Opening Day is here -- at least for Major League Baseball's video-game fans.
On Tuesday, just a little more than three weeks before the regular season starts on March 31, both of MLB's officially licensed games hit the MLB.com Shop and retail stores. You can order "MLB 11 The Show" from Sony Computer Entertainment America and "Major League Baseball 2K11" from 2K Sports to experience the latest in game-play technology and exciting new features.
"Major League Baseball 2K11" debuts with reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay of the Phillies as its cover athlete. The game has a revamped fielding system, new Total Control Pitching, Dynamic Player Ratings that mirror real-life performances, and improved My Player and MLB Today modes. 2K Sports will again award $1 million to the first player to throw a verified perfect game.
"MLB 11 The Show" debuts with Twins catcher Joe Mauer, the top vote-getter for the 2010 All-Star Game, as its cover athlete. The game introduces the Pure Analog Control System for pitching, hitting and throwing, as well as up to four-player off- or online cooperative play. Road to the Show returns with enhancements that include a more robust player-creation process and training modes triggered by the new Player Performance Evaluator. "MLB 11 The Show" also adds stereoscopic 3-D functionality in all play modes, PlayStation Move motion controller support within Home Run Derby mode and the new Challenge of the Week online contest.
"We feel like 'The Show' is really synonymous with the launch of the baseball season," said Scott McCarthy, senior brand manager for PlayStation Software. "Baseball is here, go out and get your season tickets, and go out and get your copy of 'The Show,' because it's time to play the game."
Just before reporting to Spring Training, Mauer visited the Sony building in New York to demonstrate "MLB 11 The Show." He has not yet participated in a bullpen session, let alone a game, amid his ongoing recovery from offseason knee surgery, but this is one day he had circled on the calendar.
"March 8 is a big day," Mauer said at the time. "It's funny. I told some of my teammates that I was going to be on the cover again, and I'm already getting requests for games, and I plan to bring some down to Florida for them. People are excited, even my teammates."
Mauer is the first two-time cover athlete for "The Show" video-game franchise, and he was heavily involved again in the development.
"I was definitely pleasantly surprised when they asked me to do it again," he said. "I had a great experience last year with the game. I love the game -- it's so realistic, it makes you feel like you're right there in the big leagues. I'm proud and excited to be back this year."
McCarthy said that it was important to have Mauer return as the cover player because the company wanted someone who was familiar with the game's nuances and how to keep making it more realistic.
"Having Joe back is great," McCarthy said. "Joe epitomizes the sport of baseball, and that's exactly what we are trying to do with 'The Show' every year -- not only with the presentation of 'The Show,' but how we present the game to fans. Joe's back for his second year in a row -- that's unprecedented for us. We had a great time with him last year, even better this year."
McCarthy added that Mauer "helped us a lot with [motion capturing]. So we got him in the studio, we got his exact batting stance down, his exact warmup moves down. He actually helped us a lot with catcher's movements, with pickoff plays to the different bases and also the subtle nuances in his stance, depending on what pitch he is expecting."
When asked for his favorite feature about the game, Mauer said, "Just the attention to detail that goes into the game. Last year, I was out there, and I put the suit on and did all my different movements, little 'routines,' I guess you would call them. ... To see them incorporated into the game is pretty cool for me to see. I got to meet some of the designers who test it. They really work hard on the game, and I think you can see that."
One of the coolest features about playing "MLB 11 The Show" is using the PlayStation Move camera and glow-ball wand, which Mauer did at the PlayStation Lounge. PlayStation Move was released in September, so it is new to the "MLB 11 The Show" experience and is integrated into the Home Run Derby game. The camera eye sees the wand and creates a precise motion as you wave it like a bat.
"You can literally step up and swing away with the Move in Home Run Derby," McCarthy said. "We've made a lot of improvements to Road to the Show this year, so you have a lot more flexibility in how you build your own player and create your own team. We've introduced co-op for the first time, so you can actually sit down and play with friends as teammates instead of against each other. We've also implemented 3-D into the game so if you have a 3-D TV, you can actually play the game in stereoscopic 3-D. Watch out, because it feels like you're about to get your head taken off when a foul ball comes back at you."
For 2K Sports, the race for perfection starts on March 31, and those who play "MLB 2K11" will have until Sept. 28 to record a perfect game. The winner receives the cool million provided he or she meets all the stipulations noted on the 2K Sports "Perfect Your Game" page.
Given the perfect-game component, it was only natural to have Halladay on the cover. Fans also have seen plenty of endorsements from Giants closer Brian Wilson. Wilson promoted the game during an offseason visit to "George Lopez Tonight" after writing his own episode, and in a "Brian Wilson Reflects" spot for 2K Sports, he sits in front of a mirror and ponders:
Can the world even handle two Brian Wilsons? What would happen if we met? Would we have a secret handshake? Who would pay for dinner? Would we even be on the same team? Who's beard's sweeter? Who's 'hawk's more defined? Who would have more Facebook friends? I would. Naturally.
But just understand, they're both nasty. They both strike people out. And they both get the job done.