The original decision to make a baseball game had a lot to do with Scott’s passion for the sport growing up. There was one person in particular who helped foster that passion, his Dad. Their shared experience with the sport, as it turns out, came in handy during the later stages of Super Mega Baseball's development. I sat down with Scott and we called his Dad, Kevin, to talk about what he did for the game.
Liane: You’ve loved baseball since you were a kid, right Scott?
Scott: Yeah, and it's not just that I played and watched a ton of ball as a kid, there was another level to it. My dad was hugely into the sport as well, as a fan but also in terms of coaching it and teaching it. I ended up tagging along with him to all these baseball symposiums and coaching clinics over the years, even though I was just a kid. In several ways I was learning about the sport more like a coach than a player. At the time I wasn't trying to imagine what it might be useful for, besides actually becoming a better player of course, but it turns out it is actually pretty good childhood training for making baseball video games.
Kevin: And I remember when you were playing little league we’d go to a tournament out of town and in between games you and all your teammates would be in the hotel playing video games, like RBI Baseball on the Nintendo.
Scott: For sure.
Kevin: And I would watch it and say “I don’t know what it is they think is so much fun about these games.”
Scott: But you've learned that by now though, right?!
Kevin: Oh yeah.
Here are Scott and Kevin when Scott was in Little League:
Their Little League career together reaped some large trophies, due in no small part to the constant feedback on and off the diamond.
Liane: Andrew was officially doing QA for the game, but let’s talk about the work Kevin ended up doing.
Scott: It was about 6 months before we shipped, it was sometime in Spring or Summer 2014, when I first started sending my Dad builds.
Kevin: It was May.
Scott: And I have to imagine that you were only spending like 20 minutes at a time, at first. It grew over the course of the year and eventually got up to just about as much as Andrew was playing.
Kevin: Yeah, I put a lot of time into it. And it was harder for me than Andrew, probably, because I had never played video games before. You’d say “use the D-pad” and I’d go “what the heck is a D-pad?”
Scott: Yeah, we had an interesting cross section covered with the two of you testing the game. You are a baseball expert but totally not into video games, and Andrew is the exact opposite. So that was actually really interesting. We got very different kinds of feedback from the two of you.
Kevin: I’m sure you did, I certainly focused more on the baseball aspect.
Scott: And I remember when we started out, you were giving feedback with just written notes.
Kevin: Oh yeah, it was nasty. I’d see something go wrong, and then I’d have to take notes, and it took forever. Of course then I’d have to type it into an email, and I don’t type so well. It was taking a really long time.
Scott: Yup, it was brutal. It became pretty clear that discussing this stuff in text - issues in a simulation that occur over time and in very specific circumstances - is grossly inefficient.
Scott: So, NVIDIA ShadowPlay [a screen recording utility], that tool kicked ass for us.
Kevin: It made the testing way more efficient because I could just send you a video, note where in it the problem happens, and we'd hardly even have to talk about it.
Liane: What kinds of things were you testing?
Kevin: I did a whole bunch of different things. Like one thing I did was check all the stats. I actually printed out some scoresheets and kept score of some games and then tabulated all the results and statistics and checked it back to what the game was producing. We found a couple of errors. It was quite time consuming because you'd do a play in the game and then you’d have to put it on pause…
Scott: Put the controller down…
Kevin: Right. Then write down the score. I did get pretty good at it. But it would take like an hour to play a game, and then it would take me at least another hour, maybe more, to tabulate all the stats because I was doing it manually. And then I’d play another game to make sure that the accumulative stats were being done right, and then I had to take the initial stats and add on the second game…it was a fairly lengthy process. And kind of monotonous actually. And the other thing I was trying to do was make certain things happen in the game. Like fielder’s choice, infield fly, things like that, so that we could test to make sure the game was actually tracking them and recording them properly. I think Mike did all the stats and they were really good actually, I didn’t find a huge number of problems.
Scott: No there weren’t too many.
Kevin: Other things I did…test the simulation basically, like offense and defense, baserunning. You know, are the AI baserunners doing what they are supposed to be doing? And is the AI defense doing what it’s supposed to be doing in terms of cutoffs and relays and coverages and all that? Just all the baseball aspects of it. I remember one of the things I kept complaining about all the time was that I couldn’t steal a base in the game, I’d get thrown out every time, I remember spending days trying to balance that.
Scott: That got balanced sooooo late.
Kevin: I remember going back and doing Excel spreadsheets.
Scott: Stealing percentages on all the different settings.
Kevin: Comparing it to real baseball.
Scott: It was brutal.
Kevin: We spent a ton of time on that.
Scott: Just calibrating everything. And AI bugs, oh my god. There must have been hundreds of issues related to AI behavior in specific circumstances, and at the end they got super rare to the point that the plays we’re talking about would be ridiculously hard to reproduce in the first place, let alone actually fix.
Kevin: Yeah, Scotty gave me these basic tools that I could use to test it. I could play the game but only from the perspective of the defense, so I could test to see what the defense was doing. So the pitcher would throw the ball and I could hit it anywhere I wanted to, and the camera was hovering above the stadium. I could direct hits all over the field. Hard hits, weak hits, pop-ups, everything.
Scott: Pick apart the AI ruthlessly.
Kevin: To see what the AI was doing. Going back and forth on this over and over and over. Finally I had gone through all of the different scenarios I wanted to see, and there were tons of them, and I couldn’t see anything blatantly wrong with them anymore. It’s not perfect, it’s still not perfect, but for the most part it doesn't do anything too egregious. But I do remember bugs when pitchers would start to wind up, and they’d flop on the mound and stand back up again…there was some really bad stuff.
Scott: Ahh yes, the animation bugs…must have been kind of frustrating at times to see how broken it was.
Liane: What did you think of the game?
Kevin: I remember asking you a couple of times, especially towards the end, “do people like this game?” Because the truth is, when you’re only playing it from the perspective of looking for things that are wrong…
Scott: It’s not fun.
Kevin: You don’t enjoy playing it. Testing is not very fun. It really isn’t. Because all you see are the things that are wrong with the game. So you don’t know if it’s any good or not, to tell you the truth.
Scott: Yup, for sure.
Kevin: And I think Scotty would tell you, when this game started out it was more arcade and less hardcore baseball than what it ended up being, and I think maybe I had a little bit to do with that.
Liane: What was it like working together?
Scott: As we got into the cycle of my Dad giving feedback on the game, we started talking on the phone like an order of magnitude more than we were before that. Which is pretty cool, I think.
Kevin: Yeah, and even though I’m like 500 miles away I kind of felt like I was part of the team. And I only really did it to help you guys, obviously.
Scott: Oh yeah.
Kevin: And it’s good, because baseball is one thing we’ve always had in common. We both love baseball.
Scott: For sure, yeah.
Kevin: It was a big part of your life growing up and we were both really hardcore into it. It’s been a great part of our relationship over the years, from the time you were 7 or 8 years old.
Scott: Totally. This was an unpredictable way to reconnect on it later in life.
Kevin: I was hoping you’d have a couple of kids so I could teach them baseball. So far that hasn’t happened.
Scott: Okay now you're changing the subject...let's keep this about video games.
Kevin ended up being the unofficial "baseball auditor" on Super Mega Baseball, and the quality would not have reached the level it did without his feedback. Now, with all the testing and tweaking wrapping up, the game was finally almost done. In our next post, I’ll gather the whole team to talk about the release.
This post was copied over from our blog.