In the inaugural Three Point Thursday, Matt Blumenthal reflects on his meeting with 2K Sports and looks at the upcoming Major League Baseball 2K8.
Point #1: MLB 2K8 takes pitching to the next level with the new right analog stick controls.
MLB 2K8 taps into the right analog stick’s potential in ways that no baseball game has before. The new pitching mechanic employs the right analog stick which allows you to come closer than ever to feeling as if you’re pitching in the majors -- or the playable minor leagues the game also boasts. Each pitch type has a unique motion (or “gesture”) and divides the windup and delivery into three parts, represented visually on the screen.
Throwing a fastball, for example, involves pulling back on the right analog stick to start the windup and build the effectiveness of the pitch. A circular meter appears, with the inner circle expanding to fill the outer circle as the pitch’s effectiveness grows. A pitch achieves its optimal effectiveness when the inner circle lands within the narrow white zone inside the outer circle’s border. The next motion, the gesture, begins the rapid shrinking of the inner circle. For a fastball, the gesture entails pushing the right analog stick up, while a breaking ball would have you move the stick in a semicircle. Release the stick when the now-shrinking inner circle is smallest to attain the desired release point. Be careful, however, because releasing the stick too late causes the circle to start expanding again, resulting in a loss of accuracy.
While complicated in theory, these mechanics take only a few pitches to learn and give you more input and feedback than ever before. The controls bring a greater sense of authenticity to a game that already has solid presentation. The new pitching stays fresh with a different challenge every game as the exact gesture depends on the pitch type and the handedness of the pitcher, while the speed of the moving circle varies based on the pitcher’s windup, stamina, and composure.
Point #2: The right analog throwing meter breathes life into the defensive game.
The right analog stick also plays an expanded role in the field, as throwing the ball now requires moving the stick in the direction of the base. Rather than throwing to first base by pressing the ‘B’ button on the Xbox 360 controller, you move the stick to the right and hold it for greater power. A meter shows the strength of your throw, which helps you to avoid releasing the analog stick too early or too late, which would result in an off-target throw. You also need to pay attention to the direction in which you move the stick because holding it too far from the cardinal direction of the base leads to an errant throw as well. Like pitching, throwing requires some practice, but as we learned from watching The Sandlot, you’re never too old to learn how to throw a baseball.
The fielding mechanics remain mostly unchanged but have undergone some necessary tweaks. Pulling the right trigger causes your fielder to dive for a ball, but this year you need time the dive properly too. That change seems long overdue, and thankfully you can no longer simply pull the trigger whenever you please and watch as your fielder, no matter how incompetent, makes the brilliant diving catch. The theme of reducing the simplicity of pulling off brilliant defensive plays continues as you now need to be in the right place at the right time before the outfielder automatically goes up to attempt to pull back a home run.
Also gone from last year’s game are the awkward leaning catches where a fielder would position himself under a fly ball and lock into position while the ball proceeds to drift, leading to the player having to lean over to make a shoestring catch. Users can now maneuver the defender until the last second to ensure that he has set up right underneath the ball, rendering the leaning catches unnecessary. These changes to the fielding contribute to the elimination of the “herky-jerky” feel the animations showed at times in last year’s game.
Point #3: Oh, and you can still hit using the right analog stick too.
The Swing Stick returns as the hitting model, although the distinction between contact swings and power swings has disappeared. This change means a greater reliance on timing, pitch location, and player abilities and it emphasizes the difference in styles between slap hitters like Ichiro and sluggers like David Ortiz. The return to the roots of hitting, along with the more precise fielding controls, should bring about a greater variety of hits to a game that was plagued last year by a lack of diversity in that area.
The Point: Right analog stick controls are here to stay.
A decade has now passed since Sony introduced the DualShock controller for the original PlayStation. In that time, we’ve seen successful right analog stick controls such as NBA Live’s Freestyle controls and NBA 2K’s Shot Stick. We’ve also witnessed failed attempts like Madden’s Playmaker and QB Vision features which quickly saw their roles reduced in subsequent releases.
Excellent right analog stick controls don’t merely give you more control over the action. They utilize realistic motions to allow you to participate in the game in ways that simple button pressing can not. Games like NHL 08, skate, and MLB 2K8
thrive with the implementation of these controls because they’re not just adding a fun little twist to an existing model; rather, they’re building a completely new paradigm with these controls as the foundation. With these three successes in the last year alone, it’s time for other games to step up to the plate.