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Kushs Ben Brinkman chats about the next iteration of Major League Baseball 2K7

Kush’s Ben Brinkman chats about the next iteration of Major League Baseball 2K7
By Michael Lafferty

Kush Games went “back to basics to produce a really good game of baseball.”

You can smell it in the air. Even the groundhog proclaimed winter almost over and spring on the way. And for those who are fans, spring means one thing – baseball!

2K and Kush Games have shipped the latest edition of 2K Sports’ Major League Baseball 2K7, and kicked off the release with a conference call with producer Ben Brinkman. Journalists dialed in and GameZone was on hand for the event.

Brinkman started the conference by stating that there is “quite a bit of excitement surrounding the game, which ships today.”

Kush Games went “back to basics to produce a really good game of baseball.” To that end they have addressed a lot of the issues that plagued the title in the past. The game sports 2,600 new animations while adding the element of the signature style. The interface has also been tweaked as well, making it simpler to navigate. Every throw is new and the AI has been tweaked to provide a smarter baseball experience.

“We also went back through and did some stuff with the visuals – probably a bit of an understatement,” Brinkman said. “We were able to utilize a lot of the power. We were able to produce a beautiful looking game.”

And that’s not all, Kush and 2K have stepped up to the plate and  the game is not lacking any game modes this year. “We are creating a more fun and immersive experience.”

Were there any technological or gameplay enhancements that you were able to squeeze into the game?

Ben: We were able to get a better grasp of the power of the 360 and we barely touched the surface of the PS3, because it released this year. The systems have more memory so we were able to do less compression, so the animations look more realistic.”

Q: How is the motion sensitivity of the SIXAXIS controller factored into the game?

Ben: Batting lends itself very well to the SIXAXIS control. All the control you have on the swing stick you will have access to on the SIXAXIS wireless controller.

The look of the game from last year to this is night and day, according to Brinkman. “Last year’s game was not up to par. That was something we focused on this year. We wanted to make these guys look as close to their real-life counterparts as possible.”

How will the 360 and PS3 versions differ?

Ben: They both have their own pluses and minuses and their own challenges. We’ve got a year or two under our belts for the 360 … so I can’t really say what is easier to develop for and what is harder to develop for.

How are you making it a more authentic baseball experience

Ben: On gameplay  - in general baseball is a very nuance sport. It is a lot more strategy. People who like baseball appreciate the strategy. There is so much that goes into a real baseball game. It is hard to capture all the details, but the closer you can do it the better the experience. When we were capturing animations, we tried to capture more infield and outfield animations. We added drag bunts … across the board we tried to add much more detail as possible.

What areas needed the most work?

Ben: Every few years you go back to the drawing board. This year our focus was going back and stripping out extraneous elements. We spent a lot more time on AI decision and different outcomes for hits – the basics of a baseball game. That was what we were talking about in getting back to the basics.

What is the hardest element to replicate in a baseball game?

Ben: Fans of the game notice the littlest things – you need to take into account everything. Baseball is the hardest game to develop for.

What was the primary focus in developing the game?

Ben: We wanted to make a high-def game. We wanted to create more close ups and more details.

What was the primary focus for the audio?

Ben: We added a lot more things that created an ambience to the game. We have a lot more player-specific stuff. A lot more chatter from the crowd.

How does fan input affect the development of the game?

Ben: Every decision we make is part us, part review and part message board material. Nobody plays these games more than the fan community there is definitely a powerful voice in the fan community. We value their opinion.

Q: Baseball is a game that, while statistically founded, also can turn on random chance. When you create a baseball game, in which statistical probability plays a prominent role, how do you manage to configure in the impact of random chance?

Ben: That’s an excellent question. We have a very simple statistical model we use. But there is definitely there is a built-in random chance. We built in random chance. You can’t just plug in a bunch of numbers and hope it works.

Q: How many hours of motion-capture do you do in order to get the player movement to mirror the real game?

Ben: It’s hard to break down the hours. We have 2600 new animations. It’s a lot of watching videotape and watching movement. There is a lot of work that goes into mo-cap and a lot of hours. Then when you capture them you have to put them on the skeleton and make sure they work in the game?

Q: How many hours of voice work are recorded in order to ensure that all game action has a corresponding dialogue?

Ben: Hours and hours and hours. After the first year you just do sequential chunks. We have a lot of dialogue in the game already and this year we spent two weeks with John (Miller) and Joe (Morgan).

Is the game for the novice or hardcore player?

Ben: Both. Right out of the box I think it will appeal to the casual and the hardcore guys.

Brinkman expounded on the online play and the modes available.

Ben: We’ve got the head-to-head matchups. We’ve got the tournaments and leagues that people can play in. It’s exactly the same game online as it is offline.

According to Brinkman, Kush Games wanted to capture the details that make baseball baseball. “We hope that people that are casual gamers will pick up the game and want to learn more about baseball and become engrossed with the sport itself.”

And the work is continuing. There is still video animation going on to totally capture the movement of the players in the game. And there will be roster updates offered throughout the year to allow gamers to keep their game rosters current. In addition, there will be online leagues for the PS3, “the typical 2k online package,” according to Brinkman.

“I think we’ve produced a game that is leaps and bounds ahead of last year’s,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work to take what we have and make the game play more realistically.”

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