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MVP NCAA 06 Developer Interview

Game: MVP NCAA 06
Company: EA Sports

Later this month EA is taking baseball to a whole new level -- college. With the rise in popularity of college baseball, EA is stepping up to the plate to deliver what they hope will be the ultimate college baseball experience. Ricky Tucker AKA Starscream recently had a chance to talk to the Producer, Ben Brinkman at EA Canada, and found out what fans can expect.

GV: I've been bothering EA reps at E3 for years about doing a college baseball game. Was the decision to take a swing at the college game a recent one, or has something been in the works for a while?

Brinkman: It's something that we've been discussing for years, but following the exclusive 3rd party deal for the license, it was something we could act upon.

GV: Other than the move to the NCAA and metal bats, what kinds of changes can fans of the MVP series expect to see?

Brinkman: Load and Fire batting is something we've had on our radar for years. We didn't want to go for it until we felt we could nail it. We're anxious to hear if our fans think we did. I won't sugar coat it; this isn't as easy as hitting in previous versions of the game. You will have to play a few games and get used to it, but once you do I think you will find it very intuitive. We believe once you've tried it, you'll never go back. Of course, the old MVP hitting style is still around, as well as a Zone batting system if the right stick isn't your thing. There is something for everyone.

Precision Throw control is something that ended up being a lot cooler than we imagined it would be. From here on out, if you make a throwing error it is because you mis-executed your throw, not because of some dice roll that happens under the hood after you push a button. As with the hitting, this isn't super easy right out of the box. Again, practice is necessary but again, once you get the hang of it we think it's the only way to go. Classic throwing is still around too if that is your thing.

The ESPN stuff is something else that we're very excited about. Whether your playing on-line or you're logged in and playing off-line, you're going to get a real-time sports ticker that is more up to date than most websites. And our ESPN Radio feature that is updated every 20 minutes is also very cool. You will get up to date ESPN Radio Sportscenter feeds to your PS2 or XBOX that keep you up to date on the world of sports while you are playing.

Our new Dynasty mode is something that we are all very proud of. We feature year long recruiting, unlockable name brand equipment, NCAA Challenges, and real world award and stat tracking with the help of our friends at Baseball America. We focused on providing you guys with the best single player Dynasty experience we could muster. Our thought was if it was fun to SIM, it would be even more fun to play. We've got a 30 year Dynasty with roughly 60 games per year, depending on what happens in the post season. If you do the math, that's roughly 1,800 games of Dynasty goodness.

Co-op multiplayer is also something that we think you guys are really going to enjoy. We figured out a way to support 4 player games, 4 players on one console or 2 vs. 2 on two consoles, off-line as well as on-line. We felt that there was enough depth of gameplay within Pitching, Hitting, Fielding, and Base running to divide these responsibilities in 4 ways and still offer every player a high quality experience. And if someone is feeling neglected, we have a "hot swap" function that allows team mates to switch roles on the fly. Playing co-op really forces you to concentrate on what's going on.

Creation Zone - Since we could only get 128 NCAA teams and 19 authentic NCAA stadiums for our first year, we decided to make significant improvements to our Create a Stadium, Create a Player, and Create a Team features. Thus Creation Zone was born. We wanted to make sure that if we left someone's favorite team or stadium out of the game, that they could create them.

GV: College baseball is a slightly different sport than the Pros. What changes are being made to reflect this?

Brinkman: We really tried to highlight the differences between the College game and the Pros. On the gameplay side, we tried to nail the differences between the college and professional game such as base path rules, 10-run rule and "two way players." Aluminum bats, double flapped helmets, ball caps underneath helmets and pitchers wearing eye-black are a couple of the changes we made to showcase the college game. We also included a number of licensed bats, gloves, batting gloves and catcher's gear. We also have the ESPN "U" theme music during our game intros and inning transitions. Finally, we tried to showcase the team aspect of the college game. In our Homerun cut-scenes, we showcase all the players coming to home plate to congratulate the batter. We show players congratulating the pitcher between innings after striking out the other side, and lastly we show the dog piles to win the College World Series to name just a few.

GV: How does the development team come up with in-game stats on players, especially those who haven't played yet?

Brinkman: During pre-production, we do extensive research on all of the stats that make up NCAA baseball. We took note of the differences between the pros and College ball and tuned and tweaked our physics, AI, and data bases to reflect them. Using these stats, we feel we can accurately generate realistic All-Americans, Diamonds in the rough, and over rated bench warmers, among others. We use all of the information available to us to provide you with the most realistic gameplay, stats, and attributes that we can.

GV: More and more colleges are fielding baseball teams, making the number significantly greater than football. How many NCAA teams can we expect to see? Will we see the "smaller" teams (Southern, NSU, UNO) or is the focus more on the "bigger" ones (Cal. State - Fullerton, LSU, Texas)?

Brinkman: We decided that the most we could pull off for this year and still give each team the attention they deserve is 128. It is our goal to include every D1 team as soon as we possibly can. Until then, we're going to work with the NCAA to include as many schools as possible each year and keep improving Creation Zone for the teams we have to leave out.

GV: Will fight songs be featured in any way?

Brinkman: Fight songs are not featured this year in MVP 06. We also had to record new PbP and Color Commentary Announcers (Mike Patrick and Kyle Petersen) so we were only able to do so much on the audio side. This is something we are looking at for MVP07.

GV: One of the current trends in college baseball is players having their own "theme songs" when they come to bat. Is this being incorporated into the game, or will it be more like MVP where various EA Trax played?

Brinkman: Portions of EA trax will be played when a player comes up to bat, as well as a number of generic ditties. You will be able to select one of the generic ditties when they create a player, which will play every time the batter comes up to bat and will also be able to edit the ditties of players that are on their respective teams as well.

GV: Baseball is more of a "name call" game as far as announcing goes. How are you getting around that in the play-by-play? Also, will players be able to input their own roster names?

Brinkman: We're not getting around it all, in fact we tackled this issue head on. In our first recording session with Mike Patrick (our Play by Play Announcer), we recorded over 700 common last names that we're able to stitch onto our PbP calls. (i.e., Jones is 1 for 4 with 1 Homerun and 3 RBI's.) When you boot up the game, they're given the choice of either using player numbers, or player names. If they choose names, the CPU randomly generates names for all the players in the game. Players will also be able to input their own roster names. In our Create a Player screen, there is an audio match box, where you will be able to see if their chosen last name has a match (or even a close match) to the last names in our audio database.

GV: What has been the most challenging aspect of doing an NCAA baseball game?

Brinkman: I feel the most challenging aspect of doing an NCAA baseball game has been incorporating the many subtleties that separate College ball from the pro game. Since this is the first NCAA Baseball game, we wanted to do it justice right out of the box. We've had several "advisers" with first hand college baseball experience that helped us to include what THEY expected to be in an NCAA baseball game. All the way down to each program having 11.7 total scholarships available when recruiting. There was a time when we were going to round it up to 12, but we've never taken the easy way out of things.

GV: College baseball isn't as popular as basketball and football, so what is EA doing to try and counter this and get the game playing on as many consoles as possible?

Brinkman: First, we hope to bring back our loyal MVP fans that know they are going to get the highest quality baseball game on the market. Their support and feedback has helped push us to making the best game we can year in and year out.

Second, there are a bunch of NCAA Baseball fans that have been waiting for this game for years. We feel pretty confident that even the most hard core college baseball fan will be impressed at the effort that was spent in trying to capture an authentic NCAA baseball experience. We knew from the get-go that after all of this waiting, these fans deserved much more than just a roster update, aluminum bats, and a college coat of paint.

We also hope that MVP06 reaches a whole new batch of gamers this year. The NCAA format will hopefully entice some of our March Madness and NCAA Football fans to check it out.

And lastly, we hope MVP06 brings fans of baseball games that have left back, by providing some cool gameplay mechanics. We had the opportunity to make the baseball game that we, as gamers and ballplayers ourselves, have always wanted to play.

GV: As sort of a tag-along question to the above: College baseball players aren't as recognizable as basketball and football ones. How does/did this factor into choosing a cover athlete for the game?

Brinkman: Whenever you are looking for a cover athlete, you want to try and find that one athlete that is a true ambassador of the game. We contacted David Maroul, not only because he was the 2005 College World Series MVP of the National Champion Texas Longhorns, but because he represents everything that makes College baseball what it is. If you get a chance to watch him play, you should. His passion and dedication to the game is infectious to all of those around him and we're ecstatic to have him on board.

GV: Is an Xbox 360 version planned, or will the game only appear on current-gen systems?

Brinkman: In order to give NCAA Baseball the best chance at success, we decided to develop for the PS2 and Xbox this year. Splitting our resources wouldn't have allowed us the freedom to add all of the features that we wanted.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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