There's a reason Sony's MLB: The Show baseball series is one of the most critically acclaimed sports series year in and year out. In addition to genre-stretching innovative features, such as Road to the Show, the development team at Sony's San Diego studio is consistently focused on the infinitesimal details that make baseball (and, by extension, sports games) so beloved. The result is a conundrum from a game design standpoint, however. While the actual sport of baseball doesn't change in a fundamental sense, there are 1,001 changes that happen from season to season--players retire or change teams, acquire a new batting stance, or change the colors of the laces on their gloves. And it's these little details that fans of the sport (and the games) are paying attention to just as intently as the back-of-the-box features.
I had a chance to travel to San Diego yesterday to get a hands-on look at the next game in the series, MLB 10: The Show. Due for release in early March, MLB 10 continues the tradition of adding big features while paying equal attention to the small details that make it one of the most critically successful sports franchises of the past decade. All this week, I'll be taking you through everything I saw at Sony San Diego, and what better place to start than with three of the biggest features the game will have to offer? Today, we'll be exploring: Road to the Show, new training drills, and new pickoff moves.
Call The Game
Road to the Show continues to be one of the best reasons to play the MLB series. Perhaps the most telling sign of its success has been the number of similar modes in other sports games that RTTS helped inspire--from the Be a Pro mode in EA Sports' NHL series to the My Player feature in last year's NBA 2K10 (and this year's upcoming MLB 2K10).
Arguably, the most important addition to MLB 10's version of RTTS is the ability to play as a catcher with a dedicated camera view and mechanics. When behind the plate, you'll be able to call every pitch in the game and even force the issue by insisting on a pitch if your pitcher shakes you off the first time around. Here's how it works: Before the pitch is thrown, you'll be able to choose the kind of pitch you want by pressing the corresponding face button; this is exactly as if you were playing as the pitcher. Once you've got a pitch, you can choose the location by moving the left stick to instruct the pitcher to throw inside or outside the strike zone.
With your pitch and your location set, the camera backs out a bit to reveal a third-person view of your catcher, who might automatically move to either side of the plate depending on the location you called. If the batter makes contact, you'll have control over your catcher, which should be especially exciting when you're looking to prevent a runner at second or third from scoring. How you perform as a catcher in RTTS mode will be similar to how you are judged at the other positions. In other words, you won't be penalized for calling a bad game or rewarded for an especially good game behind the plate (though, according to producers, that might be a feature in a future entry in the MLB series).
Drill to Completion
Player progression is one of RTTS mode's greatest strengths, and as the mode has evolved over the years, there's been more ways to earn points you can use for your player's attributes. Last year's game saw the addition of batting and base-running drills designed to give you the occasional opportunities to improve specific aspects of your player's game, which was separate from the points you earned during regular games. Of course, batting and base running are only half of baseball's skill sets. With MLB 10, the game will complete the set, with the addition of pitching and fielding drills.
There are two separate pitching drills--the first is the simulated game. Despite the name, you're not actually pitching a full 27 outs here; instead, the drill comprises a three-inning game where the goal is to allow as few runs, hits, and walks as possible. Any time a run is scored, the inning ends, so if you have an off day, your drill could be quite short. That said, successful actions in this drill--such as grounding out or throwing a strikeout--will affect those specific aspects of your pitcher's attributes (namely H/9 and K/9). The other pitching drill--knockout--presents you with the standard strike zone and is separated into a nine-cell grid. You have a total of 15 pitches in this drill and your goal is to knock out each of the eight individual cells by throwing the pitch of your choice through each cell (the center cell is not counted because you rarely, if ever, want to give a batter that gift in a real situation). If you knock out the upper-left cell with a 2-seam fastball, for example, you'll get a small attribute bonus to that pitch. Accuracy is paramount here, but you can also earn power bonuses by throwing heat.
In terms of fielding drills, the development team wanted to break down what makes a fielder successful in a game and tried to translate that into gameplay terms. So while the basic nuts and bolts of fielding drills are simply stopping the ball and throwing to the right base, the drill also tests your judgment by throwing you in random situations during the drill. You have 15 balls to play in a fielding drill, and each time, the situation is slightly different. One situation might be two outs with a man on third, whereas the next situation might be one out and a man on first base. As a result, the drill will be testing your reflexes as well as your judgment; how quickly you react to the ball, as well as whether or not you throw to the correct base.
Been Caught Stealing
Beyond getting Ks, one of the most satisfying experiences as a pitcher has to be picking off a base runner. With MLB 10, you'll have a few new weapons in your pickoff arsenal. By holding down the L2 button and tapping on the corresponding base button, you can attempt a standard pickoff play. Holding the L2 button and double tapping the corresponding button will attempt a quick pickoff play. And holding down the face button with the L2 button will attempt a deceptive pickoff. This is where the pitcher attempts to disguise his pickoff throw for as long as possible and only chooses to throw to a base at the last possible moment. To accompany the ruse, the pitching meter will move as normal during a deceptive pickoff attempt, which means there's a chance your buddy will fall for it when playing a multiplayer game.
Tune in tomorrow for a look at the online options in MLB 10: The Show.