Developer interview: Major League Baseball 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars

Just over a month ago, we brought you details on an upcoming arcade baseball game that’s being developed exclusively for the DS, Major League Baseball 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars. I initially expressed skepticism upon seeing the first batch of images (see screenshot blowout below), but after viewing some gameplay videos (which you can watch over at GameTrailers), the game looks like it could be a lot of fun.

As a result of the persistence of our intrepid Editor-in-Chief, Nick Chester, we were able to score an exclusive interview with the developer of MLB 2K8 FAS, Deep Fried Entertainment. You may remember them from such games as Full Auto 2: Battlelines on the PSP and…well, that’s all they’ve done so far. But the company was founded by senior members of teams that worked for EA Canada/EA Black Box, so they’ve got plenty of potential. Currently, they’re developing games for the Wii, DS, and PSP.

Hit the jump for some thorough answers to my burning questions about this DS title. Also, Happy Opening Day, everyone!

Destructoid: What were the reasons behind the decision to make MLB 2K8 FAS exclusively for the DS?

Deep Fried Entertainment: When we first started talking with Take 2 about a baseball game on the DS we emphasized our opinion that a simulation focused sports game would not be as successful as a sports game that focused on a “fun first” mentality. We feel that the gameplay in our games should not suffer the limitations of realism. When you look at the most successful titles on the DS they tend to be titles that have experimented with new ways of engaging the user, rather than titles that rely solely on the strength of a license or established form of gameplay. For MLB Fantasy All Stars we knew that we needed to make use of the stylus and touchpad to implement pitching and batting in a new way that would evoke the curiosity of the average DS player. We believe that DS owners are more interested in these new mechanics than just seeing the latest port of their favorite brand from other consoles. We were fortunate enough to be given the freedom to experiment and take our ideas as far as we wanted not only by our publisher but also by the MLB association and MLBPA.

Dtoid: The game looks to be an arcade baseball title — replete with wacky power-ups, stadiums that are really “out there”, and a very distinctive art style. Can you comment on that?

DFE: We have already seen the reaction of traditional baseball game fans on forums when they have seen only screenshots of our portable game with no description of our gameplay mechanics, and some of those reactions have been negative. However, looking at the review scores and sales for other simulation sports games on the DS we knew that by not just porting the other console versions we have the chance to take advantage of the ability of the DS to represent new ways of gaming that appeal to the mass market, rather than just a narrow section of hardcore sports fans. Like it or not this is the direction that games are moving, and we believe that even the hardcore fans will join in once they see the fun they are missing out on. This doesn’t mean we have to fully abandon the facets of realism that appeal to hardcore sports fans — because we aren’t. We see the value of incorporating real players and their real stats in the game, as well as using all of the MLB teams and trying to get the player’s uniforms to look like the actual team’s uniform. We have just attempted to represent these players and teams in a new way that will appeal to all kinds of gamers.

Dtoid: Could you take us through a pitch and a swing? That is, what are the respective stylus gestures that are used to make these actions happen?

DFE: Both pitching and batting will utilize the touch screen to control the gameplay, with the batter dragging the stylus in a semi-circle arc across the touch pad in time with the pitch, and with the pitcher drawing various lines toward the plate to deliver specific pitches. It’s an all-new system that we think players are really going to love.

Dtoid: Many diverse locales and themes are used in the game’s stadiums. Some of the gameplay videos showed special effects after home runs, but will the stadiums themselves affect gameplay, à la hazards in mini-golf games?

DFE: The theme for this game was a tour of the Americas. So our stadiums reflect a lot of the North and South American iconic places, for example: Alcatraz with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, an Aztec temple, and the Arctic North. We also wanted to throw in just crazy wacky stadiums that just appealed to us as fun places to play Baseball, like on a picnic table, or inside someone’s stomach. We had our concept artists generate a bunch of crazy ideas and picked our favorites, hopefully the people that buy our game think they’re as fun as we do.

There are three home run effects for each stadium, each one plays when you hit a home run into either the left field, center field or right field. Our original designs for the stadiums involved interactive stadium elements (for example the alligator in the everglades would come alive and chomp the ball or a player close by), however due to time constraints we weren’t able to fit this into the schedule.

Dtoid: Are there different ratings and skills for the players? For example, will pitchers be limited to their actual pitch repertoire, or will the pitch type be solely dependent upon a specific stylus gesture?

DFE: We reduced the skills for players to 4 attributes to create a more arcade-style version of Baseball. These 4 attributes are batting, running, pitching and fielding. The higher your skill the better or faster you are at any of those 4 things. We wanted to be sure though that we matched the real world abilities of the players featured in our game. So we compiled a huge list of the player’s previous year’s statistics and created formulas to condense a player’s batting average into their batting skill and stats like stolen bases into their running skill. We found this worked very well and gave us a nice distribution of player skill. For pitching all pitchers are able to pitch all of the pitch types, it is up to the user to learn the appropriate gesture to trigger the pitch.

Dtoid: The power-ups seem like a very cool aspect of the game. How will they be incorporated into the game, and will the computer use them against the player?

DFE: Yes, the computer can use them, too. We have three categories of powerups: fielding, batting and pitching. The idea for powerups in general is to greatly increase (but not guarantee) your chances for success on a single play. So for example while fielding if your opponent has just nailed a powerful hit with bases loaded that is undoubtedly going to be a grand slam, you can fire off your Brick Wall™ powerup to shoot up a brick wall that stops the ball in its tracks and prevents the home run. Or, if your bases are loaded and you’re pitching and just need one more strike to end the inning you can spend your powerup meter on the ghost ball which will invisibly fly over the plate, let’s see your opponent try and hit that! Things get really wacky for batting, for example if you want to guarantee you’ve got enough time to get a man on second home to tie the game you can activate the chicken ball powerup. When you hit the ball into the outfield and the fielder goes to pick it up, the ball will run away from him like a crazy chicken giving you plenty of time to run home!

Samit Sarkar