Hey everyone, my name is Erick Boenisch and I am the Lead Feature Designer here at 2K Sports. Many of you may be familiar with my work in NBA 2K’s The Association mode. I’m here today to talk to you about the exciting changes we have made with MLB 2K9’s Franchise mode.
As many of you already know, MLB 2K9 is now being developed at our Visual Concepts studio. This is the same studio that has been responsible for bringing you the NFL 2K and NBA 2K franchises. As a new developer taking over the game, I was presented with the unique opportunity of making a major transformation to the game’s aging Franchise mode. And make a major change we did; we decided to build to the Franchise mode from the ground up. That’s a big statement to make, and I’ll go into those details momentarily. First, I want everyone to understand our philosophy on MLB 2K9’s Franchise mode. We’re looking to create the deepest franchise mode on the market, while still making it very accessible for casual gamers who want to play a season with their favorite team. Ultimately, I believe franchise modes shouldn’t only be for the hard-core gamer, they should be for everyone to enjoy.
With MLB 2K8’s Franchise mode, we didn’t feel that we could truly deliver the next step in franchise gaming with its years-old core. This is ultimately what led us down the path of rebuilding the mode from the ground-up. Our first task was a completely new simulator. As a ‘franchise guy’ myself, I’ve always had a problem with the previous simulator in MLB. A couple years back in MLB 2K7, I cringed every time I looked at the league leaders and saw that Tony Graffanino was leading the league in triples in my franchise. We’re talking about a 35-year old (at the time) guy who wasn’t exactly a speed demon on the base paths during his career. I’m proud to say that the engineer who wrote our brand new simulator this year is one of the biggest baseball fans I’ve ever met, and his passion shows in his work.
With the simulator out of the way, we moved on to our next core feature, the Player Progression model. Rather than implement a traditional progression model where players are given a potential rating that places them on a pre-determined growth ‘curve’, we decided to take a risk with our new progression model. As it turned out, this risk paid off for us handsomely. Players will progress in MLB 2K9 with respect to their on-field performance in addition to their potential. What this basically means is their on-field successes and/or failures will determine their career paths. This creates a very dynamic experience where one user’s experience could be dramatically different from another. I’ve had a franchise where James Loney took off and became one of the better players in the league. In another, I watched him hobble through injury after injury while never realizing his true potential. This level of dynamism is one of the many reasons that we are very excited about getting this game into your hands.
To accompany our new core elements, we’ve implemented a feature set that is sure to hit the sweet spot of what you are looking for in a franchise mode. For those who might be intimidated by the daunting management options available in most franchise modes, we’ve included our Franchise Customization feature that we unveiled previously in NBA 2K9. This feature allows you to automate certain tasks that don’t want to be bothered with, such as dealing with your lineup when an injury occurs, or dealing with the day-to-day tasks in your minor league system. It really allows you to customize franchise to your speed and liking.
The centerpiece in franchise this year is our MLB.com feature. MLB.com brings you all the latest headlines from around the league in a very easy-to-use interface. MLB 2K9 features over 200 different headline categories. These categories range from players getting hurt, trade rumors, game results, power ranking updates, to just about anything really. The cool thing about MLB.com is the headline system is only the beginning of the feature. Another thing you’ll find inside of it is the MLB Records and Team Records section. Every record in MLB history is archived in this section of MLB.com. These records are ready to be broken and MLB.com will be the first to report if a team or league record falls. For users who want to create their own history, you have the option of wiping the records clean and starting anew. Players/Rookies of the Week/Month are also awarded inside MLB.com; this is a great way to keep track of who is making noise inside your franchise. For the stat junkies out there, we have included a Sabermetrics section inside MLB.com that calculates some of the most popular stats out there including Runs Created, VORP, Game Score, and much more. With MLB.com, we really feel like we’ve added a new level of immersion and believability into franchise. I’ve always believed that play franchise modes because they want to feel like they are a part of the league; this is something I think we’ve accomplished this year.
Also making its way into the game this year is the concept of Player Ambitions. Player Ambitions drive every decision a player makes during his career when it comes to which team he is interested in signing with. It’s no longer just about the money folks. When evaluating an offer from a team, a player is going to be looking at the following things: 1) The monetary amount of your offer, 2) How prestigious your team is, 3) The likelihood of the player ‘winning’ with your team, and 4) How much playing time the player should expect. The important thing to note here is that not every player wants all of these things. It might be very important for some players to play on a prestigious team such as the Yankees or Red Sox. Other players might be all about the money, while others might be more interested in maximizing their playing time. In MLB 2K9’s Franchise mode, players have wants, they have needs, and if you want to sign them, you’re going to need to accommodate those wants and needs. At 2K Sports, we’re delivering a new era in franchise gaming.
The last thing I want to talk about is pretty much my favorite feature in every game, and it’s what I call the “Little Things”. These are generally inconsequential features that get looked over, but add just the right amount of spice to the game depending on what interests you. The first thing I want to call out is that MLB 2K9’s franchise mode allows for 30 user controlled teams. For users who find it very important that their season mimics what is happening in the real MLB season, we’ve given you all of the tools to make this happen this year. Another ‘Little Things’ addition is our implementation of MLB.tv inside the MLB.com interface. When this icon is selected, the user is taken to a list of all the games that are taking place on the selected day. Here, you can choose to play ANY game on the schedule, even games for which a user team does not have explicit control over the team. We realize that the 162-game MLB season is very long; sometimes it’s fun to just play another game from time to time. The last ‘Little Thing’ I’d like to call out is what we’ve done with the All-Star Break. In addition to being able to play the all-new Home Run Derby, you’ll find that you’re now able to play a fully detailed Futures Game. Many developers fail to see the importance of what we call the “Little Things.” To me, these are usually some of the most important additions a game can add.
We’re at the point in the project where I can objectively look back at the last year and look at the decisions we’ve made along the way. We’re all very proud of what we’ve been able to introduce to the game in our first year of working on this title. Re-writing the core engine of the mode has really opened up some opportunities for some truly dynamic franchise features moving forward. In the meantime, enjoy all the new additions you’ll find in MLB 2K9, and remember one thing, baseball season is here!