The first week after Thanksgiving is typically when MLB The Show's publicity machine rolls out the first screenshots and begins teasing upcoming details for the game, and right on schedule we got them this past week.
The Show has had no serious competition for five years. Next year it won't have any, in name or otherwise. The long-underperforming MLB 2K series is done for, which made this past week's details about MLB 13 The Show significant, not for what they say about a game that will come out, but for forcing gamers to confront the reality of one that won't.
There will be no baseball on the Xbox 360 next year. No new baseball game, anyway. Assuming 2K Sports doesn't pull the plug on online support for MLB 2K12 (or isn't forced to, for some reason, when the terms of its deal expire), then user-edited rosters may still be shared, and I'm sure there will be many uploaded next spring. But the game isn't getting another patch, isn't getting any official roster updates, isn't getting official anything.
This is hardly breaking news. MLB 2K has long been marked for death, even if its parent company never officially confirmed the kill. Thanks to the premium paid by previous management for an exclusive license that wasn't really exclusive, the title was blamed for a $30 million loss in Take-Two Interactive's 2K Sports label, though NBA 2K's phenomenal performance wiped that out and made the entire division profitable.
The last time we had a series cancellation anywhere near the scope of the one coming, it was when EA Sports decided to pull the plug on its NCAA Basketball series in 2010. There was a very brief reckoning with what that meant; gamers quickly understood that these series, no matter their quality, didn't sell very well because they followed the NBA simulation products by one month, and most folks are interested in college basketball only enough to follow it in one month, March.
What the reaction will be to an Xbox 360 without a new baseball game next year, I really don't know. I was asked the question on the latest Press Row Podcast, gave a quick answer, and even after pondering it further I still don't know what baseball fans' response will be. As a thought exercise, it raises more questions than it answers.
Heck, do we even need a new baseball game on the 360 next year?
• Will anyone really care?MLB 2K had long disappointed Xbox 360 baseball fans, becoming the kind of poor game whose death commenters cheer heartily. When pitchers and catchers report, it may be a different story. Fans who have the game or buy it used will pop the disc in, find a user-edited roster and start playing—and face all the things that drove them crazy about the series the year before, of course. They won't miss having any baseball on the Xbox 360, because technically they do have such a game. They will miss having a good baseball game that meets their expectations, but they've been feeling that since 2006. Honestly, 2013, in a lot of ways, looks like status quo even without a new game.
• Do we even need a new baseball game on the Xbox 360? This could tell us something about video game consumer culture that we've never observed directly. Practically every post I make about a sports video game gets a comment wondering why a series doesn't just come out every other year and release roster updates as DLC. (Aside from the fact licensing agreements require an annual release, there's no way that system makes a publisher more money. It makes a publisher less money, an outcome they are not very interested in.)
But if people are doing just fine with community-edited rosters and playing career modes that are three, four, five seasons into an alternate reality where present-day accuracy is meaningless anyway, it may change sports gamers' attitudes about habitually buying the next edition of the series. MLB 2K12 wasn't much to look at, but it wasn't unplayable. Pitching with it still was enjoyable, and its commentary was a mile ahead of The Show's. I don't think it'd be enough to sink sports publishing's fortunes, but if gamers find they can survive without laying down $60 for a new sports game with all of the bells and whistles it's touting this year, they may choose not to buy other sports titles' latest releases as well.
• Is this the end of baseball for good on this platform? Considering everyone expects next year's E3 to unveil the Xbox 360's successor, I'd say so. Conventional wisdom holds that any publisher who is interested in getting back into an agreement with Major League Baseball would wait until the next console generation to do so, and that may be upon us sooner than we think. I would not expect a baseball game to be ready for that console in 2014, however, unless someone signs with the league in the next two or three months. 2K Sports' deal was set to expire in Take-Two Interactive's 2013 fiscal year, which has begun.
For those who don't run right out and buy Microsoft's new console—the Xbox 360 isn't going to die when the new hardware pops out—they can expect to be stuck with MLB 2K12 until they get a different console.
• Will this have any affect on PlayStation 3 sales? Anecdotally, maybe, because I'm always hearing of diehard baseball fans who bite the bullet each year and go PS3 just to get The Show and play a game that knows what it's doing. But I don't expect it to be in numbers large enough for Sony to reap a windfall. You might see some bundles offered with MLB 13 The Show. If Sony's not already planning that, they'd be wise to consider it.
It should say something that 2K Sports couldn't make money off an uncontested baseball presence on the Xbox 360—a console selling 750,000 units last week. The size of a bad deal negotiated by prior (ousted) management has something to do with it, sure. But EA Sports paid a lot of money for the NFL license, turned out a stinker with Madden NFL 12, and still set sales records in that year. MLB 2K had a great marketing campaign for the past three years, and still couldn't sell enough copies of this, nor of any spinoff products, to make this deal work. If anyone is negotiating with the league, this is being discussed. If no one is negotiating with the league, this may be why.
That means either Major League Baseball needs to adjust its expectations of what kind of license it's going to sell and for how much, or gamers need to adjust their expectations of what console delivers baseball going forward. What will really happen? Like I said, I don't know.
Sounds like a perfect couple to me. As word spread that the five-time all-star and last year's MVP (a rarity for a starting pitcher) was seen with Upton out and about in Detroit this past weekend, I reached out to 2K Sports to see if the label would confirm or deny any role in the matchmaking. I sent the following questions:
• Did 2K Sports engineer Verlander's cover appearance and Upton's promotional work with the intent of playing celebrity matchmaker?
• During the promotional shoots for MLB 2K12, did 2K Sports ever witness flirting, necking, canoodling, heavy petting or anything that would suggest future couple-hood?
• If so, did you take pictures?
• If Kate Upton and Justin Verlander did get married and have kids, how would their offspring be rated?
Kotaku did not receive a reply by the time of publication. Should 2K Sports wish to make any, it will be updated here.
Nearly three months after its release, Major League Baseball 2K12 got its first and possibly only title update yesterday, a development that leaves a few more tea leaves pointing to the end of the title.
The game went without a patch from its release March 6, despite a few conspicuous bugs that aroused gamer complaint—most notably in the MLB Today mode that's meant to serve up the real-world matchups and lineups in use that day. MLB Today Season, a new spinoff of that mode, has yet to work properly either.
The game went unpatched through April and May probably because of 2K Sports' legal obligation not to alter the game during the $1 Million Perfect Game Challenge. Why it took a month beyond that to roll out fixes is anyone's guess—unless they're only going to roll out one more patch for a game that has all but announced its conclusion with this year, and wanted to swat as many bugs as they could with it.
You can see all of the patch notes at the link below. The patch covers the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions
News and notes from around the world of sports video gaming:
• Nearly every title at EA Sports is being put to a cover vote. We've had contests now for Tiger Woods PGA Tour, NFL Blitz, Madden and NCAA Football. We haven't heard what NBA Live will be doing, but it's a good bet whatever it has in mind won't take as long as the NHL 13, which seems to mimic the span of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. This vote has now reached the quarterfinals, with Claude Giroux vs, Anze "Der" Kopitar and Scott Hartnell in one half of the bracket. Pavel Datsyuk vs. John Tavares and Henrik Lunqvist vs. Pekka Rinne are in the other. Vote here. The winner won't be declared for another month, the June 20 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
• Pastapadre, sports video gaming's bloodhound, notes that we are still a long ways off from a patch for MLB 2K12. This is significant because we didn't—couldn't—get one from its March release through the end of April because of the Million-Dollar Perfect Game Challenge. 2K Sports couldn't alter the gameplay or the structure of the game while the contest was in place because of, who knows, legal restrictions or something. The same kind of legal restrictions that couldn't prevent contestants from cheating in the qualifying round, and did prevent 2K from weeding them out or even discussing the controversy. While a patch still is in the works, it hasn't yet cleared internal reviews, and then it must pass Microsoft's certification. So don't expect it for another couple weeks, I'd say. [Pastapadre]
• Speaking of covers, we forgot to give you the official Madden NFL 13 box art featuring Calvin Johnson, who I correctly, properly and admirably predicted as the overall winner a month before the vote-off began. Here it is.
News and notes from around the world of sports video gaming:
• Major League Baseball 2K12's preliminary round for its $1 Million Perfect Game Challenge is over, ending at midnight Pacific time on May 1. I'm told 2K Sports is still evaluating all of its data and verifying some late perfect games thrown, but it appears that the field of eight is set. You can see who they are here, but please note, these are not officially certified finalists. Still it appears "C. Bates" (DHG F1YB0Y21) has hung on for the No. 1 overall spot, throwing a gem with Danny Duffy of Kansas City against the Detroit Tigers on April 16.
A 2K Sports representative told me that the total number of attempts from the April 4 contest opening to April 30 is 942,895. Of these, more than 900 perfect games have been confirmed, a success rate of nine hundredths of one percent, but still astronomically larger than the rate of perfect games thrown to all of the major league baseball games played since 1876. Only 21 have been thrown in 136 years of baseball.
• Griffin Benger has won about $3 million playing online poker, but he's used to grinding away long hours in front of a computer screen. He's also "Flush_Entity," a former top-ranked professional Counter-Strike player. He explains the differences in the two pursuits in this interview with Poker Listings. "In poker, you don't have to be the best of the best to make money, whereas in Counter-Strike to win the money you had to beat all the best players in the world and be number one," he says.
• Finally, congratulations to Steve Noah, the chief at Operation Sports. Earlier this week he announced that he's quitting his day job in IT ... to devote all of his time to running one of sports video gaming's magnet sites and most developed independent communities. Again, it's no secret I check in on OS daily, and I know how much it means to Steve to have built this into a full-time gig.
To throw a perfect game, a single pitcher must retire every batter, and at least 27 of them, in a victory. That we know. 2K Sports, in its "$1 Million Perfect Game Challenge, on Major League Baseball 2K12, applies a formula to those games, rating their degree of "perfection," so to speak, according to factors like pitch count and strikeouts.
Here's what I didn't know until now: You are also judged on the physical perfection of your pitched game.
"On top of the difficulty score, we also look at how you throw the perfect game to determine your final perfect game score," he wrote on March 27. "We look at things like strikeouts, pitch count and your pitch gesture accuracy [emphasis mine] to determine the overall perfect game score. So if you are looking to increase your score, try to maximize strikeouts, minimize total pitch count and be as perfect as you can be with your pitching mechanics. Weak pitches and bad gestures hurt your overall score."
So, even if you hang a sinker with the game's right stick controls, and get an opposing batter to beat it into the ground, if you get lucky with bad stuff, that will be factored in. This is important to realize as the Perfect Game Challenge enters its final four days. After Monday, those who threw the eight "best" perfect games-judged according to the factors that Little describes—will get a trip to New York to play in an eight-man tournament for the final $1 million prize.
I really had no idea it was judging your actual physical gestures—and if you throw a weak pitch or make a bad gesture, the game will inform you of it with a map showing how your pitch command deviated from the ideal input. I just figured that the ends would justify the means. They don't.
This makes early-inning pitch effectiveness critical. As your pitcher tires in later innings, he will have less time in which to complete a proper throw. While a fastball may be a two-position motion, breaking balls often require pushing the right stick to one location and then winding it. A 12-6 curveball requires the most torque. Late in the game, these will be your least perfect pitches, which makes throwing them perfectly early on even more critical.
The other major factor is the degree of difficulty. As we enter the final four days of this contest, throwing a perfect game under tougher conditions becomes absolutely critical for those looking for last-minute placement in the final eight. The lowest score on the leaderboard as of writing is a 796, well more than 200 points higher than it was two weeks ago. To crack the lineup this late, you will need to throw a perfect game with a weaker pitcher against a stronger hitting lineup.
You can see the ratings when you choose a game from the "MLB Today" menu and select the MLB 2K12 Contest option. It will rate the matchup for you depending on which team you choose to pitch with. In my judgment, at this late stage, there is no reason to attempt a perfect game whose difficulty is rated below 80.
Fortunately, there are four matchups today that offer such a challenge.
(pitching as) Colorado vs. New York Mets: 87
Seattle vs Toronto: 82
St. Louis vs. Milwaukee: 82
Chicago Cubs vs. Philadelphia: 81
New York Yankees vs. Detroit: 81
Of these, the Yankees offer maybe the most enticement: it's a popular team and a strong batting order—you'll just be taking Ivan Nova against an extremely potent hitting attack from the Tigers (and cover star Justin Verlander).
Drew Pomeranz versus the Mets, in Denver, deserves his 87 rating. Not only is it in the thin Rocky Mountain air, Pomeranz, the team's fifth starter, hasn't gone past the sixth inning in two starts.
Again, this contest is over when the clock strikes midnight on May 1. So pick the toughest matchup you can find, and good luck.
If this is the end of MLB 2K12, I suppose we couldn't say goodbye to the series without one final, terribly embarrassing glitch. Everyone, say hello to the zombie player, thanks to this video by YouTube user bobtrain.
Zombie player walks to his position in the middle of play when you pull a double switch, and you'll only see it if the path the player takes to his position can be seen from the pitching view. Obviously, swapping the catcher delivers the most hilarious results, seen here.
A double switch is a semi-exotic managerial move designed to replace two players, one of them often the pitcher, and swap their positions in the batting order to get the better hitter up in the next half inning. It's not so uncommon that this is at all acceptable, but its relative lack of use and the fact a catcher needed to be involved is probably why this hasn't been noticed until now.
This glitch will not be patched until May at the earliest. That's likely because of MLB 2K12's Perfect Game contest, which gets underway on April 4. Last year's game was not patched until mid-May, as well.
This could be the last dance for Major League Baseball 2K. For more than a year, all signs have pointed to Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of 2K Sports, leaving a licensing deal many have ridiculed from the day it was signed in 2005. 2K Sports has ended three team sports series in the past seven years. Is MLB 2K12 a swan song on the order of NFL 2K5? Or is it more in the range of NHL 2K10?
This will be my second review under a new format, so I feel like I should reintroduce it. Sports video games, especially, are engineered to appeal to and sustain many different tastes. That makes appraising one's overall quality tough, because what didn't resonate with me may be someone else's primary reason for picking it up, and vice versa.
This, then is a list of this game's 10 most striking features or qualities, ranked in descending numerical order (or ascending order of preference) of what they contributed to my enjoyment. Hopefully, in these descriptions, you may form your own picture of MLB 2K12 and how much it would appeal to you.
Ten Things You Should Know About MLB 2K12
10. Framerate drops the ball. The most glaring defect in MLB 2K12 is a horrible framerate drop after the batter makes contact. It happens on the first pitch, it will happen on nearly every pitch. The fact the execrable MLB 2K9 also suffered from framerate problems almost makes this a backbreaking regression. My haphazard guess is that the game's new batting outcome logic, which creates a greater variety of hit direction and distance, is overwhelming the CPU. Whatever the case, some foul balls will play out as jaggedly as if you shot an exploding barrel in a room full of 16 enemies. It is definitely the most unwelcome surprise coming out of an on-location preview that was generally positive.
WHY: It's still the only Major League Baseball game on the Xbox 360. That's not a hell of an endorsement, but MLB 2K12 is an improvement over MLB 2K11 in gameplay. Its visuals are plainly a disappointment, though.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL 2K12
Developer: Visual Concepts Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 Released: March 6, 2012.
Type of game: Sports simulation.
What I played: Played an entire postseason mode; played 1.5 years of the singleplayer "My Player" career mode. Simulated an entire season to analyze the trade and stats logic, playing about a dozen games out of it.
My Two Favorite Things
The best game for pitching.
Career mode gets a huge boost thanks to more realistic expectations and progression.
My Two Least-Favorite Things
Terrible framerate drop at the moment of bat-on-ball contact.
Poor visuals and birdbrained animations take you out of immersion almost immediately.
"A solid performer on the pitching mound." —Owen Good, Kotaku.com
"Not much to look at, but you'll have a fun time with her." —Owen Good, Kotaku.com
"Winning it all never felt so ... bland." —Owen Good, Kotaku.com
9. She ain't much to look at: New face models have made star performers more recognizable and uniform numerals, strangely, seem to have been fixed between the preview and what I'm playing right now. But there is a long list of visual upgrades MLB 2K12 has needed, for many years, and it didn't get them here. Uniforms are very flat and some colors are oversaturated—the Yankees' and Tigers' caps are almost Dodger blue to my eye.
8. What am I watching? The sidecar to the game's disappointing visuals are the bizarre animations MLB 2K12 still delivers, despite repeated promises that more interactions have been added and existing ones have been refined. There still is a ton of players standing around on the balls of their feet in the "player ready" pose, which I was told had been resolved last year. On a home run, bot outfielders will frequently run away from the trajectory of the ball and then stand there, looking at the wall, in player-ready. There's a lot of stop-and-start to baserunning animations. Visual concepts added some catcher interactions to improve the realism, but the catcher fires the ball back a split second after receiving it, even if it's a 59-foot curve in the dirt with no one on. These are extremely nitpicky things, but echoing a big complaint I had last year, MLB 2K12 will still do a lot of things that remind you you're playing a video game, not watching a baseball game.
7. Winning it less than all: For a game with very strong presentational qualities, the fact its postseason plays behind the same unacceptably thin window-dressing is a disappointment that needs to be called out. You'll only know it's the playoffs through the commentary, and even then it comes only before the first pitch and at the final at-bat. Why this game would include a dedicated playoff mode—something MLB the Show does not offer—and give it next to no presentational depth, is poor planning or allocation of resources. See the video to understand how insubstantial the payoff is. It's the same as last year's.
6. MLB Today Season: This feature goes this low on my list only because we haven't begun the season, so the actual value of "MLB Today Season" isn't yet apparent. What it does is blend the game's MLB Today setting—which allows you to play the matchups of the day with the lineups and pitchers expected to take the field in real life—and string all of those games together in a persistent experience. Thus you won't be rewriting one day's poor result, you'll be able to run a virtual season alongside your favorite team's. It would seem to me that this feature will be most valuable if you lag the real world by about 10 or so games—enough both to play with the actual personnel and lineups used in real life, but also to see that disastrous road trip coming and try to undo it. It's a feature that will mostly prove its worth in September as teams fade and their fans take to their consoles to soothe the pain. But in theory, it's a welcome addition to a solid feature.
Though it includes a new playoff format finalized only on Friday, the postseason presentation support in MLB 2K12 remains bland. CUTLINE.
5. The new playoff format: On Friday, Major League Baseball and its players agreed to expand the postseason to 10 teams. MLB 2K12, quite presciently, shipped with postseason options that allow for this new format. You can't revert to the old eight-team format, but that matters little. You'll be able to play your favorite team in a playoff format certified 72 hours before the game's release—without a postrelease patch—and that deserves a tip of the cap.
4. Sensible surprises: I simulated a full season to check the franchise mode's trade and stats logic. Cole Hamels was shipped out of Philadelphia at the trading deadline (to Texas). The two sides are currently far apart in contract talks, so this makes sense. The only shocker was second-year pitcher Everett Teaford of the Royals coming up with an Elroy Face-esque 18 victories and zero defeats in zero starts. That would tie a record for wins in relief. It is not as incredible as it sounds. Sixteen times since 1901 has a reliever won more than 15 games without a single start, though most recently in 1978. And as baseball has changed, with 20-win seasons becoming more rare, those 18 victories would make it the first time a relief pitcher has ever led his league in wins. A lot of the enjoyment of a baseball season is in these kind of oddball superlatives, and I think it's a plus that MLB 2K12 was able to create something like this within a well balanced season otherwise.
3. My Player, Please: This mode gets a huge boost thanks to what feels like a rebalancing of My Player, the game's single player career mode, and my most preferred mode of play in baseball. MLB 2K12 gives you a much more sensible appraisal of your progression and value to your franchise than in previous editions. In past years, I could make the majors straight from double-A by the September call-ups at the latest. This time, I was nowhere close, even at the start of my second year. And I didn't deserve it. New player roles—slugger, contact hitter, strikeout pitcher—give you a modified attribute set when you start. Pitchers created as starting pitches will actually be starters, eliminating the tedium of earning your way into the staff and, more importantly, giving you the opportunity to earn more skill points to develop your player. New pitchers definitely should boost their stamina attribute first, as it keeps you in the game longer, which translates to more point-earning chances. You can still bite off a single season in a day, but it means a lot more knowing the game won't cater to you as it did in past editions.
2. Overall Balance: You have to overlook the poor visuals and the framerate drop—and those are huge defects that are in your face with every pitch. But in strict gameplay, MLB 2K12 performs very smoothly and authentically. User fielding is a lot cleaner than last year's game, even if some of the bot animations take a long time to load up the throw. Hitting has come very far from the game's days as a shooting gallery full of gappers and home runs, and its dependence on timing feels deterministic, not random. The "Max Pitch," which is when you time the pitching meter perfectly, is harder to achieve even with top performers, and absolutely rare with lower rated hurlers. It's not the prettiest date, but MLB 2K12 is at least a graceful dancing partner.
1. Still Makes a Strong Pitch: I have always felt that, for all of its shortcomings, MLB 2K is the most enjoyable baseball pitching game available. They pressed into the area of deterministic analog controls first, against the grain of the pitching meter everyone was raised on. The new mandate to mix pitch variety and location provides another smooth layer of authenticity. I felt it was a little rigid with my low-rated minor leaguer—I had to pitch to the catcher's recommendations or else I got whacked solid. But with a fully developed major leaguer it is a delight early in the game and a puzzle in the late innings, especially if you're trying for the shutout. You can beat a hitter with a suboptimal pitch, but you will need to know the bias in your pitcher's accuracy as he wears down, have superb timing, and not throw it to an area where the ball can be driven hard. That's basically pitching in real life.
MLB 2K12 is not the guns-blazing finale we would all like it to be. Its poor visual and animation quality, which is a bedrock expectation in the simulation sports genre, hurts its appeal immensely. It's still a solid performer in the realm of gameplay, with a number of features that improve the gameplay experience, even over its competitor on the PS3.
For me, the worry is not what will become of MLB 2K. Any fair analysis would agree that this product has been mismanaged and has underdelivered on its promise since 2K Sports signed its first deal with Major League Baseball. My hope is that what the game did bring to simulation baseball—chiefly in its replication of a real-world season, and in the fair and fully involved pitching mechanics it offers—lives on, if not in this series, then somewhere else.