Creating the Baseball Simulation in MLB 2K11: Part 1

There were over 2,000 games in the 2010 major league baseball season, and the creators of MLB 2K11 looked at video from almost every one of them while preparing the 2011 version of the baseball simulation game, according to game designer Sean Bailey. “These videos are the same broadcasts that fans at home watch,” says Bailey, a developer with 2K Sports. Bailey shares insights into the painstaking process of getting the simulations right, including bringing top baseball talent like the Philadelphia Phillie's star pitcher Roy Halladay into the studio.

Screenshot from MLB 2K11

By Jon Lewin

There were over 2,000 games in the 2010 major league baseball season, and the creators of MLB 2K11 looked at video from almost every one of them while preparing the 2011 version of the baseball simulation game, according to game designer Sean Bailey. “These videos are the same broadcasts that fans at home watch,” says Bailey, a developer with 2K Sports.

Capturing the Movements “We selected the best shots from the videos that will be most helpful during the motion capture session,” explains Bailey. As a baseball video played in the motion capture, or “mocap,” facility, an actor wearing a black suit lined with sensors mimicked the player’s movements as seen on the video. Hundreds of cameras picked up the motion-capture data from these sensors.

To capture the bat swing as accurately as possible, the actor used a bat of similar weight and material as the real-life hitter uses. And when an actor mimicked a pitcher, he threw the ball from a regulation-size pitcher’s mound constructed in the studio. “Depending on the shot type, they would throw to everything from a catcher to a target to a net,” says Bailey. Players Get Into the Game When it came to capturing the motion of pitcher Roy Halladay, the game developers got the best possible person to mimic his pitching: Halladay himself. The Philadelphia Phillies star, who appears on the game box cover, came to the mocap facility and put on the black suit.

“Halladay told us that he throws four pitches: a cutter, a 12-6 curve, a sinker and a split-finger changeup,” says Bailey. “We have equipped him with these same four pitches in MLB 2K11.

Several other players also did their own motion capture work, including San Francisco Giants pitcher and 2010 World Series hero Tim Lincecum. He and other players discussed details of their performances with the developers.

As it turned out, talking to pitchers was especially helpful when the developers were capturing the behaviors of hitters. “Pitchers are always insightful because it is part of their job to be true students of the game,” says Bailey. “They know which hitters are going to battle and foul off six or more pitches when faced with two strikes.”

“Last season, the San Diego Padres patiently took most of Lincecum’s pitches, resulting in a high pitch count in the early innings,” says Bailey. “The Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers, however, came out swinging at everything against Lincecum in the postseason and ended up striking out a lot against him.”

Getting the Stats Right

Even though pitchers told the developers what they throw and how the batter reacts, the developers still used Inside Edge scouting reports to get the percentages right when simulating outcomes. These scouting reports are the same ones the real-life teams use.

“This allowed us to have players behave just like their real-life counterparts when it comes to the decision-making and tendencies, both on the mound and at the plate,” says Bailey. “For example, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has a .312 batting average against fastballs versus right-handed pitchers. He hits .392 against pitches thrown to the inside middle of the strike zone.”

This data also helped 2K Sports plan for when the gamer is playing against the CPU. While there are hundreds of different swing animations, there are only three basic swing types: power, contact and defensive. When the gamer is pitching against the CPU, the CPU will select for the batter “one of these swing types based on multiple factors, including the pitch count as well as their contact and power ratings,” says Bailey. These ratings are generated from the Inside Edge scouting reports.

Likewise, when the gamer is batting against the CPU, the scouting reports ensure that “each pitcher in our game will throw each of their different pitches, per count, with the same frequency that they would in real life,” says Bailey.

A starting pitcher in MLB 2K11 typically has between three and five different types of pitches. But each pitch can have more than one signature animation, since a pitcher will pitch out of the stretch rather than use a full windup when there are runners on base. The speed of pitching out of the stretch also affects the ability of the runners to steal bases.

Of course, not all of the motion-capture animations involved game action. Check out part two of our MLB 2K11 coverage and find out how the developers captured the little details and the atmosphere that made the game truly come to life. Image Credit: http://2ksports.com/screens/new/mlb2k11

Jon Lewin's baseball writing has appeared in The Cambridge Companion to Baseball, The Huffington Post and Yahoo! Sports, among many other publications. He is the fantasy baseball columnist for The Faster Times and writes for the Met-Yankee fan blog Subway Squawkers. Lewin has also written about Star Trek for Wizard World Digital Magazine.