Baseball's spring training is just around the corner, and Sony's MLB The Show franchise isn't the only destination for those of you looking to play some ball. Recently I was fortunate to talk with Scott Drader, the co-founder of Metalhead Software, developers of the Super Mega Baseball series.

The first game in the franchise caught traction with fans, and the sequel is currently on track for release in the middle of 2017 with four-player online and couch-based play, player, team, and league customization options (which the team is planning to have transfer online), and a whole new look.

I talked with Drader about some important changes for Super Mega Baseball 2 and the core philosophy that guides the title.

What's one of the main things that fans of the first game have wanted from SMB 2?
It was really easy to decide what we were going to do with this version of the game. With the first version it was a little bit tough because there was some guessing involved: "Hey, what features do people want?" But then you put the game out and get all this feedback, so that's actually what drove what ended up being in the game. The number one thing – and we knew that we were going to hear tons of requests for it – was online play. We knew it was going to happen, we just didn't have the manpower to put that together in the first version of the game [Drader says they now have nine full-time team members – ed.], being such a small studio. So we're really pumped to be working on that right now.

The second most noted thing that we saw was the polarizing response to the character art. There was a lot of feedback on the character art. Some people liked it – it was quite off the wall. And others found that it was a little too goofy looking for them. So that's something that we decided we would address with the sequel.

With the result of the change in the art style, will that in turn change things like collision, how animations run, and other effects?
Yeah, definitely. With the change in the art style came a change in the body size and proportion of the players. And that's going to allow us to fix up some things...not even fix is even the right word. It's more like making them play more like real baseball. So with the shape of the characters in the first game, for example, they had to slide into second base. They were bigger than real people, so they had to start sliding in unrealistic ways just so they had room to slide. That could feel – to a hardcore baseball fan – a little strange at times. And then there were some similar effects to the oddly proportioned characters in the first game. To have them jump for a ball and look athletic – because they were so big – they had to jump frankly too high. So we were having problems with things like, we need a certain number of line drives to land in the outfield, but with these infielders being so much bigger than real people and jumping so high, they're pulling all of these line drives out of the sky. Super Mega Baseball always has been and still will be about balance between fun and realism. It represents the sport well, but it's really important, ultimately, that it's just as fun as it can possibly be. But we are happy with the fact that the more normally proportioned characters will let the actual simulation of baseball unfold in a way that hardcore baseball fans will like, I think.

Is the game about replicating a core of real-life baseball stats in the backend, so that the home run numbers or on-base percentages, for instance, should be at a certain real-life level when people play the game?
Yeah, it's something that people who read about our game don't always understand. Even in the first game we tried to do that a lot. We really did try and base the gameplay, building it around statistics and percentages and stuff from real baseball. That was our model for how the simulation would unfold. And we did run into some challenges there like how big the players were and so on. We're going to try and take that a step further with the second game.

A lot of people talk about Super Mega Baseball as an arcade game, but in some ways it's an arcade game, and other ways it isn't. It tries to simulate the sport entirely realistically, but where it gets arcade is more in the controls, the pacing of the gameplay, and the fact that it doesn't ask you to have to do things like remember to warm up your pitchers. It's maybe light on some of those management elements, but when it comes down to playing the game, all of that stuff is built around being as true to the sport as possible.

Can you talk about some of the new animations in the game, and will you have the silly animations from the first game?
We're definitely going to have a handful of new animations in there. Things like new batting stances. The players did have different batting stances and pitching windups in the first game, but...what we want to do with this game is make them a lot more distinctive, where our users are much more likely to notice that the stances are different and remember a batter just as soon as you see that stance. "Oh no, it's him." So we're going forward on a lot more distinction between the different batting stances and pitching windups in the game this time. We're also confident enough to say there will be a bunch of new throwing animations as well. Some more situational animations...and in general we're going to work on fielding quite a bit. Just having fielding feel a little bit smoother and a slightly better connection between what the user is doing with the controls and what they are seeing happen on the field.

What's your overall approach to the series' launch schedule, such as if it's a yearly franchise?
We think about that sometimes, and usually those conversations wrap up with, "Let's get back to focusing on what we're trying to do right now." We didn't know what we were going to do after SMB 1, that was sort of a wait and see thing. That's still probably the best way to describe where we're at now, but we're hoping with some of the changes we've made we'll expand the audience of SMB a little bit. And frankly, there was just a whole bunch of stuff...[SMB 1] didn't feel done yet. After 1 there was a whole bunch of things we really, really wanted in there. And we'll be able to get most of those in this time around.

Where it goes from there... I'd say there's a pretty good chance we'll stay in sports. We get a lot of people asking us to do other sports, and that certainly would be a lot of fun, but it'll be hard not to work on baseball, too.

Any plans for post-launch content?
We're spending a lot of time talking about that right now, and certainly that's something we want to do, but I think it's a little too early to lay out any specific plans quite yet.

What do you think of players possibly sharing their created teams via game files?
As far as modding support and that kind of thing, that's something that...I don't think it's something we'll actively support right away. It's something we might look into getting into the game...we'll see what we can do about making it easy.

How persistent or what kind of structure will the online leagues have?
We have a lot of stuff in the works right now, and we're not sure which bits of it are going to get done and which aren't, but I think it's probably fair to communicate to the community that we're probably not looking at an online franchise mode. So when you talk about commissioner tools and persistent online, it's probably better to think along the lines of Rocket League-style online play. More focused on individual matchups and ranking.

We are looking at a dedicated server model rather than peer-to-peer play. We definitely prioritized fairness and we want to make sure it's as tough as possible to cheat. Then also, of course, there's a much better chance of making sure that everyone who's playing has similar connection quality.

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Have a suggestion or comment? Put it in the comments section below, send me an email, or reach me on twitter at @mattkato.

 

OUT OF THE PARK BASEBALL 18 DETAILS ANNOUNCED

Out of the Park Developments has announced the officially MLB-licensed Out of the Park Baseball 18 for release on PC, Mac, and Linux on March 24, and the strategy title features a number of new features and tweaks, just the first details of which include:

  • Challenge mode: OOTPD teases that this new mode will be a good tutorial for new users and vets alike
  • Online: User profiles allow the posting of stats and accomplishments to new leaderboards, and OOTPD says more online features for the game will be announced as part of the team's "long-term expansion of OOTP's online platform."
  • Teams/Leagues: The game includes the historic Negro League clubs, the 2017 opening day MLB rosters, the complete minor league system (including the Arizona Fall league), 8 international leagues (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Italy, The Netherlands, Mexico, Cuba), and independent minor leagues.
  • Custom and real-world tournaments
  • Numerous Tweaks/Improvements, including:
    • AI improvements for roster management, trades, and in-game decisions.
    • Redesigned injury system, including players' injury histories.
    • Upgraded team chemistry/morale system
    • Intra-league promotion/relegation
    • 2017 rule changes
    • Ability to retain player salaries in trades
    • New interface, game recaps, improved play-by-play, and more.

The game features a few different pre-order discounts, which you can see here.

 

DON BRADMAN CRICKET 17 REVIEW

The following review by Nathan Lawrence was originally published in Game Informer Australia. For more from Don Bradman developer Big Ant, click here for a previous Sports Desk column.

Cricket games have come a long way since the six-heavy arcade antics of Super International Cricket and Shane Warne Cricket '99. In more recent years, Big Ant Studios opted to follow the simulator route, and despite some roughness around the edges, achieved this goal with the last-gen Don Bradman Cricket 14 and its new-gen update.

Bugs aside, Don Bradman Cricket became synonymous with incredible ball physics, where early swings result in lofted shots and late strokes mean edges. Just the way it should be.

But cricket is a game of three components – batting, bowling and fielding – and its form is all over the park when it comes to the second-rate second-drop Don Bradman Cricket 17. Most disappointingly, the batting feels like a step backwards from its predecessor, because of how difficult it is to repeat results on similar deliveries.

This adjustment is likely in response to how easy it was to hit sixes with the right technique in previous games, but given the emphasis on limited-overs cricket here – most notably T20 matches, which are the only way to play club matches in career mode – I don't understand why it's tricky to consistently hit to or over the boundary with less-than-stellar batters.

This is particularly confusing considering the misleading ratings after each delivery that offer batters feedback on footwork, timing, and shot selection. I had times when I scored green ideal ratings for all three and was inexplicably bowled out, or had green, yellow, and red ratings but played a glorious stroke that sent the ball to the boundary.

Bowling fares better, with user-friendly updates for pace and, thankfully, spin bowling. Even on the hardest difficulty, which is punishing on the timing windows, it's a lot easier to land perfect delivery ratings and build up a satisfying bowling rhythm. That being said, I'm still confused why Big Ant has foregone the pitch placement indicator and leaves it up to a handful of fixed lengths.

Fielding is downright terrible. On manual, it's laughably unplayable, with no option to dive and a painfully specific window for forcing a fielder to collect a ball off the grass. On a few occasions in multiplayer, the camera angle didn't change to show the ball's resting place, making picking it up all but impossible, allowing less-charitable batters to run endlessly. I quickly learnt you're better off switching fielding to semi-assisted (the default setting), but the A.I. still leaves a lot to be desired. Catching is like watching the cricket equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, as simple catches are often inexplicably taken in awkward one-handed stances.

A lengthy career mode starts at local T20 club level before shifting to state and, eventually, international level. I didn't score or bowl particularly well with my created all-rounder, so his progression to local captain then state level and beyond felt more fixed than earned. Instead of honing skills in net sessions or matches, player progression is relegated to spending experience points between matches on specific components of batting and/or bowling. None of this progression felt as if it was reflected in how my player performed in subsequent matches, though.

Despite the abundance of bugs, inexplicable crashes for basic things, and odd design choices, there's a wealth of content on offer in Don Bradman Cricket 17, including neat inclusions like women's matches. I downloaded the best community-created players, teams, uniforms and stadiums easily, but there are in-depth (and intimidating) creation and editing tools for those so inclined to make or modify their own cricketing icons.

Player creation and editing is straightforward in an RPG-like way, but features like logo creation look to be geared towards PC players rather than console gamers. It's also a cinch to modify fielding presets, competitors, and tours, or even to create your own spin on a new cricket match type by shifting numerical sliders.

As a big cricket fan who still plays the last new-gen version of Don Bradman Cricket, I find it tricky to get immersed in all this additional content, though, when Don Bradman Cricket 17 is so buggy. The last game eventually had most of the game-breaking bugs patched out, but Don Bradman Cricket 17 is so out of form it's hard to recommend in its current state. To paraphrase an old cricketing truism: patches win matches. SCORE: 5 – Nathan Lawrence

 

THE TICKER
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week.

NHL 17 Gets Competitive Seasons HUT Addition

Pro Basketball Manager 2017 Is Out Now

Skate 3 and Madden NFL 17 Added To EA's Vault Subscription Service

EA Sports Announces The EA Sports Bowl eSports Tournament w/ Madden 17, NHL 17 & FIFA 17