MLB 2K10 Developer Interview: 2K10 Is Not 2K9!

Spawn Kill and several other gaming outlets were recently invited to join in on a MLB 2K10 Developer Q&A session. Ben Bishop, Producer of 2K Sports, Jonathan Rivera, Gameplay Designer and Sean Bailey, also a Gameplay Designer for 2K Sports were all there to answer our many questions about the upcoming baseball sim. While there were a lot of questions about the additions to MLB 2K10, everyone seemed to just want to know one thing: Is it going to be like MLB 2K9?

Throughout the call no one from the dev team was shy about saying how disappointed they were with last year’s title and mentioned that MLB 2K10 is much improved. Though we didn’t get to have an open Q&A session at the end of the call the developers were able to give us some insight on what they did to make sure they don’t repeat the issues from 2K9.

Here are some of the highlights from the call and if you are interested in listening to the entire call we got that for you as well below the questions. Enjoy!

How much of 2K9 was used in 2K10 and was the game rebuilt from the ground up for the new release?

Sean: We completely rewrote everything from fielding, hitting, pitching, the physics, AI, camera views, swapped up all the animations. We had a lot of work ahead of us because I don’t think any of us were happy with last year nor should we have been. So rather than just trying to touch up last year’s game we just made sure the new game included all the fixes that frustrated people as well as a new, rewritten game.

What new additions were made to the franchise mode and how wide of a range of options are available to the player now?

Jonathan: The biggest new addition is the 40 man roster in franchise for September call up. The draft happens in the middle of the year. Another new addition is the trade finder. You can essentially add any player out on the trade block so other AI teams can make you offers for that player. In addition to that we have compensatory picks for free agents. So in the off season when you’re trying to sign a player you might risk losing a first or second round draft pick and if you lose a high rated player you will also get a compensatory pick.

Since gamers and industry critics have noted that early iterations of MLB series have struggled with technical issues surrounding pitching, hitting and gameplay, was this a primary focus of improvement for 2K10?

Sean: It’s almost an understatement to call it a primary focus of improvement. We didn’t just want to improve, we wanted to nail it. We knew that the core gameplay experience needed improvements across the board but when it came to pitching and hitting we really went beyond focusing on improving. We created an entirely new experience starting with the cameras, different strikes zones, different swing types, different analyzers, different replays and the physics were all rewritten. It was a huge primary focus of improvements.

Has there been improvement to the hitting component aside from the defensive swings? Its either been too easy or too hard to make solid contact as the big hitters would almost always turn a fastball into a sure homerun and an average player could barely get it out of the infield.

Sean: It has been out of balance in the past. Aside from defensive swing we have made it all about the timing. The days are gone when you can simply hold the influence stick and just paint where you want the ball to go on every swing. It’s all about timing, which is very satisfying. The balls that are hit with more velocity in real life are the ones that are pulled or the ones that a right handed batter sends down the first base line weaker are late swings to the opposite field. The timing was done in a very realistic way that takes care of a lot of complaints of the past.

What determines whether or not the Batter’s Eye feature appears? Is it purely based on their real world skills or are there other factors involved such as the pitchers skills? How often can they see the Batter’s Eye appear in a game?

Sean: When this originally came up the problem we were trying to solve is we were trying to make certain players better in the video game that are good in real life at reaching base and getting walks but didn’t have that skill set in the video game. So what we did was come up with eye rating versus lefties and righties and the batters eye rating drives the frequency of the Batter’s Eye. So the guys that take a lot of walks they have a very high eye rating so theyre going to see it more often. It also helps if they have good timing.

Why did you add the My Player feature in this year’s game?

Ben: It really seems like across the board in all sports titles that are out there right now career modes in general are becoming the popular thing and something that people are expecting to see. It was a big focus for us to be able to add the mode this year. A lot of our early build up and planning went into making My Player in this year’s version. At the same time we had NBA 2K10 come out with My Player and so that was a basis for what we did too. We really felt like it was a hole that we needed to fill with 2K10.

In My Player can you give an estimate on how long it will take to get into the Majors?

Ben: That can really vary there is so much flexibility you can do. You have a lot of flexibility in terms of how you want to play the game. When you actually do play a game you are just playing the moment that your player is directly involved in. You can play though a game in 5 or 10 minutes depending on the situations you end up with. You can also simulate games entirely, you won’t get as many skill points through simulation but if you can do that. Simulating the game might take you a bit longer to get the call to the majors. Playing all the games can get you to the majors in as soon as 10-15 games.

Framerate and online lag was a big issue for last year’s title. What was done to fix the issue s for the upcoming game?

Ben: This was something that was important for us. We felt that there was room for improvement from 2K9. We definitely made sure that we got the framerate up to an acceptable level. That’s a huge part of making the experience good and you are in full control. If you get a little lag or framerate drops, it can take away some of that control from you. It was certainly important for us to make sure we were as optimized in those departments as we could be.

Is there a PC version and how did last year’s response to the PC version go?

Ben: We definitely have a PC version this year too. You will get all the same features you will get in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. I think a lot of the responses were similar across the board, just a lot of room for improvement and we definitely took a lot of the criticism to heart. The PC version just like the other versions is very much improved. The series in general is going much more in the right direction.

Spawn Kill Favorites: Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos

In 1994, Blizzard Entertainments Warcraft: Orcs and Humans revolutionized the real-time strategy genre, bringing a pleasing amount of depth and a subtle simplicity to a relatively-hardcore genre. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness released in 1995, and not only introduced an all-new level of shine and polish, but also introduced many gamers to the world of online competition. The bar was set high for Warcraft III, and with Reign of Chaos, Blizzard proved that they are truly the kings amongst fantasy RTS fans.

Utilizing the core premise of the previous two entries to the series, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos once again put players in charge of a very basic set of troops. Initially, the player is tasked with creating a town focused around a central stronghold. Once the base of the town has been established, basic units are allocated to gather various resources. The resources are then used to build further structures, create new solider-type units, purchase upgrades, and so on.

Warcraft III differed from its brethren by the scope and premise of performing such tasks. Its true that most of the missions followed this guideline, but there were others that did not. In many of the campaign-based missions, players didnt have to create a base of operations – their main goal was to survive or to ensure the survival of others. Sometimes a player would have to defend a city or character for a set amount of time.

Also new to Warcraft III were the heroes. Though stronger characters of specific classes were available in Warcraft II, WCIII gave these entities names and particular powers. Heroes could gain levels by slaying enemies and the newly-added creeps, creatures that attack any players they encounter. The addition of heroes allowed Warcraft III to have a more character-driven focus, both by giving the player a central role to occupy most of their time and efforts with as well as giving the plot a logical narrative point-of-view.

The plot is essentially the one area where Warcraft III got a significant overhaul. The previous two entries had a plot, no doubt, but their presentation was limited to a few still-shot scenes with scrolling text and a handful of prerendered cutscenes. Warcraft III finally inserted cutscenes directly into the gameplay, with the plot elements often playing out in real-time before, between, and after player action.

Warcraft III is also the first game in the series to break the mold of having only Humans and Orcs as playable units. Though both Humans and Orcs have their distinct campaigns, Undead and Night Elves became available also with their own storylines. During the course of the game, allegiances between Heroes from various factions switch allegiances, conquer foes, and rise through their respective ranks.

The world and story created for Reign of Chaos proved to be a huge success for Blizzard Entertainment. Gaining a 92 on Metacritic and several Game of the Year awards, the game became a commercial and financial success. An expansion pack was later revealed, titled The Frozen Throne (with which many variants to the standard online play were created, most notably Defense of the Ancients), and not too long later, the Warcraft III Battle Chest was released, including Reign of Chaos, The Frozen Throne, a bonus DVD, soundtrack, art book, and more. The Warcraft III Battle Chest is still available at many game retailers today, giving the game a nearly eight-year shelf life (so far).

Of course, one of the biggest draws to Warcraft III today is its tie to World of Warcraft, the enormously popular MMORPG. The world of Warcraft III literally became the World of Warcraft, both through the general design of both games, the characters and classes available, as well as obvious plot elements.

The success of this series as a whole cannot be denied. Each game to be released under the Warcraft umbrella has been wholly worthwhile. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos has proved to be one of the most popular real-time strategy games of all time, and it is most certainly not undeserving.

Final Fantasy I and II Now On iPhone and iPod Touch

Old-school RPG fans can now rejoice, for Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II are for the first time now available on mobile phones in North America. These iPhone releases mark the seventeenth (at least) re-release of the original Final Fantasy. Of course, these updated versions show all of the polish that comes with remastering a game once every year or so.

All joking aside, the two releases of these classics are some of the best-looking yet. The games feature further-revamped graphics and sound, as well as a new input mechanism to take advantage of the iPhones/iPod Touchs touch-based interfaces. In an expected but still pleasurable addition, new dungeons have been included to both games. Check out the screenshots below to see how the game looks as well as how the interface has been redesigned.

The commemorate the release of these games, Square Enix is cutting the price point of several of their other iPhone/iPod offerings. Crystal Defenders is down to $5.99 from its previous price of $7.99, Vanguard Storm is $3.99 down from $4.99, Sliding Heroes is $0.99 down from $2.99, Hills and Rivers Remain $4.99 down from $6.99, and lastly, Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes is $7.99 down from $9.99. These prices will be effective between February 25th and March 3rd, 2010.

Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II will be available from the App Store as of today (February 25th) for the low price point of only eight dollars and ninety-nice cents American each. More information can be found on the games official website.

Review: BioShock 2

The word rapture has several connotations. Its most popular usage is to describe those who are wrapped up in a state of bliss or overwhelming ecstasy. To devout Christians, its the second coming of Christ. To the thriving community of gamers who eagerly devoured the critically acclaimed (and smash commercial hit) BioShock, the words meaning is absolutely concrete. Rapture is synonymous with the bizarre yet profound adventure that continues to push the bounds of what gaming can accomplish; Andrew Ryans obliterated utopia the fully realized dream of one man who believed in the power of the power of the self. Rapture. The name sends chills down ones spine.

With BioShocks release in 2007 we learned how a laissez-faire utopia could crumble to the ground. Just as swiftly as it was erected, it was torn to shreds by its so-called creme-de-la-creme inhabitants. After picking up the pieces of our shattered psyches and delivering (or damning) the souls of the fictitious underwater city, we moved on, though never able to truly shake Ryans influence, nor the feral glow emanating from a Little Sisters eyes.

Now, in 2010, our patience and devotion to the thematic masterpiece has been rewarded with the chance to venture once more into the deep; a new window into the city we could never burn out of our minds: BioShock 2. As a masterful return to form from 2K Marin, this poignant yet utterly insane journey through the mind of a father looking to rescue his little girl is every bit worth your time to complete, and BioShock fans owe it to themselves to pick up a copy of their very own if not to satisfy their curiosity, then to experience the story of Rapture as it comes around full circle.

Players assume the role of one Subject Delta, a sort of prototype Big Daddy who has lost the Little Sister he was bonded to. When bonded with a Little Sister, its for life. And Delta is going out of his mind to find this little one, the familiarly named Eleanor Lamb. Yes, young Eleanor happens to be the daughter of one Sofia Lamb, the present matriarch of Rapture. After the fall of Ryan, the ten years that passed werent exactly kind to the underwater utopia. A strong, passionate woman with ideals on the complete opposite side of the fence rose up to take control of the people, the Big Daddies, and most importantly, the Little Sisters. To this sentient Big Daddy with no recollection of his past, it soon becomes quite obvious that Lamb will be responsible for the second collapse of the unfortunate city. This journey that stemmed from the love of his precious child evolves into something much darker, and a trip that players wont soon forget.

There are quite a few tumultuous twists and unforgettable peaks littered throughout this jaunt through the tattered city, and none of them are worth spoiling for potential players. Rest assured, however, that this sequel retains all of the delicate moral crossroads seen in the previous game, as well as fragile alliances, steadfast relationships, and the sense of uneasiness that permeates even the pressurized behemoth that is Rapture. If youre looking to make a purchase based solely on how similar the atmosphere is, then you should feel quite secure in the knowledge that the aesthetic has not changed a bit.

It is for all intents and purposes a mirror image of the preceding game, save for the fact that players have stepped into the heady shoes of the prototype Big Daddy, Subject Delta. Hes got access to plasmids thank Ryan, right? and familiar weapons as well. While traversing the eerie, abandoned halls of the fallen city, some of the very same Splicers who troubled Jack Ryan before lie in wait. This return to Rapture feels just as if youd gone on vacation for a short while and returned to find everything just the way you left it, give or take a few piles of corpses. And you can take comfort in that fact, even if you must blow off a little of the dust thats settled on. This city feels very much like home, and players should be very appreciative of that facet of the game.

There are quite a few significant changes to be found, however. First is the ability to dual wield plasmids and a weapon of your choosing. As Subject Delta, that will likely be the infamous drill that all Big Daddies come equipped with. Though its tempting to rely on the drill for all of your Splicer-downing needs, its prudent to remember that the drill can (and will) run out of fuel. And its always such a letdown, just like running out of fuel for the glorious chainsaw in Left 4 Dead 2. This leaves the drill useless as anything other than a blunt force weapon until you can find a can of fuel lying around a level somewhere. While youve got that bad boy spinning, its easy to lunge forth and feel like hell on wheels, but when youre relegating to head-bashing status using the drill as the butt of a gun, the illusion of being a true Big Daddy begins to fade slightly, but well revisit that later.

Of course, the other weapons available for use work just as well. And youll need a menagerie of weapons should you opt out of the Winter Blast/drill bash method of play, which drastically reduces the games difficulty (the old freeze em in place, then whittle away their health with your drill works every time!). For normal exploration, you could certainly rely on that strategy in order to forge a path, but when it comes to gathering ADAM, currency for use at the Gatherers Garden, youll need to be a bit craftier.

Thats where the Little Sisters and menacing Big Sisters come into play. Before, players had limited contact with these darling little menaces. As a fellow Daddy, Delta has the ability to harvest or adopt each Sister present in the game. Of course, this all comes at a price. To gain either of these options, youll need to go toe-to-toe with Rosies, Bouncers, and Rumblers. These encounters are nothing like the impossible battles we faced as Jack Ryan, as we now know of the tricks up these behemoths sleeves. Defeating Big Daddies is now quite simple if you know how to approach them youre now on equal ground, after all.

The collapse of one of those big boys nets players a Little Sister to either harvest for copious amounts of ADAM and a demerit on their track record as a do-gooder, or the choice to adopt the children to harvest ADAM the correct way. The adorable affect of these munchkins is too much to bear, with each This way, Daddy! or Im telling all the girls that my Daddy is the best Daddy! tugging at my heartstrings. As a callous gamer who normally takes delight in obliterating enemies and damning little tots, I could not bring myself to harvest these girls. Perhaps it was the notion of bucking the title of monster bestowed upon me by the citizens of Rapture or Lamb herself. Perhaps it was the way they pleaded with me, looking up at me with such somber expressions. I opted to adopt the rugrats, which allows players to hunt for corpses rife with ADAM.

When a Sisters wispy spirit-like guide (via face button) leads you to a dead Splicer, tower defense-like scenes are triggered where every Splicer in the vicinity comes running to try and score a little of the precious commodity for themselves. With some cleverly placed traps via Trap Rivets in the Rivet Gun, security bots, and some fancy shootin, you can protect the little girls as they gather ADAM just for you.

But beware during any one of these outings, a shrill, piercing cry is only moments away from bursting your eardrums the cry of a Big Sister. The more svelte, feminine equivalent to a Big Daddy is not to be taken lightly. There are plenty at Lambs disposal to send out and protect the Little Sisters whenever its suspected youre using them for your own, selfish gain. These spindly terrors do unfortunately become just a bit routine after the first few scripted encounters, but do serve as a welcome challenge later in the game should you exhaust yourself mowing down Houdini splicers or simple Leadheads.

At the end of each scenario, its your choice once again to harvest them or adopt them. Each Sister is good for up to two or three gathers, and your brief stint with the child is ended upon reaching the vents that the tots lovingly refer to as the hidey-holes. Youre again faced with the same choice as before, and making the good choice returns the Little Sister to normal. Its true you receive ADAM at a much slower rate (albeit a steadier one) than you would if you harvested the children, but I found the notion of sacrificing these children for the sake of a tonic or plasmid absolutely sickening. Perhaps it was just me, but they were so much more personable this time around. Much more like real little girls. It got to the point where I would have just as soon as turned the game off rather than see my current adopted Sister bawling, waiting for me by the nearest Vita Chamber.

Its this sense of realism that grabs players and holds them in its icy grip throughout the entirety of the game. Coupled with the appearances of familiar enemies, believable personalities (Brigid Tenenbaum finally has her own character model), and gorgeous scenery, a cohesive narrative plays out before your very eyes in ways that we could not have imagined. The choices laid out before the player arent so black and white that you can absolutely guess the outcome of the paths you take. For instance, would you take a mans life if he begged for it to be so? Why? Would you slaughter a woman simply because youve been lead to believe she is responsible for all of your suffering? These are questions you can only answer after having been faced with the choices.

However, for all the high points in BioShock 2, there are still some lower points that prevent me from awarding it the prestigious perfect score.

Hacking has been simplified, perhaps at the request of players who didnt quite see the merits of solving a puzzle to deactivate each security bot or to simply receive a discount at the Circus of Values, whose tagline has gone curiously missing in this sequel. As a result, vending machines and bots are now ridiculously simple to control. What once was an ominous setup to be wary of is now a pitiable attempt by Rapture to keep you out. Coupled with Remote Hack Darts and Auto Hack Darts, having the ability to hack almost seems useless. I appreciated the streamlining of this mechanic, but what made the original BioShocks cameras so frustrating and menacing was the fact that it was harder to hack them then to downright destroy them, making them formidable annoyances.

Perhaps thats a commentary on the power of the Big Daddy, which is arguably much similar to being a regular Joe (or Jack in the case of the previous game.) While the weight of Subject Deltas suit, obviously much smaller than that of a Bouncer or a Rosie is accurately represented when jumping and moving around, few gameplay alterations are made to accurately showcase this. If it werent the HUD and the drill, I would have forgotten that I was indeed one of the souls bonded to a Little Sister. For one of the titles big bullet points Big Daddy-dom, it fails to impress. That isnt to say the sentiment is lost entirely. You feel like a father, and in a very striking, poignant way. The gravity of your new role just never seems to completely set in in a physical manner.

My final complaint is the lack of skill required to complete the game. As mentioned previously, when obtaining the Winter Blast plasmid, you gain the ability to freeze enemies in place just as in the previous game. Since this works on all enemies, even Big Daddies and Little Sisters, the game can become a curt mockery of itself. If you play your cards right, you can complete the game using a combination of the plasmid and a drill sans fuel. You can use a combination of other plasmids as well, but I found this to be the most effective, which does in turn make the game feel so much less epic than it could, knowing your ice is effective even against the greatest enemies the game has to offer. I found this rather strange. Effective, nonetheless, but just a tad unbalanced.

Still, even with its rather minor faults, BioShock 2 is a magnificent journey into the mind of a soul who knows only the primal instinct of protecting his young now against all odds. Against society. Against himself. With an explosive ending youll never see coming, a delightfully bizarre cast of characters, and the macabre charm of the Cult of Rapture combined, I can safely say that this is one of the greatest adventures you will have had so far this year. Whether you choose love or hatred, you will reap what you sow in the briny deep. Will you become a slave once more, or will you be a man for young Eleanor? The choice is yours.

Again Story Gameplay Trailer

If you enjoyed Hotel Dusk, then you have two reasons to be happy. One, because CING, the developer behind that great game, has a new mystery title releasing in only a few weeks: Again comes to DS on March 30, 2010. Second, because a new mystery starring detective Kyle Hyde from Hotel Dusk has been announced, although details are sketchy (no pun intended).

Still, Again, although it has a far more realistic look than its cousin, with real actors scanned in and using full-motion video segments, promises to be intriguing. You play as FBI investigator Jonathan Weaver, who has the ability to view a crime scene both in the present state and at a time in the past. Holding the DS like a book, you will have access to both versions of the crime scene, and thus must carefully study each to help gleam clues in order to solve the crime.

Check out this new story and gameplay video for more insight into this chilling mystery.

Split/Second Gets Release Date

At last year’s E3 there was one game that stood out and completely blew me away and it was from Disney Interactive Studios. Split/Second, the action racing game from Black Rock Studios is bringing us a racing game that we’ve never seen before. From the creators of Pure, Split/Second was awarded Best Racing Game  of E3 2009 from many critics.

The upcoming title is set to bring us a Hollywood style racing game with huge explosions making every lap unpredictable. Today Disney Interactive Studios announced that Split/Second will be released in North America on May 18th and in Europe on May 21st. They have been pretty tight lipped about the upcoming game but I’m sure we will be hearing more and more in the coming months, so stay tuned. If you don’t know much about it you can check out our preview here with some gameplay footage from E3.

Bluehole Studio Branches Out, Forms En Masse Entertainment

MMORPG developer Bluehole Studio has officially announced the formation of a new subsidiary company initially formed to help localize and promote their games to Western audiences. Technically formed in 2009, En Masse Entertainment is comprised of several members who have previously worked for companies such as Blizzard, Microsoft, NCSoft, and Electronic Arts, including Warcraft/Starcraft contributor Patrick Wyatt.

En Masse Entertainment CEO Jae-Heon Yang reflects upon the team, stating that they are experts in the fields of technology, online gaming, branding and localization.

The first title that En Masse Entertainment will be bringing to the states is the Bluehole-developed Tera: The Exiled Realm of Arborea. This MMORPG is set to launch in Korea later this year, and will hit Western shores an undetermined amount of time afterwards.

While not much news has been launched about this upcoming title, the screenshots of the game show a lot of promise (these screens are actually from my personal video game wallpaper collection). Tera isnt expected to usurp the popular World of Warcraft, but with it, Jae-Heon Yang is aiming to gain a strong foothold in the Western market.

Nintendos Spring Summer Line-up

In addition to revealing a release date for the DSi XL, Nintendo had a slew of software announcements for the upcoming months, including news about some of their most-anticipated titles.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 will be hitting US store shelves in May, with an official release date of May 23.  That gives everyone (including me) time to finish the first one!

Metroid: Other M, of which weve heard very little, will be arriving on June 27.  The game will mix classic 2D gameplay with the newer, 3D first-person perspective and is something fans of the series wont want to miss.

And theres good news for Dragon Quest fans, as Nintendo will be publishing Dragon Quest IX in the US this summer.  This is exciting news, because that means it will only have been a year between the momentous Japanese release and having this great title stateside.  In case you were in a coma when the game was released in Japan last summer, it has sold over 4 million copies there alone, and it was questionable at first whether the US would even get a chance to see this title localized, let alone so soon!

Monster Hunter Tri releases April 20, and, as previously announced, will be sold as the game only or in a bundle with the classic controller pro.

Nintendo fans can also look forward to Sin and Punishment: Star Successor, coming June 7, along with MegaMan 10 (March 1) and Cave Story (March 22).  Super Meat Boy and And Yet It Moves and will both be coming to WiiWare, although no release dates were yet given for these titles.

Capcom Hides DLC Characters On The Disc for Marvel Versus Capcom 3

Its a common practice that Capcom has implemented with Dead Rising 1 and Resident Evil 5s content. Players can buy extra content/DLC for their games, but it turns out that its not extra at all. Rather, the data is on the disc all along, and gamers are merely buying keys to unlock content thats already there. As this picture indicates, Marvel Vs Capcom 3 is continuing this trend.

Some lucky gamers have obtained or pirated their copies of Marvel Vs Capcom 3 early, and are sifting through the files in order to uncover any unknown secrets. In doing so, theyve found the files of supposed DLC characters Shuma Gorath and Jill, and these files arent placeholder ones. The amount data  they carry is equal to the other characters, which means Capcom has locked off content in order to gain more green.

This sadly is different than what the leaker Lupkino said. On the positive side, there arent any characters besides those two so any other additions will be real downloadable ones and not just hidden, locked away characters.

Despite this stupid practice of seeping more money from its audience, I still plan to buy the game. If you really want to rally against such actions, dont buy the DLC.