MLB 14 The Show's tweaks to the series' flagship Road to the Show mode are, as ever, geared toward making the game more true to life. They're also in line with developer Sony San Diego's mission to give players as many options as possible in playing the game. To that end, the studio is taking lessons from Road to the Show — which is The Show's most-played mode by far — and applying them to other parts of MLB 14.
The key difference in Road to the Show this year is the way it begins. You can create a player from scratch, as usual, but there's a new option: picking an existing MLB athlete. You won't play out the rest of their career from 2014 until they retire; instead, you'll take on the attributes they had when they first entered professional baseball. In fact, that's essentially the only characteristic of the player that is retained in this style of Road to the Show. You're free to change the athlete's name and customize their physical features, although you can keep their pitching windup or batting stance and unique elements like a specific glove.
Instead of picking a team or entering a fantasy draft, you first have to take your player through the Topps Amateur Showcase, which gives you "three games to basically show the MLB what you got," said Ramone Russell, designer and community manager for MLB 14, in an interview with Polygon last week. In previous years, you'd always start out at a 55 overall rating with an A potential; now, your initial potential is a D, and your performance in the Amateur Showcase will determine your final potential as well as your place in the MLB Draft.
"You do really good in the showcase, you're going to get that A potential. You don't do so hot, you're not going to get an A or B potential," Russell explained.
Apparently, it's going to take a ridiculously impressive performance to rise above the pack. We picked the New York Yankees' ace, C.C. Sabathia, and did relatively well, surrendering no runs and scattering a few walks and less than 10 hits over the course of a trio of three-inning performances. But we still ended up no better than we began, a C potential, and got drafted in the fourth round. According to Russell, if you want to get drafted in the first round as a pitcher, you're going to have to be near-unhittable with a lot of strikeouts.
Here's where MLB 14 presented us with another new, intriguing option: going back to school. If you're not satisfied with your draft position, you can choose to gestate in college for one to four more years. You'll come out with better attributes and higher potential, but the downside, of course, is that you'll be older.
Once you sign with a team, you'll notice some fundamental changes to the way Road to the Show is played. For one, the in-game goals are gone entirely, which is a welcome development, as far as we're concerned.
"That's not what's going to happen in a real MLB franchise," said Russell. "Your goals aren't going to be, 'OK, you're a pitcher, we need you to improve your bunting; if you're fast, we're going to work on your control.' But that's not something that you say — 'hey, I really need you to strike out five batters.' No, we just need you to go out there and perform well, and then we'll grade you on that. So that was the main reason why we took out the advancement goals."
"That's not what's going to happen in a real MLB franchise"
The game now completely assesses your performance in a situational fashion, based on how well an individual at-bat went (whether you're a pitcher or position player). And your progression is focused on how well you're doing versus other players in your organization at the same position for AA ball, AAA ball and the MLB: A screen shows you, as well as the person you're gunning for and the player who's behind you. Of course, if you have no hope of overtaking the starter — say, if you're a minor league second baseman for the Mariners, and you're behind Robinson Cano — then you can ask to be traded, and according to Russell, MLB 14 will now recognize your predicament and be much more likely to grant your request.
As far as improving your player's attributes goes, there's a new system to replace the confusing, nebulous setup of old. Just like in other games, you'll have an exact number for how much a one-point rating upgrade costs in training points. And Sony San Diego has also revamped Road to the Show's training drills.
"There are less of them, but now they're way more focused. A lot of the training modes we have just didn't really make sense and didn't improve you, one, as [an in-game] player, and two, it didn't improve your skills as a gamer," said Russell.
there's a "big focus this year about a quicker, more engaging experience"
These elements of Road to the Show help make it a deep experience in which players become engrossed, and that's always cited as the mode's main strength. But Russell doesn't believe that Road to the Show's depth is the chief reason for its success; instead, he highlighted the fact that the mode's games are so brief. If you're a position player, you can finish a single game in under 10 minutes. Games in the Exhibition and Franchise modes, on the other hand, take an hour or so to complete.
"If you have the same person playing using the same time commitment on Exhibition and Road to the Show, they're going to play way more Road to the Show games," Russell pointed out. "And that's what drove the big focus this year about a quicker, more engaging experience."
Sony San Diego is introducing two features to that end in MLB 14, both inspired by Road to the Show: Quick Counts and Player Lock. With the former setting enabled, a plate appearance will begin in the middle of the at-bat, with a count already set at, say, 1-1 or 3-2. Because you're seeing fewer pitches, games are much shorter, even though the final statistics and box score resemble those of a full simulation baseball game. And Player Lock allows you to bring the game-shortening Road to the Show experience — controlling a single player — into any mode, so you can start a Franchise with the Yankees and just play out the rest of Sabathia's career.
"The last three years, the number-one complaint was, baseball's too boring, it's too slow, it takes too long to play games. I can play a game of Madden in 30 minutes. I can play a game of NBA 2K in 30 minutes. I can play FIFA [in] 15 minutes. It takes an hour to play The Show," said Russell. "So with Player Lock and Quick Counts, now you can play a full, simulation-based baseball game in 30 minutes.
"So you have that same time commitment as all the other sports games, and we think that'll help open the franchise up."
Correction: This article previously stated that a Road to the Show player's initial potential is a C, and that if you picked an MLB athlete, you would restart their career. That's inaccurate — the initial potential is a D, and if you choose an MLB athlete, you'll only retain their rookie-level ratings. We've edited the article to reflect this.