As popular as fantasy football is, no sports simulation inspires the single-minded devotion among its fans that baseball does: 162 games, pitching rotations, and constant trades combine for a season uniquely suited to both obsessives and gamers. (At least if you consider those to be separate communities.) Last year, the PS3 exclusive MLB 09: The Show handily won the battle of the licensed MLB games (don't feel too bad for 2K Sports; they've always got basketball)—and with this season's installments rapidly approaching (MLB 10: The Show and MLB 2K10 both drop March 2), the team from Sony Studios San Diego gave us a detailed look at what to expect from the new edition. Not only can you call the full game as a catcher, but online play has been overhauled, along with a raft of other improvements that make the game even more immersive. Read on for the interview... and don't say we didn't warn you that you would be losing your entire summer to this game. See you after the World Series, pasty freaks!
Complex: Describe the Catcher Calling the Game feature added to this year's game. Does it restrict gameplay to the catcher's POV, or does the view change once the pitch is caught and/or hit?
In Road to The Show, we've always felt that one area that needed to better portray realism was the catcher's role on the team. In history, there have been 116 ex-catchers who have become Major League managers, and that isn't without reason. The catcher is the field manager and is essential to the pitch-by-pitch strategy. This year, we've added a key element to what it means to be a catcher in Road to The Show by introducing the ability for the catcher to call the game. You're not just responsible for fielding the ball and throwing out runners; you're now making the decision of what pitch to call and what location to throw it to. The A.I. batter over the years of improvements has learned to adapt to pitcher tendencies and game situations, so it's your job to out-think the batter and win the game.
Complex: How did you implement it to give it as long a life as possible so that players aren't bored of it by the middle of the third inning?
That's easy to answer; you're responsible for calling every single pitch and location throughout the game. So basically, you'll feel responsible for the result of every pitch, good or bad. You'll have to study batters and learn hitter's tendencies, so I think having to make those kinds of decisions on a pitch-by-pitch basis should create plenty of replay value.
Complex: There are 1250 new gameplay animations. What does that bring the grand total to? And what's your favorite new gameplay animation that was added?
It brings the grand total to 22,000 in-game animations and over 4,800 gameplay animations. With so many new animations, it's really hard to choose—let's go with climbing the wall to rob HRs.
Complex: How challenging will the new pick-off technology be for baserunners? How likely will it really be to get caught leaning?
This year we have completely overhauled pitcher pick-offs by creating a system that allows the user to choose from three different pick-off types. The user can choose between a casual, a quick, and a deceptive pick-off—with different button presses—in order to try and keep the runners off balance. The new change also exists for the A.I. as they will logically try to confuse a potential base stealer. The A.I. baserunner himself will also act humanly by making the occasional mistake, which is based on his baserunning attributes. Just as an A.I. fielder may commit an error in the field, he can now make a mistake on the bases as well. The casual and quick pick-offs are similar types, but the deceptive pick-off is really created to "sell" the move. Everything in the game acts as if you were attempting a pitch. The pitch meter activates, the camera stays in the batter's view, etc., until the pitcher commits to the base he is throwing to. Presenting it like this gives a very realistic look at what a deceptive move is, and the base runner really needs to stay alert or risk being caught.
Complex: The new camera system—what exactly has been changed from last year to this year?
When it comes to cameras, we won't be happy until the line between a TV broadcast and MLB The Show is so blurred that you're forced to not only do a double take, but a triple take when you watch a game. With that statement in mind, we've taken quite a few steps forward in achieving our goal. Step one was to incorporate multiple technological improvements to enhance the overall intelligence of our camera system. Step two was doing hours of research and breaking down countless broadcasts of MLB games to understand, and hopefully mimic, how games are visually presented on TV. These changes will manifest themselves in the game in many different fashions. New TV-style gameplay cameras will intelligently adjust to the play, all while maintaining a fixed position and providing more realistic camera angles and framing. Real-time (and broadcast) presentation mode will not only offer fixed position cameras shot from realistic camera wells with improved framing and angles, but these cameras will mimic TV broadcasts in the timing and relevance it uses to cut to players, managers, etc. On top of this, we've made advancements in our actor- and ball-tracking, and added the aforementioned Real-Time presentation mode with all new cameras as a brand new way to view our game. Much has changed, and these changes will be very visible throughout every aspect of the game.
Complex: The PlayStation blog teased that online play was much improved this year. What kinds of complaints were you hearing from players, and what kind of improvements were implemented?
It's difficult when a split second is the difference between swinging late or right on time for a line-drive. That's the task we face each year when developing MLB The Show online gameplay. You would think it gets easier year in and year out, but you have to keep in mind that we add gameplay content to the game every year. Our fans would have it no other way! Some of the criticism we've received is related to gameplay speed, including periodic slow down and hiccups during the flow of the game. But, you need take into account that this is a peer-to-peer game. The experience of your online game is directly related to your opponent's connection speed and quality and we've spent a lot of effort dealing with these adverse conditions. First and foremost, the game will detect and respond better to adverse network conditions. We have reduced the bandwidth used to help the speed and flow of online gameplay. Also, if at any time the game framerate is affected, we immediately detect it and compensate. This removes any slow-motion effect you would see in the game between plays. You will see less traffic delays, smoother gameplay, and fewer hiccups.
Complex: The Full Online Season Leagues—what kind of functionality are we talking about with these?
Our goal coming into this year was to give online users the same season experience online as they've come to expect in the offline season mode. However, there are still the Online League specific features, like creating a Draft or Non-Draft league. The draft still allows for 6-30 teams, with some audio queues for "your turn" and "countdown." A few new Create League settings: Custom Sliders, Presentation Mode, Umpire Balls and Strikes, Ejections, Home Run Celebration.
The huge change this year is the addition of all player stats for your full 40-man roster. You will get access to the full "Around the League" screens, including Playoff Brackets, Standings, Statistics, Team Rankings, League Leaders and Awards. Just to relay the amount of data available in Online Leagues, we are potentially talking about 30 teams, with 40 players, each with 70+ stats!
We are including a lot of Team Management options/requirements. Under Team Management you can set your lineup, defensive positioning, pitching rotation and more. One of the keys to making a season mode realistic is the concept of energy and managing your team with energy considered. Injuries, disabled list, trades and free agents are all now a part of Online Season Leagues. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game. There are also Online League management tools available that you wouldn't need in an offline league. First, you can drop a user from your league. New to this year, you can also replace that user with another from the Invite Player screen. This is something that really helps a commissioner keep quality players in a league and ultimately the league progressing nicely. Another league management change is that any user, commissioner or league member can abandon or quit a league at anytime. This used to only be available while a league was in the forming stage. Now, you can quit while in season.
Complex: Will other players' online leagues be viewable?
There is a Completed Leagues view where any completed league can be seen. In terms of viewing in-progress leagues, users have always been able to see Current Leagues. Now, at the new The Show Community website, users will be able to see full details of all leagues.
Complex: Will roster changes be accessible through channels other than PSN? Can players change their rosters or view their leagues from a web browser on their laptops?
As of right now, the Weekly Live Roster will only be available through the PS3. The announcement and changes included in the weekly live roster will be available at the new website, and we are looking at what we might be able to do there, in terms of making the file itself available.
Complex: The soundtrack only features one hip-hop song (Grouch & Eligh); do we have Joe Mauer to blame for that? How can we petition for more in next year's title?
As we do every year, we try to get a good mix of music into "The Show". We sample songs from a variety of known artists as well as artists that may be on the verge of gaining popularity. In MLB 10 The Show, we ended up with just this one hip-hop song, but I'm sure we'll get many more hip-hop songs to sample for next years game and maybe you'll see more make the cut.
Complex: We'll just blame Joe Mauer.
Thanks to the guys at Sony Studios San Diego who took the time to
answer so many of our questions:
Chris Cutliff - Director of MLB The Show
Chris Gill - Sr. Producer
Jason Villa - Sr. Producer
Jody Kelsey - Sr. Producer
Eddy Cramm - Sr. Designer
Clayton Read - Associate Producer