Inside Pitch 2003 Interview
James Chheng recently had a chance to interview Richard Reagan, the Program Manager on Inside Pitch 2003 from Microsoft.
1. Can you describe your role with Inside Pitch 2003?
I am the Program Manager on Inside Pitch, so it was my job to do my best to coordinate all of the great work being done in programming, art, audio or anything directly related to the game. I was also largely responsible for the design and gameplay alterations for Inside Pitch, but that can make for a lot of work. For our next version, we have the Lead Designer of All-Star Baseball onboard, so we're really excited about not just this year's game, but future versions as well. I'm really the luckiest guy around because it is nothing less than pure joy to interact with so many intelligent people who all share the same goal of delivering the best baseball experience to Xbox owners.
2. Would you describe this game as a baseball sim, arcade or in between title?
We definitely see Inside Pitch as something in-between total arcade play and a simulation. Our metric for what's important to the title has been if it's a fast and fun part of baseball, then we've got it, but if it impacts our play flow, it might not have made the cut. Part of this decision is because online is such an important part of our game. We wanted certain elements streamlined in order to assure that play is never needlessly hampered in the name of authenticity. Trust me, we've lost none of the strategy, drama or excitement of baseball, but anything that proved superfluous to our game (like catcher throws back to the pitcher after each and every pitch) was removed. We know that we've made the right decision because in our extensive focus testing, people have really commented about the pace of play and never even noticed what they were missing.
3. When did development start on Inside Pitch 2003?
We've been working on Inside Pitch in the Salt Lake Studio since January of 2002.
4. How is Xbox Live integrated into the game? Will players be able to join leagues or only just be able to play head-to-head games?
For this year, players are able to play head-to-head and it feels great! The team has done an incredible job at providing fabulous performance and fun for online play. Accompanying head-to-head play is a leader board, roster updates and downloadable stadiums. For the future, we've got a grand vision of where we want Inside Pitch to be in terms of leading in the online space and we want to assure everyone that if robust online play is what you're after, we're always going to be the title that sets the standard.
5. Is the game being built totally from scratch or will parts of Microsoft's previous PC baseball attempt be used?
The PC team provided a small number of elements in order to assist the team early in development, but for the most part, the project was created from scratch.
6. Can you describe the game modes that will be in the game?
We have online play, Exhibition Play, Home Run Derby (with some astounding camera support), Season Play, Playoffs and some unique new modes that we're really excited about delivering. One example is called Championship Challenges, in which players relive history making moments from the 2002 Season. Each Challenge has been designed to convey a feeling that “YOU ARE THERE” so that players know what it is like to try and complete a No-Hitter, a Perfect Game or set a record for the most total bases ever in a game. People have been most excited about our Challenge that asks the player to break the tie in the 2002 All-Star game. We even have that fabled P.A. announcement that alerts the crowd that unless the NL team scores, it will be a tie. Some other games claim to have something similar, but we have provided total authenticity in each Challenge right down to pitcher changes and the runners on base at the time. Then, when you take into account the great audio support from Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, I think that players who want to just jump in and focus on a single goal will have a blast! In addition to the Championship Challenges, we also have our Create-A-Player Training Tracks. When you create an athlete in our game, he's really a blank slate and it's the player's job to turn him into a star by successfully completing numerous Training Tracks. The various Training Tracks can qualify a player at a certain position, make him more effective at hitting runners in or even at pitching out of a jam. Like the Challenges, the Tracks allow players to focus on a single player or a single goal, while enhancing the drama and fun of the game.
7. How many camera angles are going to be useable in the game? Will we get a pitcher view camera?
We do offer a pitcher cam that will let players play the game with a view from the mound. As far as the total number of cameras, Inside Pitch has more than 120 different views of the game so that we can provide a television style broadcast along with some views that players would never be able to get unless they stood in that same spot on the field. Once people see the level of detail in our stadiums, they will feel as if they have actually been there.
8. Are the scoreboards real-time? By this I mean, does it show current scores, counts, on-field action?
We have scoreboard animations and other Jumbotron elements, but we don't cut over to the scoreboards between innings.
9. How many different jerseys will be available for each team?
We have Home and Away jerseys for all teams as well as an Alternate for all teams that have one. In addition, we also have the All-Star jerseys.
10. How many different batting and pitching stances are in the game?
We have more than 60 different custom batting and pitching animations within the game
11. Will there be enough player models to portray the players like their real counterparts?
Certainly! We think that people are going to be extremely pleased with our player likeness. When we showed Nomar Garciaparra his in-game persona, he was astounded with how good it looked. When his video game counterpart stepped out of the box and adjusted his batting gloves, the real Nomar was speechless.
12. Will there be any sort of AI sliders such as the ones in High Heat?
We certainly have multiple difficulty levels available to players, but we wanted to ensure a consistent, online and offline experience for everyone. As such, we conducted extensive User Testing to assure us that we got things right. Participants have been very complimentary of play, so we're not concerned that fans will feel the need to tune the AI.
13. Is there a franchise mode? The press release mentioned a season mode but did not include any mention of a franchise mode?
Our season mode provides players with the option of a fantasy draft, Trades, CPU-CPU Trades, Injuries, Playoffs, the All-Star Game even the Japanese and Puerto Rican stadiums that will be used this season! So, we think that players will like our detail even though it spans only the 2003 season.
14. Will the computer initiate trades with human players as well as other computer teams?
Yes, it certainly will. The other night I was playing and nearing the Playoffs when my divisional rivals pulled off a blockbuster deal that got them a proven pitcher and power hitter for the stretch run.
15. Is there going to be an in-game save option?
Our game was designed to play a full nine innings fast enough so that no one would feel that restarting a game was a lengthy process. Players seeking a shorter Inside Pitch play session will adore the Championship Challenges for their quick fix of baseball action.
16. Can you describe the batting interface? Will it be based on a cursor?
It is with great satisfaction that I answer this question with a resounding, “No!” We do not provide a cursor for either batting or pitching so as to optimize the pace of the game during online and offline competition. Rather than forcing players to spend time playing “chase the cursor,” gamers can initially choose between trying to throw a strike or a ball. Then, the exact location of the pitch is directed during the pitcher's delivery through input from the left analog stick. We've found this system to be much faster and more enjoyable in the heat of competition. I'm confident that our game offers all of the strategy and fun that any cursor model provides while not sacrificing game speed. As the only online title, our dedication to speed only reinforced our decision to handle batting and pitching the way we do. Players can still position themselves in the box, control their swing height, and use timing, as well as directional input, to determine whether and where they'll ultimately hit the ball. The skill of the batter and the player are both determinants of successful batting.
17. Will you be able to warm up pitchers in the bullpen?
You can (and should) warm up your pitchers in the bullpen, unless you elect to turn off this feature of the game and default to having pitchers always ready to enter the game warm.
18. Will the distances of home-runs be displayed and tracked?
Yes. Distances appear after each hit and the commentary often alludes to distances too. In fact, one of our Championship Challenges gives players the opportunity to compete as Sammy Sosa and attempt to hit the three longest home run balls in Home Run Derby history.
19. Is there going to be any type of system that factors in fatigue for both the current game and the duration of the season?
In Season and Playoff play, fatigue is tracked between games unless that option is turned off.
20. How will fatigue factor into pitchers and players late into the game?
As a pitcher tires, his pitches don't break as effectively and his velocity begins to fall off. The subtlety of this effect depends on the pitcher. Pedro Martinez is still pretty effective when tired, but some guys have their curves flatten out to the point where it becomes like batting practice for the opposing team.
21. Will there be passed balls, errors, such as over throws or off target throws pulling a player off the bag to reach for it?
We have passed balls and errors that can affect play unless that option is turned off. It can be really fun to have that slight level of uncertainty during some of the more intense contests.
22. Does the game allow you to dive and jump to rob a possible homer manually?
You bet! If Torii Hunter taught us anything last year at the All-Star game, he showed us that Home Run robbery is one of the most exciting and incredible plays in baseball.
23. Will there be any extra stadiums? Like Polo Grounds, Forbes Field?
We decided to include the early season game between the Mariners and Athletics in Japan along with the Expos “home games” that occur in Puerto Rico. In addition, we'll have stadiums that can be downloaded via Xbox Live.
24. How does the weather affect the ball physics and the game itself? Will the wind factor into where the ball travels?
We provide different times of day and the effect it has on the ball is really nice. If you play a dusk game in Fenway or Wrigley, the way the ball starts out in the light and then comes into the shadow where the batter is standing is a great effect! As far as wind, when you're in position to make a play, you catch the ball and move on.
25. Are there fights resulting in player and manager ejections in Inside Pitch 2003?
We're here to play ball, not fight, but should the Ump think that a pitcher is throwing too much chin music, he'll be given an early trip to the showers.
26. Will Xbox Live users be able to download updated rosters?
Yes, they sure can. We're planning on multiple downloads throughout the season.
27. Will there be a player editor? If so, which attributes of a player will be editable?
Players can be added into the game via our Create-A-Player tool. We think that fans are really going to love going through all of the variations for their ballplayer. One neat thing is that when created, players give their player a Nickname that is then used in the game! Our play-by-play announcer, Joe Buck's favorite was “Franks N'Beans!”
28. Any last comments you wish to add?
We couldn't be any more excited to release our game to Xbox owners. Along with delivering a fantastic baseball game, we wanted to be THE choice for Xbox owners and fans who like to compete on Xbox Live. We're certain that no one leverages the hardware or its capabilities more than we do. If you've got an Xbox, check out Inside Pitch!
Thanks to Microsoft for allowing us to conduct the interview. Please refrain from copying and pasting the entire interview onto any forums. Reposting parts of the interview with proper credit is acceptable. The official release date is May 20th, 2003.