For this edition of Champ Man & Me, I am joined by two very special guests. Paul & Olvier Collyer (MBEs) are responsible for the creation of the Championship Manager series, after founding Sports Interactive in 1992. The first Championship Manager game soon followed, and the rest is history. CM9798 fans may also know them as “Dobs” and “Ov” from the default Hall of Fame, and of course the pair are still heavily involved in the Football Manager series to this day.
They’ve taken some time out of their busy schedules to take a walk down memory lane with me.
Thanks for talking to me, gents. When this all began back in the early 90’s, did you ever imagine the game would still be going stronger than ever over 20 years later?
Oliver: To be honest it wasn’t in our mind how long it would last; it was just exciting seeing it published. I still remember seeing the first tiny preview screenshot of the game in Amiga Format while walking around the supermarket. I doubt it would have been possible to have wiped the smile off my face! If someone had said to me that we’d make careers out of writing the game and it would still be going strong 20 years later then it would probably have seemed pretty hard to believe. But in all honesty, we just weren’t really thinking that way – our focus was very much on making the game as good as we could.
What are you memories of the 97/98 game in particular?
Paul: I think this this is one of the releases that people look back on as a favourite for some reason. I believe it was an update to CM2. It was often the updates that were the best ones as they had been polished as opposed to re-written. I am fairly sure I myself had an epic game on 97-98 as Burnley, where I started in the bottom division, had a horrendous first season but managed to turn it around by basically parking the bus, getting a few clean sheets and building from there. Ended up in the Premier League, of course, but it felt earned. I always want any success in our games to feel earned.
Something that often gets brought up when Everton do well on the blog save is that you and Oliver are Everton fans. Surely it’s just a coincidence!?
Oliver: That old chestnut! We are indeed blues but hand on heart we’ve never deliberately rated Everton players any higher than we should have done. Of course these days the research is a huge operation which we aren’t directly involved in but back in the day any bias towards Everton would have been very much the result of sub-conscious if it existed at all – lets call it an innocent case of “blue tinted spectacles” rather than anything more nefarious…
I played through the CM series in a set of blogs for The Higher Tempo Press, one thing that struck me was that in 96/97 there were goals galore and the goalkeepers were pretty poor, whereas in 9798 the goalkeepers are magnificent – was that a planned move?
Paul: I should imagine we fixed a bug for 97/98. In fact probably over fixed it and started the whole “super keeper” legend. We are better at planning these days………
CM9798 had no CD-protection so it could be played (once installed) without the CD. Was this to hook us all before the CM3 phenomenon? Did it have the desired effect for CM3?
Paul: I have no idea. Probably an Eidos thing. I think it was likely unintentional in terms of effect but at the time you wanted people playing the game by hook or crook so it worked out well.
Since I started this blog in January, over 1500 views have come from people searching the web for cm9798 – does that surprise you, given the game is 18 years old?
Oliver: Well we know that CM97/98 is acknowledged to be many peoples’ favourite version of the game. I think this is for a few reasons – firstly it was a very well-tuned version, having had a few iterations of the broad same codebase so we’d had a chance to iron out the glitches and tune it as well as we could. It just played really really well. Secondly I suspect the people looking for it are remembering the days when they played it – perhaps they have found the more recent games a little more complicated and they remember back to when things were simpler (this is also the reason we introduced Football Manager Classic – now known as Football Manager Touch)
Do you get much chance to play the game or is it all work and no play?
Oliver: I only tend to play Football Manager Touch these days since my role is one of overseeing the development of this version. I’m personally far less hands-on these days however, preferring to give some guidance but no longer coding.
Paul: I hardly have any time to play it these days sadly. Not just because of work but also two young kids, plus other interests etc and I have finally managed to get the work/life balance right in recent years. Although I do sit for hours watching AI matches play out as part of my job which is AI coder for the match engine. If I were to play it more I would go for the Touch version on tablet. And never as Everton. I find it hard to play as any team where I have too many preconceptions. Last long game I had was a couple of years ago with Las Palmas, which was great fun!
Do you have a favourite version of the CM or FM series? Either from a creative point of view or to play?
Paul: My Burnley game will always be my favourite, although some friends and I did have a spectacular hotseat game going in 93-94. I can’t exactly remember who was who but I know my friend Tim was Barnsley and had a centre half called John Cox. The man was an animal. Practically a red card every other week. Like a modern day Norman Hunter I suppose. You always remember these players. I think he was a fictional player too! In terms of my own role I am always obsessed with ( hopefully ) making each Match Engine iteration better than the last, and I am quite proud of the latest one.
FM16 is upon us – how has your role changed in developing the game now compared to when things started up?
Paul: Well I now work in a team as opposed to my own little match engine bubble. This is a good thing, mainly because my team are ace! Also in the early days I had more areas of responsibility, eg transfers, finance etc. Being able to focus on the match in recent years has been very good and also allowed me to avoid working 16 hour days year round and actually have a life outside the studio. Which is also a good thing, although it was fun back in the day!
There’s a massive FM community with some great content – it must give you great heart to see the game used for things like tactical analysis in the ‘real world’?
Oliver: The way Football Manager has begun to encroach into the real football world is really something remarkable – if we couldn’t have imagined the game itself going strong 20 years later, then we certainly couldn’t have imagined that it would become a sort of cultural reference point for football in the real world. Of course, some of this is driven by us but the fact it is taken seriously is testimony to the quality of the game and the reputation it has built up over the years.
CM & FM have made heroes out of players who in some cases cannot live up to their billing, have any such players ever spoken to you about it?
Paul: Not me personally but I am sure Miles has had these conversations
On that note, you must have been fairly excited when Ibrahima Bakayoko signed for Everton…
Paul: Weren’t we just! Such a shame he was a bit average. It happens. More success stories on the data front than not, by some distance!
Finally, where do you see the FM series heading next? Do you think there will ever be another change of the same magnitude as when CM3 was launched?
Paul: We will never undertake a complete rewrite again. We don’t need to anymore luckily, we can just replace or rework a given module. The rewrites – CM2, CM3, CM4 – all had something in common. Let’s just say they were difficult releases……
Thanks again to both of you for joining me and for providing us with hours of entertainment over the years!
Paul: You are welcome!
If you’re a fan of the series, take a look at my new book The World According to CM9798 available for purchase now!