Gamechanger – Star League Baseball

Star League Baseball splashscreen, AtariMania

Star League Baseball splashscreen, AtariMania

In 1983, a small software company in Santa Barbara, California, Gamestar, Inc., released a groundbreaking new baseball game – Star League Baseball.  The game itself was still simple.  Two teams, still no leagues or divisions, with no-name rosters and a basic stat engine, but still amongst the best.  The revolutionary parts of Star League Baseball are its budding attempts to simulate “a baseball game”.  First, presentation is similar to a local-broadcast of a game.  No commercials, but trivia, “scores from around the league”, attendance numbers, etc, are all presented between innings.  Second, Gamestar went beyond just stats, and, for the first time, brought in the human-element by adding fatigue to pitchers.

Star League Baseball, gameplay -

Star League Baseball, gameplay –

Pre-game, each team would select from the same list of three pitchers, each with different attributes, which is another new twist from Gamestar.  Two had longer endurance, and could be most thought of as starters, and one had less stamina.  Until Star League Baseball, most baseball games featured pitching that was fastball/slowball, with some ability to change the flight of the ball mid-pitch.  Star League Baseball kept this model, but amped it up.

Of the two starters, “Heat” Muldoon’s had something beyond the fastball from any baseball game I’d played, but he could also throw off-speed, all with the limited mid-flight controls of most baseball games.  “Curves” Cassidy couldn’t throw nearly as hard as “Heat” (thereby gaining additional endurance), he did have much greater in-flight control.  The games lowest endurance guy was “Knuckles” Flanagan, a character with less speed, but more control, than Cassidy.  My preferred strategy for Star League Baseball was to start with Cassidy, but close with “Heat”.  Muldoon’s fastball was so ridiculous you would have to swing that bat nearly the instant the ball left his digital hand.  If you were sitting on fastball, and Muldoon brought the change, you were so far out in front it was embarrassing.  You always needed to be careful with Muldoon, the heater is devastating, but he’s always a challenge to get deep-into-the-game, if his endurance falls too far, and the fastball loses too much zip, “Heat” became “Very Hittable”.

Star League Baseball helped lay the foundation for current generation sports simulations, by adding previously unused variables, it turned sports games towards the direction of simulating the sport.  There were still limitations: you could only bring in relievers in the 7th or opening of extra innings, pitchers and batters are all right-handed, and all base runners are the same speed, but sports games would never be the same again.

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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