Despite my bulging pectorals, rippling six-pack abs, and chiseled physique, I’m honestly not much of an athlete. But I don’t need to be a sports expert to see the appeal behind MLB 12 The Show, the slavishly faithful baseball simulation that consistently ranks as the sport’s most respected gaming franchise. At a holiday showcase event in New York City last night, I took a few swings with an early build of MLB 12 The Show, including the PlayStation Move-enhanced PS3 edition and the all-new PS Vita iteration.
The game’s community manager, Ramone Russell, described how the San Diego team began development with a gruelingly in-depth focus test. The goal: to suss out what core players didn’t like about last year’s edition. “The key feedback we heard involved our presentation and commentary, so that’s our number one focus this year.” Russell described a new feature called True Broadcast Presentation, which accurately recreates broadcast camera cuts and other presentation signatures you’d see in a televised MLB broadcast. “We’re trying to blur the lines between baseball simulation on your PS3 and what you’d see on MLB.TV sitting on your couch,” Russell explained. “When a batter strikes out, the camera will cut and you will see his face, his anger.”
Commentary, which Russell specifically described as the “number one complaint” from last year’s game, is seeing a similarly massive overhaul. “You’ll hear more season-specific commentary, more conversation pieces,” Russell explained. “The commentators are going to talk about the MVP race, the Cy Young race, the series that you played in two days before. They’re going to talk about how your pitcher is having an awful year because he’s 5 and 15.”
Expansive PlayStation Move support is another key upgrade this year, being tightly integrated into almost every facet of the game, from batting to pitching to fielding to baserunning. Then there’s the hotly anticipated PS Vita version, which will mirror virtually every game feature, mode, and mechanic from the PS3 version and displays graphics that sparkle on the system’s 5’’ OLED screen. You’ll also be able to share your PS3 save files to the cloud, then pull them down on PS Vita and pick up your progress seamlessly.
I sat down with Russell to dig into the all the new details. If you’ve got further questions, let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to get you answers.
PlayStation.Blog: What’s your personal favorite addition this year?
Ramone Russell, Community Manager: I think it’s our new ball physics. Our programmer ripped out every line of last year’s code and completely re-invented the way the ball acts. It’s a nerd feature, but it adds so much to the game. The baseball gains and loses energy like a real baseball, and if you go into replay, you can count the rotations – that ball is going to spin the way it’s supposed to. This opens up the game because we have bloopers, ricochets off the bases, balls going into no man’s land…it’s much more dynamic and engaging.
PSB: Let’s talk turkey on PlayStation Move. It’s not just for batting, right?
RR: Last year was just Home Run Derby mode, but this year it’s used for batting, pitching, fielding, and base running. There is a learning curve to all of this, but we wanted to make it more fun than just flicking your Move at the screen over and over. That would get boring!
Batting’s much better. Last year, you just saw a floating bat, which created a disconnect. This year, you see the full batter on screen and he’ll move his bat around as you move your bat around. Pitching is really simple: you grab the Move, draw it back, and “throw” it like a real baseball. For fielding, you’ll actually catch the ball when you’re playing with Move, then flick it over to throw it to first base, flick it up for second base, or down for home plate. When you’re running bases, you’ll play as the base runner coach. To signal to your runner to advance, you swirl the Move clockwise; to stop him, you hold the Move straight up. We wanted to be creative with the motion control support, so we hope people like it.
PSB: What was the overall goal for the PS Vita version of MLB 12 The Show?
RR: We started out with a prototype phase. We had to decide on what kind of experience we wanted to give PS Vita players – it’s a handheld, so the play sessions are usually quicker. We thought about doing something totally different, maybe an arcade version of baseball. But we ultimately thought it made the most sense to recreate the entire PS3 experience on PS Vita. The Vita’s powerful enough to do that. So every single feature this year, from MLB 09, 10, 11, and 12 are all in the PS Vita version.
We’re also taking advantage of the unique hardware. You can use the front touch to navigate menus or select pitches, and you can use the back touchscreen for fielding and pick-offs.
Have you designed any special modes for PS Vita to accommodate those quicker play sessions?
Yep, that was important because research shows that handheld players play for 15 to 30 minutes, tops. We give you the ability to fast-play through a game by cutting out a lot of the presentation, the camera cuts, to shorten the length of games.
Will PS3 and PS Vita players be able to compete with each other online?
Not this year. It’s something that’s on our radar and we’ll investigate for next year.
Will the PS Vita version include multiplayer at all?
In some way, shape or form, yes. We’re still in the works on that.
What’s the release timeframe for the PS Vita version?
It’ll be release in a similar timeframe as the PS3 version. We haven’t nailed down the exact timing yet for either game, but you can expect it around the same timeframe as the PS3 version this spring.
Graphically, how would you say the PS Vita version stacks up to the PS3 game?
When you see it, I think you’ll be surprised. Vita’s a powerhouse. We have it locked at 30 frames per second, and the visuals are very comparable to the PS3 version. That’s something we just couldn’t accomplish on PSP.
You’ve been suspiciously quiet about multiplayer modes so far – you’re probably still ironing out the details, but can you give PlayStation.Blog readers a sneak peek of what’s in store?
For PS3, we have a brand-new mode that is really, really innovative. Nobody has ever done a multiplayer mode like this in any sports game, ever. We’re going to reveal it in early 2012. So in addition to the other features I told you about, there’s still this secret feature that we’ll be talking about soon. We think people are going to love it.
“This economy’s been down for the last few years, and it’s hard to ask somebody to spend $60 every year,” Russell concluded. “But we never want anybody to have to think twice about that, we want it to be a no-brainer. There’s so much content here that you’ll never want to touch MLB 11 The Show ever again.”