MLB 13: The Show Designer, Ramone Russell Discusses Feedback and Game Development

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Gaming critics across the board agree: MLB 13: The Show hit yet another one out of the ballpark. On the heels of the successful launch of SCEA’s title our own DJ Rhude recently sat down with Ramone Russell, one of The Show’s designers, in this exclusive interview. Among the many topics discussed were how the community’s feedback impacts the decisions the team makes year to year, the much shorter development cycle sports game have compared to other games and details on a patch they just released that addresses many of the game play gripes.—DJ Rhude (@DJRhude)

XXL Mag.com: MLB 13: The Show has been out for a little over 3 weeks now and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, how gratifying is that for the team to see all the ideas they implemented have been well received?

Ramone Russell: Thank you. The positive feedback is great and we do really appreciate the words.  Most of what we added was received how we intended, which is definitely gratifying. We really seemed to get feedback on every area of the game, from the new style Intro movie to Beginner mode, through to the Road to the Show on-field experience and The Postseason experience.  Sadly, it’s the few negative comments that stick with us. It’s what makes this team great. We see areas to improve and immediately begin formulating a plan for next year. We aim to get better every year and truly believe that our last release of The Show is always the best.

Sports games have a relatively short development cycle when compared to other genre of games. How much pressure is there to deliver a quality game on schedule every year?

Don’t get me started (laughs). Let’s not forget the new peripherals, initiatives and hardware we’re expected to support each year. There’s definitely pressure and difficult decisions that need to be made each year. The most difficult part is getting the community as a whole understand that we have game updates for the previous, pre-production, and our test cycle.  That leaves us with a far shorter dev cycle than people realize… 7 months.  So yes, there’s  a lot of pressure. That said, we have a strong group that has been together for a long time and understand what it takes. There’s never enough time, but there’s always more to do.

The ball physics in MLB 13 are fantastic and does a good job of mimicking how you’d see a baseball behave in a real game. What level of detail goes into that and how difficult is it to replicate?

The ball dynamics has lot of detail and how a baseball bounces is fairly difficult to replicate.  There are three reasons the ball behaves properly:  flight dynamics, bounce resolution, and rolling.  When the ball is in flight, accurate forces are applied for gravity, drag, and the Magnus effect.  We use real numbers for the spin of the ball and the density of the air to create realistic curving from the Magnus force.  The distance a ball will fly given certain launch angles and spin are also compared with real world measurements so we know things are working correctly.  The ball bouncing model is rather complex.  It is based on research into how tennis balls and super balls react when hitting different surfaces.  If we were to turn up the friction on the baseball and ground surfaces in The Show, the ball would bounce the same way a super ball does.  There is more involved, but that is a good hint into what is happening.  The last reason the ball looks realistic is how it rolls.  If you were to roll a baseball fast enough on a hard surface, it will start hopping because of the seams.  Additionally, if you roll a ball fast enough on grass, it will also hop since the grass in front compresses to form a ramp.  These two features add together to create the noisy bouncing a ball goes through while rolling.

That’s quite a bit that goes into it. The timing windows in relation to hitting have been widened this year making the game a little more forgiving, what was the driving force behind that decision? I know some have said the learning curve for hitting in MLB 12 was high.

Exactly, a large percentage of users have complained over the years that The Show has been very difficult with an even higher learning curve.  So this year there was a huge focus to try an open the game up to new users and make the hitting aspect more forgiving. From the early feedback since the game has been released it seems that we have accomplished both of the goals this year, to make the game easier and more accessible for new users.

What kind of pitching and hitting tips could you offer to those who are struggling with both aspects? Whether it’s striking out too much, not walking enough or just getting lit up on the mound by the cpu hitters.

Practice modes they are great at just working on a one aspect of hitting/pitching and not worrying about anything else.

The Franchise mode is a big draw for the series, how much time goes into that to ensure players can run their virtual league for many years without any hitches?

Franchise is a high-priority mode for our team and something we focus on throughout our development cycle. A great deal of time is spent working on the mode’s features and logic systems, after which we run countless simulations. We then analyze the results to ensure we’re providing a balanced and realistic mode that offers extensive replay value.”

mlb13_ps3_harperThe Show Live was a great addition to MLB 13, how did that come to fruition?

The Show Live was discussed as early as 2009 and was consistently brought up at pre-production meetings. Implementing the mode required collaboration between several different teams within the studio, and because of the amount of work and interdependencies involved it seemed to keep getting pushed back to “next year”. It really just took a couple of developers to really spearhead the project for MLB 13 and bring everything together. MLB.com does a lot of the work for us and provides us with a data feed that we can digest into our game systems and deliver in the form of The Show Live. The dynamic that The Show Live brings fits perfectly with our goals to bring our fans as close to the real thing as possible. We get excited about potential evolutions of The Show Live in the years to come, and hope our fans share that excitement.

The Show team communicates with its community quite often, how influential is their feedback in regards to some of the additions we’ve seen added in the game?

Very, very important if you look at the fact sheet this year and in years past you will notice a decent amount of the improvements and new features come directly from the community.

There’s a new format SCEA set up for reporting gameplay bugs this year, what factors come into play to determine what is a legitimate bug?

The new reporting system has been very useful for us.  We’ve had a lot of good, informative bugs reported.  To determine legitimacy, we have an internal test team that will verify and work with our programmers and artists to address issues.

A patch that addressed some issues for MLB 13 came out a few days ago, where can people find the complete list of the game play fixes?

Patch 1.18 was released on Tuesday you can find all the details at the shownation.com

If you could pick one or two features of MLB 13 you were most proud of, what would they be?

All of them [Laughs].

Was there anything you wanted to get into the game this year but just didn’t have enough time?

Of course but if I told you what they are they wouldn’t be a surprise when we announce the features for MLB 14.

 Haha fair enough. Has incorporating online franchise in the Show ever been discussed for the future?

All the time, but currently we have more pressing features that need to be implemented first.  However it’s always on our radar every year.

We appreciate you taking the time out to talk MLB 13 with us.

No problem, anytime, thanks for the opportunity.

Ramone Russell, is a Community Strategist and Game Designer for MLB 13: The Show