Longtime MLB The Show players might identify with a common criticism that Sony San Diego has taken to heart: games of The Show simply take too long to play. With MLB 14 The Show, the series' first PS4 installment, Sony San Diego hopes to change that perception and reality.
During a demonstration of the hotly anticipated sports sim to PlayStation press, game designer Ramone Russell explained the studio's philosophy on trimming the fat: "It takes too long to watch a game, takes too long to play--your average Show game takes around an hour to play, which is pretty long. You play a game of football, basketball, or hockey, it's around 30 minutes. So one of things we wanted to do this year was kill that [and] give users a way to have quicker, more engaging experiences and play more baseball with less of a time commitment."
The first of three approaches to cutting down on playtime is a fresh approach to presentation; basically, less is more, so empty pauses between at-bats and moments without commentary or other presentation elements are removed. "If nobody's talking, if there's nothing going on, we cut the presentation and go right back to gameplay," Russell said. "That cuts down about five to ten minutes of dead time in and of itself, and it also just keeps you more engaged as a user."
The second feature designed to reduce game time is Player Lock, or as Russell coined, "Road to the Show, anywhere." This optional feature takes what people love about Road to the Show, in which you raise a single player from the minor leagues up to MLB stardom, and extends it to all season modes and exhibition matches. If you wish, you can zero in on the gameplay of a single player you care about, playing only his role while the rest of the game is simulated. "The cool part is that you can turn Player Lock off. You can't do that in Road to the Show," Russell said. "You also have all the managerial decision at your fingertips, which you don't have in The Show, as well, which lets you mix and match things."
The third, and most ambitious, new feature designed to condense the baseball experience is Quick Counts. After studying the last two years of MLB data on at-bat performance and pitching habits with different foul-strike counts, Sony San Diego developed an algorithm to simulate counts between two teams. As the player, with Quick Counts turned on, you'll jump to specific counts in the game while the moments between are simulated. It's astonishing to see this in action, as a volunteer journalist rocketed through an inning in roughly one minute. "It's a really fast, fun, engaging game mode," Russell said. "When you play in Quick Counts, you cut your game times in half. . . and that's really cool, because now, you can play a game of The Show in the exact same amount of time it takes to play any other sports games out there."
It's unclear whether Quick Counts will be an available option in every game mode. Furthermore, Russell declined to specify how the game decides what count to drop you at, or if players can set preferences. He did mention that novice players, specifically, could benefit from Quick Counts dropping you in advantageous situations, where safe, predictable pitches are more common.
It's worth noting that, with the exception of trimmed presentation, all of these changes are optional, so The Show purists can still enjoy a long, exhaustive baseball experience like they're accustomed to. If anything, the decision to shorten match times in MLB 14 is a sign of the gaming times. Many of us want to consume as many interactive experiences and moments as possible, and MLB 14 makes doubling up on gameplay in the same amount of time easy and natural.
A ton of information about other features was unveiled in a fact sheet today. Here's the official rundown on stuff not mentioned above:
Universal Profile (PS3 & PS4) – A new tendency-tracking system monitors and records gamers’ unique playing styles. Those patterns are stored in the Universal Profile, which can be viewed by anyone looking to get a quick scouting report on the player. The Universal Profile can also be subbed in in place of a CPU opponent in Diamond Dynasty and Online Franchise, making for more realistic head-to-head matchups when schedules prevent synchronous play.
Community Challenges (PS3 & PS4) – Players will be able to freely toy and tinker with game situations and scenarios on the fly, whether that’s the inning, score, who’s on base, or where the ball is hit. These custom situations can be bundled with a creative set of goals and put forth as a challenge to the community, whether it’s to relive the past, change history, or dream of new possibilities.
Online Franchise (PS3 & PS4) – Finally, Franchise mode can be shared with friends online, with most of the features from the offline version making the transition, including Scouting, the Amateur Draft, Free Agency and CPU Trades. The mode will remain highly customizable as scheduling, divisions, postseason spots and more are all commissioner options.
Stubs (All platforms) – Playing games in MLB 14 The Show rewards players with Stubs. Stubs can be used to purchase additional in-game content – like Road to the Show training points – or used in our new mode, Community Challenges. Stubs can be earned in any mode, and they are not required to progress through a mode. You can still purchase additional in-game content through the PlayStation Store.
Diamond Dynasty Extra Innings (PS3 & PS4) – In this mode, a player’s team is always looking for opportunities to challenge other users in an offline setting, which allows the user to earn bonus rewards the next time they log in. When online, the player has the opportunity to challenge other user-created teams in an offline game where the CPU controls their team. Players can only benefit positively in this mode even if their team does not perform up to their normal standards.
For more on MLB 14 The Show, learn about the game's unique use of DualShock 4 and how the PS4 version's graphics will set a new standard for sports games.