Entry #4 - 05/15/02
By Ed Brady
Assistant Producer, Visual Concepts
Hey, everyone. So, if you've been following this series, you've already read installments from Dave Perkinson of Visual Concepts and Troy Skinner of Blue Shift, talking about the particular challenges of creating and fine-tuning the forthcoming version of World Series Baseball for the Xbox. In this, our fourth and final diary, I somehow get to write about some of the other really cool stuff--namely, how does it look and how does it sound?
Much of what makes any sports-related video game great lies in the game's ability to lose the player in its "fantasy" world. In our case, the goal is always to immerse the user in as much realism and attention to detail as possible (such that they forget they are playing a video game and instead are becoming lost in the fact that they're playing a baseball game). As a developer, if you can do that, you're way ahead of the game.
First off, let me just say, I'm not a programming wiz--I'm a baseball guy. I can tell you the nine teams that Todd Zeile has played with or show you how to grip a sinker, but I wouldn't know a polygonal enhancement if I sat on one. That said, you don't need an engineering degree to see that World Series Baseball is the best-looking baseball game on the market.
Developing a game on the Xbox has proven to be everything we could've asked for. The power of the system really allowed us to focus on the intricate details of player models and stadium textures. We were thrilled to be able to utilize Major League Baseball's new head-scanning technology on a few hundred of the top players in the game, and the results are out of this world. Guys like Johnny Damon and Ken Griffey look so similar to their real-life counterparts, it's almost creepy. Stadium lighting really sparkles this year as well. In the past, the difference between a day or night game might only be that one was darker than the other. You'll find that to be substantially improved this year.
Of course, the attention to detail mentioned earlier really steps forward when it concerns player-specific animations and accessories. You'll probably expect to see Tony Batista with that wide-open stance or Hideo Nomo with that goofy windup of his (in fact, you might even feel cheated with anything less), but our guys really outdid themselves in copying even the most minute of details. They pored over hours of actual MLB footage, so, as you play the game, you might find yourself noticing such things as Jose Mesa's blue glove, Mark Grace not wearing batting gloves, or Barry Bonds having an earring. Those are the sorts of things that just make you sit up and say, "Man, that's cool."
As good as World Series Baseball looks (and plays) this year, it's conceivable that it sounds even better. In my opinion, the number one addition made to the game this time around was the inclusion of San Francisco Giants color commentator Mike Krukow. We were already ahead of the curve by having Ted Robinson return for a second year, but reuniting these two partners has really added a component to our game that we've never had before.
In an era of phony, overexcitable anchors and commentators, Mike's a real breath of fresh air--a throwback even. Anyone who's heard Mike call a game can tell instantly that he's a guy that genuinely loves what he does, and his enthusiasm really comes through in the game. Strike out, and he'll tell you, "Grab some pine, meat." Hit five home runs in a game, and Ted will rib him about the fact that Mike hit only five in his whole career. Bring Danny Patterson in to pitch, and Mike will talk about the fact that he came up with the Rangers in '96, then will talk about his 60 appearances being a career high, and wrap it up by adding, "Plus, he went to my high school!" Good stuff.
In years past, our commentary for World Series Baseball has sounded like, well, video game commentary. It hasn't been bad, mind you; it's just sort of been "there." This year, it really sounds like baseball commentary.
For example, in previous versions, a regular fly out might've sounded like this: "(Crack)...there's a fly ball...Bonds is there and makes the catch." This year, the very same play might sound something like this: "Here's the two-one pitch...(crack)...and that's swung on and lifted deep down the line in left...Bonds ranges over and puts it away for out number two," followed by Mike saying, "Well, he got under that one juuust a bit...if he makes contact with that pitch on the fat part of the bat, that baby's out of here." It's almost the sort of thing you don't even really notice because it sounds so natural.
Speaking of sounding natural, we're also fired up about the fact that our game supports full 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Hearing ambient sounds of the ballpark coming at you from every direction is a really cool way to play a baseball game. In addition to vendors, the crowd, and the public address announcer, you'll hear player-specific heckling of visiting players and cheering for the home squad. So, if the Braves are playing the Giants at Pac Bell Park, you might hear a heckler taunt Gary Sheffield by saying, "Hey Sheff, you find a team you like yet?" Then, in the bottom of the inning, you might hear a fan yell, "Put one in the bay, Barry!"
It's fair to say that gamers are fickle, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Before a developer can even release a game, people invariably begin asking the question: "What's next?" Of course, the standard answer is "We're keeping it under wraps," but expect things to just keep getting bigger and better with the World Series franchise as a whole. New animations, more player-specific commentary, and an even deeper franchise mode (if that's possible) are just a few of the things on the docket for next year. And, oh yes, we've got a few surprises planned as well. Until then, I have no doubt that this year's World Series Baseball will be more than enough to tide you over.
Mucho thanks to the folks at GameSpot for allowing us to talk to you all about a game that we're all so proud of and excited for.
Hope to see some of you down at E3...