At its semiannual Gamers' Day yesterday, Electronic Arts was showing off Triple Play 2002 for the Xbox and PlayStation 2. While the game will run on the same engine as last year's PlayStation 2 effort, EA made the rounds at spring training to collect player faces for use in the game. EA is calling its facial technology "cyberscanning," and the results are quite impressive. There will be more than 200 cyberscanned faces in the game, and recent changes in appearance such as Randy Johnson's short haircut will be included. The player faces are some of the most realistic yet seen in a sports game, and the player models have been reworked to show more detail.
In addition to improved facial textures, Triple Play 2002 will also include more signature batting and pitching stances. The presentation of the game has been a primary focus for improvements, and Electronic Arts has implemented what it calls "big play moments" into Triple Play 2002. Similar to the "game story" in EA's NHL franchise, when an at bat has a great deal riding on it, the game will go into letterbox mode, the sound will be altered, and both the pitcher and batter will be shown digging in. EA hopes that this will bring some drama to a sport that is generally more subdued than others. Bob Costas, long considered one of the premier sources of baseball knowledge, will handle the play-by-play, and Electronic Arts stated that he has taken a hands-on approach to making the game better.
Electronic Arts has also made some improvements to Triple Play 2002's gameplay. The pacing of the game has been improved thanks to an altered pitching interface. You may now select the location of the pitch and the pitch type with one button press. Electronic Arts believes that this will decrease the time required to play a game by 33 percent. The biggest improvement to the gameplay is a replay buffer that allows the player to prepare to field the ball. After the ball is hit, the camera will switch to a fielder's view, where the player will see the ball hit once again. This allows the player an extra second to prepare to make a play in the field. The feature is simple yet highly effective, and it's surprising that it hasn't been thought of before now. The computer pitching AI has also been improved so that the computer will throw more balls to set up the batter for curve balls and other special pitches.
From a graphical perspective, little has changed from last year's game, save for the new facial textures. The Xbox version's graphics are a bit crisper than the PlayStation 2 version's, but the frame rates are still quite erratic. Both versions are scheduled for release in mid-March, so there should be plenty of time to clean up any problems. We'll have more on Triple Play 2002 for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 when we receive playable builds.