Every sports video game promises a new coat of paint with every new edition, but MLB The Show 17's visual upgrades do legitimately look profound when compared to the previous year's game.
Above is José Altuve, the four-time All-Star second baseman for the Houston Astros, as he appeared in MLB The Show 16, and as he will appear in MLB The Show 17. Note, the image on the right is not some PlayStation 4 Pro-only version.
It's a stark reminder that even a sports franchise as praised for visuals as MLB The Show always has room for improvement, and can make great strides when developers want to.
"We were saying internally, 'Hey, the stadiums and our atmosphere look [expletive] fantastic, but the players are kind of lagging behind a little bit,'" said Ramone Russell, the longtime baseball designer at Sony San Diego Studio. "We don't have enough granularity in the body types, and what can we do to make the players stand out? And that was the exact same thing the community was saying."
It's kind of remarkable to see how plastic and dead Altuvé looks in MLB The Show 16, which is by no means a cheap-looking game, compared to Altuvé in The Show 17. The creased eyelids, wrinkles around his nostrils and abrasions over the bridge look a lot more like a veteran middle infielder who's seen some shit over six 162-game seasons.
"It's all about the lighting on the faces, how light affects the skin tone and how light affects the skin tone when it's being shadowed by a ballcap," Russell said. "The lighting we had last year wasn't perfect, and we were basically dimming everything and giving you too much energy from nowhere, for a guy with a ballcap on. Now in real life, if you have a ballcap on, that shadow is being created, but you still have light energy coming from the ground."
For a second look, here is three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It's almost a joke what old Kershaw looks like next to new, and the comparison highlights Russell’s point regarding to light underneath the brim of the cap.
The fidelity in players' faces won't be limited to just modes using current, real performers. Russell acknowledged that the engine supplying ringers for Road to the Show (the single-player career mode), or the minor leagues in the Franchise season mode, spit out some recognizably generic bots. MLB The Show 17 should help make them less obvious.
"We had 17 heads in Road to the Show to choose from, I think," Russell said. "Now we've got more than 40. Hopefully, the end result is you won't be able to tell who is fake and who is real. Last year, you could tell who was fake, just because he looked off."
That also means that the player modeling options within Road to the Show (or creating a player elsewhere in the game) will be more varied, not just in face or ethnicity and skin tone, but also body shape.
For example, I like to create a fatass knuckleballer called “Country Breakfast,” who serves this kind of hash to the best hitter in the American League (that’s on Legend difficulty, by the way).
"You can still create your Country Breakfast," Russell sighed, "but I think he'll look more like you want him to look."
MLB The Show 17 launches March 28 on PlayStation 4.
Correction: MLB The Show 17's release date is March 28, not March 27.