choice. We want each match to be an event within itself, so a mid-season match between two mid-table teams will feel and sound very different to a key Champions League game."
Pitches and stadium shadows are also set to vary greatly, with lower league sides' grounds formed of a few meagre PE benches, while international arenas will cast an ominous oval shadow across the pitch. Varied weather effects are also debuting with ball movement slowed and bounces dulled by torrential downpours, while the opposite will be true during heat waves. And with pitches degenerating throughout the course of the season, it's clear that this is one part of the game that the developer has been lavishing with attention.
With so many innovations and new features, Championship Manager 2009 is beginning to look like a completely different prospect to its hit-and-miss predecessor. The ideas and determination to take the series to the next level are clearly evident, and if Beautiful Game Studios can deliver on the game's ample promise then perhaps Football Manager will finally have a major rival for its football management crown.
Championship Manager 2009 is due out for PC on 24th April.