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The Sports Desk – The MLB The Show 17 Road To The Show Rundown

MLB the Show 17 is almost out (March 28), and developer San Diego Studio has been saving some tantalizing new details about this year's Road to the Show mode until the end. This year gamers make important decisions for their created player through dialog interactions with GMs, advisors, coaches, and the media in new locations such as the team clubhouse and lockerroom. This journey from the minors to The Show is called Pave Your Path, and even has narration to give it some context and gravitas.

This week's Sports Desk not only discusses Pave Your Path, but also new details about Franchise mode, and includes a conversation with San Diego Studio community manager and game designer, Ramone Russell. Brian Shea and I grill Russell about Road to the Show, Franchise mode's player quirks, and much more in a special Sports Desk video.

During a recent Twitch livestream, the crew at San Diego Studio showed examples of some of the different conversations players encounter and the consequences they create. One such important moment takes place after you're drafted and you're talking to your new GM. Throw around some attitude, and the GM may reconsider not only drafting you, but refuse to sign you. This means you may go back to a junior college for a year, get older, and possibly affecting your standing in next year's draft. On the flip side, you'll end up with a new organization and some training points earned in the interim.

Apart from the different places Pave Your Path can take you, there are no blind alleys. In the livestream the team showed off a situation where their Road to the Show player had pissed off the brass with his general bad attitude, but after some conciliatory talk and the intervention of the players' college coach, the player was back on the opening day roster. However, this wasn't before he had a sitdown with the team manager, and it was clear the team was going to keep an eye on him. Some situations in the mode are more passive but just as important. A rousing speech by the manager, for example, may give your RTS player a double XP boost for that day.

Not to be left out, the game's Franchise mode (offline) also has a big addition of its own: player quirks. Quirks are player labels that not only let gamers know what he's capable of, but some of them even effect that player's PCI (plate coverage indicator), giving them a little bigger sweet spot. There are 20+ quirks in the game, such as Breaking Ball Hitter, Fighter (the player plays better in the ninth inning and beyond), Platoon (the player excels against a particular handed pitcher), Knee Buckler (that pitcher has a good breaking ball), Control Artist (this pitcher can limit his walks), and more. Some quirks turn on/off based on that player reaching certain attribute thresholds, but others have been applied directly by the development team.

Between Franchise mode's quirks and Road to the Show's Pave Your Path, this year's MLB the Show has some tentpole features that should elevate the game and make it stand out.

For more on MLB the Show 17 – including gameplay details and more on Franchise mode's quick manage and critical situations features – check out our Franchise mode tour with Shea and Ramone Russell, as well as this previous Sports Desk entry.

We Discuss MLB The Show 17's Road to the Show and Much More With Game Designer Ramone Russell

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Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

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

 

MUTANT FOOTBALL LEAGUE SNEAK PEEK CODES

Last Sports Desk featured an early look at Mutant Football League, and we were fortunate to have some codes for a sneak peek look via Steam of an early slice of the title. Those codes have gone out to a few random, lucky commenters, and I've sent those out via the Game Informer profile conversation system. So check the "Conversation" tab at the very top of the page at your login profile to see if you're one of the recipients.

Thanks for visiting and commenting! 

 

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

Take a Look At Super Mega Baseball's Extensive Customization Features 
For more on the game, be sure to check out our previous Sports Desk coverage.

The Golf Club VR Review – Searching For That Perfect Swing 

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

The Sports Desk – The MLB The Show 17 Road To The Show Rundown

MLB the Show 17 is almost out (March 28), and developer San Diego Studio has been saving some tantalizing new details about this year's Road to the Show mode until the end. This year gamers make important decisions for their created player through dialog interactions with GMs, advisors, coaches, and the media in new locations such as the team clubhouse and lockerroom. This journey from the minors to The Show is called Pave Your Path, and even has narration to give it some context and gravitas.

This week's Sports Desk not only discusses Pave Your Path, but also new details about Franchise mode, and includes a conversation with San Diego Studio community manager and game designer, Ramone Russell. Brian Shea and I grill Russell about Road to the Show, Franchise mode's player quirks, and much more in a special Sports Desk video.

During a recent Twitch livestream, the crew at San Diego Studio showed examples of some of the different conversations players encounter and the consequences they create. One such important moment takes place after you're drafted and you're talking to your new GM. Throw around some attitude, and the GM may reconsider not only drafting you, but refuse to sign you. This means you may go back to a junior college for a year, get older, and possibly affecting your standing in next year's draft. On the flip side, you'll end up with a new organization and some training points earned in the interim.

Apart from the different places Pave Your Path can take you, there are no blind alleys. In the livestream the team showed off a situation where their Road to the Show player had pissed off the brass with his general bad attitude, but after some conciliatory talk and the intervention of the players' college coach, the player was back on the opening day roster. However, this wasn't before he had a sitdown with the team manager, and it was clear the team was going to keep an eye on him. Some situations in the mode are more passive but just as important. A rousing speech by the manager, for example, may give your RTS player a double XP boost for that day.

Not to be left out, the game's Franchise mode (offline) also has a big addition of its own: player quirks. Quirks are player labels that not only let gamers know what he's capable of, but some of them even effect that player's PCI (plate coverage indicator), giving them a little bigger sweet spot. There are 20+ quirks in the game, such as Breaking Ball Hitter, Fighter (the player plays better in the ninth inning and beyond), Platoon (the player excels against a particular handed pitcher), Knee Buckler (that pitcher has a good breaking ball), Control Artist (this pitcher can limit his walks), and more. Some quirks turn on/off based on that player reaching certain attribute thresholds, but others have been applied directly by the development team.

Between Franchise mode's quirks and Road to the Show's Pave Your Path, this year's MLB the Show has some tentpole features that should elevate the game and make it stand out.

For more on MLB the Show 17 – including gameplay details and more on Franchise mode's quick manage and critical situations features – check out our Franchise mode tour with Shea and Ramone Russell, as well as this previous Sports Desk entry.

We Discuss MLB The Show 17's Road to the Show and Much More With Game Designer Ramone Russell

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Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

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

 

MUTANT FOOTBALL LEAGUE SNEAK PEEK CODES

Last Sports Desk featured an early look at Mutant Football League, and we were fortunate to have some codes for a sneak peek look via Steam of an early slice of the title. Those codes have gone out to a few random, lucky commenters, and I've sent those out via the Game Informer profile conversation system. So check the "Conversation" tab at the very top of the page at your login profile to see if you're one of the recipients.

Thanks for visiting and commenting! 

 

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

Take a Look At Super Mega Baseball's Extensive Customization Features 
For more on the game, be sure to check out our previous Sports Desk coverage.

The Golf Club VR Review – Searching For That Perfect Swing 

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

The Sports Desk – Digging Into The Offseason With Front Office Football 8

The football offseason has begun, and with some free agents already signing with new teams, and the combine and then the draft coming this spring, there's plenty of work to be done on your franchise. For all you GMs ready to burn the midnight oil for your team, Front Office Football 8 is here to fill that need. The text simulator came out late last year on PC, and offers the kind of offseason and gameday options that any wanna-be GM and coach would appreciate.

The game features editable teams from all the NFL cities (you can also relocate your team or get a new stadium) with real-life player names, and fans of franchise management will appreciate that there are amenities such as multiple rounds of free agency (with multiple stages within each round), a coaching carousal, draft scouting, the ability to tweak salary offers, and other considerations. Players themselves can holdout, they have attitudes to consider, as well as various personality traits such as loyalty and fan popularity.

Playing through a season and offseason, I liked the info and options at my disposal, whether that was gauging a relatively weak free agent crop, picking through the players dropped later in the summer, gauging a draft prospects' potential and possible "volatility," and evaluating players before the draft and after they're on the team. I think the game does a good job of presenting the right kind of information such as a players' combine numbers, medical history, or contract wishes, without making drafting players or signing free agents a 100-percent done deal. There are few of such situations in real-life football, and the game replicates that fine line between giving you enough information to make informed decisions without making you swim in it. The game also comes with an in-depth guide, which is definitely worth studying.

Playing games seems pretty solid as well. I appreciate being able to see playart of the myriad plays available (you can construct your own playbooks from the plays at hand) as well as seeing which player is the principle target of the play. I also like how developer Solecismic has sprinkled some text descriptions for plays as they unfold such as telling you that a throw by the QB wasn't even close, or who made a key block on the play.

Stats wise, apart from EJ Manuel having the highest QB rating one season, I didn't see anything too glaringly off in terms of the stats showing up for players over the course of a year. I did think that some of the completion percentages during single games for average QBs were high, possibly padded out by the number of check downs I saw to the fullback. One of the cool things the game does with stats is that it shows you how many targets and catches a receiver has (and the carries/yards for a running back) before you call a play. Thus, you can get a quick look at who's hot and what's been working. Conversely, I didn't see a way to manage my depth chart during games, which was frustrating when I wanted to switch out my ineffective running back.

I really liked playing Front Office Football 8, and can see it being a nice complement to Madden, allowing me to concentrate on that very important part of the football season – the offseason.

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

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

 

BOARD SLIDING IN STEEP'S ALASKA

Steep's free Alaska update is now available, and apart from introducing a new mountain with 17 drop zones, 21 challenges, branded challenges, 37 points of interest, a mountain story, a raised level cap (25 to 30), and more, one of the things players will notice is that at least one of the new mountain's villages includes plenty of rails to grind and slide. This was possible in the original, but not a point of emphasis.

I tried out the Alaska villages' and while glad they were included in the update, found that they weren't quite as satisfying as I had hoped they would be. Games with rail grinding/sliding always face the dilemma of wanting to make it easy to let players get on a rail and stay on it, but without it feeling like they are being sucked or stuck to the rail. The problem I have with Steep's board slides currently is that it's easy to slip off of them and it feels floaty, like you're not really on the rail. I compare this with series like Skate and Tony Hawk, where grinds and board slides were very satisfying. You also don't score any extra points for what you do on a rail, which is disappointing. Hopefully this is something the team can keep working on, as I want to attack rails when I see them, not avoid them.

For more on the game's future plans, check out this interview and Steep Afterwords dissection with creative director Igor Manceau.

Sliding off the rail a little too easy.

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Trying to go from trick to trick on the rail.

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

MLB The Show 17's Presentation Info, Pave Your Path in Road to the Show & Quick Manage
A handful of new info has come out about the game, including making off-the-field decisions that can impact your Road to the Show career, a way to quickly manage and sim Franchise games, and a partnership with MLB Network with new announcers Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac.

Old Time Hockey Gets Release Date & Switch Release  

Vote for Who's On The Digital Cover For Out Of The Park Baseball 18

UniqueGames Working to Get Handball Manager & 3 Other Titles To Steam Via Team Initiative 

VR Golf Online Adds Multiplayer & Cross-Platform Play 

Bethesda's Todd Howard Has An Idea About How To Bring NCAA Back 
I love that Howard is passionate about NCAA, but in my opinion, everything EA has said and done on this front shows that they are being extremely cautious about any return to college football. I think they are waiting for nothing short of the full legal resolution of the NCAA and players' student/athlete status before returning. EA's already had to settle one lawsuit on this front, and I doubt there's a lawyer in the building that's going to risk another.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

The Sports Desk – What Does The Future Hold For EA Sports’ PGA Series?

We usually hear about EA Sports' plans for its latest golf title by now, but judging by the fact that nothing was mentioned in EA's latest financial call setting up the year, it doesn't look like we're getting anything in 2017. When EA released its last golf title – 2015's Rory McIlroy PGA Tour – it said the follow-up would not be an annual release like other games in the publisher's arsenal, but that doesn't mean that EA's roadmap for the franchise going forward is clear.

When it came out, Rory's on-the-disc content was bare compared to previous entries, and as such, EA supported it after launch with a series of free content drops. But with no current indication that those are going to extend the life of the 2015 title until we get an all-new game at some point, fans of the franchise are adrift.

The practice of yearly updates for a sports game is questioned by many gamers, but this lull comes at a bad time for EA's golf franchise in particular. Before Rory – the first golf game for the current generation of consoles as well as the first one to use DICE's Frostbite engine – the old Tiger series had some tentpole features such as its use of the Masters or online country clubs which it could build momentum with. But with the first Rory title dropping features and the series' current quiet period, it makes me wonder what it is going to look like when it returns. Could we even, gulp, be looking at an NBA Live-style abyss for EA Sports' golf series?

Competitors such as The Golf Club 2 are filling the void and making their own compelling case. While the competition isn't so vastly superior as in the case of NBA 2K vs. NBA Live, the more ground series like The Golf Club gain, the bigger hole EA Sports digs for itself with each passing year without a game as a counter-argument. I have no knowledge of what the PGA development team down at EA Tiburon is working on in regards to the series at the moment, but I think it's safe to say that they're doing something for the franchise even without anything officially announced on the horizon. However, I also believe that a consistent release schedule (whether yearly or every two years) confers an iterative momentum that many video game franchises benefit from. It's easier to keep up with the times than to play catch-up.

The series could be looking at VR – a natural fit for the sport – as a rallypoint going forward. But not only is there already competition on this front from the likes of The Golf Club VR and VR Golf Online, EA has been hesitant to dive into this area so far. Beyond that, with VR's limited current install base, I don't think VR can be the only basis for the next PGA game. A full-featured title is needed to re-establish the franchise, otherwise EA may as well just keep updating the old 2015 game, which is something EA isn't doing right now anyway.

Taking a broad look at EA's larger strategy with its sports titles makes me wonder where the PGA series fits in at all…

  • Yearly Releases: With the next PGA game not announced for 2017, it doesn't even look like it's an every-other-year franchise like UFC.
  • Ultimate Team: This lucrative component could be harder to do for PGA than other series, although mixing/matching equipment and clothes like in old Tiger games could be the way forward.
  • Licenses: With an often pared down roster of real golfers and courses, I get the sense that this is a very expensive component for the series. The short-term use of The Masters was perhaps an example of how hard it is for PGA to address this important requirement for EA Sports titles.
  • eSports: EA is clearly interested in driving its titles towards eSports when possible, but PGA isn't likely to capture the excitement of FIFA or Madden, for example.

Considering the context, PGA tour doesn't seem to fit into the EA Sports mold. However, this could be a boon for the franchise. If EA Sports were to treat it like its own special case, then anything is possible. Customizing the company's approach to PGA's dissemination, feature set, cost, etc. may be against the company grain, but given the circumstances, could be worth considering.

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

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

 

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

Steep's Alaska DLC Coming On February 24

Motorcycle Title Ride 2 Is Out Now
The Milestone-developed game is available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Motosport Manager DLC Adds The GT Series & More 

Forza Is A Billion-Dollar Franchise 

Madden NFL 17 & Skate 3 Hit EA Vault 

Dirt Rally Gets VR 

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

The Sports Desk – 48 MLB The Show 17 Details: Gameplay, Graphics, Diamond Dynasty & More

MLB The Show 17 comes out on PS4 in a little over a month, and we're just starting to dig into some of the new gameplay offerings and myriad details for the year. We talked with game designer Ramone Russell about a few of the things we can expect from the game, including Diamond Dynasty, smarter A.I. (as well as more less-than-perfect-but-realistic), new ball physics, the importance of animations, and more.

New Ball Physics/Hit Types

  • The video below shows off some of the new hits in the game thanks to the ball and bat actually interfacing as a round bat hitting a round bat – instead of it simulating a ball hitting a flat wall. "It has vastly increased the hit types possible in the Show moving forward," Russell told us. "This year you are going to see hundreds of thousands – up to a million – new hit types. It's completely opened up, and I say that with extreme confidence."
  • The team is currently analyzing the hit types the new ball physics has produced to make sure the results are realistic. The developer at San Diego Studio performs overnight tests where the game can relatively quickly play thousands of games over an eight-hour period to produce the number of singles, home runs, etc. the team can then compare against real-life data. So far, even with all the new hit types, the results are realistic says Russell.
  • Things affecting the ball physics and behavior: The location/height of the pitch, ball speed, where the swing is, the height of the batter, angle of the bat, velocity of the bat, spin of the ball, and more.
  • Russell says he doesn't think that you'll feel/notice the new ball/bat interfacing when you're hitting, although your timing will affect the ball and how it comes off the bat.

A.I.

  • Players had non-perfect routes to the ball last year, but the team thinks the multitude of new hit types and ball behaviors will add even more non-perfect routes and actions for fielders.
  • Players are smarter and understand context more, which the team has dubbed "Humanity A.I." For instance, a fielder knows he has to get to the ball and get it out faster if Billy Hamilton is at bat because the A.I. understands how fast Hamilton is. Conversely, you'll see throwers take more time with the ball if they feel they have it. When players rush throws, the game takes that into account when it's calculating the accuracy of the resulting throw.
  • In a recent livestream, the team says it is also working on fielder context so that the pitcher gets over to first base more, there is less confusion between him and the first baseman, and to avoid the looping throws on potential double plays.

Animations

  • The game has over 1,000 new gameplay animations, including non-perfect/mistake animations, which the game didn't have in the past. 
  • Fielders perform running catches and the subsequent throws from multiple branching points (which happen sooner), as opposed to just a single point last year. This generates different animations as well as being more forgiving if you miss a branch point. Thus, your catch and throw animations for fielders will be more varied and smooth.
  • Russell estimates that there are somewhere between 25-50 new home run swings. There are also more outfield animations at the end of the game (like the Red Sox's Win, Dance, Repeat, which has been mo-capped), team-specific handshakes in the dugouts and at the end of the game, and rituals for crossing home plate.

Diamond Dynasty

  • More missions are available, including early missions to get you started such as when you make a team. Everyone can do these and not just a set number of entrants.
  • New mission types include time-limited missions like doing something in the next 24 hrs. to get a card, packs, piece of equipment, etc.
  • The live content team will update every Thursday.
  • Programs are what Russell calls "the long game." These are various missions you complete over a longer period of time, but which dole out rewards based on certain percentages. For instance, the Diamond Program can't even be fully unlocked until the All-Star break. There will be a few different Diamond Programs through the year.
  • Events are weekly themes where you play with restrictions. This means that low-rated players you may have ditched previously may have some value. The game's first event is Wild Wild West where you can only use players from the Padres, Dodgers, Athletics, Angels, Mariners, and the Giants. Other events planned (they will be introduced every few weeks) include only having lefties, rookies, etc. Events have a rating salary cap to force you to make further choices with your lineup.
  • Events will have some rewards that don't show up in any other mode.
  • The dev team will drop in Conquest-specific missions that could change how you approach the map from day-to-day. There will also be more rewards in the mode.
  • Head-to-Head play includes seasons which could last a week or a month. Every season has a theme with tiers that have their own rewards.

Graphics

Click each comparison picture for a better look.

  • Some of the work done on the faces in particular include: Sweat effects, new skin tone lighting and textures, and eyes with more depth and life. The latter includes getting the eye shapes right. "Hopefully," says Russell, "we lost that ghost look."
  • The shadows on players' faces when wearing caps were faked last year, but in 17 they are from real lighting sources.
  • Uniform detail has also improved, including a slider for sleeve length.
  • Russell says the team is doing something for PS4 Pro, but can't talk about it yet.
  • The screens above and their noticeable detail aren't the product of new face scans. The improvements are inherent in the work done this year. Face scans in general are done during spring training and implemented in the following year.
  • The grass patterns in 2017 are no longer faked like in 2016. They change realistically depending the camera angle and how the light is striking the field.
  • More licensed equipment has been added.

Player Creation

  • The old 17 heads used through the years are gone and have been replaced by 49 heads based on different archetypes. "You won't see any more of those monsters," says Russell.
  • There are 22 new facial hair sets, including some modeled after players such as Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel.
  • The number of hair styles has been expanded (mullets, mohawks, rat tails, African-American hairstyle types, etc,), including old-school hairstyles.
  • The team is doing different body modeling for the game to represent more body types. This includes a new husky body type and sliders for hips, glutes, shoulders, and spine length in the player creator.
  • Player-specific animations can be mixed and matched, so you could have one guy's home run celebration with another's batting stance.

Retro Mode

  • It's a one-button exhibition mode where you can move the pitcher on the rubber and batter in the box like old-school baseball titles, and while pitchers can't select their pitches, they can select speed (down on the analog for fast/up for slow) and move the ball around left/right in mid-air.
  • The mode uses old-school sound effects like a slide whistle during hits and in the menu screens
  • Ken Griffey Jr. adds some comments from time to time.
  • Some player animations are included such as players breaking their bat after striking out.
  • Retro mode uses the same physics as the rest of the game.
  • Throws to the bases use the X button/d-pad, and not the face buttons.
  • Pitchers do not need to be warmed up before they are brought into the game.
  • There is no replay in Retro mode.
  • On the recent gameplay livestream, the team says there are some easter eggs hidden in the mode.

Other Tweaks & Improvements

  • Russell on MLB The Show 17 and eSports: "I can't say anything about that subject at the moment."
  • Environmental factors such as the time of year and temperature affecting balls are for all parks, not just certain ones like in the past (like Coors Field).
  • The new optional catcher throw meter for pickoffs featured in the video contains a green sweet spot that shrinks/grows based on the catcher's arm accuracy. The red area shrinks/grows based on the catcher's ability as well as the running ability of the runner. Hitting the green is obviously good and red means the throw is off target, but a green won't always produce an out, and a yellow can still produce one. Where you are in the meter simply refers to how good the catcher's throw is.
  • Russell wouldn't elaborate, but he says the balancing of the cat and mouse aspect of catching a runner between the bases, is being completely redone. The livestream did mentioned that pitcher step off timing for pickoff throws varies, so it's not like they do it exactly when you take off to steal.
  • Ball placement in the throws is being tweaked, as Russell says the ball placement for the accurate throws is off a little.
  • Apart from some of the bugs and exploits mentioned in the video (including players throwing too hard on close throws), Russell says that in MLB 2016 bunting was too easy, guys were too lazy on some throws, and players could get sucked into the wall when retrieving the ball too close to it. The animations around the walls in particular are being redone, as is the shortstop animation for getting runners out.
  • The tutorials have been totally redone.
  • Players played out of position will be punished in terms of their ratings and effectiveness.
  • How much new commentary is in the game? This much: 

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Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

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

 

2017 TEAM UPDATE FOR NASCAR HEAT EVOLUTION

Daytona and the start of another NASCAR season is just around the corner, and to celebrate, DMRacing and developer Monster Games are putting out a 2017 team update for NASCAR Heat Evolution.

The update is available on February 21 for $ 9.99 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, and lets players update the game's roster of drivers, sponsors, the schedule, and paint schemes.

While 2017 is a year full of changes for the real-life sport, this update is more focused on rosters than rules. As such, aspects of the real-life season such as the stages format for races or the new Phoenix start/finish line are not included in this update. Publisher DMR hasn't officially announced the next NASCAR game, but has stated that it intends to release a NASCAR game annually. So, we're sure the new rules and changes for 2017 will be available in a different title in the future.

Some of the changes in the update include:

  • New team rosters including the absence of Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, and Greg Biffle; the inclusion of the new Toyota Camry model; and Stewart-Haas Racing's switch to Fords.
  • New drivers such as Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, and Ryan Reed, as well as new rides for the likes of Landon Cassill (#34), Matt DiBenedetto (#32), and David Ragan (#38).
  • New paint schemes and sponsors, including Monster Energy's sponsorship of the Cup series (formerly the Sprint Cup), and 5 Hour Energy.
  • The 2017 Schedule

I tried the update for a little bit, and when you go into the game it first asks you which year you want to play. If you choose 2017, the game's online multiplayer and challenges are NOT available. Race, Championship, and Career are selectable, however. While the new paint schemes cannot be played in the 2016 branch of the game, you can switch back to last year, and your speed points, level, and unlocked tracks follow you no matter which year you select. The Career mode does, however, start over.

In other NASCAR Heat Evolution news, on February 10th, the Pit Pass 5 DLC is available featuring paint schemes such as Tony Stewart's last ride and much more.

 

PROJECT CARS 2 ANNOUNCED FOR LATE 2017

Slightly Mad Studios has officially unveiled Project Cars 2, and while the sequel aims to replicate the first game's simulation-based racing, multitude of different racing series, and plethora of options, it's also trying to push itself even further.

While all the game's features have not yet been announced, the one big game-changer so far is the dynamic weather system that combines a 24-hour day/night cycle with different weather conditions across the seasons. Conditions change as you race, demanding you adapt to previously dry curves that are now wet, as well as the fact that they may be wet in different places and affected by other cars and changing levels of track debris. Adding this up across different track surfaces (including snow), and you will constantly adapt as new challenges arise on the track from turn to turn.

Project Cars 2 will launch with over 170 licensed cars, which is a big step up from the 60 that the first game debuted with, and PC 2 includes new and old vehicle types and series, including Rallycross and IndyCar.

The game also claims to have "the largest track roster of any console racing game ever" (no specifics given), and has VR headset support (Vive and Oculus for now), and triple-monitor 12K support on PC.

Project Cars 2 comes out in late 2017 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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

NBA & NBA2K Announce eSports League 

EA Sports Clarifies FIFA On Switch, Sort Of  

Madden 17 Ultimate Team Draft Champions Gets Update 
Includes new QB round, updated pools, and more.

EA Fines & Deducts Points From Madden Bowl Winner After Racist Comments 
Also, check out EA's official statement here

Racing Title GTR 3 Coming In 2018 

Demolition Derby Title FlatOut 4: Total Insanity Announced 

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

The Sports Desk – A New Look At The Golf Club 2

The Golf Club franchise has redefined video game golf. The first title not only created an enthusiastic community of course architects with its creation tools, it also supported that community by building on the core game with updates instead of a perfunctory yearly release. In short, it took on video game sports heavyweight EA Sports and won the round with a better product.

Now that developer HB Studios is preparing to release The Golf Club 2 this spring (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One) we'll see if the studio can take the next step with the series, build on the first title's solid gameplay foundation without a swing HUD, grow the career mode (which was added in a post-release update for the first Golf Club), and continue to spur the talents of its course creators.

HB Studios debuted the game at E3 last year, but has been rather quiet since then. Today, however, we have a new dev diary-style trailer for the game showing and discussing its core tenets, as well as a Q&A dive into some of the details courtesy of producer Shaun West.

One of the subjects addressed are Societies, which are central to the entire game whether online or off. These are your ticket to a big clubhouse, in-game competitive wagers between Societies, and attracting the crowds and prestige of major tournaments.

The video also offers a glimpse at the revamped course creator, which not only contains new objects, but also tools that HB says makes the whole process easier. And if you have already created a masterpiece in the first Golf Club, don't worry, you can import those creations and take advantage of the updated look and new course creation features of The Golf Club 2. 

(Please visit the site to view this media)

In addition to the video, producer Shaun West graciously answered some questions we had about Societies, the new tempo swing, course creation, and more.

Will the game release simultaneously on all platforms? Is there any cross-platform transferring of user-created courses between the platforms?
Yes to both. The game releases on all platforms simultaneously, and when a course is published it will be shared across all platforms for users to enjoy.

How does the game handle bringing your offline Society online? Does the entire Society (clubhouse, etc.) go online, or is it just the money that transfers?
The only things that carry over from Career Mode to Societies are your earnings and any player customizations that have been purchased. The progression of a Society will evolve as it grows with members and more prestigious events.

What can a player do if they have trouble recruiting other players? Will that slow their society/clubhouse progress?
As your Society continues to grow you will be able to upgrade your clubhouse, the number of events and majors that build a season, and the payouts players will receive. If users are having a hard time bringing members into their Society, one of the best ways to get recognition will be to join other Societies and compete in Society vs Society. As you and your members help your Society climb to the top of the leaderboards you will create a brand that other users will want to be a part of and represent.

How one-to-one is a TGC1-created course in GC2 after it's imported? Will there be any physical features or objects missing?
When importing a legacy course from TGC1 into the new course designer, there will be minimal touchups required. Due to updates we have made to new assets via either improvements or replacements, there will be the odd case that an object needs to be rotated to get it back in its original position. Overall, we have found that the import process is headache-free and works very well.
All TGC2 features will be able to be used on an imported course before it's republished. We strongly encourage users to take advantage of our new tools, as well, before they republish. We have so many amazing creations from TGC1, but the additions we have added to the sequel will bring those courses to the next level. We're very excited to see what kind of improvements are made to the imported courses and the new masterpieces to come when TGC2 is released.

Can you give an example of an aspect of course creation that is much easier in GC2 that may have come from a community request?
There have been many great designers who have created multiples of the same course to create different pin and tee locations in TGC1. Now, in TGC2, you will be able to set up to five tees and pin locations through the course designer. These options can then be set through course details when playing a course or when setting up an event for a Society season. This will create a much more streamlined process for designers, and is going to play well with custom events.

When online Societies are playing against each other, in terms of matchmaking, does it matter if the Societies are of different member sizes or have more money in the bank?
When competing in Society vs Society there will be multiple leaderboards for each event. Depending on the number of members you have completing in that event, your Society will be grouped in a corresponding leaderboard. All Societies will be free to complete in any event that's being held, if they can meet the criteria set by the hosting Society.

The game's debut dev blog mentions having three tiers of swing difficulty. I also heard at E3 that there are three sets of clubs (normal, pro, and tour). Are these mixed and matched at will? Is the game's increasing difficulty in career mode related to these options, or is it that your competition gets harder the more you progress?
Users will have the freedom to choose the club set (swing difficulty) that they would like to use. When choosing your swing difficulty, it's a risk vs. reward option. As you progress through the club sets, shots will require more precision and solid tempo, but the reward can be more distance. The choice of club set does not directly impact the difficulty of AI players in your career mode.

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

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

 

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

EA Announces Madden to Use Frostbite, Delivers Updates On NBA Live, Skate 4, NFS & UFC 

EA Sports' Super Bowl Prediction With Madden 17 Hits & Misses

Mutant League Football Trying to Kickstart Online Multiplayer Mode

Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 Gets Its Third Free Update On February 9th
Includes updates of player faces, Legend players, classic kits, and more.

EA Teams Up With ESPN, NFL Network & Univision For eSports Broadcasting
This includes the FIFA Ultimate Team Championship series and the Madden NFL EA Major tournaments 

Motorsport Manager Now Supports Steam Workshop, Allows Player-Created Liveries
The dev is also running a livery contest for £1,000. For more on the game, check out this preview.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

The Sports Desk – A Look At Dirt 4′s Road Ahead

Codemasters recently announced Dirt 4 (coming on June 6 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC), a return to the multi-discipline racing of the series (which excludes the excellent Dirt Rally) which we haven't seen since 2012's Dirt Showdown. Since then we've not only had a new round of home consoles, but countless other racing titles – including a number of them from Codemasters – have brought their own ideas to the track.

What does Dirt 4 have to do to make its mark and elevate the franchise? Here are some things I'd like the game to address.

IS GYMKHANA IN THE GAME OR NOT?

Codemasters' first unveiling of Dirt 4 makes no mention of Gymkhana, the precision drifting discipline featured in both Dirt 3 and Dirt Showdown. I find the absence so far conspicuous, and I hope that gymkhana is indeed in Dirt 4. I not only think the freestyle gymkhana arenas are cool, but the events also offer a different kind of car action beyond just racing. Dirt 4 has various types of off-road racing including rally, rallycross, and short track racing. Including gymkhana or something we haven't seen so far would add diversity – something that's always welcome in racing games.

WHAT ABOUT OFFLINE SPLITSCREEN RACING?

I get this question about every racing title that comes out, and it's unfortunately been missing from a lot of racing games. Of course, splitscreen doesn't make sense with rally racing in Dirt Rally, but this year's Codemasters' game F1 2016 did not have it, while both Dirt 3 and Dirt Showdown did. Hopefully it's included for Dirt 4 for the appropriate disciplines.

DIRT 4 NEEDS A GOOD CAREER MODE

While this is a given, Codemasters' titles, from previous Dirt titles to past F1 games and Dirt Rally, have been inconsistent when it comes to giving single-player racers a compelling career campaign. Dirt 4 has partnered with the FIA for the World Rallycross Championship, but as the game contains various disciplines I'm curious what the overarching structure is. The press release states that players can create their own driver, take on sponsors, and build a team with goals and rewards.

This sounds like a good start, but I'm curious how far the game takes it. Will there be a virtual paddock and cutscenes like F1 2016? Grid Autosport from 2014 highlighted the team aspect with teammate controls. How will that important team dynamic play out on the track, in the R&D of cars, and in the arena of team/driver politics? Without a compelling structure to spur players forward, this mode could easily wear thin quickly. Racing titles have often struggled with ameliorating the race-to-race grind, and Dirt 4 doesn't have to replicate verbatim all the things Codemasters has done in previous titles, but I feel like that on the whole Codemasters has struggled to offer consistently compelling career structures though its various franchises over the years. F1 2016 is only now giving fans something to get excited about, and I can only hope we're not starting over again and going back to basics for Dirt 4.

HOW CAN DIRT 4 COMPETE WITH FORZA HORIZON 3?

Dirt 4 is not an open-world title like Turn 10's lauded game is, but the comparison is not completely out of left field. Fair or not, people are going to compare Dirt 4's off-road races with the freedom to explore in Forza Horizon 3. In a larger sense, Dirt 4 can address users' desire for flexibility with a range of experiences. The game seemingly does this by switching players between rally, rallycross, and other racing types (here is where gymkhana would be useful, if it's in the game), and a strong career structure could be a way to marshall all those efforts under a larger all-encompassing goal – another strength of a good open-world title.

From a moment-to-moment perspective, a previous Codemasters title had its own way of dealing with the challenge of delivering the anything-can-happen feeling of an open-world racer in its own lap-based context. Grid 2 featured LiveRoutes, which were specific races whose turns were procedurally generated as you raced. Taking on the unexpected (you didn't have an onscreen map, BTW) at full speed was exhilarating and kept you on your toes. While I doubt that Dirt 4 makes use of this specific feature (which hasn't been used since Grid 2) since it isn't mentioned in Dirt 4's initial features reveal, this illustrates one of the ways that a game could try and liven up the lap-by-lap experience.

Dirt 4 does feature a rally route creation tool called Your Stage, which lets you choose a rally stage location and route parameters to create and share an almost endless amount of content. This is a very promising feature, and hopefully it's presented in a focused way beyond just throwing up a sea of user-created content to wade through. I think it would be cool for the creation and racing of these Your Stages to be tied to your career profile or even presented to you in career mode. In this way it could not only offer unexpected racing content, but also give the feeling that you're taking on the real world even if you aren't racing online per se similar to Forza's drivatars.

IMPROVING ONLINE

So far Dirt 4 features daily, weekly, and monthly challenges and leaderboards and tournaments, but I'm curious if there will be any club or league options (like Grid Autosport and Dirt Rally, respectively), if online progress will be tied to single-player progress and vice versa, and how full featured the experience is in general. Online isn't just about competing with real-life racers, it's also about feeding fans social desires and giving them a progression path. The online components of previous Codemasters' titles have varied in their feature sets, so I'd love it if Dirt 4 set a high standard the company to follow.

WHAT ABOUT THE FORMER EVOLUTION STUDIOS?

When Codemasters took on the former developers of Driveclub after Sony shut down Evolution Studios, it was announced that the developers would be taking on a new IP. Codemasters also said the former Evolution Studios devs would help with existing properties, listing Dirt specifically. While we don't know exactly what these devs are doing within Codemasters, it will be interesting to see if there are any new ideas – particularly in the area of online, a focus of Driveclub's – that make their way into Dirt 4.

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

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

 

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

Sony Details MLB the Show 17 Pre-Order Goodies
You can also take a look at Ken Griffey Jr. having fun working with the dev team in this trailer.

Dates for FIFA Ultimate Team Championship Series Announced

Official Motocross Game MXGP3 Announced
Spring title is based on the 2016 season.

R.B.I. Baseball 17 Announces Cover Athlete
The series' latest comes out this spring for PS4/Xbox One and mobile.

Project Cars Is Free in February With Xbox's Games With Gold Program 

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

The Sports Desk – Super Mega Baseball 2, Don Bradman Cricket 17 Review & More

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.

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

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

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

The Sports Desk – How Ubisoft Plans To Improve Steep

Ubisoft's snow sports/exploration title Steep drops players in a European mountain range and tasks them with conquering the large map in a variety of ways. Whether you want to post all the best event times and scores or simply pair up with fellow travelers and see the sights, the world is yours to enjoy the way you see fit. I quite liked it, and feel it successfully straddles the line between offering freedom, but with a video game breadcrumb trail in the form of its unlock progression and drop zones that keeps me coming back for more. And the adrenaline rush of the wingsuits is always fun.

I recently talked to Steep creative director Igor Manceau at developer Ubisoft Annecy about the game, how players approach it, what could have been better, and what can be fixed for the future.

Did you consider allowing players to play the game offline instead of requiring an online connection?
We did consider that option at some point, for many reasons. The reason why we chose to go for the always-online was really because we wanted the game to really allow players to meet with others players in the mountains. So, it's part of the game DNA, and it's a very important element for us. We know that some players may have liked it to be playable offline, which is something that we may consider at some point – I'm not saying it's going to happen, [but] we may consider it. But so far, the plan is really to push on the online aspect, which works quite well.

Have there been any surprises in how people are playing the game?
Yes. It's quite exciting for us to see that kind of thing. There is a very specific element, and by the way, some players were disappointed for us not putting in grinding on rails. We've seen players actually working very hard to actually be able to grind in the game and creating awesome videos showing off their skills grinding chalets, or some industrial buildings, or even tracks, and so on. And they've been very impressive. We'll offer new content for them to enjoy, grinding and railings…. It wasn't designed so far to support it.

[Also], we kind of expected it, but just doing crazy s— around crashing and so on. It's really a thing we've seen with YouTubers. Players just having fun with the physics and just playing all together trying to crash into each other and so on, is really bigger than we may have thought initially.

It's easy for your avatar to get caught up on buildings or on rocks. Is there anything that you can do to address this issue in an update, perhaps?
Yes, it's definitely a problem we had in some villages in the Aravis mostly, for instance where we do have – I will be quite blunt with this – bad level design on some chalets and so on. So we've been working on some solutions to ease that problem, both from a physics standpoint, but also from a behavior standpoint where you will be able to stop easier and then go back to the mountain and be higher, walking up. The biggest problem we have so far is indeed when you're stuck in a chalet and can't stop, and you don't have any more control on the behavior of the character. So yeah, we're working on that. It's going to be fixed in various updates because some of the topics are tougher to solve than others. It'll be more and more fluid. It's really a few villages. The thing that makes it feel worse than it is is that it's actually at the beginning of the game, really in the Aravis. It's less of a problem in other places within the game, but we're working on that.

As a game designer, can you quantify the gameplay difference between skiing versus snowboarding?
I'm personally a snowboarder, so I would say I'm more into snowboards even though I do ski also. I do prefer skiing in my game [laughs], which is kind of weird. That said, we do actually have more players snowboarding. There is a bias to that. When you get into the world, you start in snowboard, so it's also a reason why snowboard playtime is more important because the game puts you in the game as a snowboarder. Still, I would say considering the numbers we have, it's not only that design element, it's also the number of players.

That said, the reasons why I do like skiiing…two reasons for me, the first one is from a tricks perspective: the amplitude of tricks for me I think is more rewarding. It feels kind of more varied. It's also fresher from a video game perspective. We haven't seen [skiing tricks] so much in video games versus snowboard tricks that we have seen a little bit more. I would tend to say also that, and it's my own experience, because from a pure technical perspective there is no difference in that aspect [between the two], but it's easier to target in skiing. So when you do a race or when you do ride in a very dense zoom, skiing feels more precise because of the symmetry of the rider. So you know where the middle of the rider is. While in snowboard you of course end up being on the side. I think it's less easy as a player to feel where the center of the character is. So it may explain some players preferring skiing. From a pure behavior standpoint, we wanted the control to feel the same so that you can switch very easily. It's really the way we execute it and the animation that comes with it that gives it a different feel.

Did a lot of people use the paragliding and the wingsuit? Can you talk about the usage numbers for the other sports?
Not specifics, but the overall philosophy, sure. Snowboard comes first, ski is second, and then you've got wingsuits that are very big in terms of playtime. Paraglide is way behind, which we expected. The pace of it is really different. Most players come to this kind of game to look for adrenaline and speed and so on. So we knew that coming with Paraglide could be a shock for some players, so it ends up being something being that a lot of people don't like that much or don't play a lot, while we do have some players that actually love it. When you asked about surprising behaviors, we do have players pretty much flying around in the map and exploring the map and unlocking drop zones pretty exclusively flying, which is really cool.

Maybe the mistake we made from a exposition perspective was to present it as the same kind of category of content as the other sports, which maybe make some people expect something more intense or whatever. And I'm fine, by the way, as a creative director having some content that really pleases some players [but] not necessarily all of them. Really create something fresh from a mood perspective also.

I think that the beginning of the game we missed something. We didn't manage to explain or to let players understand quickly enough what you could or potentially should do within the game to enjoy it. It's not a big problem because it comes after time, but I think we could have done better exposition work to make it understandable, enjoyable on as many aspects sooner within the game experience – which is something we're working on.

So we will probably – I can actually guarantee it's actually in the program – very soon improve the beginning of the game, which may sound weird because most of the time we improve more with new content and fix the problems. …We do recruit new players on the way much more than we used to previously, so even working on the beginning of the game – like the first hour of gameplay – is something that pays off for us.

Ubisoft management has previously committed to supporting games longer after launch beyond just the announced DLC. Do you have a philosophy for Steep, whether that means yearly or non-yearly releases?
The first thing, very in-line with what you heard from top-line management, is really to improve and bring new content to the game that we just released. And that's a major focus for us, even though we may start working on a follow up at some point, the focus for us right now is really to keep working on Steep – the one you know. And it's almost an industry switch. We used to work very hard until the launch, ship the game, potentially fix a few things, come with the DLC, and then start working on what comes next or another project, and so on.

At Rainbow Six, for instance, or the Crew, you've got a huge amount of people actually working on the live program, tweaking stuff here and there, adding new content, and making the game overall much better. And it's definitely the way we want to tackle Steep, and most of the design choices we have made, are also made to support additions to the game, as the game improves – and I'm talking free additions.

Can you tell us about the new sports you'll be adding via DLC: Rocket Wings, Base Jumping, and Speed Gliding?
Rocket Wing definitely impacts wingsuits. The fact that you can get higher and not always fall from your initial position really changes the way you see the mountain, and it's just pure fun. This one is very important for us from just a fantasy, pure fun perspective.

The base jump actually is more of what we call the chain ability. What it brings is your ability as a player to start, for instance, skiiing, jump from a cliff – that's the basejump ability – and then trigger paraglide, land, and move on. That ability we like a lot because it actually allows you to revisit the whole mountain in a way that is really different. The zones where you couldn't pass because of a huge cliff, you suddenly can open them. The places where you had to go for various lines, to go from top to bottom, you can now chain it and create a challenge that actually chains all these moments.

How will the game accommodate the players who have the new sports and those who don't? Will you split the player base?
It will be kind of split, that's right. Some challenges you may access when you have these sports won't be open to those who don't get it. But, nonetheless, we'll let people enjoy some specific challenges, some activities if they want to try it. It's right that it kind of divides the community between those who have them and those who haven't, but we felt like that it was less of a problem than actually adding worlds and environments where the community was really split. Which doesn't mean that we'll never do that – it's something that you see in most multiplayer games. But we felt it was less of a problem than splitting the space. We can play together in the same zone, enjoy riding together even though you may at some points have abilities that I don't have.

You mentioned the chain ability of the base jumping. With the original sports, did you consider being able to seamlessly switch between them without having to stop first?
At some point we considered it, but we got a lot of things to explain to players already. The way you play challenges, the way you create challenges with a starting point, ending point, and so on. All these things for us, we needed to really explain and let players enjoy the simplest way possible first, and see how we'll mix those things all together. For instance, we have some Mountain Stories that do ask players to switch sports, we have seen in playtest, that was actually quite complex. We love it from a design standpoint, the freedom to choose what you can…. But we've seen in playtest that it's not that easy for all players to get these reflexes and switch sports to allow them to complete the mission they had to play.

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MORE THOUGHTS ON SPORTS GAMES & THE NINTENDO SWITCH

Nintendo recently unveiled more details about the Nintendo Switch console coming out on March 3 for $ 299, and from a sports game perspective, I'm still skeptical. I outlined some concerns in a previous installment of The Sports Desk, and even with the new info about the console, I've got some new ones.

Will The Switch's Hard Drive Affect Updates?

The Switch doesn't have a lot of internal storage – only 32GB. While games' footprints on the game cards themselves and game install sizes could be smaller for the Switch, I wonder if the small hard drive will influence updates for Switch sports games. Sports games update all the time post-release, including some larger free features like Madden 16 introducing Draft Champions Ranked for free. If sports developers can't count on how much external space Switch owners may or may not have, they may be constrained by the 32GB available and have to shrink games on the system accordingly.

Different Games For Different Systems

So far Steep, NBA 2K18, and FIFA have been announced for the system. While it's great to see Electronic Arts stepping up for it after having abandoned the Wii U, what kind of games are we getting on the Switch? Do they have all the features from the series we've come to expect?

NBA 2K18 includes many of the series' signature features – but some features are not listed at this time: the eSports-focused online teams of Pro-Am and the online home for your MyPlayer creation, MyPark.

EA says that FIFA will be custom tailored for the Switch – which I predict means that it won't be the same gameplay package or feature set as the other systems. This could mean different gameplay (such as incorporating motion controls for the Switch), but historically, sports titles tailor-made for Nintendo systems like EA's previous efforts aren't as good/full-fledged as the ones on the other platforms. In my experience, when a development team has to custom-make a version of their franchise for one system, that game suffers because the publisher has to split off team members, time, and resources that would otherwise more efficiently be devoted to making a single product with a single feature set that simply goes to multiple systems.

How Switch games and Nintendo are going to handle online is another question for the feature sets of games on the platform. Apart from the overall amenities of the Switch's online service (having an app for party chat/matchmaking, subscription service, etc.), specifically Steep on the PS4, PC, and Xbox requires an online connection. How will this work with the ability to take the Switch outside? Will the game somehow be playable offline when you're not hooked up to a wi-fi signal (something it currently doesn't do), or will the game be unplayable without a wi-fi connection? If it's the latter, then that limits the Switch's stated functionality of being able to play games at the bus stop, on the go, etc.

Similarly, NBA 2K's split between online and offline MyCareer players, which use completely different currencies to upgrade players, calls into question how the feature is going to be represented on the Switch if you may or may not always have an online connection.

 

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

Dirt Rally Gets PSVR Support

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

First-ever computer sports game recreated at The Strong museum

If you’ve a passion for video game preservation, take heart: a version of one of the first video games ever made, Tennis For Two, has been built and put on display at NY’s Strong Museum of Play.  …


Gamasutra News