Each year, Gary and the boys meet online, prep their line-ups, and play a game that is both 24 years old and over 100 hundred years old. They jaw, they spit fire, they step to the plate, maybe even hit a home run, but they always finish two games.
They’ve not only drafted, but seemingly crafted these teams. They’ve logged so many minutes, drafted so many times, used and re-used the same players so many times to essentially have expertly scouted every player in the league, even the terrible ones. Everyone knows that Pete gets on base like no other and that Sasuke was a wicked right-arm curve. The goal for Gary and his friends is to create something special with the teams they manage, to build something unique when they play. They’ve even modified the rules a bit.
Once the teams are built, the field is ready. The weather might be gray on a dreary Sunday outside, but it’s always sunny on the screen–a digital summer for the pixelated men and women of Baseball Stars.
Released in 1989, Baseball Stars is the SNK arcade hit that made it’s way to the NES and other consoles. While the arcade versions were known for their loose mechanics, the home version brought something completely unique to baseball (and sports) video games: the ability to be the general manager. As GM, you can hire and fire players, buy star contracts and develop promising rookies to build the perfect team.
The other interesting quirk to Baseball Stars, like most games of that time, is that the teams were not balanced. Each team is incrementally better than the next, with The World Powers and the American Dreams being the top squads, while the Ghastly Monsters and SNK Brawlers the worst. The player’s job, as GM, is to build a team from top to bottom that could compete and win against these designer-created teams.
These two features–GM and progressively more difficult teams–fly in the face of playing in a balanced league, particularly the one Gary and his friends like. The ran into a similar situation with the unbalanced teams of RBI Baseball, and while they still run an RBI Baseball league, its lack of customization and player stats–another first for home console gaming with Baseball Stars–kept bringing the boys back to SNK’s classic. So rather than stick with the traditionalist style of the retro hardcore gamer–that is to play the game as it was created–Gary and the group decided some tweaking was necessary.
“While each team is used, we actually have the ability to modify a ROM version of the game. With this, we hold an individual player draft, snake style, and players ended up on different teams than they may have originally been on.”
No longer were Babe and Pete and Sandy on the American Dreams, but dispersed among the eight teams in the league. No longer would Abe, George and Zeus terrify the rest of the league, but could be drafted accordingly to fit the needs of each team–so that each manager can build something different every season.
Pause for a moment and remember what these guys have done to one possibly most influential games of the NES era. SNK, Konami, Sega, Nintendo, and the like publish and re-publish their classics, with little tweaks other than an update to the button layout to accommodate the new system it’s being emulated on. Most retro leagues insist on keeping things the same: no online components, no tweaking of programming code, no updating to anything ever (other than obvious cheats). The same people who use emulators and abandon-ware sites to get these titles, often ignore the capabilities of those same features to actually play it.
“The game is still fun after these years,” says Larry, aka LightningLarry, “With the advent of the Internet a lot of older games now have new life breathed into them as the competition is there outside of your friend or cousin who you only had to play against as a kid. It’s a great group of guys who enjoy the nostalgia and the competition that keeps me coming back for this game.”
What makes the boys of digital summer different and eager to adapt this nostalgia to the new era is that they play a modified NEStopia version online, since they have lives and can’t all gather in the same room week-in and week-out. As mentioned above, each year they draft a whole new team based off of in-game players for competitive balance.
And they’re working out ways to incorporate more of the GM features into the game in the future, including player development and franchise building, possibly carrying over teams from one season to the next. Maybe, since they’ve reprogrammed it to draft players, they could (theoretically) allow trades, something the original can’t do as well. It’s possible that within a few years, they’ve built a league completely out of original teams with original players, only using a few of the tools of the original game.
But then again, that’s a lot of time must pass before they can take a swing at such schemes. A lot more work and effort must be made. For now, for the boys, it’s best to sit back, keep an eye on the ball, and enjoy the ballpark while the sun still shines on the screen.