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Will MLB 2014 The Show Be a Sony PlayStation 4 Home Run?

Earlier this week, Sony held its February Showcase event in Santa Monica, CA, unveiling some of the new titles coming to the PlayStation 4, which has sold 4.2 million units across 53 countries since its launch. Those consumers have spent a collective average of 34 million hours per week on gaming, 50 hours on the system itself.

Other mind-bending stats: more than 90% of PS4s are connected in the U.S. (it took three years to get to 70% with the PS3); 48 million shares have been captured (it was 6.5 million in November, before PS4), and 1.7 million hours live streamed. One in three Vita owners now also have a PS4.

One more promise from Sony: There will be more than 100 games coming to PS4 in 2014, and that's what we were invited to see, including Sucker Punch's Infamous: Second Son, announced Wednesday for release in March, and San Diego Studio's MLB 2014 The Show, officially announced this morning, available on PlayStation 3 and Vita on April 1, and for PlayStation 4 in May. The timing for PS3 and Vita is set to coincide with the start of the 2014 baseball season. The delay for the PS4 version is due to the company's insistence on having every mode and feature available across all three platforms. In short, it's just not quite ready.

Sony revealed some of the changes coming in MLB 2014 The Show late last year, such as the features that will make playing a game faster, like Quick Counts, where the game automatically generates realistic pitch counts, or simply cutting back on presentations. You'll be able to take file saves between PS3 and PS4, and from MLB 2014 to MLB 2015 when the time comes.

There were still a few details left for later discussion, like a new Community Challenges function where players can bundle custom situations into a set of goals to challenge the community, and universal in-game currency (it's not what people might be afraid it is; you won't have to spend any real money, said Ramone Russel, the title's Game Designer and Community Manager).

But the real fun stuff came from seeing first hand MLB 2014's exploitation of the PlayStation 4 hardware, like the game's new lighting engine, which let the designers reflect sun more realistically off any surface, like hair, skin, metal, and the leather of a baseball mitt. A feature called subsurface scattering allows shadows to blend, rather than just stop with a hard edge. The San Diego Studios team showed the game on PS3 side-by-side and the difference was stunning.

The added geometry processing capability of the PS4 gave the design team the ability to make the players more realistic, including drawing more than 40,000 individual hairs onto the face of players like Mike Napoli, the heavily bearded Red Sox first baseman. (A character team does this by hand, for all players.)

The team had a budget of nearly a million polygons on the PS4, compared with 150,000 on the PS3.

The new version includes 42 different crowd member models, featuring hundreds of hats, sunglasses and uniforms, and kids in the crowd, according to Russell. There are more than 500 unique crowd signs, including custom ones for star players. The crowd models use 1600 polygons on the PS3 and over 10,000 on the PS4, which essentially means the game is using player models from the PS3 in the crowd on the PS4.

The PS3 had 250 fielding animations, Russell said, and the PS4 has about 500. He said that the animation suite was completely redone for this version of MLB The Show.

The stadiums have been completely rebuilt, with added depth to the signage and animated flags thanks to four times the texture resolution. A ball rolling in the grass affects the grass, which is rendered blade-by-blade. All that was missing was the smell, but then again pitchers and catchers have been reporting for spring training in real life this week.

Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson is Editor-at-Large of Tom's Hardware US.