Justin Verlander just hung a slider to Albert Pujols. And while Pujols was a fraction out in front, fouling the pitch off down the line, Verlander won't be so lucky next time he throws the same pitch.
That's because with "MLB 2K12's" new Dynamic A.I., hitters will now remember how certain pitchers attack them, and if a pitch fails in one at-bat, the effectiveness of that pitch will suffer, not only in the same at-bat, but later on in the game if Verlander hangs another slider in Pujols' direction.
On the flip side, if Verlander's fastball is so nasty that Pujols goes down swinging, the next time they face-off, his fastball will continue to bite, and his fastball ratings will increase in performance.
This is just one of the new directions "MLB 2K12" is heading, as the game's designers are looking to further intensify the showdown between hitters and pitchers, making every pitch matter on a level unseen in virtual baseball.
As a pitcher, it's about approaching every batter differently, as graphics will pop up to show where you hit your spots and where you missed last time you faced a specific player. This includes everything from pitch sequences to location to first pitch accuracy to the pitch that's getting the most outs.
So if Buster Posey steps up and smacks a single off your fastball in the first inning, that means he's dialed into your speed, and your fastball ratings will drop down a little bit next time he steps up to the plate. This means you're going to need to adjust your strategy on the fly, or the Giants catcher might give you a case of virtual whiplash by going yard off yet another fastball.
"Our pitching mechanic is really what we hang our hat on, and it's what we feel differentiates us from the competition," explains 2K's Chris Snyder as he shows me the new game. "We utilize our Inside Edge scouting reports and all of the data from STATS LLC, and we track how many fastballs, how many curves they throw in real life, and we mimic that data in the game. So if you're abusing a pitch this year, and if you're using a pitch way more than say, Justin Verlander throws it in real life, your stats are going to drop and it's going to be more difficult to hit your spots."
This is just one of the examples of "MLB 2K12's" mission to offer a more realistic baseball game this year.
Another example is the game's revamped throwing system. There is a new throwing meter based on the fielder's defensive ability, also taking into consideration the type of throw that is being made. So if you're trying to make a throw on the run, it's going to be a much more difficult throw than if you're able to set your feet. This is basically the opposite of "MLB 12: The Show," where Sony wants you to pre-load your throws. In "2K12," you're better off gathering the ball, setting your feet, then hitting the throw button, otherwise you're going to have a tough time being accurate. "This is one of the things we got hammered on last year," says Snyder. "Baseball fans know that it's all the little stuff that make a baseball video game successful. Last year, we had outfielder's catching a fly ball for the third out, but they would still stop and gun the ball back in to second base. That doesn't happen in real life. So this year, we really went in and concentrated on getting all of the little things right about the game. We want the game to be fun, but we don't want anything in the game this year that breaks the realism."
Another big improvement being made to the game is the variety of hit animations. Last year, you had way too many soft liners, as hit distribution was more of a roll of the dice than based on actual physics. This year, you're finally going to see a more physics-based result based on the type of swing you're making and the location of the pitch. And in the few innings I was able to play, I saw everything from lasers being shot off the wall to a better variety of grounders spitting out into the infield, giving the game a much more realistic look and feel than what was presented last year.
In terms of presentation, over 80 hours have been added to the commentary, not to mention, all of the gloves in the game have been completely redone. "All of our gloves looked like plastic before," adds Snyder. "Now when you're playing, they finally look like leather mitts. You'll see the stitching, you'll see the texture, and again, it might not sound like a big thing, but it just adds to the overall look of the game.
"We even brought in a real catcher this year to re-capture all of the catching animations, and the difference in what you see is staggering."
Add in the return of the million-dollar challenge -- a competition where consumers who throw perfect games against the computer will be ranked online in terms of difficulty (pitcher you're playing as, team you're playing against), with the top eight slugging it out in a single-elimination tournament for a million bucks -- and you have a franchise that finally seems to be moving in the right direction.
Says Snyder: "We go on all the message boards, we read the complaints, and I think we've learned from our mistakes. Like I said, baseball video games are all about getting those little things right in order to make the most realistic experience possible, and this is the year where we finally got it right."
"MLB 2K12" hits stores March 6 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Wii, PSP, DS, and PC.