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Ken Griffey Slugfest (N64) Interview

We recently had a chance to interview some of the people at Angel Studios concerning Ken Girffey Jr. Slugfest.

What role did you have working on Ken Griffey Jr. Slugfest?

    Kiyanosh Kamdar, Programmer:
    I was in charge of improving some of the camera effects and the pitching/batting system. For example, notice that when you crack the bat and hit a home run, you see less sky and more of the surrounding stadium. This feature allows you to get a better sense of perspective when you whack that ball out of the park. I designed new pitching/batting system to give the player more flexibility and control. Your friends won't know what you'll throw at them next!

    Paul Skibitzke, Programmer:
    I (re)developed the front-end. But I also did the character animation engine and pitcher/batter system from the previous MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr., the core of which Slugfest is based upon.

    Jeremy Jessup, Programmer:
    I worked on several areas of the product: the low-level I/O support to save and load data to the cartridge; the Create-A-Player feature; support code for the animation; and updates to the season statistics.

    Jennifer Terry, Art Director:
    I managed all the art assets in the game, as well as redoing the whole UI. I feel the graphics are much improved over our first version. And the UI is simply easier to use. I paid close attention to the lighting of the stadiums. I feel that we had great stadium models in the first KGB, but now with the new lighting they even look more realistic than ever before. I'm very impressed with the look of our letter box high res mode. It's awesome!

    Charles Eubanks, Lead Programmer:
    I worked with the software team to make sure we were all following the best programming guidelines. I also assisted Steve Reed, our Project Director, in keeping the project on schedule.

    Dianna Davies, Lead Animator and MoCa Lead

Why do you feel baseball gamers should purchase Slugfest instead of the other baseball games out for the N64?

    [The exact wording varies, but the sentiment is the same for all those interviewed.]

    Our game is more fun to play and watch. Simple as that. Put in more detail, Slugfest is fast-paced, fun, and easy to learn, while also providing deep gameplay with a lot of replay-ability. Also, the player and umpire animations are simply sweet. But don't take our word for it—check out the games yourself, and you be the judge!

What features or gameplay options would you like to see added or changed in the next release of Slugfest?

    Our apologies, but we can't discuss future projects, real or imagined.

Which area of Slugfest in your opinion needs to be improved or revamped?

    I hope that the baseball fans out there will agree that we chose the right features to add. Sure, we could have taken up valuable RAM adding other things, but we tried to focus on the ones that would really make the game more fun to play.

Should Slugfest be considered an arcade or a sim? Why?

    Slugfest is both. The fast gameplay and the ability to throw wicked pitches can all be considered characteristics of an arcade game. However, timing your swings to hit left, center or right, gauging player speed for stealing ability, and playing with the immense amount of accurate player animation all point to a great sim game. Slugfest is the best of both worlds.

    Slugfest is an arcade game with good sim qualities. Although the players and teams chosen by the user greatly affect the user's chances of winning, we felt that it was also important (and more fun) that their chances of winning depend heavily on the user's skill. A careful balance of these two things goes into every gameplay aspect of Slugfest.

    I've heard many people claim that Slugfest is an "arcade" style game, and that All-Star is a "sim" game. I don't really think this assessment is accurate. True, Slugfest is much more in tune with a fast-paced, fun gaming experience, but "arcade" implies to some a lack of realism. Yet our player animations are the best of the bunch, allowing the players to move and look like real athletes. Slugfest has plenty of stats as well. We've expanded on a lot of the sim element since our first Griffey game—with improved menus, more statistics, plus the ability to simulate season games (lets you act more as a team manager, rather than a player, if you so choose). I hope that the people who play Slugfest will appreciate the extra effort we put into fleshing out the statistical aspect of the game.

    Like a sim, Slugfest uses the actual players, statistics, teams, stadiums, sounds, and rules from Major League Baseball. The players are animated in as much detail as is possible, and generally the CPU players statistically perform closely to their real-life counterparts. Like an arcade game, Slugfest is fast-paced: you can "button through" animation sequences to concentrate on the action and play an entire game in less than 20 minutes. The game enables players to focus on having fun without having to cope with some of the more mundane elements of "real" baseball (like the weather, wind, or overly sophisticated controls).

    Slugfest seems to fit somewhere in between arcade and sim, because there are all the elements of sim structure but also the quick gameplay makes it seem more like an arcade experience. I think the ability to simultaneously gratify the die-hard sim player and the fun-seekers creates a balance that's more immersive and fun than either a pure arcade or a pure sim experience.

Why was the decision made to use the batting feature where pressing one of the directional arrows does not affect if the player pulls or pushes the ball and goes with the timing of the swing?

    The best thing about Slugfest is its simple controller layout. Reassigning button functionality at different phases of the game would cause some gameplay inconsistency problems—especially if you had a runner on base and tried to steal. We wanted to use the controller in a very natural way, but not make hitting (or pitching) overly complicated. Our solution: In conjunction with good timing, pushing or pulling the controller stick while swinging imparts spin on the ball and enables the hitter to place the ball without having to use additional buttons. Meanwhile, your opponent doesn't know what's coming—just like the real thing!

Was the game programmed so the players actually go through slumps and hot streaks? Or is it this coincidence that they do so?

    One of the key improvements this year was updating and tuning the simulation engine. Working with Nintendo, we simulated several hundred seasons to make sure that players would (or could) duplicate their real-life statistics in the game. While we didn't specifically add code to cause streaks—especially on human controlled teams—streaks are a nice touch of realism that indirectly results from our extensive tuning.

    As far as slumps and hot streaks are concerned, I did design the engine so that this feature could be explicitly added later. However, we discovered from extensive testing that the players do go through hot and cold periods, even though they're not specifically coded to do so. It's a funny thing about statistical simulations—sometimes they take on a lifelike behavior, even if you don't explicitly program them to!

Who helped perform the motion capturing?

    Of Course Ken Griffey Jr. was involved in the motion capture process. The Griffey swing you see in the game is Griffey himself. Some of the other moves were supplemented by Toby Lehman, a minor league ball player.

How important was the 4 MB Expansion Pak in the developmental phase of Slugfest?

    Our original intention was to provide a good looking game without the expansion Pak, so as to minimize the cost to the consumer. We were able to accomplish this goal by compressing the animation and audio data, while cutting down on the size of the code. You can play the game in true high-res mode without the expansion Pak by using the wide view option. The wide view mode also creates a cool cinematic feel, while giving the player a useful view to the sides. With the addition of the expansion Pak, you get the same high-res, horizontal resolution with more vertical resolution.

    From the onset, one of the major design goals was reduce memory usage in order to increase the graphics resolution without requiring the Expansion Pak. In the end, we made the trade-off to use more textures, higher level of detail on the stadiums, additional animations, and more special case code that then required the additional memory for the graphics.

    For the release version of the game, you only need the 4 MB Expansion Pak for the super-high res mode. In the developmental phase of the project, however, the extra memory was absolutely essential. There was a huge amount of development-only code, which was removed from the final product. This code helped us to tune the gameplay, test new features, and eliminate bugs. It was only after removing all the dev code, and trimming down other wasted memory, that we were able to run the game without the memory expansion.

What other sports games do you play?

    On the N64, I play NFL Blitz. It rocks! On the PC, I play Midtown Madness, of course—even though it's not a sports game!

    A favorite of mine is NFL Blitz. It is a hilariously fun game to play. I often mimic the crazy antics of the players with my friends: "You want some of this?"

What are your fondest memories while working on Slugfest?

    The team chemistry was great. There was no lack of effort; everyone was dedicated to making a great game. Put the team in a room and just watch the creative spirit of everyone ignite.

    1998 will always be the year that Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs. Not only that, but the Padres going to the World series was too much! (Carlsbad is a stone's throw from San Diego) 1998 was the biggest year baseball's had in a long time. Baseball fever was in our office for sure. We all had a blast following the pro games and enjoying the baseball excitement while we were making Slugfest. It was probably the best year ever to make a baseball game.

    Working with a fun, talented team is the most special memory for me. We all worked together very well, and had a ton of fun in the process! Even though the hours were grueling at times, it was nice to know that we were all there for each other, and that everybody was working toward the same goal.

    The best thing about making Slugfest was how well the team worked together—especially in "crunch-mode" during the last few weeks—to produce a really fun title. Despite those long weeks toward the end, the level of stress was relatively low and people pulled together to help each other tie up loose ends. The excitement, cooperation, and professionalism seeing the pieces come together is hard to describe adequately. Put it this way: I wouldn't hesitate to work with the same group again.

    The feeling of accomplishment coordinating a very smooth motion capture session for Ken Griffey Jr. was great...that and beating Charles at darts :)

We would like to thank everyone who took time out of their schedule and made this interview possible.

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