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Eminem, Travis Barker grace NBA 2K12 soundtrack


Aug 12
// Nick Chester
I don't really play sports games, but every once in awhile I'll pop one in for its slick soundtrack. Because who buys CDs these days? Looks like 2K Sports isn't going to let me down with NBA 2K12. The complete 28-track music ...
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2K Sports introduces NBA's Greatest mode for NBA 2K12


Aug 03
// Samit Sarkar
NBA 2K11 drew mass-market attention by putting Michael Jordan on its cover, but his appearance on the box highlighted the mode that sold many gamers on the title: "The Jordan Challenge," in which players could relive ten clas...

Retrogazing with Karakasa Games: Maniac Mansion & Beyond

Jul 27 // Allistair Pinsof
Future Wars (Delphine Software, 1989) It’s a great game with plot that has this nice sense of mystery to it. You progress through with a real sense of accomplishment in it. You get to solve this mystery and figure out where you are. It’s like, "Hey this is cool. I’m exploring the future!" But, there are some things in that game that we hate. Maniac Mansion (Lucasfilm Games, 1987) [This one came from Thunderbeam! producer Wiley Wiggins] Maniac Mansion is a big influence on us because of the multiple viewpoints. You get to play as this group of kids, send them on missions and flip between them. A lot of puzzles have to do with combining different abilities and activating different things on areas of the map at the same time. Damocles (Novagen Software, 1990) Paul Woakes wrote a series of games before the modern Mercenaries series. It started with Mercenary but the best games in that series were Damocles and Mercenary III: Dion Crisis. They created an entire solar system.I don’t think they were procedurally generated. I’m not sure -- the guy who made them fucking insane. You could wander around and you could explore. Every house was populated with objects. If you got really good at the game, in Damocles, you could find the author’s house. In it, you could find the author’s computer and just delete objects from the game. You can even delete planets, causing them to explode. “Delete object 15. Oh, the planet exploded. You’re dead!” It was amazing. Captive (Mindscape, 1990) This is another Atari ST/Amiga game. It’s kind of a Dungeon Master clone but it’s set in the future. You can actually retrieve your [character's] corpses in captive and put them in a regeneration machine to bring people back to life. Captain Blood (Exxos, 1988) I really love Bloodian, the language [in the game]. Especially if you played it on the Atari ST, the speech in that game is just terrifying as hell. All the speech was delivered in symbols and you’d have to figure it out.The weird thing about Captain Blood is if you put in the code for help it gives you all the answers. The alien communication -- just talking back and forth to get information was a lot of fun. And the fact that if you got really pissed off, you could just blow up their planet was great. Frontier: Elite II (GameTek, 1993) It was fantastic. You explore a procedurally generated universe. David Brabern is fucking genius and therefore needs to exist, but he needs to makes Elite 4. Everytime someone asks, he says, “We’re working on it. It’s going to be 15 to 20 years but we are working on it.” The original and specifically its sequel, Frontier, were fantastic because it was a procedurally generated universe but you could explore every planet. You didn’t have to but you could. I spent a solid year playing that game every single day. I got to some incredible ranking. There is a sense of wonder in that series. Frontier: First Encounters (Frontier Developments, 1995) Games like Elite were great because you could go off into space and explore or do something else. Elite was a truly open-ended game which was great. The third one kind of spoiled the series in a way, because it had plot on top it. I actually played First Encounters again for the first time in a long time, last year. And, I appreciated it a lot more because it had everything that was in Elite II but it had a plot to it. It did some clever things. I think the reason I disliked it when it was first released is because it was really buggy. Everyone hated it because the game would crash when you would try to go to almost any world. It’s only after seven series of patches, when everyone had already forgotten about it, that it became a good game. The way they reveal the plot is really clever. You can subscribe to various newspapers with different political alliances and you’ll see headlines that tell you the plot -- you can choose to get yourself involved with it or not. ----- Interested in checking out these games? They are all available for free at Abandonia, except Maniac Mansion. Interested in hearing more classic picks from Karakasa Games? Click here! Interested in scrubbing my back for $20 a week? PM me or contact me on Twitter!
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For this entry in Retrogazing, I spoke with Karakasa Games’ James Curry about memorable PC games that influenced him. As it turns out, Curry knows a thing or two about weird-ass, ludicrously ambitious adventure games ma...

Preview: NBA 2K12

Jul 21 // Steven Hansen
NBA 2K12 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [Previewed]) Developer: 2k Sports Publisher: Visual Concepts To be released: October 4, 2011 The idea behind this year’s iteration of the franchise was to make a gameplay jump commensurate to that made between NBA 2K10 and NBA2K11 and it shows. For example, the post game was completely redesigned in last year’s game, yet the team felt the need to go back to the drawing board and shake things up once more. Now, pressing Y (or triangle) in the post is used for activating the post game, freeing up both triggers and the right stick. This opens up the post game entirely compared to last year’s game, as every single move in the game’s impressive arsenal suddenly becomes available to players in the post. This newfound freedom effectively captures one of the leading tenets of NBA 2K12, which is making sure the gamer is the one scripting the actions and flow of a game, not canned animations. Accordingly, from the start of a shot, you will have control over what your player does. This includes things like switching hands in the air while attempting a layup and even deciding to kick out a pass right after committing to taking a shot. It’s all about putting control in the player’s hands. The game’s AI has also seen a lot of tweaking. For example, the same zone defense scheme that the Dallas Mavericks used to best the Heat now plays much more smartly. One of the complaints about defensive players in last year’s game was their Spidey Sense-like ability to reach and arm out and deflect a pass without even looking. The team admitted that it was a band-aid meant to discourage players from running their player down court before their team was going to get a rebound and then having the rebounder pass the ball to the now-wide-open man down court. In NBA 2K12, issues like that have had time to be addressed much more thoroughly. The AI system has been completely rewritten to be more dynamic. In last year’s game, the AI would run specific plays, which could often lead to the player figuring out the plays and making the appropriate jumps on the ball over and over. Worse still, when the AI had its play snuffed out, they would default to a generic brand of basketball intelligence, defaulting to simple plays. The new system is now much more divergent, giving the AI more options if their primary options aren’t available. This keeps the players on their feet and makes the AI more of a challenge as well as more like a human opponent, which should do well to extend the life of the game. I got to play as the NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks in the latest build of NBA 2K12 and played against the same Miami Heat team Dallas trumped in the NBA Finals earlier this year. Given my brief experience with NBA 2K11 going in, I was surprised by how quickly I was able to notice some of the gameplay changes made in NBA 2K12. One of the things that stood out to me most during the game is the new physics engine, which handles all forms of contact, and reacts according to the situation. For example, shorter players will have a much tougher time out rebounding bigs, and player on player contact differs depending on whether the contact takes place in the air or on the ground. The other notable impact of this system is the newly implemented live ball physics. In last year’s game, the ball didn’t seem to go live often, and most players could keep a handle on it fairly easily. In 2K12, the ball can make contact with anything and react accordingly, leading to a lot more intense scrambles for possession. The live ball physics forced me to watch my play style immediately because no longer could I make contact with people without paying careful attention to the ball. I lost handle of the ball a lot early on because I would be running down the court and I would basically dribble it off my own teammate inattentively -- something the game rarely accounted for in last year’s game. Not only did it help make me feel like I was playing a more accurate brand of basketball, but I got to experience some of those aforementioned intense scrambles for possession and they were exciting. A lot of other subtle touches have been made that won’t be lost on fans of last year’s game. The entire first row of the crowd is now live. That is, it’s fully possible to interact with them; for example, diving into the first row while trying to keep the ball in bounds or having a lunging defensive player’s momentum take him over the scorer’s table. The facial animations and character models have all seen tweaks in the name of authentic player representation and the team was particularly happy with white players finally having a more realistic looking skin tone. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a letter rating system (F, B+, etc.) pop up after taking shots. A high letter grade doesn’t always ensure a made bucket, nor does a low letter preclude a possible bucket, but the system rates both how well you took the shot and the quality of the shot itself. It would take into consideration if you were well defended or didn’t have your feet set. It’s a nice bit of immediate, tangible feedback that feels like it can be used to adjust your game accordingly. Speaking of adjusting your game, it also has a feature allowing you to adjust your play style on the fly, bypassing menus and keeping you in the action. With the system, you’ll be able to assign specific players a specific role, or quickly swap between playing philosophies (lock down the paint, pressure shooters, etc.), whether it’s just for the present play or for the rest of the game. Thankfully, one of my few complaints with last year’s game has also been addressed. Refs no longer hold onto the ball for an inordinate amount of time when the player is taking the ball out or shooting free throws, which livens up the game’s pace by removing those occasional, jarring stops in the action where the player would mash the A button and scream at the ref to give them the damn ball. A combination of reworked AI and an advancing physics engine actually made NBA 2K12 feel more fluid to me than last year’s game, despite 2K12 being so far out from release. If you’re a basketball fan, I think the only question left might just be “Which cover am I getting?”
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As we reported earlier, NBA 2K12’s cover athletes -- yes, athletes -- have been revealed, but I’m sure some fans aren’t sold yet. After all, we want some advancement in our games, right? Well, I was able to ...

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NBA 2K12 cover athletes revealed: Jordan, Magic, and Bird


Jul 21
// Steven Hansen
The folks over at 2K Sports have upped the ante in the cover athlete game once again. Last year’s well-received NBA 2K11 surprisingly sported former minor league baseball player (and professional basketball pl...
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E3: NBA 2K12 includes PlayStation Move support


Jun 06
// Samit Sarkar
Sony has been working hard on getting third-party publishers to support PlayStation Move, and now, they can count 2K Sports among them. The sports publisher trotted out none other than Kobe Bryant at Sony's E3 press conferenc...
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MLB 2K11 $1M winner knew 'zero at all' about baseball


Jun 03
// Samit Sarkar
The March release of 2K Sports’ Major League Baseball 2K11 came with the fanfare of the publisher’s second annual competition to throw an in-game perfect game for a $1 million cash prize. This time around, 2K twea...
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Serena Williams in sexy, forbidden Top Spin 4 ad


Mar 25
// Conrad Zimmerman
[The above video is probably Not Safe For Work.] This is an advertisement for Top Spin 4 that 2K Sports seemingly never wanted us to see. It features tennis star Serena Williams and an actress named Rileah Venderbilt str...

Preview: Top Spin 4 (Player Creator, Career, more)

Feb 21 // Samit Sarkar
Top Spin 4 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed], Wii) Developer: 2K Czech Publisher: 2K Sports To be released: March 15, 2011 (NA) / March 18, 2011 (EU) In Top Spin 4, 2K Czech has intertwined the game modes like never before. The Career mode still entails creating a player and taking him/her from “Newcomer” to “Legend” status. But the game’s currency, experience points (XP), is now doled out in every mode. “We really tried to break the barriers down, so that you create your player, and then you do whatever you want with him,” said executive producer François Giuntini. So if you’re at a stage in your career where you’re losing a lot, you can build up your skills by playing Exhibition matches or defeating online opponents, and then return to the Career. It wasn’t only the gameplay in Top Spin 3 that suffered from a difficult-to-penetrate nature; according to Giuntini, the developers “received some similar comments on accessibility regarding the Player Creator.” So the team streamlined the interface but didn’t do away with the complex depth that TS3 offered. Here, the Player Creator includes a bunch of presets so you can jump in and quickly create a decent-looking character. Sliders to change body features allow for deeper customization, and the “expert” layer is the system for editing facial points that was in TS3. Differentiating created players was a major focus for the development team. The easiest way to dominate in TS3 -- even online -- was simply to max out your player’s Power rating. And player progression could feel intimidating or unclear to novices: Giuntini explained that some players didn’t understand why they should put points into one attribute over another. So 2K Czech simplified that system while giving players the tools to determine their own unique traits; you won’t be assigning XP to individual attributes anymore. TS4 contains three core play styles: serve and volley (blast the ball and then approach the net), offensive baseline (return the ball hard from the line), and defensive baseline (generally weaker players with the speed/agility to reach more balls). When you accrue enough XP to reach the next level, you merely choose which of those three areas you’d like to gain a level in. This way, you can easily create someone whose strengths are in line with the play style you have in mind. And if you don’t have a particular style in mind, you’ll at least have an idea -- depending on how you’re faring against your opponents -- of the areas in which you’d like to improve. Let’s say you’ve got a decent serve, but you can see that you’re losing points that you shouldn’t lose because you’re not fast enough to run down balls that aren’t coming right at you. You might then put your XP into a defensive baseline level. Your levels in each field add up to your overall level: the level-10 player that 2K showed me had two levels in serve and volley, and four each in offensive and defensive baseline. The level cap is 20 overall, not in each of the three areas. But that setup alone is rather limited -- thousands of players will share a particular combination of levels. So 2K Czech deepened the system with coaches. As you level up, you’ll unlock access to a pool of coaches (out of about 100 in total) that depends on your particular talents (i.e., the way in which you’ve allocated your levels). For example, you might need to have a few baseline defense levels before you can hire a coach who focuses on your baseline defense, since that’s his specialty. Coaches serve a similar purpose in TS4 as in real life: they help you improve your skills and prepare for individual opponents. The coaches are split into bronze, silver, and gold tiers. Early on, bronze coaches give you XP bonuses to help you rank up more quickly. Silver coaches will start giving you stronger attribute bonuses (e.g., +10 power) and gameplay skills. The latter are context-sensitive buffs that trigger automatically during gameplay. For example, I saw a “wrong-foot bonus,” which provides enhanced precision on ball placement when you wrong-foot your opponent (catch him off balance). Coaches also give you objectives for working on your skills, like successfully completing ten slice shots. (Remember, all of this can be accomplished in any game mode -- not just Career.) You can swap coaches at any time, so if you’re having trouble beating a particular opponent in your career, or if you notice that you’re losing to a specific type of player online, you can switch coaches to someone who will perhaps further improve your strong attributes or compensate for your weaker ones. Thankfully, you only have to play through Career mode and reach level 20 once. After you do that, you’ll be able to distribute 20 levels from the start to any future created player, and then you’ll have a particular list of coaches with which to further specialize that player. 2K Czech has also restructured the Career mode itself. The interface has been revamped; the home screen displays rankings, in-game news, and your next objectives. You’ll still be playing through amateur and pro tournaments, but there’s now more variety thanks to unranked preparation events (such as training exercises, special events, and exhibition matches with alternate rules). In addition, you can go for objectives like the series rankings. Each offers a selection of related tournaments (hardcourt, grass, Europe, etc.), and you get XP for doing well. World Tour, which is the Top Spin franchise’s online career mode, will now refresh with a new “season” each week. The tournament rankings are reset every seven days, but overall rankings will persist. Online tourneys are single-elimination affairs, and 2K has promised improved matchmaking in general to keep you playing against foes who are at a similar skill level. The demo concluded with some hands-on time in a doubles match; I played with three other developers. Four players can play locally, while online games are limited to two players on one console versus two on another. The doubles game brought out the competitive streak within us; we were all ooh-ing and ahh-ing on every volley. I soon realized that the crowd was as into it as we were -- the fans were gasping along with the players in the room. Pretty cool, eh?
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When I last sat in on a Top Spin 4 demo, I didn’t notice a whole lot that differentiated the game from its predecessor. I recently had the chance to take a deeper look at it in a longer session, and now I’m ready ...

Preview: MLB 2K11 (Franchise, My Player, more)

Feb 16 // Samit Sarkar
Major League Baseball 2K11 (PS3, 360 [previewed], Wii, PC, PSP, PS2) Developer: Visual Concepts Publisher: 2K Sports To be released: March 8, 2011 Last time, I spoke about the improved fielding in MLB 2K11. A great deal of the responsibility for the upgrades rests with the reworked and expanded animation library. In 2K10, any fielding animation could play for any fielder; a second baseman could have the same catch animation as an outfielder, and a player’s abilities had nothing to do with it. “2K9 was such a disaster that we wanted full coverage [in 2K10] to avoid any goofiness,” Bailey confessed. This time around, animations are broken down into tiers based on positions and player ratings. So if you have Manny Ramirez in the field, he simply won’t have access to the same wall-scaling or diving-catch animations that Carl Crawford can trigger. Visual Concepts didn’t only add fielding animations, either. Speedsters like Ichiro will now scamper out of the box to try and beat out choppers. That’s one of a few entirely new hit types: a mistimed contact swing might result in a chopper, whereas a failed power swing could lead to an infield fly. The hitting camera hearkens back to the zoomed-out view from two years ago -- Bailey told me that “if people liked the 2K9 camera more than 2K10’s, they’ll love 2K11’s.” It’s now situation-specific, and it follows the ball from afar where appropriate. In many sports games, Bailey noted, the presentation gives away the outcome. I thought of Madden’s first-down chain-gang measurements: after playing the game for a while, you know instantly whether or not you got a first down, because only one of two chain-gang cutscenes (a “success” and a “failure”) can play. When you hit (or gave up) a home run in MLB 2K10 or MLB 10, you’d know at the crack of the bat that the ball was leaving the yard, thanks to a particular camera angle. “We removed all tells,” said Bailey, which keeps you guessing on a long drive -- will it die on the warning track, or make it into the seats? Baseball is a sport dominated by streaks -- someone who finishes the season with a .340 batting average might have been hitting .400 for a few weeks, and .250 for a spell. MLB 2K11’s all-new Dynamic Player Ratings feature takes that into account. With DPR enabled, players’ ratings will fluctuate based on their performance over the past 30 days. The adjustments are themselves ratings-dependent: if Robinson Cano hits .280 for a month, his attributes might drop a bit, but a .280 month for a guy like Lance Berkman means he’s on a hot streak, and he’ll get a ratings bump. (Contact rating changes reflect a player’s batting average, while Power attribute changes depend on slugging percentage.) Your favorite power hitter’s real-life performance figures to play a significant role in your ability to hit homers in MLB Today. If A-Rod has another historic April this year, like he did in 2007, he’s going to be a beast in the game. “MLB Today feels more like a ‘today’ feature than ever,” said Bailey proudly. And DPR will force you to act more like a manager than ever before in Franchise -- will you sit a cold hitter to see if the benching snaps him out of his funk? Visual Concepts set out to make surface upgrades and under-the-hood improvements to Franchise in 2K11. Interface-wise, Bailey explained, the team wanted to bring information to the forefront. Every player in your organization now has a potential rating up to five stars, and you’ll be able to see who has already peaked as well as who’s still growing. Nick Swisher has no fifth star, which signifies that he won’t be anything more than a four-star player. The five-star potential system entails statistics-based player progression, since the Franchise stats in 2K10 tended to be wonky -- Bailey admitted that ERAs, WHIPs, and homers were too high, while IP were low. Player ratings don’t just depend on recent performance. Bailey told me that Visual Concepts “really wanted to capture the whole player health concept this year,” so injuries -- and injury management -- are now a big part of Franchise (if you want them to be). If a player gets injured, he might be down on the field for a bit, and you’ll see the trainer come out to help him. When simulating games, a pop-up will ask you how to proceed: you can have the guy play hurt (with lowered ratings), give him a few days off, put him on the 15- or 60-day DL, or have the CPU manage the injury for you. Older guys might come down with nagging injuries like a chronic ankle issue that simply won’t go away, and in general, veterans will need off-days more often if they’re going to maintain their energy (fatigue causes ratings to drop). What does all this mean for the My Player mode, which debuted last year? Thanks to the tiered animation system, your created player will get visibly better as you add points to his attributes. A 55-rated third baseman might bobble a sharp grounder long enough for a runner to safely make it to first, but when his rating rises a bit, he’ll field the ball more cleanly. Visual Concepts also realized that you could blow through the minors in 2K10, so it’s going to take more time and effort on your part to reach the bigs in 2K11. Your player won’t be called up before he’s ready, since the major-league team wants you to be able to contribute instead of stink it up with a 60-rated scrub. And you’ll have to be more well-rounded; being great in one area and nothing else won’t be good enough to get the call. In addition, My Player goals are more oriented toward helping the team as opposed to individual achievement -- you might be called upon for a sacrifice bunt instead of a base hit. I brought up 2K10’s messed-up manager AI for pitchers, and Bailey freely acknowledged that it was awful; he told me I was being too nice about a system where a manager left my starter in for twelve innings. But 2K11 doesn’t go by pitcher stamina or energy, concepts that are “too videogamey,” according to Bailey. “If it says ‘52 energy,’ what does that mean to me? Can I pitch three more innings? One more inning?” Instead, in-game managers will focus on your pitch count, just like real MLB coaches. On the pause screen, you’ll see your current and expected pitch count, and when you reach the upper limits of the expected range for the day, you’ll probably get pulled. Of course, an awful start might force a manager to yank you, too; don’t think you’ll be able to hang around for long after a four-run first. This makes it more challenging to earn upgrade points, since you have to pitch well and stay within your pitch count in order to avoid being sent to the showers. You’ll also have to be mindful of pitch counts in Franchise -- if you abuse your pitchers like Joe Torre would overwork Yankee relievers, they’ll wear down. Finally, Bailey assured me that 2K11 has been tuned to create more realistic pitch counts; you won’t be able to work your way through nine innings on only 50 pitches. MLB 2K might finally be able to challenge Sony’s MLB The Show series. Bailey and the team at Visual Concepts aren’t even particularly worried that MLB 11 includes analog-stick controls. That may sound arrogant, but with MLB 2K11, 2K Sports may actually have a contender on their hands. We’ll find out in a few short weeks.
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In my first preview of 2K Sports’ Major League Baseball 2K11, I wrote that developer Visual Concepts is working on fixing “underlying issues” to refine what was a solid foundation in MLB 2K10. I saw the game...

MLB 2K11 devs flattered but not impressed by MLB 11 adopting analog controls

Feb 15 // Samit Sarkar
But Bailey pointed out that analog controls aren't inherently good or bad; "it's how it's done, not what you do." From what he's heard of MLB 11, he doesn't think too much of its analog pitching: Every single one of their pitches is going to be down-up. Well, you know, as a 2K player, that's going to get boring to me, because that's a four-seam fastball -- that's the easiest pitch in our game. [Editor's note: The analog pitching in MLB 2K requires right-stick gestures that are specific to each pitch type. I recently had a hands-on demo of MLB 11, and I'll post a full preview -- including my thoughts on its new analog-stick controls -- after I spend some more time with it today. In my time with MLB 11, I didn't find its analog pitching to be quite as cut-and-dry as the way Bailey put it, but he's correct in that you pull the stick down and then push it upward to throw every pitch in the game. In a nutshell: if you're throwing to the left side of the strike zone, you'll have to push up and left, and vice versa; it's challenging in its own way.] The battle for baseball supremacy between the two franchises is really heating up now that both series will offer analog controls. Bailey understandably prefers his own game; which one will you favor come March 8th, when both MLB 11 The Show and MLB 2K11 launch? (In addition to an MLB 11 preview, I'll soon have more details on the improvements that Visual Concepts is making to the game modes in MLB 2K11.)
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For a few years now, 2K Sports' MLB 2K games have featured analog-stick controls for pitching, hitting, and fielding. But Sony's MLB The Show franchise has stuck with simple button presses until this year; MLB 11 The Show wil...

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Brian Wilson gets the call in this MLB 2K11 short film


Jan 31
// Samit Sarkar
Last week, San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson appeared on Lopez Tonight to promote 2K Sports' Major League Baseball 2K11. As you'll see if you watch the clip (and I strongly recommend that you do, even in spite of the ...
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Brian Wilson showing MLB 2K11 short film on Lopez Tonight


Jan 27
// Samit Sarkar
If you're familiar with brilliant pop music, then you might assume that the headline of this post refers to the original leader of The Beach Boys -- and you might then feel really confused. No, the Brian Wilson in question is...

Preview: Major League Baseball 2K11

Jan 21 // Samit Sarkar
Major League Baseball 2K11 (PS3, 360 [previewed], Wii, PC, PSP, PS2) Developer: Visual Concepts Publisher: 2K Sports To be released: March 8, 2011 The fielding in MLB 2K10 was often frustrating. So the studio focused on defense for MLB 2K11, making important changes in a few areas that go a long way toward improving the feel of fielding. Ratings now play a more significant role in the game, thanks to a tweaked throwing meter and a new method for catching fly balls. On a ground ball to an infielder, the throw meter will have a green zone and a red zone; the size of each depends on the fielder’s throw accuracy. For Robinson Cano, as you might imagine, most of the bar is green. And even if you overshoot all the way into the small red zone, his throw might only pull Mark Teixeira off the first-base bag. But someone like Luis Castillo will not only have a sizable red zone -- if you end up in it, his throw is likely to sail into the stands. Fielding balls in the air is similarly ratings-dependent. On a fly ball or pop-up, you’ll see a large white circle; the ball will end up somewhere within it. A small yellow circle will come up as the ball is falling to Earth, and it gradually shrinks to let you know exactly where the ball will land. For a good fielder, the yellow circle will come up quickly after the white one. So with a defender like Carl Crawford, you’ll be able to get into position to make the catch well before the ball comes down. But if you have, say, Adam Dunn in the outfield, pulling down a fly ball is going to be an adventure. Another change that looks to help fielding is the introduction of new animations. The increased variety, especially for bobbled balls, makes the game more fluid and realistic. It’s not 100% there yet -- I saw inconsistencies like a big step and a laser-like throw from a fielder who was maybe ten feet from his first baseman, which really pulled me out of the action -- but I’m hoping that such nagging issues can be ironed out between now and the release date. I found the game’s visuals to be alternately impressive and off-putting. Many of the player faces are accurate, while others are off -- this remains an issue across most sports games -- and all of them suffer from dead eyes and stiff mouths, irregularities that scream “uncanny valley.” Numbers on the backs of jerseys are textured to stand out from the shirts themselves, but there’s a strange upward distortion of text on players’ chests. Stadium-specific camera angles for the behind-the-pitcher view are a nice touch, and the revamped player models look great. C.C. Sabathia is a hulking brute on the mound, just as he should be. On the pitching front, subtle changes seem like they’ll provide a ramped-up challenge. In MLB 2K10, it was way too easy to pitch with pinpoint accuracy -- even with sub-par hurlers -- once you got good enough. Visual Concepts has introduced variance for missed analog-stick gestures, so even if your gesture is off in a particular manner each time, you won’t be able to easily predict the behavior of the pitch: it might break more or less. Real pitchers can’t simply aim a pitch at a particular spot and get it there every time, and even MLB 2K pros won’t have that luxury anymore. There’s now a variable strike zone, too, which brings in the time-honored “human element” of umpires. At my demo, 2K wasn’t yet talking about any changes to the game’s modes, except for one: a feature they’re calling Dynamic Player Ratings. In MLB Today, My Player, and Franchise, players’ real-life performances will alter their in-game ratings. Derek Jeter might have a good contact attribute, but if he’s mired in a two-week slump, that rating will slip somewhat. I can’t yet tell what kind of effect that will have in those modes, since I didn’t get to play them, but like the rest of the changes that Visual Concepts is implementing, it certainly sounds promising. In their position, it seems prudent to focus on improving the existing game instead of trying to grab gamers’ attention with flashy new features. We’ll have to see if that approach pays off.
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2K Sports’ exclusive third-party development contract with Major League Baseball hasn’t really paid off for the publisher’s parent company, Take-Two, due to a series of baseball releases that have ranged in ...

Preview: Top Spin 4

Jan 20 // Samit Sarkar
Top Spin 4 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed], Wii) Developer: 2K Czech Publisher: 2K Sports To be released: March 15, 2011 (NA) / March 18, 2011 (EU) Most sports games want to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and for sports sims, offering a varying amount of depth is one of the best ways to do that. Top Spin 3 allowed you to take risks with power and accuracy on shots, but the mechanic was so unforgiving -- you couldn’t execute risk shots without absolutely perfect timing -- that I never even bothered with it.In Top Spin 4, 2K Czech is aiming to give gamers just the amount of depth that they want. Casual players can have fun merely by running around the court with the left analog stick and pressing A to hit the ball, but if you take the time to learn the game, you’ll be rewarded for it. The face buttons correspond to different types of shots, like topspin (B) or slice (X), and pressing LT will flip your position to allow you to hit backhand where your opponent might be expecting a forehand, for example. If you want to follow up a drop shot (RT + X) by rushing the net, press RB. This ties into the implementation of 2K Sports' Signature Style in TS4. Each of the 25 athletes in the game's roster will play like their real-life counterparts. Guys like Andy Roddick and Pete Sampras will blow you away with a powerful serve and attack the net, whereas someone like Michael Chang will stay on the baseline and play defensively. If you want to up your game, it's in your best interest to study players' attributes to figure out their strengths and weaknesses so you can use that information to your advantage when you play. Just like a high-level Street Fighter player understands the roster well enough to adjust his tactics to suit both his character and his opponent, the best TS4 players will want to learn the skill sets of the game's tennis stars.Newer players might not care enough to bother with that, though, and that's okay. 2K Czech has included better visual feedback to let you know how well you're doing, and to help you out. TS4 utilizes the same hold-and-release mechanic for shots -- tap for a control shot, hold for a power shot -- that TS3 had, so generally, you should release a face button when the ball bounces on your side of the court. Of course, the timing will differ based on a variety of conditions (such as ball speed and your position), and in TS3, it wasn't always clear why your timing was off. This time around, a small yellow target will let you know where the ball will land on the court, and when you hit it, a timing indicator will pop up to tell you how you did ("too soon," "too late," "good," "perfect," etc.). Thankfully, pros can turn that stuff off. One of the complaints I had with TS3 was its lackluster presentation. The crowd never really got into it, and there was no commentary. Plus, while the game looked beautiful, its no-frills statistical overlays gave the impression of a less polished product. 2K Czech has really amped up the crowd interaction in TS4: expect the crowd's excitement to build during a long volley before exploding in loud cheers at the conclusion of a point. Sadly, there's still no commentary. That's disappointing, especially since commentary isn't difficult to implement in a tennis game -- there are only 25 athletes on the roster (as opposed to thousands of players in a football game), and in tennis, commentators only speak between points. The commentary aspect of a television broadcast is missing, but 2K Czech has included pre-match cutscenes (for example, you'll see players walking out onto the court through a tunnel) to add some TV-style flair. So far, though, there don't seem to be a great deal of major improvements or additions to distinguish TS4 from TS3. I was expecting something more drastic from a game that will be launching nearly three years after its predecessor. Don't get me wrong: it's looking great so far, since the tweaks that I noticed improve on what was already a very good game in TS3. I was told that 2K Sports will be showing off more in the near future -- including Move support for the PS3 version -- so I remain hopeful that TS4 will offer more than what I saw this week.
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By the time 2K Sports releases Top Spin 4 on March 15, 2011, it will have been almost three full years since the launch of its predecessor, 2008’s Top Spin 3. That game was well-received, but drew criticism for being so...

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