With the baseball season just around the corner, Games Campus is looking to bring a baseball MMO to fans who are looking for a little more action than their fantasy league can offer. Combining some parts fantasy league management and the game play of a baseball game for you console, MLB Dugout Heroes could be a home run for people that enjoy baseball games, but are looking for some more player to player interaction.
Unlike Ultimate Baseball Online, where players would control an individual player on the field, MLB Dugout Heroes lets players control their whole team. After creating an account and logging on the first time, you'll be prompted to select an official MLB team to field. These teams will have the official 2009 rosters, and I would suspect these will change as the years progress. After selecting your team, you're also prompted to name them. This may seem odd, but other people may be playing the same team in the game, and this helps distinguish them from one another. Though two players may have selected the Pirates for their team at the start, however unlikely, over their career and their owner's choices, the two won't be so identical. The players on your roster earn experience points in various stats during the games these play. For batters these include: Power (which affects your raw hitting distance), accuracy (the affect of this wasn't clearly defined, though may affect gap hitting, how often they may foul or others), Run (affects how fast that player base runs and how fast he runs when he's fielding), Fielding (affects throwing power, speed, and their error rate), and Throw (which affects their throwing speed and accuracy). These stats grow based on the players batting order, fielding position, and other events in the game such as hitting a homer. Pitchers also have stats, but they are broken down to their individual throws instead of raw stats. The more a pitcher uses a particular pitch, the more it will develop. Pitchers can also learn new pitches during their career.
The game allows a lot of leeway when it comes to deciding which areas your players accelerate in. Having a player bat first will increase their accuracy and running speed and having them play second base will increase their fielding and throw statistic. Switching their batting order and fielding position will change what stats grow and how fast. This allows you to make a power hitter or a fast running base steal, if you wanted. You could also make a well balanced player who isn't overly fantastic in any one area, but he wouldn't be lacking in it either. This appealed to me, as I saw a few players on my team who were lacking in a few departments and by simply switching their order or fielding position, I could expect to see some increases in those stats before switching them around again. This feature of the game will allow two players fielding the same MLB team to have a vastly different play style. One player playing the Pirates (again, unlikely) could have built up his team to be power hitters and pretty accurate when it comes to putting the ball in the gaps, but perhaps lacking in the fielding department. On the same note, the other player could have built his team up to be extremely fast in the outfield and can gun down a player trying to make a steal, but only so-so when it comes their turn to bat. Pitchers wouldn't be excluded from this example either; one player could have worked his pitcher's fast balls for blazing speed, while the other could have worked on his curve ball or sinker making his pitches slower, but more confusing to the opposing team's batter.
The various options for statistics growth and where to put your players where is probably the most complicated, but good, feature of the game; actually playing one is much simpler. Before the game starts, you're presented with your opponents line-up, and can make any last minute changes to yours. During the game you're allowed to make substitutions as you would in a real game of baseball. I wasn't sure if you were able to switch a runner out for a pinch one. Depending on your game length, however, you may not need to make any subs at all. You can set a match to be three, five, seven, or nine innings long. During my play testing three seemed to be the most common, and pitchers hardly get tired before that. When the game goes live, however, I would expect to see more games being played at longer innings as it would suspect it would be an opportunity to earn your players more experience, and a game at nine innings is closer to the “real thing”. Each of your players has the ever so well known “HP”, or hit points, stat on the field. It didn't seem like it affected anyone else besides the pitcher. Each pitch available to your pitcher costs them HP to throw, some more than others. It could be safely said that leveling up your pitches would more the likely lower the HP cost for a particular pitch. Relief pitchers' pitches cost significantly more than their starting counterparts, though they're only meant to see the last few innings of the game. On the flip side, however, their breaking balls are incredibly wicked.
The controls, like the majority of the game, were designed to be simple. The game is played with either the mouse or keyboard, but you can choose which you use the most. Left clicking will perform a majority of the the actions in the game, while using the WASD keys will decide which base you throw to (or try to steal). The overall view of the game is the same for both players: from behind the batter. While batting, you'll be presented with a strike box and a little icon that closely resembles the tip of a bat. Your objective, as one might guess, is to put this icon over the incoming ball and click the left mouse button to hit it at the appropriate time. I was unable to test whether hitting a pitch with different parts of the icon largely affects how far or where the ball would go, but it would be a pleasant surprise if it did. You have the option, if you dare, to switch to “power” mode. This makes your batting icon much smaller but, supposedly, hits the ball harder. I didn't notice any large gains from using power mode and decided to save my self the trouble and stick to normal mode. Your player can also bunt and is useful for making some sacrifice bunts if the situation calls for it. Pitching, likewise, is also easy to pickup and execute. Before the pitch, you're presented with all the pitches your pitcher knows and their associated HP cost. After choosing, you'll click anywhere inside, or outside, the strike box to start the next phase. After choosing the location of the pitch comes the wind up; a small bar will appear below the strike box. Your objective here is to click once which will set a marker to the right of the bar. This will set how fast the pitch is. Click again to set the speed where you want, this will start sending the marker to the left of the bar. Now your objective is to set your pitches' accuracy. Getting it right on the goal will ensure your pitch goes where you initially set it to go, messing up means it might be off by a little or quite a bit. I noticed that as your pitcher gets more exhausted, the “bad zone” of the pitching bar gets bigger and bigger. If you're not too go at twitch based mechanics, it might be a good idea to switch him out at the point. If you're somewhat better and more precise, you could probably afford to keep him out there a bit longer.
After a ball is hit, the view will switch to the field. The camera will follow the ball and your fielders will, more or less, try their best to position themselves under the ball. In the case of a grounder, they'll try and put themselves in front of the balls path. This bit of the game is semi-automatic; you can't really make your fielders to any better or worse at this point. If they miss a catch or drop the ball, you're then free to correct their mistake and move the player after it. Throwing the ball is as simple as using the left mouse button, holding down longer will make them throw the ball harder, and using the WASD to decide which base to throw to (W for second, A for third, S for home, and D for first). You also have the option to make cut-off plays. While the fielding section may feel a bit too “hands off” for many baseball game veterans, it sticks with the over all “simplistic game play” Games Campus was going after. Base stealing is performed while your batting and is similar to how the fielding controls work; using WASD to steal bases, while the pitcher uses the same to try and gun them down.
Overall, the testing phase was enjoyable, though short. There were quite a number of bugs at this stage of the game; freezing, players getting stuck, not being able to tag players, and some other various MLB rules technicalities. Hopefully, these will be cleaned up for their Open Testing phase starting the 19th. For baseball fans looking to show that their team is the best, to casual gamers just looking around for a decent game to play, MLB Dugout Heroes is a free to play MMO coming out soon everyone should keep their eye on.
Official Site here:
Good game play footage here (thanks to a MrNormsHGW):