While to some the Championship Manager series (now known as Football Manager) is nothing more than a glossy spreadsheet featuring football facts, to others, it's a religion, a blessing and a curse. Knowing this, we head into the deepest cells of the databasen driven series documenting the very roots of this intricate series.
How many years have you been playing Championship Manager? For some gamers the series is fairly new is its current form as Football Manager, but for many the series has far deeper roots. I was introduced to the series in 1997, when Championship Manager 2 was the latest incarnation; even back in 1997 it was a hugely engrossing game and leagues ahead of the competition in terms of depth, features and gameplay.
In the first of a two part series, I will be exploring the history of the Championship Manager series and the developments in each release. There is a vast quantity of Championship Manager games, and a lot were designed under the same game engines that were tweaked and updated for each release. With this in mind I will be splitting up my review into a series of segments that covers each game engine.
Paul and Oliver Collyer are the founding fathers of the Championship Manager series. They started working on “The Game” as they called it, as far back as the late 80’s. Like most British teenagers during that era, they were budding amateur bedroom coders inspired by the Kevin Toms Football Manager game and set about creating their own title that went deeper and further than the Kevin Toms effort, and this would ultimately result in the creation of the first Championship Manager game. When Paul and Oliver had that game “European Champions” as they called it then, near completion they sent off a substantial document that detailed the complexity of the game to various game developers, in an effort to get the game published. From the twenty publishers that received the document, including Electronic Arts, only Domark saw the potential of the game and offered Paul and Oliver the chance to get their game released, however a change of the game title was suggested and Championship Manager was born.
The first Championship Manager was released in 1992 on the Amiga, Atari ST, and PC/DOS. it was programmed in BASIC and was very close to the original game that Paul and Oliver had put together. There was however the addition of improved graphics within the game as Domark thought the game was too text heavy at that point.
Industry acclaim was not forth coming straight away and many reviews panned the game for the still outdated graphics and randomly generated player names. The market leader for Football Management simulations at the time was Premier Manager by Gremlin and you can see why initially reviews might have thought Championship Manager was a step backwards in comparison. However, there was small fan-base forming that could see past all these issue and appreciate the gameplay offered in Championship Manager.
Championship Manager 93
A marked change could be seen in the next incarnation of the Championship Manager engine that had been rewritten in the C programming language. In comparison to the original Championship Manager engine, the game was running at a faster and more efficient rate. Released in July of 1993 on just the Amiga and PC, CM93 featured a host of new features. Real player names were included for the first time, extra time was added, foreign transfer lists could now be used for purchasing players, improved match commentary could be seen during matches and the recently formed Premier League was added to the database.
Shortly after release additional Data Disks were created and available to buy, this enable fans to keep the game database up to date. These Data Disks were snappily named “Championship Manager 93 Data Update Disks”, and were an interesting forerunner to today’s DLC and patching phenomenon.
With the success of CM93, a second title was created focussing solely on Italian football. This was another creative title, Championship Manager Italia. It was released on the wave of the renewed public interest in the Italian Seria A, which had been created by Channel 4’s seminal TV program Football Italia. Other than a change to the league structure, teams and players there was nothing unique that separated it out from CM93, but it still sold well and is fondly remembered by many fans
After the success of CM93 and CM Italia, Paul and Oliver formed the company Sports Interactive in 1994, this marked a change from a small indie setup into a professional development outfit.
Championship Manager 2
The Championship Manager 2 Engine can be split up into two titles, Championship Manager 2: 96/97 Update and Championship Manager 97/98. The first title was released in September 1996 and was the last CM game to be released on the Amiga format, after that CM has mainly been a PC exclusive title.
Notable additions to this updated CM2 engine, was the inclusion of three playable leagues within the one game, this included England, Scotland and Italy. Rule changes included the Bosman ruling and inclusion of 5 substitutes on the bench for Premier League games. Probably the biggest addition that still resonates in the modern iterations of this series is the regeneration of players when one retires in the game database, although it was in a rather crude form back in the CM2 engine. Most of the player’s stats stayed the same but the first and last names were randomly generated from players that were already in the database, Alan Bergkamp anyone?
Championship Manager 97/98 was released in October 1997. This title further increased the number of playable leagues up to nine, with the additions of France, German, Spain and many more European countries. There was a huge shift in game play within this version of the CM2 engine, rather than just being able to play within the one country once you start your game, you were now able to load up to three countries and move between them during your career. This started the phenomenon of the “career game” with human managers travelling between countries gradually improving their career as they go.
A Database editor was included for the first time in this edition, allowing users to edit themselves into the game or give their favourite teams incredible amounts of money if they wished, and there was also some minor updates to the format of the European Competitions to better reflect to real life competitions.
Championship Manager 3
The updated CM3 engine was used in the next four instalments of the CM franchise, the most titles used by any CM engine. This also included Sports Interactive first attempts at porting Championship Manager on to the console market, presumably based on the success of Codemasters recently released LMA Manager series.
Championship Manager 3 was released in March 1999 and was probably the biggest overhaul of the franchise up to that date. Almost all aspects of the game were redesigned and improved from the User Interface that included a second vertical menu bar and higher resolution background images. The tactical and match-engine system were also overhauled to improve gameplay and training schedules were now allowed to be customizable by the player. There was also improvements to the way reserve and youth squads worked within the game engine, allowing youth and reserve players to improve their stats through youth and reserve team games.
In terms of league additions for the first time South American clubs and leagues were added to the game in the form of Argentina and Brazil, but the most notable introduction was the Football League Conference, further testing players who wanted to take a non-league club all the way to Champions League glory.
The game database was now swelling to over 25,000 players and staff within the game engine, due to this SI Games introduced Multi-Tasking to the code, this enable the game to process data whilst you were deliberating which team to field against Coventry City, vastly increasing the game speed for us users stuck on older computers at that time.
Championship Manager: Season 99/00 was the second game released using the CM3 game engine, notable improvements including improved media and board interaction, better functionality of the scouting system, introduction of the MLS league system and the World Club Championship.
Unfortunately the next title Championship Manager: Season 00/01 seemed to be more of a data update and didn’t introduce anything new to the series apart from a host of new leagues ranging from Australia, Greece, Russia and Wales.
Now we come onto the final game made with the CM3 engine and this is thought to be, by many gamers including myself, the pinnacle of the Championship Manager franchise and it is still played by many fans today, the legendary Championship Manager: Season 01/02. There was many additions to the game engine but the most important, was the “Fog Of War” or Attribute Masking. With this addition players stats would be not fully seen by yourself, until the player was signed or scouted by a member of your scouting team. This dramatically changed the dynamic of the game and led to many of my hours being spent scouring the globe for the best football talent, although quite often I would spend £15million on a the next greatest South American striker, only for my assessment to be wrong and the signing turned out to be a flop. Other game engine updates, gave you the opportunity to send players away for surgery if recommended by the Physio and player comparisons, which made it easier to see if a proposed new player is better than your current players by comparing there stats and clearly showing where one player is stronger than the other.
Championship Manager 4
Based upon the success and grandeur of the CM: 01/02 game, many fans were eagerly awaiting the release of CM4 and that hallowed day came in March 2003, however, this was not the glorious fanfare that many had wished for and predicted.
There was a wealth of new additions and graphical enhancements, the most game changing was the implementation of the top down match engine, feature tiny dots running around the football pitch re-enacting all those line of commentary that fans had grown used to over the last 11 Years. But, unfortunately the game was not as polished as many had hoped and there was a few game ruining bugs within the release of CM4 that took a number of patches to correct and this was during the time when many people still had Dial Up internet connections, making the process more painful, I can vividly recall scanning the PC Gaming magazines cover disks searching for the latest patch update for CM4.
Now we come on to what would be the final release for Sports Interactive under the Eidos banner and seen by the fans as the last “proper” Championship Manager game, Championship Manager: 03/04. This title was mainly a lacklustre reworking of the CM4 engine with some of the bugs ironed out and the addition of even more leagues to the games database, improved media module, updated match engine with weather effects and the inclusion of Goal of the month/season awards that could be replayed using the match engine.
Behind closed doors there was a power struggle going on for the Championship Manager franchise that would ultimately lead to a split by Sports Interactive away from Eidos. Eidos got to keep the Championship Manager name and Interface, whilst SI Games kept the game code and most importantly, the huge database that had been amassed over the years that contained all the player, club, staff, competition and national data.
There had been many rumours about what led to the split by Sports Interactive away from Eidos. Recently the current Studio Director of Sports Interactive, Miles Jacobson and the President of Eidos, Ian Livingston discussed the matter at a GameHorizon conference. Ultimately, SI Games felt they were not being respected enough by Eidos for their work and wanted more royalties. Eidos were unsure of the future of the franchise and had heard rumours that Sports Interactive were courting other publishers to work with.
As with most relationships that end, they both went their separate ways to new partners and different contrasting futures, which is a tale best kept for Part 2…
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