Operation Sports had a chance to talk with MLB 09: The Show online producer Jason Villa while out in San Diego this week. We asked him about some of the nagging online issues, and what gamers should expect from The Show online this year.
Operation Sports: So what has been done this year to deal with some of the nagging online issues: online lag, frame-rate drops and so forth.
Jason Villa: On the gameplay side, what we tried to focus on was just tuning up the experience. So any frame-rate issues you would have seen last year, any hitches with the batter, any release points with the pitcher, we tried to shore those up and tried to make it as close to the offline experience as possible. Obviously there is inherent lag, so there is plenty of trouble doing that, but you're going to get a pretty true experience on the online gameplay side.
Then we've just added things that you get during a regular offline game -- like mound visits weren't there last year. You can bring in starters from your bullpen, which we removed this year for online games because people would just bring in starter after starter in the past. We have given an extra pause timer for extra inning games because there is a timeout issue, so people [would] just camp in the pause menu as an exploit. So we just cleaned up a lot of that on the gameplay side.
On the front-end side/lobby side, we have improved online leagues by adding a full live-draft system. So now you can hold a 6-to-30 man draft with people live in there picking 30 seconds, 60 second picks.
OS: Do you still have to wait at the beginning of the year to start a league? Because, for one, I know last year you had to wait seven or 14 days I believe to start a league.
Villa: We're still toying with that. We have the option to remove those commissioner restrictions -- the restrictions are a little unknown to the community. Basically, you need to have at least five games under your belt; you need to not be the commissioner of another league because we don't want too much responsibility for one guy in multiple leagues; your account has to be I think 14 days old because we don't just want a bunch of rookies coming in and creating them; you also have to have a certain rating of like three stars or better. So if you're a poor player, we don't want those guys who are not responsible enough to manage them.
We're toying with tweaking those, and we can still do that on the server once we ship. So requests, as we get them from the community, we'll try to morph it to accommodate the community.
OS: You talked about the online frame-rate issues a bit already, but I'm just trying to find out a bit more. Last year, the frame rate would dip a good amount of the time, but was that because of latency issues or what was going on there?
Villa: There was the quality of gameplay based on the game itself and frame rate because of online and the added code, and then there was just inherent lag from Internet people playing across the country. But the frame-rate problem is fixed; we're pretty much locked at a 60 [frames] during online gameplay with not many hiccups. So even with bases loaded, ball hit up the middle, you're not going to see those skips or hiccups like you would last year. So we fixed that specifically. The lag, you know, I wish we could get rid of Internet lag—
OS: It's always interesting to me because I love to play The Show online, but a lot of the time it's very difficult because of the lag.
Villa: And it's your opponent, which is the other thing. You could be playing a guy on a DSL versus a cable modem or vice versa. Luckily, we give you that one inning grace period so you can quit out if it's just an unplayable game, and it doesn't cause you any penalty. You got to find a guy that you can play at a good speed.
OS: I am also always curious about the "server is busy" message.
Villa: It shouldn't happen too often. We did run into it early on [last year] same as with '07.
OS: Was that just because you had so many games going on online?
Villa: We weren't ready for the amount of traffic we got on '08, and the first couple weeks were tough. Because we had an online-always feature, which we haven't completely pulled out, but we have changed this year. So you can get ticker as long as you have an active network connection, but you're not automatically going to get fully authenticated as a user online immediately when you boot up the game. And the reason for that is there was a lot of people that would be online, but not necessarily wanting to play online.
So the first couple of days we hit almost 5,000-6,000 people concurrent, which we just weren't ready for on day one, two or three, which was partially our fault. So we fixed that and we also have some more stability fixes in for the servers in general. so we should see, hopefully, none of that this year.
OS: Thanks for your time.