MVP 07 NCAA Baseball Q&A

We chat with producer Trey Smith about the upcoming college baseball sequel from EA Sports.

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It may seem hard to believe now, but it's conceivable that one day there might be just as much excitement surrounding college baseball as there currently is with NCAA football or basketball. After all, you don't have to go too far to find pockets of rabid college baseball fans--the Arkansas Razorbacks program comes immediately to mind, for example. In terms of national awareness, the sport passed another important milestone last year: a video game release. MVP 06 NCAA Baseball was the first college baseball video game, one that was brought to life thanks to the knowledgeable development team behind EA Sports' MVP MLB series. We recently spoke with MVP 07 producer Trey Smith about the game and the challenges of creating an authentic college baseball game.

EA's MVP series made the switch from the MLB to NCAA last year, and the series returns with MVP 07.
EA's MVP series made the switch from the MLB to NCAA last year, and the series returns with MVP 07.

GameSpot: With NCAA 07 on the way, let's start by getting your thoughts on last year's debut for the series: MVP 06 NCAA Baseball. What did you do right, and where do you think you could have improved with that game?

Trey Smith: Good question.

    Things I think we did right with MVP 06:
  • MVP 06 played like a college baseball game.
  • Load and fire analog batting was a huge hit with the fans.
  • Our fans continue to tell us that our gameplay is the best out there.

    Things we can, and did, do better with MVP 07:
  • Capture the "college spirit."
  • Update pitching mechanic.
  • Tune precision throw control on the lower difficulties.

GS: How do you feel longtime MVP fans reacted to the changes in the series?

TS: Well, there are a lot of MVP fans out there so I'm not even going to attempt to put words in their mouths, but I think on [the] whole our fans appreciate that we are still finding innovative and compelling new features that shape the way baseball video games are made. Especially in the area of gameplay.

GS: Were you big college baseball fans before development began on the revamped MVP series? How much of a learning curve was there for you and your team when ramping up development?

TS: I wouldn't say I was a huge fan, but I'd been to several games at Sancet [Stadium] in Arizona to see some of my friends play for the Wildcats. A couple of them are in the pros now. As far as a learning curve, the majority of "research" that was done was getting our dynasty mode in order. Recruiting in particular was something that we wanted to incorporate as much realism [into] as possible. We've gotten feedback from actual college coaches, and their kids, that MVP's dynasty and our recruiting mechanics are spot-on. It's always great to hear you're doing well, straight from the horse's mouth.

GS: MVP 06 wasn't afraid to make some changes to its traditional formula, especially with regard to the controls. How do you feel the analog stick-based fielding and batting controls were received, and how have they changed (if at all) in MVP 07?

TS: Well, there were several reviews and posts on the message boards that came straight out and said, "After using the analog sticks to hit and field, I can't even think about going back to buttons." Hearing feedback like this gave us the courage to bring rock and fire, our new analog pitching controls, to the table this year. And I have to tell you, the feedback we've gotten on rock and fire thus far has been that it is even better than what we worked on last year.

We did some tuning with load and fire under the hood, but I think the thing you'll notice the most is we brought the batting camera in closer to the hitter. This allows you to see the ball a bit better. There were a lot of first-timers to MVP last year and they thought that, while cool, load and fire was pretty tough for them to pick up right away, so on the lower difficulties we made the contact window bigger.

Practically everything on the field, on the mound, or in the batter's box is controlled with the analog sticks in MVP 07.
Practically everything on the field, on the mound, or in the batter's box is controlled with the analog sticks in MVP 07.

GS: The control tweaks continue in MVP 07 with rock and fire pitching. Where did this idea come from, and how does it work in the game?

TS: Well, we just felt it was time. We've had relatively the same pitching mechanic for years now and felt that it was time to try something different. Rock and fire was actually something we thought of when we were working on load and fire batting last year, but we felt like we had our hands full already and decided to sit on it. I'm actually really glad we did, because it allowed us to spend more time tuning it until it felt just right.

Just to give you an idea, after months and months of tweaking, we ended up using our 14th version of the rock and fire pitch meter. Throughout development, we got rock and fire in as many people's hands as possible and iterated and iterated until we had a pitching mechanic that we feel is intuitive and makes you feel more like you're pitching.

GS: Dynasty mode is where most folks will spend the majority of their time in MVP's single-player game. What's new this year in dynasty mode? Anything we should know about in terms of the recruiting system or other tweaks?

Competition in dynasty mode isn't just on the field--you'll be competing against other coaches to recruit the top talent for your team.
Competition in dynasty mode isn't just on the field--you'll be competing against other coaches to recruit the top talent for your team.

TS: There have been minor tweaks here and there in dynasty mode, but the most notable addition is a feature we are calling draft buzz. The way the feature came about is actually a pretty neat story. We have a very strong community following with MVP, and we listen to them very closely. This new feature was created by one of our loyal MVP community members. Essentially, some of the Baseball America Top 100 recruits are flagged as having draft buzz, meaning it is possible that the player may be drafted at the end of the year and will be unavailable to sign with your program. It adds a little strategy when you're looking to fill the holes in your roster from year to year. If you choose to gamble on a recruit with draft buzz, you could end up spending thousands of precious recruiting points on a player that is not there for you to sign at the end of the recruiting calendar.

GS: What can you tell us about online play in MVP 07? Will we be seeing postrelease roster updates?

TS: Online play has been significantly improved for MVP 07. We went in and plugged the holes of several exploits that our audience told us about. We updated our OSDK, which made for a better running game, aka better frame rate. And we created new pitching and batting cams that work really well online. At the present time, we are not planning on postrelease roster updates.

GS: A huge part of every collegiate sports game is the collegiate atmosphere during the games. How have you upped the "school spirit" in MVP 07?

TS: This was probably the biggest complaint our fans voiced to us about last year's game. Last year, we spent most of our time making MVP "play" like a college baseball game. For MVP 07 we spent a lot of time focusing on getting MVP to "feel" like a college baseball game. Right off the bat, the first thing you'll notice is the ESPN footage during our intro video. Our partners at ESPN hooked us up with some awesome footage of Rosenblatt Stadium. It really sets the mood for the game. I was fortunate enough to fly out to Omaha and experience the College World Series firsthand. It was so overwhelming that I wanted to try and capture what it's like to be there. They have been playing the CWS at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha Nebraska for 59 years now! We are glad we got to pay homage to something this special.

Another thing you will notice is that we have upped our presentation significantly from last year. We now have over 70 authentic fight songs and a handful of licensed images of some of the NCAA baseball superstars from the past couple of years. We added some new crowd chants and player chatter. And last but not least, there are the "RBI Girls." Our fans wanted some cheerleaders, so we contacted the Arkansas athletic department and they were kind enough to send us over some images of their famous girls. They were a huge hit with the dev team and test teams, that's for sure.

GS: The player animations in the game go a long way toward making this play like a "college" game. Players make iffy throws, and even routine grounders can make for some exciting plays (or forehead-smacking errors). How do you go about modeling the relatively young, inexperienced players in college baseball without creating an overly frustrating game?

TS: Well for the animations, it's all about having quality talent for [motion capture]. We used some local college players and coaches for ours, so we we're starting with the real deal.

As far as trying not to create an overly frustrating game...who wants to play a frustrating game? We work our stats databases until we come up with something that we feel represents the real thing. Some teams are better than others, and some players are better than others. We tune our best players to play how a real NCAA best player would play. And then we work our way down the line.

GS: Any surprise teams or players that we should be aware of in the game?

TS: Well, without giving away too much, we've got a really cool cheat that we set up with our friends over at Rawlings. It's not a specific player or team, but it unlocks something that is pretty cool.

One of the coolest aspects of the MVP NCAA series is that the players play like college baseball athletes, warts and all.
One of the coolest aspects of the MVP NCAA series is that the players play like college baseball athletes, warts and all.

GS: Aluminum bats: a time-honored part of the sport, or an annoying, stat-padding abomination?

TS: I don't think it's better or worse, just different. I always liked using aluminum for obvious reasons, but the ability to use a wood bat is what separated the men from the boys, so to speak. That being said, I feel something would be missing if I [were] watching a college baseball game and I didn't hear a ping.

GS: Finally, can we expect to see an MVP NCAA Baseball entry on the Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, or PlayStation 3 in the future?

TS: Last year we tested the college baseball market with MVP 06 NCAA Baseball. The game was [so] well received on the PS2, by the user and media alike, that we have decided to bring it back for another year. We focused our development for MVP Baseball this year on the PS2, which allowed us to really push the limits of the hardware and continue to innovate on the best baseball gameplay engine on the market. We have not yet made a decision on future platforms for the franchise.

GS: Thanks for your time, Trey.

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