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Summary[]

With MLB in limbo, Ben Lindbergh investigates virtual baseball, talking to the designers of three new baseball video games—Ramone Russell of Sony San Diego, makers of MLB The Show 20, Markus Heinsohn of Out of the Park Developments, makers of Out of the Park Baseball 21 (37:56), and Scott Drader of Metalhead Software, makers of Super Mega Baseball 3 (1:21:50)—about the histories of their respective franchises, how their games differ stylistically, their different development plans, balancing realism and fun, how their games are helping fans and players cope with the absence of actual baseball, and much more (plus postscripts on Baseball Mogul 2020 and minor leaguers’ likenesses in MLB The Show).

Topics[]

  • MLB The Show 20
    • Impact of coronavirus epidemic on the development team
    • The creation of the Players League
    • Drawing in fans who previously were not interested in video games
    • How game commentary is recorded
    • How crowd noise is generated
    • Deciding what features go into each release
    • Notable years in the history of the game
    • Responding to changes in how baseball is played in real life
    • Choosing the settings for Players League
    • Realism vs fun
    • Choosing the cover athlete
    • Scripted storylines
    • Maintaining focus when you have no real competition
    • Ramone's favorite little feature
  • Out of the Park Baseball 21
    • Origin story
    • Achieving realism with advanced stats
    • Use within the baseball industry
    • Improvements to game visuals
    • Letting others work on the game
    • Is there very old code that you've forgotten?
    • Incorporating more advanced statistics
    • How to create accurate models, such as for injuries
    • Obtaining MLB licensing
    • Adding new features
    • Making realistic AI for computer managers
    • Community participation
    • Being the best substitute for real baseball
    • Handing over the reins
  • Super Mega Baseball 3
    • Origin story
    • How to start writing a game engine
    • Evolving the game
    • Too much realism?
    • Leveling the playing field between platforms
    • Remaining independent and self-publishing
    • Biggest features, and biggest features you couldn't do
    • The new distribution model where games update after release
    • Managing stress in the development cycle
    • Planning future versions
    • Adding data import from version 2 to version 3
    • What you would tell your younger self
    • Public response to the game
    • Effect of global pandemic
  • Baseball Mogul 2020
  • Minor leaguers in MLB The Show

Interstitials[]

Jim Noir, "Do You Like Games"

Shout Out Louds, "Play the Game"

Email Questions[]

  • Anton (Minnesota): I really enjoyed your conversation mulling around the idea of piping in crowd noises into the stadium or broadcasts if games are played to empty stadiums. It might be a good jumping off point to talk to the game designers of MLB the Show, to see how the determine what crowd noises should sound like. I'm sure a big hit sounds different depending if it actually goes out, is caught at the warning track, or stolen over the wall. Whether it's the beginning/middle/end of the game probably matters too, but how much? Do Dodgers' crowds sound different than Padres' crowds? It'd be neat to hear what factors they consider when they're designing sound stages for the game.

Notes[]

  • Ben had planned to talk to Owen Good, previous guest from Episode 427, but he was furloughed from Vox due to the coronavirus pandemic and was unavailable.
  • Ben is an avid video gamer, but Sam and Meg are not, so he's hosting the episode by himself.
  • MLB The Show focuses on realism, down to the players' mannerisms. Out of the Park is more like a simulation that lets you operate a team and simulate an entire season. Super Mega Baseball is more arcade-like and does not use real players.
  • Ben covers the games in chronological order, oldest first.
  • The number after MLB The Show is the year, whereas the number after Out of the Park is the version number, which is one ahead of the year.

MLB The Show 20

  • The 100-person team had to start working from home. Fortunately, they had finished the game just before things started to shut down. Games nowadays are continuously updated, so the work continues. Silver lining is that video game engagement is way up.
  • During the pause, MLB created the Players League in collaboration with SCE San Diego Studio (the producers of MLB The Show), the players association, and Sony Playstation. Each team in the league is represented by a player from that team. Ramone enjoys how the players let their personalities show, and they are sharing stories that they normally don't tell until after they've retired. Joey Gallo in particular hustled everybody by claiming to be bad at the game, but it turns out he's really good.
  • Some players and even managers use MLB The Show to look up information on other players.
  • Some teams (Padres, Mets) are running simulations and providing live commentary, which Ramone could not have predicted.
  • The recorded commentary is done by playing actual game situations and recording spontaneous reactions.
  • Most of the noises in the game come from actual baseball games, recorded live. The different bat cracks for different kinds of hits, the ball hitting the mitt, the roar of the crowd, vendors hawking, etc. Simulated crowds pattern after real crowds, so a Red Sox game will be sold out. The simulated crowd responds to the game, so if the team is losing badly, more people will leave.
  • The creative team decides which features to include for each release, prioritizing features to match the time available. Gameplay improvements are always included, and they try to add a feature to every part of the game, so that users will always find something new in the part of the game they spend the most time in.
  • Ramone feels every year is packed with new features. They have to be careful not to spread themselves too thin, and there's a hard deadline on when everything must be done. Feedback from the community and telemetry help guide their decisions.
  • Every night, they let the game play an infinite-inning game at high speed. In the morning, when the score is something crazy like 762–1023, they compare the results with real-life data to see how close they are. This ensures that the game tracks things like the increase in home run rate.
  • Ramone doesn't know how the rules for the Players League were arrived at, but the goal was to highlight the players and their personalities.
  • If the game is too realistic, it'd get frustrating and you'd stop playing. "Baseball is a sport of failure. You fail more often than you succeed."
  • The development team is its own worst critic. "If you have an issue with the game, believe me we have ten times as many."
  • They consider all sports games as competition, not just baseball video games.
  • Ramone can't name a single change that calls out to him. He enjoys the personalized player celebrations.

Out of the Park Baseball 21 (OOTP)

  • Markus is from Germany, where soccer is the overwhelming sport of choice. One of his friends returned from a visit to Miami with a baseball bat, a couple of gloves, and a single baseball, and that triggered his interest in baseball. Soccer sports manager games were popular, and Markus decided to write a baseball version. The first version was released in 1995 for MS-DOS.
  • Markus invented his own version of defense-independent pitching, but the results were too unstable from year to year. He set it aside, but brought an improved version back in 2001.
  • Media members use Out of the Park to explore hypotheticals. Some teams use it, too, but Markus is not allowed to say which ones. He can say that Red Sox owner John Henry is an avid user.
  • There was some initial backlash when they added 3D graphics, but people are okay with it now. Doing 3D graphics is hard, and they are a small team, so they can't take it very far.
  • Markus was initially anxious about letting others work on the game, since he originally wrote it from scratch, but he's better about it now.
  • His most memorable bug was in OOTP 5: Every run that scored in the first inning was counted as unearned. It was reported when the team was having a barbecue to celebrate shipping. He felt compelled to rush home and fix the bug (uninitialized variable), and then return to the party. They released a patch the next day.
  • There was a rewrite from 2004 to 2006, so their oldest code is from 2004. He occasionally stumbles across code he doesn't remember writing. Sometimes he finds a little feature that other members of the team wrote without telling him, and he's often pleasantly surprised.
  • A longtime employee Lukas is responsible for gathering statistics. "I have no idea where they get all their data from. It's like magic."
  • Another employee Matt is responsible for adding advanced statistics.
  • After building a model, they run the simulation for 50 seasons and look at the results, making sure that things stay balanced and look realistic.
  • Obtaining MLB licensing is complicated because the MLB wants to vet the product and make sure that the effort they put into supporting the licensee will pay off. OOTP failed to to obtain MLB licensing in 2013, but had grown enough by 2015 that they succeeded. The MLBPA extended an offer, and in 2017, they had both licenses.
  • They typically plan about 2½ years ahead, but have tons of features on their list. He's happy they had the resources to create the 3D ballpark construction kit. They often ask the community for suggestions for new features.
  • Markus is looking forward to voice synthesis technology that sounds natural, so it can do play-by-play.
  • It took almost two years to create Perfect Team (their online service) once the technology to do it became available at prices they could afford.
  • Markus sighs when Ben brings up the trade AI, where the computer would sometimes suggest ridiculous trades. "That was a massive pain in the rear." It's complicated to evaluate a player in the context of how they fit into the team. He thinks the AI is pretty decent now.
  • They have a forum for the community, and they read all of it. They have around 150 beta testers.
  • Markus is grateful that their industry is not as affected by the coronavirus pandemic as others.
  • He understands that they are a niche product compared to MLB The Show, but they are enjoying their time in the spotlight. The free advertising is drawing new customers, which helps a lot because they don't advertise much. He's glad they can help people through the rough times.
  • Markus can't imagine handing control of the game to anyone else, since it has been his baby from the start, though he figures that when he's in his sixties, he'll be spending only a few hours a day on it.

Super Mega Baseball 3

  • Scott Drader appeared on Episode 589 when Super Mega Baseball was first released.
  • Unlike MLB The Show and Out of the Park, Super Mega Baseball uses fictitious players.
  • Scott went to UBC in Vancouver, Canada but injured himself before the year started and never threw a pitch.
  • He studied engineering and started a company with a friend, and Super Mega Baseball was their first product.
  • They released the game at Christmas, which is a terrible time to release a baseball game, but they were running out of money and had no choice.
  • The game didn't do well at first, but favorable critical reception helped them grow.
  • The original idea was to do a 2D arcade-style game, but it evolved into a 3D game, with a more sophisticated engine.
  • For the second version, they worked to make it look more serious, to make it appeal to more serious baseball fans. They went to a lot of effort to add online play, as well as porting it to platforms beyond the PlayStation. And they filled in various gaps, like pickoff plays, designated hitters, and dropped third strikes.
  • The development team is up to 17 players now.
  • The team prioritizes gameplay and fun over realism. For example, motion capture looks great, but makes games feel less responsive to your specific actions. For example, an early version of pitching felt like you were feeding data to a simulator instead of feeling like you were throwing the ball.
  • "It's the first version on a new platform that really kills you." Maintaining that version is much easier.
  • To keep one platform from having an advantage in head-to-head online games, the frame rates are locked.
  • It was never their goal to become a triple-A studio, but they remain open-minded about it. Remaining independent keeps them in control of their fate.
  • Almost everything in version 3 came from the community.
  • Updating a game after release "has completely changed the industry," allowing developers to be more ambitious. However, you cannot iterate on stability. It has to work from day one.
  • Scott finds it less stressful that Super Mega Baseball doesn't have a forced annual update cycle like other games. Version 3 took almost two years.
  • "There's an infinite backlog" of things they want to do someday.
  • The ability to import data from Super Mega Baseball 2 into Super Mega Baseball 3 was added after launch after community outcry. They had misjudged how much people would want this.
  • Scott would tell his younger self, "Try not to worry about looking more than one year out." Get it out there so you can get feedback.
  • It's really satisfying seeing several years of work that really connects to the audience. They see people who have played for hundreds of hours.
  • Scott considers himself and his industry fortunate that it can continue operating under the restrictions of the global pandemic.

Other topics

  • Baseball Mogul is a team management simulation game which predates Out of the Park. Creator (and Effectively Wild listener) Clay Dreslough has offered free copies of prior versions of Baseball Mogul to Effectively Wild Patreon supporters.
  • Minor league players received no compensation for being included in MLB The Show. The standard minor league contract signs over to MLB the right to profit from their likenesses in video games, baseball cards, etc. If they reach the majors, then they are covered by the MLBPA and receive compensation.
  • As far as anyone remembers, the only minor leaguer who had the clout to have the clause struck from the contract was Michael Jordan.

Links[]

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