In baseball, like chess, for every move, there is a counter. Data scientists at Driveline are researching pitch break. It follows then that batters must also hit the labs to understand what weapons their opponents are arming with.
Similarly, by studying the greats, Sony San Diego Studio (SDS) and Konami have borrowed game design elements from the best baseball games of the past. Both studios seek to refine and perfect their hitting engines and the logic that drives their gameplay mechanics.
MLB The Show and Pro Yakyuu Spirits Baseball offer technical interpretations of hitting a baseball by employing deep player ratings, scientific evidence from Statcast, and unique animations. Let’s compare the two hitting engines.
Plate Coverage Indicator
For players using the PCI indicator in MLB The Show, SDS has built their classic interface by taking cues from MVP Baseball and Triple Play Baseball, among others. These hitting engines require the hitter to line up the pitch with the cursor, effectively squaring up the ball with your left analog stick. The cursor represents both the swing plane and the bat’s sweet spot.
The engine also builds in vision and contact ratings to distinguish some of the great hitters in the game by adding rating boosts. A button press initiates the swing for the player. Timing, of course, is critical, and the game engine and player ratings assist with the rest.
Scripting is a significant complaint with hitting in MLB The Show. I argue this is because the hitting engine has three user-input variables. If we combine the input variables with player ratings, pitch mixes, and matchups, we can begin to understand the batted-ball results. Since many players use the same cards in Diamond Dynasty, the matchups and pitch mixes become repetitive. The outcomes are a bit less varied. That is not to say that the results are poorly done. SDS has revamped batted-ball variety in years past, adding to their code-base to keep the game feeling fresh. SDS is a victim to the success of highly addicting Diamond Dynasty and Battle Royal modes, where players confront the best player cards repeatedly.
Pro Yakyuu Spirits 19 features a bit of a different feel for hit variety. It features a level of precision in its hitting engine that starts with a cursor and ends with meticulously crafted batted-baseball physics. The engine arguably represents a more pure 1:1 ratio with its ball physics and bat contact than seen in The Show.
The precision carries through from the batter’s swing into a variety of slicing and fading baseballs to create diverse arcs and trajectories. The spin rate and exit velocity are a part of the game, signaling the level of detail Konami’s developers have incorporated.
Precision and Feedback
A baseball swing can be likened to a golf swing. It is no coincidence then that The Show’s Perfect-Perfect grading system borrows from the Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf series. (A perfect-perfect swing analysis grade was introduced to the Tiger Woods series in 2013.) The PCI engine is enjoyable to play and the feedback the game provides is actionable. Substantive, real-time data analysis occurs after every pitch and is deeply valuable, especially in competitive settings. The data is so good that I would recommend professional hitters to try and obtain similar data on a pitch-by-pitch basis. The overhead visuals are clear, demonstrating timing zones and contact zones – all valuable insights.
The PCI engine’s biggest flaw, in my opinion, is that it does not represent a proper 1:1 ratio of the bat and the ball. This is where Pro Yakyuu Spirits 19 has a slight hitting advantage. To call MLB The Show a true hitting simulation, a 1:1 ratio would be the first adjustment to make.
To note, one criticism for each title is audio feedback. Audio is an underrated component to the game that can add another layer of depth if done correctly. A baseball thrown with serious velocity hums as it rifles towards home plate. In theory, the sound can be helpful to create perfect timing on swings.
Both hitting engines take shape with mechanics in place and the integration of the player rating code-stack. The Show features several ratings along with special skill attributes. The perks add personality to each hitter, but may not increase batted-ball variation as much as the game’s special attributes can.
In Pro Yakyuu Spirits, the swing plane is simulated with perks that influence flight path and trajectory. Skills such as grounder trajectory, low trajectory, line-drive trajectory, and mid and high trajectories affect on-field results. This is a nice wrinkle of realism that simulates more recent trends and discussions in professional baseball.
The flyball rate revolution picked up approximately five years ago to beat infield shifts and take advantage of the juiced baseballs. This strategy has been perpetuated by Statcast and other metrics that continue to drive tactics. For example, per Spirit Translations, the line drive trait in PYS ‘19 results in balls with lower spin rate and trajectory that are less impacted by wind. Whereas the arc specialist hitter backspin baseballs at high revolutions, emulating what hitters do in today’s game.
Underrated Analog Controls
What makes the analog hitting appealing? Analog hitting in The Show grants a player more control over its hitter’s motions. The hand load, leg kick and weight shift are initiated by the user by a simple flick on the right analog stick. An extra timing input is incorporated, which in theory, should create more outcome variety.
There is a reason this game mechanic is less popular. An extra input means another timing component to perfect. PCI is easier to use, a bit more streamlined, and this is why PCI is the preferred choice for competitive gamers. SDS could incorporate a wider range of outcomes with analog controls. The mechanic has more risk and therefore, should have a higher reward.
Is the game currently balanced, or is a wider range of batted-ball outcomes be preferable with the more complex analog controls? We will know the answers to these questions in the coming months.
In summary, the swing stick requires two inputs on the right stick while also tracking the pitch. For Sony San Diego, this mechanic is a swing and miss for failing to take advantage of the outcome variables that this mechanic should be able to produce.
For gamers complaining of scripting – this could be your hitting interface of choice to keep the game fresh.
MLB The Show and Pro Yakyuu Spirits deliver strong simulation hitting performances. MLB The Show has a tendency to feel scripted, largely driven by ratings and matchups. And that’s okay. Its hitting engine excels with visual feedback. The batter’s eye camera angle is a presentational element that lends a first-person account. The camera angle and pitch prediction tools recreate the one-on-one battles that take place with every pitch.
The Show ultimately delivers a strong performance through its depth of animations. The batting stances influence how quick some hitters are, adding variety to the engine, and personality to each player. For me, hitting a home run in The Show is the most enjoyable experience in sports gaming.
Pro Yakyuu Spirits, as we saw in the pitching comparison, takes a very scientific approach to how hitting is executed. The 1:1 engine, while a bit limited in variety and inputs, succeeds with programming logic depth. Konami has coded in exit velocity, various trajectories, and spin rates. When matched with the depth of its pitching engine, Pro Yakyuu Spirits offers a hitting system that demands more user-skill and knowledge of the game’s intricate details.