We get our first glimpse at and a little bit of play time with 2K’s latest take on baseball.
It’s not surprising that the first subject touched upon in our demo of Major League Baseball 2K10 is Major League Baseball 2K9. Last year’s game suffered from a number of problems, and Visual Concepts is quick to point out that the game didn’t get the traditional development cycle afforded to most sports games. But the development team is also quick to point out that this year is different and that MLB 2K10 has already benefited from having more months devoted to it, specifically the tweaking of preexisting features based on feedback from the community and critics alike.
But, of course, MLB 2K10 has a number of entirely new features, some of which play off the emphasis on pitcher-battle duels and what that entails. To give you a quick idea of just how important this is to the overall game, Visual Concepts has compiled an enormous number of stats to ensure that these duels are as realistic as possible. “We pulled some stats together on our own, and we actually have a ton of different splits data for all situations,” explains Ben Bishop, producer on MLB 2K10. “For example, things like how a batter performs at night or during the day. How a batter does against a particular pitcher in a certain park, pre-All Star break or post-All Star break. We throw that into the mix so that a batter will get a little bit of a boost or a hit, depending on the situation.”
Indeed, much of the push behind the pitcher-batter duels also comes from the game’s cover athlete, Evan Longoria, third baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays. “A great example for Evan if he’s playing against the Yankees–Pettitte is one of the pitchers on the Yankees that he hasn’t had much success with,” says Bishop. “If you’re throwing Pettitte against Longoria, Pettitte might have a little bit of an advantage just based on the way they’ve played over the course of their careers. We have all this data working behind the scenes to help create each situation and add some realism to it based on how things have gone down in real life.”
As to how this applies to gameplay mechanics, it takes a few different forms in batting and pitching. For batters, all of this data factors into a feature called Batter’s Eye, which (depending on the skill of the batter) gives a split-second glimpse of what the pitch is and where it’s going by quickly flashing that information onscreen. “Batter’s Eye is definitely one of my favorite features because it finally makes me feel like I can lay off a pitch. I have a little bit of a heads-up on what’s coming,” says Bishop. But the Eye won’t show up for just any hitter. “[For more-skilled batters], it doesn’t show up sooner, but more often. Still, you’re not going to get it on every pitch,” he adds. “If you have one of your better hitters up there, you’ll probably get it one or two times at bat, whereas with one of your weaker batters, you’re probably not going to see it at all.”
Ultimately, things like the Batter’s Eye are in the game to help you work the count a little more than you might in other baseball games, particularly if you just swing for the fences on every pitch because you can’t tell what’s coming. But another batting feature that plays up this idea is simple. When you’re at the plate, you can make contact with the ball in different ways–push down and then up on the right analog stick for a power swing, push up for a contact swing, or press left or right for the new defensive swing. If you’re down in the count, a defensive swing becomes invaluable because it can help you protect the plate and foul one off to keep your chances alive and to wait for a decent pitch.
Of course, using a defensive swing (or any other swing for that matter) doesn’t automatically mean you make contact with the ball every time. You still have to pay attention to your timing, and thankfully, MLB 2K10 offers a batting analyzer to help you out. If you’re whiffing on pitches, the analyzer tells you what you’re doing wrong thanks to a nifty little picture-in-picture visual, and if you want a more in-depth idea of your batting woes, you can simply press the corresponding face button on the controller for a more detailed breakdown.
There’s a similar analyzer for pitching, which is probably a bit more valuable than the batting version because, like its predecessor, MLB 2K10 features gesture pitching. But unlike in last year’s game, you first select the type of pitch you want to throw and then make the appropriate motions on the analog stick to make the throw. For example, the fastball has one of the easiest motions at this point, requiring a simple down motion on the stick and then a quick up motion when the pitching rings on the screen even out. But more-complicated pitches require more-complicated movements. Needless to say, it takes some getting used to if you’re new to the mechanic, but Visual Concepts thinks its tweaked version should ease more players into it. “For me, it took a while to [throw a proper] curve,” says Bishop. “It’s tricky sometimes, but that pitch analyzer tells me if I’m going too far or too short.” In fact, the pitching analyzer goes so far as to show you the gesture you made and how it differs from the gesture you need to make for the perfect pitch. Additionally, you get an instant idea of just how good your pitch is based on a percentage that appears onscreen that reveals the overall strength.
If you don’t throw a good pitch and the batter happens to send it into the stands for a home run, then your pitcher ends up rattled. This means that not only does the controller start to vibrate, but the pitching cursor (the icon you use to place your pitch) begins to move sporadically around the strike zone. In other words, it’s really hard to throw a decent pitch when your man on the mound has the shakes. One way to calm your pitcher down is to make a mound visit, which won’t completely settle your pitcher’s nerves but will definitely help. Something else to take into consideration while on the mound is pitcher stamina–if you’re trying to pitch a complete game, be aware that as the game progresses, stamina (or lack there of) has an effect on the quality of your pitches. Keeping a weakened pitcher in the game could potentially be a huge mistake when going up against a team with a strong lineup.
Fielding is a bit more straightforward than other aspects of MLB 2K10. However, it’s worth pointing out that special attention has been paid to animation. “We have a ton of new fielding animations this year. We spent a lot of time adding in lots more gathers, grabs, and catches. But one of the cool things you can do is cue up throws this year,” says Bishop. “Start holding the button for the base you want to go to and he’ll start making the throw and you’ll get to see a whole new cool set of animations.” Fielding also lets you throw off to a cutoff man when the situation calls for it, and you can use either the face buttons or the analog stick to make a throw at any given time. On the baserunning side of things, you can also cue up how you run by pressing either of the triggers on the controller, so if you want to automatically run to second, you simply click the trigger twice. Conversely, if you want to run back a base, you simply press the trigger once. There are also options to give commands to all baserunners at once or to give them to individual runners.
Off the field, MLB 2K10 follows the trend of the gameplay of introducing some new features and tweaking others. Along those lines, the biggest new feature in MLB 2K10 is the My Player mode. While we didn’t go super in-depth into this option, we did get a quick look, and on the surface, it’s structured like the career mode in NBA 2K10. You start off by creating a player, adjusting everything from physical characteristics to batting stance and equipment. Then, you move on to selecting a primary and secondary position for your player. “If you’re a first baseman and you go to the Cardinals, you’re going to be blocked by Pujols,” says Bishop. “It’s going to be really hard to take that spot, so your secondary position will give you another chance to get on, stick with the club, and become a starter.” In fact, you can play in any position on the field, but the My Player mode by default lets you play only key moments in the game. Let’s say you’re the catcher for a particular team–you won’t be able to make any pitching calls, but you do get to jump into the actual game if there’s a pop-up near home plate or a bunt.
Ultimately, the point of the My Player mode is to take a single player from Double-A ball up to the Majors and eventually to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Along the way, you have to play some clutch moments, which take the form of specific scenarios designed to put you in the hotseat and give you a chance to earn some extra skill points that you can disperse into your player’s abilities. These scenarios include situations like being down in the bottom of the 9th, two outs, with a runner on first that you have to get to home plate. In some cases, the clutch moments apply to rivalry games that you also have to play and aren’t able to simulate. On top of all that, you’ll have a series of goals that you need to accomplish that basically serve as markers for where you’re at in your career and how much closer you are to making that trip to Cooperstown.
Needless to say, there’s a lot to keep track of, but Visual Concepts is confident that it’s all set up in an easy-to-digest way. “We wanted to give you a better feel for where you’re at and when things are going to happen. On the screen, you can see your call-up goals. On the left side of the screen you’ll see some stat-based goals, and on the right side you’ll see some of your player rating-based goals,” says Bishop. “As you start to complete those, you’ll know that you’re getting closer and closer to getting called up to the Majors. You don’t have to do all of them. You have to do a couple from the left side and four or five from the right side–as you check these things off, you’ll eventually get called up. If you do really well with everything, you can jump straight to the Majors; otherwise, you go up to Triple-A and then go to the Majors after that.”
As far as other modes are concerned, Visual Concepts has added 40-man spring-training rosters to MLB 2K10’s Franchise option. That number then dwindles to 25 before it expands again in September for call-ups. In addition, if a player leaves your team at the end of the season, you’ll receive compensation picks, so if you lose a top-tier player, there’s a good chance you’ll get a first-round draft pick and a sandwich pick. But if you lose an average player, then you’ll receive a less-attractive package. At any point during the season, you can invite another human player to participate in a Franchise game. You can even participate in Double-, or Triple-A games to keep an eye on prospects, as well as rehab games for your players that have been sent back down to recoup from an injury.
MLB 2K10 has plenty more features, including full online leagues that support up to 30 teams or as few as four. You can download and make your own highlights, and you can upload your version of MLB 2K10 (with adjusted sliders and all) and have other people download those as well. There’s also the three-man commentary team of John Kruk, Steve Phillips, and Gary Thorne, as well as a new hurry-up baseball option that cuts down on the amount of time to complete a game by removing some of its superfluous elements (like cutscenes). We’ll dive deeper into these and other modes as we draw closer to MLB 2K10’s March 2 release.