Greatest baseball game of all time returns March 2nd http://sports.espn.go.com/videogames/news/story?id=4749938 Chase Utley slaps a chopper over the mound that is just over the glove of the outstretched pitcher. J.J. Hardy charges the play, and with his momentum carrying him in front of second, flips the ball behind his back to Nick Punto who grabs it out of mid-air, steps on the base, then rifles the pill to first while somersaulting over the runner barreling toward him to complete the double play. Within minutes of sitting down to check out an advanced copy of "MLB 10: The Show" inside Sony's San Diego studio, this sequence played out on the flatscreen in front of me and completely blew me away. "Hold on for a second," interrupted senior producer Chris Gill. "I need to save that replay." Gill hit a couple of buttons and handed me back the controller. "I can't wait to show this to the team." 'MLB 10: The Show' Get an exclusive look at the first screenshots from Sony's upcoming "MLB 10: The Show." First look gallery » But that's not the only jaw-dropper fans of the series can expect to see in the game scheduled to hit stores March 2. We're talking all new home run robbing animations, a new pickoff ability that will finally limit potential base thieves from taking off too early, and even a cyber recreation of the famous Mississippi Braves manager meltdown, complete with military crawl and rosin bag grenades. "We watched the video on YouTube and got the whole animation in there exactly how he did it in real life," Gill says with a laugh. "We wanted to make sure we captured everything about that moment … right down to the grenades." To director of production Chris Cutliff, though, the most explosive aspect of the "MLB" series, the thing that has made it such a dominating force in the world of sports video games over the last couple of years, isn't the addition of a few animations or hanging their hats on one new back of the box feature. "Every area of the game is getting a lot of attention," says Cutliff. "Our strategy is to add so much detail, that some of these great moments won't even happen until you're deep into your season. "We're attempting to make a game with as much replayability as possible. That's what it's all about for us, adding in those little details, those plays that make you want to rewind right away and show everyone. Those are the types of things that really make a game feel special and that's what we're trying to capture. Everything we do is about trying to make the most realistic experience possible." And from the looks of the early code I got my hands on, that's exactly what fans can expect from "MLB 10: The Show." A franchise that simply captures the sport of baseball better than any other, past or present. As for the specific upgrades to the 2010 product, here are six things every gamer should know about "The Show" before it drops in March. 1. The Online Priority "MLB 09" was one of the best offline sports games of the year. But take the game online and it's virtually unplayable because of the constant lag that throws off the timing of every move, making even little things like check swings seem impossible. "We're fully aware of the complaints," admits Cutliff, "but we've made online playability a priority area for us this year to make sure the timing of everything from the release points to the swings and check swings finally look and feel right. The online game will be going through much more extensive testing than we've ever put it through before." And as producer Jason Villa explains, once they get the timing down, fans are going to find a whole lot to love about some of the new online features. "We're offering full online season leagues this year," says Villa. "We're trying to bring everything about the offline game and offer that in an online situation. Some of the key components that were missing in years past are related to tracking stats … not only your stats as a user online, but your player stats and energy. So now, setting your lineup actually means something. Now you have to go in and actually setup your pitching rotation properly. You can't just start your ace over and over without consequences as energy is a huge factor. Injuries will also come into play and you will need to manage your 40-man roster. Basically bringing all of those offline components online. We're still allowing you to do have a full live draft between six and 30 players as well as all the stats to see who's hot, who's leading the All-Star voting and MVP race and all of that information. "We know one of the problems we had last year were leagues becoming stagnant, so we added some things to help move the season along. We added this feature called Auto Resolve so if the commissioner happens to not be available or turns into a deadbeat commissioner, and a series has expired, 24 hours later the game will get resolved one way or another so the season can progress. "We also added a new ratings system. In years past, this was always a user-voting system where too many people might rate you poorly just because you beat them. Now it's all based on sportsmanship. Did he pull the cable? Did he pause the game? Did he do a series of things that made playing the game a poor experience? Now the system is going to generate that and assign you a rating based on your performance. So now, it actually means something when you see someone with a 90 rating rather than a 50 rating, and it really helps you choose who you want to invite in to your online league." 2. Road to the Show 4.0 One of the most appealing hooks of the "MLB" series has been its stand alone, Road to the Show mode, where gamers create their own players and try to not only earn their spot on the roster, but become the next Tim Lincecum or Derek Jeter. And while the mode has been ground breaking, it still felt somewhat limited in terms of the things you could do. For instance, in MLB 09, you could train your hitting and base running skills, but not your pitching or fielding. "We always had it in mind to hit all four areas of training," explains senior designer Eddy Cramm. "But last year we decided to concentrate on just the two and doing them right. So this year, we're finally able to incorporate the rest. "With pitching training, we actually have two ways to train. Your Road to the Show player basically has two different attribute areas you can affect. You have his individual pitcher attributes, which are his Ks per nine, his stamina and things like that. Then there are his attributes that are based more on his individual pitches. So we actually have two different training methods that focus on the two different areas. 'MLB 10: The Show' Get an exclusive look at the first screenshots from Sony's upcoming "MLB 10: The Show." First look gallery » "The sim game training lets you go in and pitch three innings of a simulated game. Here, you're presented with base running and situations like guys stealing and having to field your position … everything you'd need to do if you were really pitching on the mound, and you're judged by how well you actually work your way through the game. Do you get a ground ball in a situation where your team needs a ground ball? Do you keep your pitches to a minimum in order to help your stamina? All of this factors into your pitcher's individual attributes. Then the other training is called Knockout Training and it's almost like a mini-game where you need to hit all of the different spots of the strike zone as quickly and as efficiently as you can using your different pitches. And depending on which pitch you use in a certain area, you will affect the accuracy, the break of the pitch, and the speed of that pitch through this mode. Both of these modes will also be available in practice. "In addition, we have fielding training, and this is one that I think is actually a little more interesting because we always had a little bit of trouble trying to figure out what we would do, fielding-wise, because basically, the game and the animations field the ball for you. It's not like you need to move your glove in a certain spot. So we focused more on the different areas of fielding that are just as important as catching the ball, and those are your reactions, what route you take under a fly ball, and the decisions you make with the ball once you have it. Do you throw to the right base? Do you hit the cutoff man?" But that's not the only improvement to Road to the Show. This year, instead of starting out in Spring Training, your character actually starts his career in AA. Getting that coveted invite to Spring Training is something you need to earn. "This will also help gamers who are playing for the first time," explains producer Aaron Luke. "Now you don't have to face Major League pitching right away when you start the game. Going against AA players and working your way up will give you a much better feel for the game." Other additions include an option called Game Watch that finally enables you to watch every single pitch in the game if you want, both offensive and defensive, and not just the plays your virtual athlete is involved in. There is also an option called All Fielding that enables you to skip out on your teammates at-bats, but lets you watch all of the pitches from your fielding position, that way the game feels more realistic as you never know when a ball is going to head your direction. You can even trim all of these options down to just the last pitch of each at-bat so you don't have to watch the computer take pitches out of the strike zone. Turn these options off, and the game defaults right back to previous years where you only see the plays your player is actively involved. "On the back end of that there is something called Game Completion," explains Luke. "If you're a starting pitcher, you now have the choice to see how the rest of the game plays out once you're removed." Throw in the Home Run Derby (in all season modes as well as standalone), the Futures Game, pre-game batting practice in the cage, a green light system where players must now earn the right to steal bases at will, and a new stat tracking system that keeps stats for every pitcher or batter faced throughout your career, not to mention mistake tracking that penalizes you for not playing right (a pitcher not covering first on a bunt), while at the same time attempting to make you a good teammate and not just pile up stats, and Road to the Show looks to have beefed up so much, if I could ask the disc to pee in a cup, I'd check it for PEDs. 3. Not so Fast Ever since I used to play as the Cardinals in "RBI Baseball," I've been driving my friends crazy with the rate at which I steal bases in video games. My days are numbered now that "MLB 10" is introducing a new way for pitchers to pickoff baserunners. "Last year, it was really confusing to people if you were playing from the pitcher's view on how you were supposed to pick off runners," says Cramm. "To the eye, the buttons were the opposite of how they should've been because circle was always first base no matter what view you were in. So this year we made a really important change to where pickoffs are now performed using the shift. Hold it down and all the buttons will map according to the view you are in. That avoids a point of concern and confusion that to me, was more like a bug last year. "The next thing we added is the ability to choose different kinds of pickoffs. There are three different pickoff types: Casual, where a guy steps off and throws over to the base. You have a quick move and you have a deceptive move. We also have the third to first move now where a right hander fakes the throw to third then looks back to first. The new button configuration allows us to add all of this. And what's great is, these moves only work in the right situations. Like, you can't do a deceptive move if you're a right hander and there's only a runner on first, those are only for lefties. But if you're a right hander with runners on first and third, you can do a deceptive, and that's your fake throw to third, throw to first." As for the button controls: Tap for casual, double tap for the quick move, press and hold for deceptive. "For deceptive, the entire situation is going to look like a pitch," says Cramm. "The pitch meter is going to go and everything is going to stay in that camera until you make your move to the base. And the A.I. is going to do this to you, too. So as a base runner, now, you can't just take off on the first move. And this really makes things fun, especially in two-player games, because this adds a new level of cat and mouse as the pitcher tries to change his looks so that the runners aren't just taking off at will." 4. Catch as Catch Can If you played as a catcher in Road to the Show last year, you realized quickly that there simply wasn't much to do behind the plate. "You were pretty much limited to fielding bunts and pop ups," says Cramm. But with Twins catcher Joe Mauer signed on to appear on the game's cover this year, the producers wanted to add something special to the position. "We added a mode where the catcher in Road to the Show now has the ability to call the pitches. Now you're the field general, now you can select the pitch you want and the location. And while the pitcher will throw the pitch you want, he might not necessarily always hit your spot. The pitcher also might shake you off and ask for a different pitch, but it's still up to you, so if you ask for a fastball and he shakes you off, you can ask for another fastball and he won't sit there and continue to shake you off. This is just something to give the user who wants to be a catcher more of a tie-in to the game. Now you're more involved in what a catcher actually does in a gamer rather than just skipping ahead to the next bunt or pop up." 'MLB 10: The Show' Get an exclusive look at the first screenshots from Sony's upcoming "MLB 10: The Show." First look gallery » And while there are plans to also include blocking balls in the dirt in this mode, Cramm admits that there might not be enough time to make it in this year's game. "We have plans for a graphic that shows up and says the ball is going in the dirt and it's your responsibility to move the catcher in the right direction in order to block the pitch as opposed to being a wild pitch or a passed ball. This is something that's on the bubble right now, but if it doesn't get in, you'll see it next year." 5. Real-Time Presentation "MLB 10" will default with the same presentation gamers are used to, with all of the classic cut scenes that help you follow the action. But the team at Sony is also laying a foundation for what they believe is the future of sports gaming, and that's something they call Real-Time Presentation (RTP). Basically, with RTP, at the end of each play, instead of switching to a cut scene, the camera never leaves the field as the players get back into position, move around in the dugouts and in the bullpen all in real time. "It sounds generic, but when you watch everything play out, you feel like you're never leaving the action," explains Gill. "The really cool thing about that is, I fell like I'm watching a real live telecast and the players are all behaving how they're supposed to be behaving. It took a lot of animations and some additional logic, but this is something we always wanted to offer instead of the way it is now where we're cutting out of reality and sending you into presentation land. We're still going to default to what we have, as we have upwards of 7.000 animations in all of these cut scenes. But the real-time aspect gives you an opportunity to watch the game in a different environment, from the way the camera focuses on the shortstop who just made a great diving catch to the way the next batter is walking up to the plate to the way the guy who just got out storms back to the dugout, it's all playing out in front of you like you in real time." 6. The Little Things When Pablo Sandoval smacks a dinger into McCovey Cove outside of AT&T Park, not only will the Giants pitching staff breathe a sigh of relief that their lineup is actually providing run support, but in "MLB 10," gamers will recognize the working splash counter inside the stadium. But that's not the only visual treat that's been added to the game this year. You'll see things like cloud shadows moving across the field, daylight transitional lighting, dugouts and bullpens populated in real time (not just in cut scenes), and even playoff noise makers and towels in the crowd. Gamers can expect more animations of fans reaching over the rails, foul balls that will ricochet off both catchers and umpires, working analog and digital clocks inside stadiums, and fans from the visiting team populating stadiums, like when the Cubs play in Arizona and the Chicago faithful come out in full force wearing their team colors. Other improvements include the ability to create your own highlight reels using up to ten different replays from the game (including the ability to adjust the start and end point, and even add in three different camera cuts at key points in the play). There are also eleven new stadiums in the game including five minor league stadiums and six classic fields including Forbes Field, Crosley Field, The Polo Grounds, Shibe Park, Sportsman's Park, and Griffith Stadium (and the ability to choose a classic stadium as your home field during Franchise). And speaking of Franchise, there will be the ability to finally play Franchise mode with up to 30 players. "We have a lot of fans who want to control every team, every lineup, every injury … they actually want to go in and manually injure a player just so their franchise at home can have the exact rosters of real life," says senior designer Kolbe Launchbaugh. "The time they spend on these rosters and inside all of these various modes really blows my mind, and it's something we all take great pride in as we're working on the game."