With baseball season winding down, many sports fans may flock to the digital sports like MLB 15 to get their home run fix until its return. These fans will spend hours playing as their favorite teams or their dream team, tracking stats and touring from stadium to stadium to ultimately win the championship. Yet a new contestant has jumped into the fray, one that dares to split itself from the pack with a balance between a cartoony look and being a realistic baseball simulator. Enter Super Mega Baseball, a game made by Metalhead Software with the hopes of capturing the heart of the sport along with the easy approachability to those that might not be avid sports fans. After the game launched on the Playstation 3 and 4 on December 16th of 2014, it was later updated and ported to the Xbox One and Steam this August. I recently sat down with one of the co-founders, Scott Drader, some more about what makes Super Mega Baseball so unique.
Andrew Perry: What gave you the idea for the ego system? It’s something relatively unheard of in sports games, but makes sense in terms of a difficulty system.
Scott Drader: We found that, in games that have only a few difficulty levels, it can be frustrating being stuck between difficulties where you find “medium” too easy, but then when you crank it up to “hard” you find yourself getting destroyed and not having very much fun. So from the very beginning, we had planned to have a sliding difficulty scale, and allow users to have a nice gentle progression upward. It added an interesting design constraint – it wasn’t going to make sense to have assists suddenly turn on or off at certain difficulty thresholds – and I think that prevented us from overthinking what would differentiate hard from easy. The result was that increased difficulty was a product of many subtle things rather than one or two specific things.
AP: Super Mega Baseball certainly doesn’t look like any other sports game on the market. What inspired the team to head in art direction that they did?
SD: Well, there’s inspiration, and then there’s the budget and manpower constraints that exist for a tiny start-up studio. Both factored into the final look of the game a lot. We did seek to come up with something that looked truly different, and that communicated fun first and foremost over realism. We looked at a lot of cartoons and animated films for inspiration there. I mentioned budget because, realistically, we didn’t really iterate on many aspects of the art direction – often times the very first thing we came up with had to stick because there were so many other things to tackle in the project, and it was all being done from scratch.
AP: While some baseball games have an element of management and skills, you guys went all out with skills, trainers, and even custom characters. What caused this emphasis on customization in the game?
SD: To be honest, a lot of that stuff went in fairly late. Two things come to mind though. Doing an unlicensed game, we knew that there would be an expectation for heavy customization features. Also, when considering that the core of the game would be a 20-30 minute 9 inning game, we felt it necessary to have some longer-term progressive elements around that. We just didn’t think we could get away without those features, even if the core game was really solid – the customers were going to expect them to be there.
AP: Despite the cartoon like look of the game, Super Mega Baseball IS a realistic baseball simulation with all its stat tracking. What made you decide on striking this balance between humorous and realistic?
SD: I don’t know if the group of people that made this game would even be capable of doing an entirely “serious” game, we just have so much fun with the lighter aspects of it. A more lighthearted approach also just seemed to go along well with a game that was touting accessibility. On realism, we always wanted the core to be a good baseball simulator. Overall we thought it was a good blend that would be approachable for casual baseball fans but also demonstrate a lot of love for the sport to more hardcore fans.
AP: What was it like porting the Xbox One and Steam versions later? Was it helpful having all the feedback from the original versions when porting?
SD: Well, we would have loved to have been able to handle a simultaneous release but that was just too much given it was our first time around the block with pretty much all aspects of shipping a game. The best thing about having all the feedback during porting was that it was mostly good feedback, and that served as a great motivator to get the game out there to more people. On the other hand – and I imagine almost any developer would tell you this – it’s a lot more fun working on new features/content than it is to be porting.
AP: What inspired the different ballparks? My favorite has to be Sakura Hills!
SD: One of the coolest aspects of doing unlicensed content was being able to dream up fantasy ballparks. That said, we wanted to keep them grounded in reality, architecturally. We wanted people to imagine that these parks could actually exist and imagine what it would be like to watch a game there. In terms of why we chose the various themes, we actually just started with “where is baseball most popular?” so that quickly led to the first few themes that you see in the game - New York, Dominican Republic, and Japan. We had a lot of fun coming up with the ballparks.
AP: What’s next for Metalhead? Any other Super Mega sports games on the horizon?
SD: Maybe! We probably shouldn’t say too much yet until things are a little further along, but we are definitely still working hard. I can say that the next thing is NOT going to be the competitive first person shooter that we had discussed amongst ourselves many times…