From a new stadium creator mode to full cross-play and cross-progression, San Diego Studios
’ MLB The Show 21
knuckleballs in a new era for the longrunning baseball series. We chat with Product Development Communications and Brand Strategist, Ramone Russell
, who’s as excited as a kid who just caught a fly ball in one hand while balancing his hot-dog in the other about the upcoming release of MLB The Show 21 as he’s ever been about any entry in the series.
AusGamers: Ramone thanks so much for joining. I'm not sure what time it is over there, but I'm sure you're probably due for an afternoon beer at some point here. One of the things I want to jump on really early is the visual leap. Obviously with the power of the PS5 and the new-gen consoles in general, we're going to sort of start seeing games that take that next step. I was blown away by the quality of the visuals this time around. Can you just talk a little bit about, I guess, the goals visually with this iteration over previous entries in the series and what was afforded to you as a studio with that extra power?
Right. So we're really excited to be working on next-gen consoles. And we're going from a development team that has been making one game for a while to a development team that's now making one game for four different platforms. So that in itself is a pretty monumental leap. So for next-gen specifically it was about getting this feature in the game, which has been asked for, for about seven-plus years, which is the stadium editor. And the power of the next-gen consoles allowed us to do that.
"You're also going to see higher fidelity on the stadiums, the regular stadiums in the game and the players; their bases, their uniforms and things of that nature...”
Once people get their hands on the editor and they see how deep it is and how smart the editor is, we think it's really going to blow people's minds. So being able to finally bring this feature to life, which was only possible due to the power of the next-gen platforms is something we're really excited about and moving forward into the future. You're also going to see higher fidelity on the stadiums, the regular stadiums in the game and the players; their bases, their uniforms and things of that nature.
AusGamers: We'll stick with the stadium just for a little bit. Can you talk a bit about the model and how it works? Will players have the tools to build stadiums out of the gate? Is there a tiered system of achievement based on how far into the game you are? Things that you can unlock? Is there a paid system behind it and how does the sharing model work?
No, if you purchase MLB The Show 21, you will have access to all of all over 1000 stadium props in game. We're shipping with 30 fully built [and] created stadiums that you can go in and edit to your heart's content. Because we know some people won't want to build a stadium from the ground up. So we're giving you 30 that you can alter and share. But if you want to start from the ground up with nothing but grass and you want to build that thing to your liking, you'll have the opportunity to do that as well. And you can share those stadiums throughout the community and download other people's stadiums and change those and edit those as well.
AusGamers: With the edited stadiums or the user creative stadiums, can you also alter gameplay systems as a result of the design of the stadium? So can you have a long grass pitch for example, that impacts the game’s base systems, or other fundamentals of the game? Or are the systems marginally the same regardless of the stadium that you build?
"What makes MLB stadiums unique and great; the outfield walls, where the foul poles are, the foul lines -- all of these things, we really want to make sure that we could put that creation into our users' hands...”
Yeah. So the rules stay the same, but what does change, and this is what can make baseball such an interesting sport, is that all 30 real MLB stadiums have different dimensions. No stadium looks the same. No stadium is the same out to center field. And we're giving you that ability (because that was one of the things we had to be able to do). What makes MLB stadiums unique and great; the outfield walls, where the foul poles are, the foul lines -- all of these things, we really want to make sure that we could put that creation into our users' hands and have the stadium cred.
AusGamers: Okay. And outside of just bragging rights and sharing, are there any other incentives for the players to get into the stadium builder for anyone that might not be part of that chorus of voices that's been asking for it for so long?
Yeah. It's a fully... it's almost a separate game. The editor and the creator are so robust. We definitely think we will see people who, all they do is create stadiums and share them online for people to enjoy and that's going to be amazing to see as well.
AusGamers: Okay. We'll shift gears, can you talk a little bit about the expanded approach to multi-platform development this time around?
"So it doesn't matter what platform you're on. You'll take all of your stuff to the other platform. And if you're playing on PlayStation, you can play against people on Xbox...”
Right. So we're going from only shipping a game on PlayStation
for the last few years to now PlayStation 4
, PlayStation 5
, Xbox One
and Xbox Series X|S
. So four platforms but what we've also worked on is we have cross-platform play and cross progression. So it doesn't matter what platform you're on. You'll take all of your stuff to the other platform. And if you're playing on PlayStation, you can play against people on Xbox.
AusGamers: Did you come across any hurdles having never done this before?
Yes. Everything was a hurdle. Yeah. All everything in videogame development is a hurdle but our graphics team and our programming team and engineering team, they attacked it head on and we're really happy to be shipping all four games on April 20th.
AusGamers: Okay. I guess the other question to that side then is, I guess when you're building a game that is cross-platform in a sense that you are still working with the barriers of last-gen versus, like, the open power of the new-gen -- was it hard to reign in any of the whiteboard dreams? Like big moments that you kind of thought, “well let's go all out because we can with the new systems”? Or was everything pretty much just that you could dial it up a little bit more on the new consoles versus the last-gen?
Yeah. Every feature and everything that we wanted to do year one on the next-gen platforms, we were able to do it. That main focus was 4K, 60 frames per-second [and] let's make the stadium creator the baddest thing anybody's ever seen. I've actually been working on it for over two years. And we're just so excited to finally put this feature in the player's hands.
AusGamers: Okay. Now, again with the video that I was privy to; casual mode sort of seems like a really big step for you guys, despite the fact that it’s sort of like a reversal of the amount of depth that's available to players [who want it]. Can you talk a bit about… obviously if you live in the US, it's “America's national pastime”, and we've got our own indigenous games here in Australia that are our national pastimes as well. And growing up I only understood “bottom of the ninth” as a baseball term -- everything else was lost on me. That was the only thing I understood, because that was a trope in movies where baseball was a thing. Can you talk about teaching the game to people that might not understand baseball at its fundamental best versus offering a videogame experience at the same time?
Absolutely. And that's exactly what casual mode is. Casual mode is a fun pick-up-and-play experience that emphasises learning the game of baseball and the mechanics and MLB The Show. So all of our onboarding and all of our new beginner mode, it's in casual mode. And so what's also really interesting about casual mode is the computer's not trying to kick your teeth in. It will let you score as many runs, it'll let you steal because we're trying to teach you the game of baseball here. So we're going to go through every different mechanic that we have and teach you how to do it. They actually stop gameplay. We explain it. And we do that for everything in the game.
"You can turn off the beginner mode and you can still play a casual mode where you're going to hit home. More home runs; you're going to get more strikeouts or you can graduate with something else...”
And you can stay in casual mode as long as you want. And even after you learn how to play a game, you can turn all the onboarding stuff off. You can turn off the beginner mode and you can still play a casual mode where you're going to hit home. More home runs; you're going to get more strikeouts or you can graduate with something else. But yes, that's exactly why we created a casual mode to be able to teach people about baseball and teach people about how to play and how to use the different mechanics of MLB The Show.
AusGamers: And another new feature that was highlighted in the video was the specialist comments, which kind of builds on the narrative of the player's journey. And it’s such a big factor, it's the dynamic nature of feedback within a game to a player, especially in sports games [helping them] feel realistic, and [helping you] feel the impact that you're having on the game in a really conducive and meaningful way.
Can you talk a little bit about having live active specialist commentators giving that sort of feedback to players and plays, and how you guys go about writing that? How those people go about delivering those... those types of lines and feedback to make it all feel organic?
Right. So being in the audio team, they listened to the feedback that we get from our own research. And then number one feedback for the mode was “I don't kind of know if [MLB The Show] knows what I'm doing”. “Nobody's talking about me”, or whatnot. So we have this... basically this visual podcast that's introduced into the mode and as you are playing roles in The Show and getting better and becoming a two-way player. You're going to get these episodes where they're specifically talking about you and your performance. And we have guests from all over the sports world and we have surprise guests. And it's something that you're going to see all throughout your road, through The Show’s career. And it's something that we're going to build upon moving forward.
AusGamers: Just on the career thing as well. Often, those things can fall into, into trope pitfalls that tend to trip up players and feel really handholdy. Can you talk a little bit about how the career plays itself out?
"The episodes get triggered based off of different milestones that you do. And every episode they're talking up your player like “this guy is the next best thing”, “he's playing hot right now”. “Can he keep it up?”....”
Right. So you create your player and we're looking at you in the idea that you're going to pitch and hit. And so everything is designed around that unless you choose not to do that. And the episodes get triggered based off of different milestones that you do. And every episode they're talking up your player like “this guy is the next best thing”, “he's playing hot right now”. “Can he keep it up?”. And it's just a really engaging and interesting way to break up the minute by minute gameplay and have the game and these famous sports broadcasters talk about you in this life.
AusGamers: And with the player character creation, how crazy can people go and is that reflected at all? Or is that just the aesthetic?
Oh, you can go pretty crazy. You can choose some pretty crazy hairstyles. You can make somebody who's seven-feet tall if you want to.
There's a lot of options there.
AusGamers: And outside of the more hardcore aspect, even with the casual mode with the game, baseball games are never any fun unless they’ve got some really fun, extra modes like Home Run Derbies and things like that. Can you talk a little bit about what else is going to be in the overall package?
Yeah. So we have Home Run Derby. We have a mode called March to October where you can play season mode very quickly. We have a mode called Diamond Dynasty where it's all about collecting different cards and competing online. Like, we've talked about stadium creator and we have a custom brand new practice option where you can just sit in a batting cage and try to get really good at hitting or try to get really good at pitching. And all of those different features really add up to a really robust [set of tools] for the game that's coming out in April.
AusGamers: The video we watched really highlighted ‘pitch-perfect pitching’ (silly way for us to put it), and that it’s one of the hardest aspects of the game to learn. Can you talk about how you create a model that is... ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ is probably the right terminology for it? And at what point do you have to realise that you might be over encumbering the player with too much finesse?
"And so if we're going to give you something, that's going to be that accurate, it needs to have the depth that makes it hard to master but easier to pick up. And we think we've done that because we grade you on three different things when you're doing pinpoint pitching...”
Right. So it's always a balance. So we have other pitching methods in the game and they vary in depth. We have classic where you just press a button, we have a meter and you use the analogue controls, and those have been in the game before. But we still have four other pitching methods in the game and they vary in difficulty. But the feedback we got was our players wanted a mechanic that allowed them to pinpoint. And so if we're going to give you something, that's going to be that accurate, it needs to have the depth that makes it hard to master but easier to pick up. And we think we've done that because we grade you on three different things when you're doing pinpoint pitching. And when you get all of them perfectly, the ball goes right where you pointed it. When you don't it's a little bit more of the crapshoot but for players who want to really have control on the mound and stand above the competition, pinpoint pitching is of you. For everyone else we still have a few other pitching methods in the game that you can try out and use.
AusGamers: So that's a really good point that you just made there, competition. How does the different pitching modes and even batting modes and things like that work in an online environment, when you're playing against other real-world players and how does matchmaking work? And if you've got a player that's playing with what would you call “inch perfect” or “centimeter perfect” in Australia, style of pitching versus someone that might not be able to play that way? How do you match people up?
Well, Brian Ma
who's our lead engineer for all things batting and pitching. He takes a lot of time to make sure everything is valid. So no matter how you're playing, it's going to be a balanced playing field. So if I'm using pinpoint, yes, if I'm hitting my spots, I can be more accurate, but if you're using another method, you won't be as accurate as I can be, but it also won't be as hard. So we're always trying to find that balance. And we think we're going to shift where every single method in the game and input is balanced and there's pros and cons to all of them.
AusGamers: Okay. And Ramone, who do you follow in the baseball?
Pretty much everybody. I mean our studio is in San Diego, so we're San Diego Padres
, Fernando Tatís Jr
. is the cover athlete. So I'm always following the Padres but because I make a baseball game, I'm watching everything.
AusGamers: Okay awesome. I've got pretty much everything I need, unless you want to throw anything else in there but that was great. I really appreciate that.
I think we've covered everything. [Just remember] it doesn't matter what system you’re playing on -- we have cross-platform play and cross progression on all platforms.
AusGamers: Yeah. That's probably one of the most exciting aspects. It must be really pleasing for the teams that have entirely new audiences just sitting there waiting.
Yeah we're really excited to launch the game in a few weeks here.
AusGamers: Okay Ramone I'll let you go, man. You probably got a couple more interviews to go. Thanks so much for your time. And I really can't wait to get my hands on the game.
Awesome. Thank you so much for having me, take it easy.
AusGamers: Yeah. Cheers man.