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MLB 2K8 strives for realism
04/28/2008 4:57 PM ET
Major League Baseball 2K8 is such a realistic video game that Detroit Tigers lefty Dontrelle Willis knows exactly what ballpark he wants to be playing in when it's time to do some serious virtual hitting.

"Citizens Bank Park," Willis said recently, referring to the Philadelphia Phillies' bandbox after trying out the new game that 2K Sports officially released last week to glowing reviews. "Anybody has a chance to go deep in Citizens Bank Park."

Willis is one of the many converts to the new game, which 2K Sports officially released last week to glowing reviews.

"It gives users more control and gives them more input, and that was a big focus for us, giving the user more control," said the game's executive producer, Ben Brinkman. "There are a lot of great new features, and overall, it plays a pretty good game of baseball, which we strive for."

The biggest difference between last year's iteration of the game and the new one, according to Brinkman, are the new interfaces for pitching and throwing. Pitching is now on the right analog stick, with pitch inputs similar to the arm action of a real-life pitch.

"We wanted to keep it grounded in reality," Brinkman said. "For example, to throw a slider, you're going to have a similar output on the right analog stick to a Major Leaguer throwing a slider. You're matching a gesture to throw the desired pitch. It's hard to explain without experiencing it, but trust me that you'll get it once you play the game."

Also, the hitting engine has been rewritten and the swing stick has been changed so the user gets more control and better feel, Brinkman said.

It's all part of 2K Sports' effort to make the artificial intelligence of the game as current and effective as possible.

"We want to make the game behave the way it's supposed to behave when out of user control, when the CPU takes over," Brinkman said. "Users should have the experience with a baseball game that if they play it smart, like a knowledgeable baseball person would, they'll have success."

In other words, if an MLB 2K8 pitcher continues to throw fastballs right down the middle, they'll eventually give up home runs, just like any Major Leaguer without a good repertoire.

"That's baseball," Brinkman said. "I mean, if Johan Santana just threw one pitch, everyone would know what was coming. So we built that in. You need to change your locations or you'll get hitters looking for the same location. You have to move it around. It forces you to think."

That's what the MLB 2K8 creators have been doing for months now after listening to feedback from gamers, message-board contributors, critics and anyone else who felt like chiming in.

They've added new fielding and baserunning controls, and the new features also include an added 90 Minor League teams, with more authentic uniforms and stadiums, and a more complete experience on the franchise mode of the game.

In addition, there are new unlockable teams made up of current and old-time All-Stars and a new baseball card system with chances to earn cards, sell duplicates for credit toward new cards and what Brinkman calls "online card battles." And Joe Morgan and Jon Miller announce the games and Steve Lyons and Jeanne Zelasko offer commentary and analysis.

Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies seemed to be enjoying the game while winning a charity home-run-hitting tournament of real Major Leaguers recently in Arizona.

And then there's Willis, who couldn't get over how the game depicted him so perfectly.

"For me, it couldn't get any better," Willis said. "From the hat down to the socks, it's on the money. And that's not even the coolest thing. It's the mannerisms. And to be able to get an intimate feel for each pitcher, that's amazing. For me, I feel like I can't get any better. I'm having a good time even though I'm not getting anybody out today.

"I think it's 10 out of 10 from the standpoint of the pitcher's windup all the way into the sequence of how to get guys out. That's the beauty of the game, and I really feel like it will give the fans and the gamers, definitely, an inside edge."

Brinkman says he hopes everyone who plays it agrees, adding that MLB 2K8 was a huge challenge the company feels very proud of tackling.

"It's a tough balance between user ease and trying to make something that's at the same time innovative," Brinkman said. "Of the major sports, baseball far and away is the most complex out of all of them. In football, the whistle blows and the play is over. In baseball, the play doesn't end until you say it's over, really. A lot of things can happen. It's a pretty complex game to develop for.

"And frankly, that's what makes baseball so great."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.