MLB 14 The Show: Debating the Merits of Quick Counts
Submitted on: 05/15/2014 by Glenn Wigmore
How is everyone finding the quick counts in MLB 14: The Show? I've certainly heard several opinions on this new wrinkle to the gameplay for the 2014 version of Sony's baseball franchise, including a spirited discussion on the most recent Press Row Podcast. I can certainly appreciate both sides of the argument, as there is a definite trade-off when activating the feature. The idea of speeding up the game and forcing some realism may end up diminishing the control someone has over the game — and it's certainly not realistic. Then again, it serves an important function: speeding up the game.
The basic idea of quick counts is that each batter who comes up to the plate will have a randomly generated pitch count that infuses a bit of “forced realism” into the game while supposedly speeding things up. Players will see most count types, except for 1-0 and 0-1 counts. There always has to be 2 pitches in the count, so that means there will be every count from 0-2 and 1-1 all the way up to 3-2. Sometimes a good hitter will come up and face a 1-2 count; other times a weaker hitter will saunter up to the dish and get shown a 3-1 count. I get the feeling there is some kind of logic informing who gets what counts, but I've still seen some fairly erratic hitting scenarios.
The big benefits of quick counts are brevity and realistic hitting situations. I would say that quick counts manage to succeed in both of those areas. The games do certainly move along faster with the feature turned on, as I have found that some innings will last only 60 seconds if you get some 1-2 counts or if you swing at a bad pitch or two. The pace is quickened further if you actually skip a lot of the presentation elements, which definitely varies from user to user. I find myself taking in the atmosphere at certain points of the game; other times I just want to develop a rhythm for pitching and keep things moving.
Having some pre-fabricated counts also assists in getting a pitcher's overall pitch count to where it should be, as most baseball games struggle to have an accurate number of balls compared to strikes. By enforcing some 1-ball, 2-ball and 3-ball counts, it helps create the illusion that the at-bat has progressed in a realistic way, and it forces the batter to pay attention to the situation each time he comes up to the plate. I've always found The Show to have some challenging pitch speeds, and it can be difficult to pick up the ball on the way in. When facing a pitcher with insane velocity, it makes it hard to lay off pitches and be choosy. The quick counts alleviate some of this by spotting the batter a ball or two once in a while so that it's easier to work a count and actually compete against the game's elite hurlers.
However, the inclusion of quick counts has several unintended consequences. For starters, it takes away a good deal of agency from both the batter and the pitcher, as they are forced to deal with lots of random scenarios that they had no control over. A batter wanting to bunt, for example, may find himself with a 1-2 count, nullifying the possibility of moving the runner along. Just the same, someone who wants to work a count and wait for a steal opportunity may be given an 0-2 count and have to swing desperately to stay alive. For the pitcher, things are just as complicated. They may want to throw passively against a certain batter, but a 3-1 count may force them to put something in the zone at a crucial point in the game. Sometimes it's even possible to miss the pitch count and throw a ball on the outside edge, conceding a walk right away. Then again, the pitcher can surprise some batters by throwing a strike right away and getting a K on an 0-2 count.
I certainly applaud the efforts of Sony San Diego in trying to address the issue of brevity and realism in baseball videogames, and I think they've found an intriguing option. It fixes a lot of problems, but it does (by its nature) introduce some new ones. This sort of innovation is welcome, though, just like the dynamic difficulty option. I've said before how it's hard for developers to mitigate the fact that user input is always going to mess with the realism in sports games. When a player can swing as much as he wants in baseball, hit as much as he wants in hockey and spin as much as he wants in basketball, it creates certain scenarios where the developer just can't find a solution.
For game designers, there almost has to be something of a compact between them and the end user: if you're playing the game and expecting realism, play it realistically. When a developer gives a player too much agency, the opportunity exists to stretch and bend the rules. By enforcing some realism, the developer can at least control the optics of the sport and instill some realistic stats and scores.
If nothing else, quick counts seem like a successful first step in addressing not so much a problem but a reality. Sports games are always going to struggle with some aspect of the competition they're representing, whether that be presentation, realism, feedback, immersion or idiosyncrasy. The question is: what tools do developers have to address each of these unique problems? I think we're still in the process of finding out.
How about you, OSers? What are your feelings on quick counts?
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