World Series Baseball Designer Diary #3
Troy Skinner, executive producer at Blue Shift, gives details on how the team balanced realism and gameplay.
Entry #3 - 05/07/02
By Troy Skinner
Executive Producer, Blue Shift
There are several members of our development team who are always trying to cram more realism into the game. They want passed balls, wild pitches, realistic pitch speeds, more hit variety, cutoff men, and other features. In their minds, the single most important thing in making a baseball game is representing every nook and cranny of the game in the most exacting detail.
There is a lot to be said for that design direction, except when a proposed feature doesn't play particularly well, and I am here to tell you that not all realism is created equal--some of it is fun, and some of it is not.
Take the subject of errors. As simple as it is to make a ball kick off a player's shin, you always have to examine if the user will perceive your implementation of a feature as realistic, comic, frustrating, or enjoyable. What we found while testing this feature was that it generally made people angry when their player committed an error, because they felt like they were not in control of the action. The error was inflicted upon them. In an attempt to balance the fact that errors are a part of baseball, but frustrating, we lowered the frequency of errors below the Major League norm. While that is not quite realistic, it's a lot more fun than a realistic implementation would be. It's a small thing, but the game you ship is made up of hundreds of small decisions like that one. Our general rule is that we will make the game as realistic as we can, while keeping in mind that it is a video game whose primary purpose is to be a blast to play.
Here is the direction we took on a few other realistic baseball features:
- Cutoff Men - Real, fun, and a little difficult to make intuitive, but definitely worth putting in the game.
- More Hit Variety - You want the right number of singles, doubles, and home runs. You also want slightly more than your fair share of hits to necessitate a dive, because making a diving catch is fun! Keeping those two things firmly in mind, we added a lot more hit variety while engineering things so that there would be roughly the right number hit types and enough balls that are just far enough away from the fielder that a diving catch is possible, but not inevitable.
- Passed Balls/Wild Pitches - They are in the game, but they happen less frequently than they do in the major leagues.
One of the biggest tuning decisions we were faced with on this game was whether to have realistic pitch speeds. The first thing you have to know is that you can't even see a 100mph fastball in a video game, let alone hit one. If real pitch speeds were put in the game, all you could do is smash the button and pray. Once one discovers how unhittable, and therefore un-fun, real pitch speeds are, it's easy to decide to slow them down. The problem is, how much do you slow them down? That's a subject that everyone has a different opinion about, which led us to providing three different pitch speeds in our game, so every player could sample the alternatives and find the setting that best suited his or her taste.
A related problem was whether or not we should have realistic ball movement on pitches. There is a delicate balance to be struck between giving the pitcher enough weapons to get batters out, without making them so overwhelming that every game is a near no-hitter. The trade-off most baseball games make, and the one we went with as well, is that we slowed down pitches, but gave them more movement than exists in the MLB. While people talk about "exploding curveballs" and "devastating sliders," the amount of actual movement on those pitches would not be terribly noticeable in a video game. The fundamental difference here is that the user has a lot more control over his or her bat cursor than a Major League player has over his bat. A little movement at the end of the pitch can severely disrupt the timing of a big-league hitter, but with the almighty bat cursor, even the most drastically reflex-challenged game player can smash even the most dynamic of curveballs. Our solution was to exaggerate the movement of off-speed pitches.
We could simulate the difficulty of hitting, but again, it just isn't fun to play. Having talked to several designers who have built baseball games from the ground up, they always talk about creating their first pass of the game with "real" physics and then deciding that "real" physics make a crappy video game. So, ultimately you try to make the game seem realistic, without all the gameplay drawbacks an absolutely realistic game would have.
In the end, as a development house, our goal is to keep the game fun for players while giving them as authentic a baseball experience as possible. If you make the game too realistic, the game won't be fun, but if you stray too far away from realism, the game you make won't be the representation of baseball that everyone desperately wants to play.
After shipping WSB2K2 for the Dreamcast last year, we spent a lot of time reading and thinking about our customers' feedback. That is the great luxury of doing a sequel--it gives you a chance to hear thousands of people's opinions and address their concerns.
When making a baseball game, you work like mad for several months, test the game, argue about the game, rework the game, and then test the game some more until it comes time to send it out into the world. After all is said and done, it comes down to how close you came to making the game that everyone wants to play. The game is done now, and it's time to find out from all of you exactly how we did.
I think you're going to love it. I am sure you will let me know either way!
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