I've loved the game since I was knee-high to a second baseman, and even I can admit it: Baseball is a long game—even in video game form.
A really good video game simulation of America's pastime is destined to be a long process as well. There's really no way of getting around that while still maintaining a quality gaming experience.
Or is there?
On Tuesday, the undisputed king of virtual baseball, MLB 14 The Show, was released for PlayStation 3. Breathe easy, PlayStation 4 users: That version is coming on May 6.
Two of the new features in this year's game—on both versions—is the inclusion of Quick Counts and Player Lock modes.
Aside from offering an alternate gaming experience, these two new modes drastically decrease the time it takes to complete a game. Here's how both modes work and how it can impact your gameplay.
Do you like the idea of shortening the playing time in MLB 14 The Show?
One of the main reasons a baseball game can be so long is because of the time one at-bat can take. A few "good" at-bats turn into a long inning, and that becomes a really long game.
Quick Counts generates a middle or late count for each at-bat in the game. Gamers will see counts of 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 2-2, 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2 to begin every pitcher-batter sequence.
An algorithm is used to establish the counts for each at-bat. The formula is based on the stats and tendencies of the man on the mound and the hitter at the plate. Here's a video from Sony's development team at San Diego Studio. It briefly breaks down the concept.
By having gameplay begin at this juncture, at-bats can be as short as one pitch. The pitch count for pitchers still rises, and for the most part, stats remain accurate. You might see an increase in strikeouts and walks, though.
I definitely take more walks in this mode. I'm a hacker, so only needing to take one pitch in certain sequences helps me get a free pass.
I've played an entire Quick Counts game in 20 minutes, and I've had one last as long as 44 minutes. Either way, it's still shorter than playing traditionally. You really have to be on your toes in this mode. Owen Good of Polygon concurs:
@Shaner8 Quick counts work in both phases. You really have to pay attention as a pitcher.— Owen Good (@owengood) April 1, 2014
Here's a sample video of Quick Counts gameplay:
Overall, Quick Counts accomplishes its goal of speeding up the game while staying true to the game's simulation roots.
That said, there is one noticeable drawback. Some of the strategy in baseball is removed because of the structure. For example, if you're the type of player who likes to move runners along and bunt, your ability to do that will be partially impaired.
Say you just took a walk with the Cincinnati Reds' Billy Hamilton. He's one of the majors' fastest players. If you had designs on having him steal, you may have to think twice about that strategy.
If you're issued a two-strike count, you'll no longer have an ideal running situation. To prevent setting yourself up for a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play, you'll have to cool Hamilton's jets.
Likewise, if you wanted to bunt him over and were issued a two-strike count, it almost completely takes the bunt out of the equation. While in Arizona for a preview of the PS3 and PS4 versions of the game, I asked Community Manager Ramone Russell about this.
He indicated the team at San Diego Studio was aware of this dynamic, but felt that including an opportunity to stop the generated count with runners on base would circumvent the overall objective of the mode.
That's certainly true, so it does create a bit of a quagmire. Some may not care about this "issue." But for some staunch purists, it could be a deal breaker for the mode. Like almost everything, enjoying Quick Counts requires a little compromise.
Those who are familiar with Road to The Show know what it's like to play as a single player for an entire game. In RTTS, you are using a created player and building his journey to the majors, and hopefully a Hall of Fame career.
Player Lock is essentially the same thing, but without the whole journey angle. You can select any player and use him exclusively in a game from just about any mode on MLB 14 The Show.
There's a ton of ways to use this wrinkle. You could play an entire season or franchise as one player, or jump around to different guys over the course of a campaign. You can also use Player Lock in exhibition games.
Using this feature, I've been able to play through an entire game in less than 10 minutes. Here's an example of gameplay using the Detroit Tigers star and the game's cover athlete Miguel Cabrera in Player Lock.
Quite honestly, I haven't discovered any drawbacks in this mode. You get exactly what you expect, and it's pretty fun to solely control real players for an entire game. I'd liken it to the old Create-A-Legend mode from the NBA 2K series.
Blending All the Experiences
A cool way to play through a season or franchise is to use a combination of Full Count, Quick Counts and Player Lock games. It'll keep the experience varied and speed up the process. Who knows, you might just get through a 162-game schedule this year.
That's my goal.
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