Sunday, 3 May 2009

Photos, logos and other copyrighted graphical images are solely for illustrative purposes and will not be included as part of the program release. Screenshots may change between now and the final release. To view a larger image, click the image you want to view.

In the fifth blog of the series, we’ll be looking at actually playing a game (finally!). We’ll continue the game from the last screenshot in blog four.

General Comments
Just to reiterate, we have tried throughout the design to replicate the tabletop experience on the PC. One comment from our play-testing team sums up our intent:

“If there is one PC game which would take me away from rolling dice, this is the one.”

Rolling the Dice
You roll the dice by either clicking on the dice holder, or pressing enter . You can also manually enter the dice by simply keying in the numbers (and optionally confirming with enter).
If additional rolls are required, separate dice holders will appear.

As the Play Unfolds
You have a significant amount of control over how you want the play to unfold. You can get an instant result if you wish, or you can watch the dice roll, see the results
highlighted on the batter and pitcher cards and then leisurely read through the chart book (with optional sound effects)

Information Available During a Play
If you need to make a decision or roll additional dice, then all the necessary information is displayed. A good example is the Third Base Coach chart following a roll on the ballpark card.

The program firstly shows the ballpark card and the roll used to
generate the result (highlighting this on the card itself).

Then the TBC chart itself is shown, with the ratings displayed which determine the column used to resolve the play. Where possible we also show information on how the play would have resolved itself if a different decision was made. I.e. what would have happened if I was in safe mode instead?

The Fielding Display
Apart from displaying the obvious information, the fielding display
is also used for:

· Infield positioning – either by using the default setting buttons, or simply left-clicking on a fielder to fine tune the positioning. You also have the option to have the program initially default to the chart book recommendations.

· Quick-substitutions. Right-clicking a fielder, pitcher, batter or runner will allow you to select a substitute from a list of available players.

If you need to make a substitution which is not possible using the quick-substitution option (e.g. a double-switch), then you can access the screen below, which give
s you full control over your lineup.

In line with our design brief, we have included basic animations in the game which are intended to mimic the tabletop experience:

Card Animation
· After each at bat you see the batter’s card being moved to the bottom of the pack

· At the start of a new inning, both the batter and pitcher cards are

· After a substitution, either the card will be replaced or the old player will move off the fielding display and the new player will move on.

· On each column 4 play, the relevant fielder will move across to the pitcher’s card, reinforcing the use of his fielding grade in the play determination.

Dice Animation
The dice will ‘roll’ with the numbers changing until they stop. There is a pause between each die, so you will see the red die stop first, then the white and finally the blu
e. There is an option to increase the suspense with an additional delay before the final blue die.

Base-runner Animation

At the conclusion of the play, you will see the runners advance on the fielding display (as you would do on the tabletop with the base runner pawns). Occasionally they will also move during a play when a decision or roll needs to be made following advancement (third base coach following a hit comes to mind).

All animations are optional and can be individually disabled

Sound Effects
What we wanted from the sound options was to enhance the playability of the game, and not attempt to recreate the complete ballpark experience. In other words, sound which attempt to keep you immersed in the game.

Tabletop sounds
We provide dice roll sounds both on wood and felt. We also provide
sounds when the player cards are moved.

Ballpark sounds
There is an option to have a looped crowd background playing. During an at-bat, the sounds work like this:

· When the dice have been rolled, an initial sound is played representing the start of the play.

· Subsequent sounds highlight the result of the play

· Certain play results then produce a crowd reaction

For example:

On a Column 1, 4 result the initial sound would be the ball hitting the catcher’s glove. When the actual result is displayed, the call would be made by the umpire as “strike 3”.

On a Column 1, 32 result, the same initial sound would be played, but the umpire would instead call a base on balls.

If a ball is put into play, the crack of the bat is heard, and when either a sound of the fielder fielding the ball or a reaction from the crowd for the hit. Reactions will be significantly different depending on whether the home team is batting or fielding.

There are also additional sounds including other umpire calls, and base runners sliding into a base.

Replay Radio

This is a slight misnomer but seemed the best description of the feature. It grew out of trying to keep the gamer involved in the game, rather than rolling dice and somewhat losing track of where they were, and has developed further than I imagined.

So we can now officially reveal that the Replay announcer is …. AL WILSON!

Al has very kindly recorded many sounds which will hopefully enhance the immersion factor. He is not a play-by-play announcer, but will keep you up to date with where you are in the game and what is happening around you.

Radio calls include:

· Introduction to the game
“Replay radio is live from…”

· Announcing the start of the inning
“Top of the 4th”

· Announcing the situation for each at bat
“One out, bases loaded”

· Summarizing the inning
“2 runs, 4 hits and 2 left on”

· Announcing substitutions
“They’re bringing in a pinch-hitter

· Game highlights
“That’s his 8th strikeout of the game
· Game Events
“He’s just hit for the cycle”
“We have a no-hitter going into the 8th”

Again, you have control over which (if any) calls you want to hear.

Other in-game options

The in-game option screen should now make some sense as we have gone though many of the features. It shows what control you have over the various features.

And finally….

The next blog will look at the various manual input options available, so I leave you with a screenshot of one of the integrated play-by-play input screens – more details next time.


Monday, 27 April 2009

Setting Up a Game

Photos, logos and other copyrighted graphical images are solely for illustrative purposes and will not be included as part of the program release. Screenshots may change between now and the final release.

To view a larger image, click the image you want to view.

In the fourth blog of the series, we’ll be looking at how to set up and begin to play a game (after all, that is what it is all about!)

A game is started from the schedule screen, by simply clicking the Play Next button. Games can be played out of sequence if desired.

The line-up selection screen takes you through selecting the players to participate. Pitchers scheduled to start will automatically appear as starting pitchers, but these can be changed.

There are several displays available to assist with your selections
• You can view real or replay stats
• You can see which pitchers would start on B grades due to prior game usage
• You can view the last 5 days pitcher usage and the next 4 days scheduled starters
• You can view any player’s card

Player selection is straightforward and flexible and both player and fielding position can be selected with a double-click.

When it comes to selecting lineups there are five possibilities:
• Computer generated lineup
• As-played lineup
• Random actual lineup from a random game in the season (although with this option, unavailable players will not appear)
• Loading a previously saved lineup
• Building a new lineup

Once the lineups have been selected, the program moves to the pre-game screen.

This screen puts the game in a seasonal context as well as showing the top performers from each team.

From here you can set the AI options for each team (although these can also be changed during a game).

You can then either start the game, or print out the scorecard (view pdf file here) in order to play the game manually and enter the stats at a later date.

Next time, we’ll look more closely at the actual game-screen and the mechanics of playing.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Program Walkthrough - Season and Team Screens

Photos, logos and other copyrighted graphical images are solely for illustrative purposes and will not be included as part of the program release. Screenshots may change between now and the final release.

To view a larger image, click the image you want to view.

In the third blog of the series, we’ll be looking at some of the season-related screens available in the game, and talking a bit about screen navigation and how to get things done.

We have taken an approach to the user interface where we have tried as far as possible to incorporate elements of a board game experience into the program. Obviously it is still a PC program, but you should find that PC Replay Baseball looks a bit different.

The opening screen sets the scene with the ability to select seasons by clicking on the yearbook image. A series of icons (explained through optional tooltips) enable you to access other features of the program, all things which are not season specific.

On clicking the yearbook, you are presented with the main season screen, where the inspiration has obviously come from other games in the Replay stable.

The schedule screen controls game play, allowing you to manually or automatically play games. You can also view box scores by clicking on a completed game. Clicking on the date allows you to navigate directly to a specific day.

The summary screen displays 4 pages of leaders, which can be filtered by conference.

The statistics screen gives you access to both the statistical reports and the individual team pages. Game highlight categories will appear when a particular highlight has been achieved during the season.

When a report is displayed, you can sort by clicking on a column header – if a stat requires a qualifying number of IP/AB, then the qualifiers will be displayed first.

Clicking on a player’s stat line will display his game-by-game performance. Clicking on any game from that display will take you to the box score.

The main team screen is accessed by clicking any of the team tabs. Here you can view team specific stats (Hitting, Pitching and Fielding), control player usage and availability (Batters and Pitchers – as explained in a previous blog), view player photos and view the team’s schedule.

The roster tab allows you to view all players on the roster and their Replay cards, as well as pre-setting lineups for use when playing a game.

Next time we will have a look at how to go about playing a game.

Friday, 30 January 2009

What about the AI?

So, let’s briefly discuss the AI which will be available in the program.

In the first blog, I spoke about the approach we took for the initial design, focusing on replicating the tabletop experience. That remains our priority.

It soon became obvious that an in-game AI would be pretty easy to develop to deal with all the chart book decisions. So that is available – with the option to either have the AI automatically decide and roll its dice, or have the AI suggest a decision and you accept or change that choice.

The AI has also been programmed to make strategic decisions – use of H&R, bunting, field positioning etc. For version one, these will be stats driven – obviously based on the game situation, so that players who bunted a lot in real life will be used by the AI in the same(ish) frequency. There will not be any AI profiles which can be changed.

The AI will also make in-game substitution decisions, with a reasonable logic for ensuring players are used in a similar ratio to real life.

The above is an example of how the decisions can be enabled or disabled.

So that covers actual game play.

There are two additional AI routines which are required if any auto-play is to be achieved (unless using real lineups). They are starting pitcher rotation and lineup selection.

We provide basic routines for both of these. The objectives are to have a sensible batting lineup, a pitching rotation based on the Replay optional pitcher’s rest chart balanced against the need to use players in the same frequency that they were used in real life.

All this therefore means that games can be auto-played alongside manually played games.

No AI will ever be perfect since people have different views on how a manager should manage. Our goal for version 1 is to make the AI sensible – i.e. not to do anything which is plainly wrong. It is certainly a challenge even to get to that stage.

Following on from the AI, we wanted to simplify the usage management of players. So we took what is probably a unique approach to this.

The screenshot (please note this is still very much in-development) above shows a graphical display of the pitching roster. It clearly shows:

Available players
Upcoming starters
Previous game usage
Replay vs Actual stats

You can actually set availability and starters from this screen as well. So it clearly shows the state of the roster and allows you control over how you want players to be used. There is a similar screen for batters showing at bats.

Hopefully this will answer some of the questions regarding this aspect of the program.

Not sure at this moment what the next blog will cover.


Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Design Approach

Welcome to the first in a set of blogs which will discuss the upcoming PC version of Replay baseball.

This first blog attempts to clarify the approach we have taken to the program, and what our expectations of the program are.

When Pete first approached me about producing a PC version of the Replay board game, we came from opposite poles in terms of our vision for the game. Pete was very insistent that any program would be true to the game and it primary function would be to help the gamer enjoy the Replay experience whether it be on the PC or on the tabletop. I was thinking more of the other PC games I had experienced where you knew you were playing a PC game. We had quite a few ‘discussions’ on these visions, and we began to move from our poles to more middle ground.

We wanted the Replay PC version to feel different from the other games on the market (why bother otherwise?). So Pete’s vision of the game became the blueprint for the initial design.

A replication of the board game on the PC

This gave us a clear design goal for the main game screen, make it look like a tabletop. So:
  • You can see the batter and pitcher cards on the screen
  • You can see the ‘Replay-style’ line-up cards on the screen
  • You can see the ballpark cards on the screen
  • You can see the chart-book results on the screen
  • You can see the additional charts (bunt, third base coach etc) on the screen
  • You can see the dice on the screen
We then added a few basic animations and sounds to add to the tabletop feel (some of which arrived in my inbox this evening and are true ‘Replay’ recordings!). So the experience you get is pretty close to what you experience on the tabletop.

As far as the actual Replay game is concerned:
  • All the official optional rules have been included
  • The full rare play book has been included
  • We include both the 6x6 and 1x6 (Tall) pitcher cards as an option
During the initial discussions one word kept coming up 'helper'.

So how could we design the program in such a way as to help the gamer during projects? There are many tools out there which already help gamers - real line-ups and transactions, game scoring and stat tracking software and several user-designed spreadsheets to help with setting up, playing and scoring the game.

So our objective in this area was to try and implement as many of these tools into one package, and give as much flexibility as possible.
  • For those seasons which have every player rated we provide the option to use real line-ups and real transactions
  • We allow you to roll the dice and enter these rolls into the program
  • We have built in a play-by-play entry system so you can roll the dice look up the charts manually and key in the play results (or key in the play-by-play after manually ‘rolling’ the game)
  • We allow you to set the line-ups in the program and print out a score sheet (Replay-style) complete with the players and ratings.
  • We allow you to manually enter a box-score (including fielding stats)
  • We allow you to enter game summary stats and then enter player stats for a series of games
  • Oh and we actually allow you to play the game on the PC as well!
The other feature which had to be implemented was the ability to play games head-to-head over the internet. This opens up a completely new Replay experience to most gamers.

The first version of any program which is released is, well, Version 1. Prior to this release we have our own visions and the feedback from play-testers to guide us. Future versions benefit from much, much more feedback and like any project can only improve with this.

There also comes a time when we actually need to release the game! To attain perfection would mean the program never sees the light of day. By perfection we mean a program which satisfies all the needs of all the people.

So please bear this in mind and perhaps temper your expectations. We are very pleased with how this first version is progressing and, by release day, will have achieved all our goals for the program.

We can then move on to Version 2....

Next time a brief introduction to the AI (oh yes I got that one in!) and what you can expect from the computer opponent.