One of the most frustrating things with monopolies is that they stifle competition and make the licence-holder complacent. This has definitely happened in the sports videogame space, as EA's grip on the lucrative NFL licence since 2004 has removed the successful and critically lauded 2K Sports football titles from the marketplace, and 2K Sports' retaliatory salvo of claiming the MLB licence has removed several competitors in that space as well (thankfully, not MLB: The Show). Unfortunately, one of these MLB casualties was a very, very good baseball simulation that had great features and memorable gameplay — MVP Baseball 2005.
Why Was It Awesome?
The best thing about MVP '05, in my mind, was the “Hitter's Eye” interface for pitching and batting. It provided the perfect amount of feedback when at the plate, and it created an accurate representation of identifying pitches on the way in, something that I think has been lost in the 2K baseball series as well as MLB: The Show. In a way, the “Hitter's Eye” worked much like the color-coded shots in Rockstar Table Tennis, as you were able to quickly identify the spin and curve of the ball as it left the pitcher's hand, giving you valuable feedback on how much the ball would break. It was also very cool to see this reflected in the different wind-ups of various pitchers, with some hurlers having the pitch telegraphed a bit more if they didn't cover up the ball with their glove. Games like MLB: The Show still offer a good experience at the dish, with pitch and zone guessing, but often pitches are so fast it can be a challenge to accurately anticipate what's coming at you.
This feedback of the “Hitter's Eye” might have spoiled the realism of the game to a slight degree, but what sports game doesn't use some sort of enhanced reality at this point (highlighted pucks, player indicators, subtle flashes, waypoint arrows, etc.)? To me, the little flash of color on the ball gave the hitter just enough feedback to evaluate the pitch before it arrived, creating a more realistic amount of checked swings, foul-offs and accurate ball-strike counts. Also, if a mistake pitch was left out over the zone and highlighted, you could then really lock in on a pitch if you saw a shimmer of red (fastball).
There was also a great realism to how MVP '05 moved. Although I do think the game could've used a tiny bit more infield play, it still looked amazing when it did happen. The fluidity of the animations on the fielders when turning a double play was truly eerie, and the speed of the runners and slide animations all looked miles ahead of the competition at the time. Even the throwing mechanic for the game, where you could overthrow at your own peril, looked and acted believably, creating a reasonable amount of overthrows and low throws when you tried to push it.
Of course, all of this says nothing of the great suite of modes that the game had, including an incredibly in-depth 120 season dynasty mode, an even more daunting owner mode (that allowed for concession management, staff hiring and firing, pricing, etc.), as well as some of the best online play that baseball games have ever seen. It truly is amazing to me that MVP '05 over Xbox Live still stands out as the smoothest and most functional online mode in videogame baseball. MLB: The Show has tried to get it right for about five years now, and still their online offerings, while including some decent community and challenge content, struggle with connectivity and latency. MVP '05 got this right seven years ago.
How Could It Be Awesome Today?
The MVP series could definitely come back and be a force in simulation baseball, as it was definitely the standard bearer of the mid-2000s. Even though MLB: The Show has hit full stride with the quality product it releases each year, I think there is some space for a competitor to improve upon the online experience as well as the pitching and batting.
It's no coincidence that Ben Brinkman, the guy who helped bring the MVP to prominence, was brought in to help buoy 2K's flagging baseball offering back around 2007. I believe he has other employment in the games industry these days, but if [I[MVP[/i] comes back, they need to bring him into a room and show him a Venn diagram with the words “Hitter's Eye” and “Baseball” and “Awesome” overlapping each other.
The online space for the game could mirror some of the positive strides EA has made in other titles, like FIFA and NHL, and add some fun online league support as well as a stable online experience. Next to tennis, baseball is the one sport that requires absolute precision and timing when played, and that has been lacking in contemporary baseball titles when played online. Hopefully MVP gets the chance to come back and make its mark once again.
Will It Return?
It's certainly possible that the MVP franchise could return, especially with 2K Sports losing its grasp on the licence monopoly for baseball after 2012. Having a stranglehold on the baseball videogame space is costing 2K Sports millions of dollars at this point, and they'd likely welcome some competition to make customers actually care about differentiating features and the like. EA Sports would very likely resurrect the MVP brand, as it's a name that carried weight — and still does — with many people.