As part of the recent release of Out of the Park Baseball 17, I was able to interview a couple of the folks behind the game, as we have an extensive interview with Markus Heinsohn, who’s the creator of the long running game series, as well as Rich Grisham, Chief Marketing Officer.
An8BitMind: First off, thanks for agreeing to this interview. The Out of the Park series has a long and illustrious history, stretching all the way back to 1999. How hard is it each year to brainstorm new features and new things to add to the game? I mean, every year, people say “I don’t know what they can add to it”, and then you come out with new things, like this year’s historical minor leagues and historic series mode.
Markus: It is getting increasingly harder every year. Now that my personal favorite features are implemented (game recaps and 3D in-game animations) OOTP is pretty close to being complete feature-wise. However, there are still many things we can improve and add to already existing features. We already have a big list which is enough work for the next three years, at least. And then I am sure the community will come up with even more ideas. So, I won’t get bored anytime soon I suppose 🙂
An8BitMind: Out of the Park prides itself on realism, and sometimes people complain that “This person hit .280 in game when he hit .255 in real life, it’s obviously broken”, when it’s just normal statistical variance. What is the one area that you think that you get the most complaints about the supposed “unrealistic” nature of, and how do you respond to it?
Markus: Injury frequency, for sure. In OOTP the default setting even generates about 30% less injuries than in real life, but people still complain that the game is broken because they had three injuries in one week. Most users don’t realize how many injuries there are in real life.
An8BitMind: Adding historical minor leagues from 1919 onwards is a huge update for the game. How does it feel knowing that for the first time, approximately 150,000 historical players will be available in game? Can you see folks doing historical sims, but instead of life in the big leagues, instead trying to manage a Single A or Double A team, with the requisite difficulties (got a great player? Great, send him up the line! Oh, and take this reject we can’t use)
Markus: Our historical database creators have done an awesome job with the minor league database, all I had to do was the importer and auto-expansion / alignment working, which was a bit of a PITA, but worth the effort in the end. I am sure there are plenty of users who really enjoy this feature.
An8BitMind: This year, Out of the Park is doing the 16 for ’16 series, where a panel of experts, as well as the OOTP community selected 16 of the best teams of all time. First off, was there any chance of my beloved Red Sox getting one or more teams in there? *grin* And also, if you could, describe a bit about what the 16 for ’16 is, how it came to be, who’s involved, and how this all came together.
Markus: I’ll let Rich answer this one..
Rich: In order to get the best possible list of teams, we went to the experts. So, unfortunately that means that no Red Sox teams made it. Surprising, I suppose, but at least the OOTP team can’t get in trouble for that! Overall, 16 for ’16 came to be simply because we know that the OOTP engine is the best there is, and we wanted to crown the no-doubt best team ever. At first, we thought about picking the teams ourselves, but after reaching out to former ESPN Baseball Tonight producer Gus Ramsey, he indicated he could get some of his colleagues to vote – and it went from there. We’re quite happy with it and very excited to see who the best team of all time truly is!
An8BitMind: The historical series mode is kind of interesting, and is the first thing I did when I got my key to review the game, pitting the 2004 Red Sox against the 1946 Red Sox (the 2004 side won 5-1 in a best of 9), Could we see this expand in to a full fledged season mode, where you could say, put the best 30 teams in a club’s history against each other to determine ultimate franchise supremacy with easy adjustment for era?
Markus: You can already do this. Simply create a fictional league and switch to the historical teams selection (it’s in the league creation wizard). That way you can have a league full of Red Sox teams, with player ratings normalized properly to the league’s era.
An8BitMind: There are several interesting events that can happen in OOTP, both in gameplay and in the general engine, (one player accidentally smacked his hand and thumb with a hammer doing house work in my game) What’s some of your favorite “rare events” that can happen, that people may or may not have run into in their game play?
Markus: I don’t want to spoil this, but there are some very funny easter eggs in the game 😉
An8BitMind: It’s kinda weird, that for most folks, they don’t question what calculations are going on behind the display. so they may not know the percentages of say, this base runner getting a stolen base. For folks like you that are more cognizant of the code, is it a bit weird, immersion wise to know what goes into presenting the game?
Markus: Well, the whole simulation engine is so complex that I simply lay back and enjoy what it spits out when I am personally playing. I don’t think abut the inner mechanics at all, I am just glad it works and get immersed in the output.
An8BitMind: I like the experimental Text to Speech mode for Play By Play, and think that’s a real link to the old time APBA Baseball for Windows game, which featured Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell calling the game. Could you ever see OOTP pairing with a radio announcer to do a full play by play mode ala listening to the game on the radio?
Markus: No way. Our play-by-play text database is so huge, we’d have to put that poor guy into the recording studio for years to get it all covered.
An8BitMind: OOTP Developments has been very busy, not only just on the baseball front, but with Franchise Hockey Manager 2 out, and working on an American Football game. Could you see OOTP Developments branching out into more sports?
Markus: Maybe if the opportunity is right we’ll expand into basketball, but there are no real plans here yet. We have enough on our plates already right now.
An8BitMind: How have MLB and the MLBPA been as partners? It’s been my view from the outside, that it’s hard to get a league and it’s player association to agree the sky is blue, never mind both paring with a computer game to make the ultimate baseball sim.
Markus: They both have been very easy to work with. I suppose we get the benefit of the doubt sometimes because we’re such a small company and such friendly folks. 😉
An8BitMind: Not everyone might know this, but in 2004, there was a baseball sim by OOTP that focused on you as a player, called Inside the Park Baseball. Do you think that with the popularity of OOTP and create-a-player games like MLB The Show, we might see something like that again someday?
Markus: Inside the Park Baseball was fun, but right now our tight schedule does not allow for any more projects. Maybe if we start selling millions of copies then I’ll sit back and design an ITP2 for mobile devices, something that’s just fun and not too focused on realism.