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High Heat Baseball 2001 (PC) Preview

Publisher: 3DO
Release Date: Spring 2000

I recently had the opportunity to visit Team .366's headquarters at the 3DO offices in Redwood City, California and take a look at their progress on the upcoming High Heat Baseball 2001 (HH2001). What I saw was very definitely a work in progress (according to 3DO, I am the first journalist to have seen any of HH2001—which I consider quite an honor, indeed). What this means, of course, is that anything that I saw and played with may or may not be in the final release of the game. A lot of what I saw, however, will almost certainly make the release copy of the game, so all you HH series fans out there should definitely read on.

The game is progressing quite nicely—they are about 5 weeks away from an alpha test of the game. The graphics look very good and 3DO has included some new graphical features for this year's game. There are a lot more camera views available for both gameplay and replays, including a very nice side view which should be interesting for guys playing in manage-only mode—I don't think you could reliably hit from that view if you were controlling the gamepad yourself. The replay engine is also greatly enhanced this year and now features mouse control of the playback. This gives the user a lot more control over the replays than last year's gamepad-only control.

There was also in the build I saw the first uses of what 3DO are calling "motion blending"—this is a real-time, code-based smoothing of transitions from one animation to another. The example I saw was based on the hitter bunting; in HH2K, there was a lot of choppiness in the animation as the hitter's bat moved up and down. With motion blending, however, the movement is almost lifelike in its smoothness. Since this is code-based, it doesn't add to the number of animation frames that Team .366 needs to work with; the smoothing is all done real time as the user controls the players. Very cool, and a very promising feature.

To help users to learn the game and to hone their skills at the plate, a new batting practice mode will now be available. Anyone who, like me, tried to use the home run derby mode in the past will welcome this addition with open arms. Let's face it: you can't learn much about how to improve your hitting based on ripping half-speed fastballs down the pipe out of the ballpark… In batting practice mode, you can select the hitter you want to be, as well as the delivery style (overhand, three-quarters, sidearm, or submarine, I think are the choices), as well as the pitch types and pitch locations you want. This has the potential to help you master whatever baseball demons may have been mocking you at the plate. You can have the pitcher throw only sidearm sliders for strikes—I did, and I still couldn't hit the ball every time—man, I hate those sidearmers. You can have the pitcher throw a mix of pitches, or only balls, or only fastballs down central. Spend enough time in the cages and you should be able to work out whatever kinks you may have in your virtual swing.

When pitching, you will be able to see after the at-bat where all of your pitches went and how you handled a given situation—what you threw for balls, what you threw for strikes.

Another graphical improvement concerns the way the players in the game appear—the game uses four different body types, which gives you a pretty good approximation of a given player's appearance—Chuck Knoblauch will have quite a different body than Mo Vaughn, for example.

You can also specify the manager's tendencies. This means you can tweak how likely a manager is to call for a steal, to pinch hit, to pull a pitcher. With these modifications, you should be able to simulate closely a manager's real life management style.

Not only can you create custom players, you can create a custom baseball world (well, almost!). It's up to you to set up leagues, divisions, schedules—even how many games and how many brackets of playoffs it will take to crown a winner in your version of Major League Baseball.

Finally, the game will allow for Internet multiplayer in season mode and playoff mode! No more exhibition-play only limitations. No dedicated server will be required for you to be able to play these matches, either.

All in all, I found myself very excited by my early preview of High Heat 2001. The game, even in its somewhat rough state, is still a clear frontrunner for best baseball game of the year honors. Custom schedules, batting practice mode, and Internet multiplayer are the three enhancements which I am most excited about. The stellar graphics, motion blending, and realistic body types are simply icing on the cake.

If Team .366 can pull off all of the promise shown by the preview I saw, EA and Microsoft will be facing another long slow summer of second division baseball. Ever wonder what it's like to be the Minnesota Twins?

By Rick Worrell 10/20/99

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