Major League Baseball is back for another season, bringing with it all of its signature accoutrements: The crack of the bat, the slap of leather, the smell of fresh-cut grass... and the latest edition of Out of the Park Baseball, the perennially popular simulation game first launched by developer Markus Heinsohn in May 1999.
Out of the Park enables baseball fans to micro-manage all facets of a major league team, assembling lineups and pitching rotations, implementing offensive and defensive strategies and making a multitude of in-game decisions, all represented by a play-by-play text stream bolstered by visual and audio effects. The game even encompasses off-the-field action like trades, free agency, amateur drafts and financial management. If it's in baseball, chances are it's in OOTP as well.
Earlier this month, Out of the Park Developments launched version 13 of its flagship title for PC, Mac and Linux as well as the second edition of iOOTP, which adapts the game for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS platform. Based on the same simulation engine that powers Out of the Park Baseball for the desktop, iOOTP Baseball 2012 touts an improved user interface and enhanced AI alongside real-time MLB rosters, detailed player histories, new fictional setups enabling users to create their own leagues and rules and expanded game management tools.
FierceDeveloper contributor Jason Ankeny spoke with iOOTP Baseball 2012 lead developer Sebastian Palkowski about the challenges of streamlining the game for the mobile platform, maintaining an app with so much data and why promotion is as important as programming.
Sebastian Palkowski on joining Out of the Park Developments: I first made contact with Markus [Heinsohn] back in 2000, when I came back to Germany from America. I was there on a work and travel program, and while I was living in Boston, I got really into baseball and started playing OOTP3. I later joined the OOTP beta test team--Markus and I had contact over the years over email, and in 2010 he asked me to join the team.
Before Markus asked me to join the company, I never had anything to do with mobile gaming or mobile programming. I had worked on a baseball game of my own on the PC as a hobby. But iOOTP uses the same framework as we use for the desktop version, so it's not that different.
Palkowski on translating Out of the Park to iOS: The small devices and screen sizes are the most challenging thing. With OOTP for PCs, there's a lot of data and information on every screen. I remember when we started to develop for iOS--I thought we'd never fit all this stuff into the mobile version. So I had to make iOOTP what we wanted it to be, which is a version to play on-the-go. You can't reproduce the desktop version 100 percent. One example is that we removed the minor league systems from iOOTP. It's impossible to manage minor leagues on the iPhone.
With iOOTP 2011 we initially did only the iPhone version, but six months later we launched on the iPad. The bigger tablet screen is something that is much easier to work with. We support both iPhones and Pads with the same version, but we have the chance to put much more into the iPad version.
Palkowsk focused on decreasing memory usage without removing stats or player data.
Palkowski on what's new in iOOTP Baseball 2012: We wanted to improve on last year's version. That had some memory-related crash problems with all devices, so we focused on getting memory usage down without removing stats or player data. We also rebuilt the graphics interface to make it look more in line with OOTP 13 and added some smaller stuff like another fictional setup.
There is so much data. We added all historical seasons from 1901 to 2011 and made them available as in-app purchases. Last year, we added [in-app purchases] much later and didn't have them from the beginning. A lot of people didn't even know we had them, but a lot of the people coming back to the game now are buying individual seasons or bundles with ten seasons.
The historical stuff is something we want to improve on in the next version, like having the possibility to buy the 1927 New York Yankees and have them play against other teams in history. The list of new possible features is so long--every day, I get forum questions about new features. We'll never have the problem of running out of ideas.
We don't stop with the initial release--we support the game through the baseball season. I think we pushed out ten updates last year, and most of them added new features. The size of the app is huge, and it's a lot of trouble to maintain. For me, this is something new. I'm happy to have Markus and Andreas [Raht, Out of the Park's co-founder] with me. They have a lot of experience.
Palkowski on expanding OOTP to other mobile platforms: I get a lot of questions about Android. But we're a small firm with just three people doing the programming. Supporting the PC version, Linux and iOS is hard enough. We'd love someone to do an Android version. We hope to get it done for this version, but the next version is more realistic.
iOOTP is updated throughout the baseball season.
Palkowski on the next version of iOOTP: The actual work will start after the World Series. I started on iOOTP 2012 after last year's World Series. I will start to make a list of new features that are too big for the regular updates, and I will do some test coding alongside updates for 2012.
Palkowski's advice for aspiring mobile developers: You get so many stories about apps that make you a millionaire, but that's only 10 or 20 apps out of 400,000. People don't buy your game if they don't know you. Making a game isn't hard--getting people to buy it is what's tough. We have professional PR, and that helps. But developers need to understand that success is not only about programming--the stuff after your app is released is even more important.
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