When Buster Posey met with Sony’s MLB: The Show designers last year between takes of a video shoot in Florida, little did he know that his conversation with developer Ramone Russell would inspire the production team to change course on the game’s popular Road to the Show mode.
Now, just over a year later, Posey, along with the Reds’ Brandon Phillips, met with Russell during an off day of Spring Training in Scottsdale to help consult on the game. For Russell and his team, insight from players helps keep The Show among the most authentic sports gaming franchises.
“When we talk to these athletes, they’ll often tell us things about the game that unless you’re a ballplayer, unless you live this life everyday, you just couldn’t know,” says Russell. “This helps us understand the game of baseball on a deeper level, making our game so much more authentic.”
Here are four recent lessons.
Really show "The Show"
MLB The Show’s most popular feature is the Road to the Show career mode, where gamers create their own player and then attempt to work from the minors up to a Major League team. But despite all the enthusiasm for the mode, Russell didn’t think it felt authentic enough. Then Posey broke down the feeling of what it’s like to actually be called up for your first Major League game, an experience MLB 14 now attempts to mirror.
“When I first got called up, we were in Philly, and I can still remember riding up in a cab and thinking how big everything looked,” says Posey. “That’s what’s really cool about this game—because the stadiums are so detailed, as a fan you can get a similar feel of the magnitude and beauty of the stadium and how overwhelming it is when you become a part of it for the first time.”
Russell thinks the improved atmosphere in Road to the Show will help stimulate similar feelings for gamers the first time they get called up: “When you play in the minor league stadiums, it’s not sold out, and the fans aren’t too loud. Then when you finally make it to that Major League stadium, we want to give you those goose bumps."
Not all pitches are created equal
Nailing down the pitches each MLB hurler likes to throw can be tricky for producers, but meeting with players helps the team gets closer to realistic pitch selections with each iteration of The Show.
“Last year CC Sabathia noticed that his character didn’t throw a 2-seam fastball,” says Russell. “We had his 2-seamer labeled as a sinker because of the way it dropped, but he broke down for us how he throws his 2-seamer, and how much movement he gets on it, so we added it. Knowledge like that, unless you’re hearing it from the athlete himself, you just won’t get right."
Put backstops at the forefront
When it comes to calling games from behind the plate, Posey wants to see The Show implement more of what really goes on—not only between pitcher and batter, but between pitcher and catcher.
“Having the pitcher and catcher trying to get on the same page, and having the pitcher shake you off, that’s a big part of a Major League game,” says Posey. “Playing from the catcher’s perspective, I’d love to see the game get to the point where you’re picking up on a hitter’s tendencies, just like you do in real baseball, and then you can call the game accordingly.”
That level of sophistication doesn't yet exist in The Show, but an approximation of it may not be far off. Says Russell, “With the power of the PlayStation 4, we’re going to be able to take all of these advanced analytics and stats and add more personality to the players. This is definitely on our road map for the future. Like Buster said, hitters have tendencies, and the more we can implement them into the game, so a guy who doesn’t swing at low fastballs doesn’t swing at them in our game, the better the game will be.”
Brandon Phillips wants to show off
With development on MLB 14 complete, Phillips met with Russell to provide some ideas for MLB 15—and one suggestion in particular is already on the fast track for next year's game.
“There needs to be a button to make bare-handed attempts,” says Phillips. “It should be called the ‘Showtime’ button or something like that, where you can not only pick up the ball barehanded, but you can attempt other trademark moves like flipping the ball between your legs or behind your back for a double play. Anything highlight-worthy would be on this button. It would be like baseball’s version of the freestyle button.”
The proposal brings a huge grin to Russell's face. “A button to bare-hand the ball is a great idea,” he says. “Especially if it has a high risk/reward component. That way, you might do something amazing, but you also risk making a costly error. I’m putting it on the list for next year.”
Just like that, another feature on the road to The Show.