Sony San Diego's critically acclaimed MLB The Show franchise has rarely been lauded for its online component, and it remains to be seen whether playing online games in MLB 13 The Show will be a smoother endeavor. But this year, the game's developers are using the power of the internet to attempt to deliver a connected, ever-changing experience that lets players feel like they and the game are keeping up with real-life baseball.
Chief among the new features in MLB 13 is Postseason Mode, which allows you to fill out a blank 10-team playoff bracket however you like — "you can do all [American League teams] if you want," community manager Ramone Russell told Polygon during a recent demo — and play through it. Sony San Diego focused on delivering the feel of a postseason game, which is markedly different from that of a regular-season matchup, primarily through presentation touches.
The version of MLB 13 we played was missing much of the Postseason presentation. But as soon as Russell loaded up a game in Postseason, the crowd's higher decibel level was immediately apparent, along with different, more stirring music. An overlay with team statistics set up the matchup, and a cutscene showed the starting pitchers warming up in the pen. Everything came together to play up the drama and sell the postseason atmosphere, right down to the ear-splitting cheer that erupted from the fans upon the delivery of the first strike.
The Postseason commentary was missing in action. Asked how it differs from regular-season commentary, Russell said, "We tried to do more conversational pieces." The guys in the broadcast booth — Matt Vasgersian, Eric Karros and Steve Lyons, who has replaced Dave Campbell — won't just focus on the play-by-play; they'll weave in larger stories about the players and teams involved, according to Russell.
Russell characterized the Postseason audio as a major addition to MLB 13. It's literally so massive, in fact — 6 GB worth — that most of it won't fit in the PlayStation Vita version of the game.
A promising element of Postseason hinges on the most passionate members of the MLB The Show community. The mode isn't limited to the 30 current MLB teams; it also lets you bring in created teams for any of those clubs.
MLB 13 includes an online roster vault where users can upload their created teams for others to enjoy. Russell and Sony San Diego expect that die-hard MLB The Show fans will create historical rosters, for example, and put them up on the servers for players to recreate classic playoff matchups. Maybe this time, the Yankees won't lose four straight to the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.
"If you can create them, or you can find somebody who's already created them, you can load up [those rosters] and play the game that way," said Russell.
The created roster compatibility in Postseason will also let you get around the inability to use your Diamond Dynasty team in the mode. You can recreate your Diamond Dynasty squad in the roster vault, as long as you assign it to one of the existing MLB teams, and then pit your fictional players against real MLB athletes. You cannot, however, use any playoff format but the 10-team setup that debuted in 2012 with two Wild Cards and a one-game playoff in each league.
Maybe this time, the Yankees won't lose four straight to the Red Sox in the ALCS
MLB 13 also includes a fully networked new mode called The Show Live. Pick any day of the 2013 baseball season. The setup allows you to play games from that day or any previous day with the starting pitchers, lineups, rosters and player ratings from those real-life games. "We have a real good relationship with MLB.com," Russell said, "and we use the MLB.com feed to populate the games that are [being played] that day or in the past."
It resembles the MLB 2K series' MLB Today mode in some respects. You'll even be able to play the next day's game sometimes: As long as MLB.com has the game's pitching probables, MLB 13 will load that data. It's not a full season mode — you'll just be playing one-off games — so it's perhaps more similar to the Match Day feature in FIFA 13.
But Sony San Diego is bringing the continuity of the real-life MLB season into MLB 13 through The Show Live's commentary: The broadcasters will reference past history and recent events in your game. For instance, if you're playing the rubber match of a three-game set, and the Tigers' Prince Fielder went 6 for 9 with three homers and five RBI in the first two real-life games against the Rangers, the analysts may bring it up in MLB 13.
The developers are also using MLB.com-provided data to make the game more of a realistic baseball simulation. By taking stock of some of the unique, specific statistics that MLB.com tracks — such as the directional spread of a player's hits and the trajectory of pitches — Sony San Diego can more accurately model the associated tendencies and properties in the game. A greater percentage of Derek Jeter's hits than usual will go to right field in MLB 13, for example, because that's the way the real Jeter hits.
"We have a real good relationship with MLB.com"
Sony San Diego also wants to make playing online more competitive and more enjoyable. According to Russell, there are two main reasons that online games of MLB The Show have always been low-scoring affairs. For one, syncing up two players over the internet with the split-second timing required for hitting is difficult. This year, the developers opened up the timing window for hitting across the board, which should increase the number of hits and runs.
But the other issue is a problem with the way people play the game: They rarely use anybody but a team's top starting pitcher, because there's never any reason not to. Hitting online is tough enough as it is, but trying to do it against the Verlanders and Kershaws of the world is even more difficult.
In MLB 13, the entire league's pitchers will get fatigued realistically — even in one-off online games — on the same cycle that real pitchers have to deal with. For example, if you throw a complete-game shutout with C.C. Sabathia, you can't turn around and start David Price in your next game, because they're both number-one starters. Each time you use a pitcher, each pitcher in that spot in every team's rotation will be drained of energy, as if they had all just thrown in a game. The same applies to relievers, since Sony San Diego saw that MLB The Show players tended to bring in a shutdown closer to throw the 7th, 8th and 9th innings.
Instead, you'll have to wait for a starter's rotation spot to come up again — which will take five online games, an analog to the real-life cycle of five days between starts — before you can use anybody on any team from that spot. And if you're using, say, a third starter, MLB 13 will try to match you against another player in the same position.
"It was a change we needed to make, and we think people are really going to like it," Russell said. "It really changes the competitive aspect of the game."
if you throw a complete-game shutout with C.C. Sabathia, you can't turn around and start David Price
As for the act of playing games, Russell said of MLB 13's netcode that "we've done basically all we can do from our side." Online games are still peer-to-peer affairs — Russell explained, "If you have a good connection, and the guy you're playing has a good connection, you're going to have a great experience." One element the developers added is a ping indicator to give you an idea of the latency between you and your opponent.
This year, Sony San Diego is using the internet for the integration of real baseball, which helps make the game more true to life and bring fans closer to the past and present of the sport they love. We're hoping that MLB 13's online component will benefit in a similar way.