Holiday Re-run: Sebastian Palkowski on the making of iOOTP

The Pocket Tactics crew is on holiday until the new year. This guest post from iOOTP Baseball developer Sebastian Palkowski originally ran in June – it’s a great insight into how one of the world’s deepest PC sports sims made the leap to mobile.

Sport management games like Football Manager and Out of the Park Baseball are my favorite game genre. I’ve played them since my early days using a computer, almost 20 years ago, so it was a no-brainer for me to join OOTP Developments in summer 2010 to port their PC/Mac game to iOS. Until that point, I hadn’t done more than some game programming as a hobby, and I had never undertaken a mobile programming project, so I was a bit nervous, but OOTP Developments made my transition easy.

Tough compromises had to be made to get the enormous PC sim onto iOS.

Tough compromises had to be made to get the enormous PC sim onto iOS.

My job was to make a mobile version of OOTP, a very deep and complex game that has been around for more than 10 years, and I only had about 10 months to finish it. That might sound like a lot of time, but in the end we needed every day to finish the game and learn how to work with Apple. As a fan of the game, I was fully aware of the task I was in for: baseball is a sport with tons of stats and a deep history, and OOTP reflects all of that. Every screen is packed with stats, settings, and options, something that baseball fans everywhere (and especially OOTP fans) love.

After a few days, it was clear that we needed to define a direction for iOOTP before we could even start the design process. At first, iOOTP was planned as “OOTP on a smaller screen,” which meant we were aiming for a more hardcore user base, but we quickly scrapped that idea and decided to target a much more casual group of users.

With limited hardware to run the game on (OOTP is very heavy on memory usage, something that’s in short supply on older iOS devices) and a very small display to work with (every screen in OOTP is packed with information), we had discovered our two biggest obstacles. So we went back to the drawing table and wrote a new design for the mobile version.

The new goal was to make iOOTP a great game on its own: take the things people love from the PC version (a realistic game engine, the famous news and play-by-play text systems, and the robust AI) and use those elements as the basis for a mobile version. We literally went from screen to screen in the PC version and threw out unnecessary stuff so each screen would fit it on a smaller display. It was hard work and took us some time.

iOOTP had to be distilled from the sprawling desktop version.

iOOTP had to be distilled from the sprawling desktop version.

For the interface, we had inspiration from another great sports management text sim I played a lot around that time: Football Manager Handheld. You can still see those roots in our interface, but we took it a few steps further and gave iOOTP its own look.

By early 2011, we had finished the game  and were ready for Beta testing. I remember long nights struggling with Apple’s guidelines to prepare a test version for our team, but the Beta phase was pretty smooth.

By late May 2011, iOOTP Baseball 2011 was available in the App Store; it immediately started racking up good reviews. I had no time to rest, though, because the next six months were filled with work on several updates we released to the 2011 version: we added Game Center support for leaderboards, in-app purchases of additional historical seasons, a few more OOTP-related features, and, finally, in time for the playoffs, a native HD iPad version (we updated iOOTP to become a Universal app). The iPad version was fun to work with as the larger screen size gave us more room to display information, bringing us a little closer to what’s possible with OOTP.

After the playoffs ended and I took a short break from iOOTP, I started working on the 2012 version. Before I wrote the first line of code, I analyzed the 2011 release and identified two main areas I had to work on: stability (we had some memory-related trouble on older devices) and speed. For the first month I focused on those two areas: we redesigned the interface graphics so they were more in line with OOTP 13 and made sure to save memory wherever possible.

Next on my list were the new features we wanted to add. My list of possible things to add is long (actually, it’s very long and grows every day), so I sorted it by demand from our forum users. One thing many people wanted was simple editing options, so we decided to deliver those. However, that was an area where we had to be very careful because in the PC version you can edit everything, but iOOTP is supposed to geared toward more casual users who want to play on the go. We will continue to look into more editing possibilities, but no one should expect too much in that area.

iOOTP's UI was inspired by Football Manager handheld.

iOOTP’s UI was inspired by Football Manager handheld.

The rest of the new features were quickly added, but finding ways for users to transfer in-app purchases from 2011 to the new version took us some time. The Beta test phase was smooth again, and this year we released the game one month earlier, exactly on Major League Baseball Opening Day. As I write this article, it has been out for about six weeks and our two main problems from 2011 (too much memory usage and speed) are gone. The release went much better than last year, most likely due to the experience we had gained with mobile programming. We have not needed to release critical bug-fix patches, so instead we can concentrate on updates to improve the gameplay. As with last year’s version, we want to support iOOTP 2012 with new features until the playoffs; the first update was released a couple of weeks ago and the next one is right around the corner.

So what can you expect in the future from iOOTP? I want to add Twitter support (in fact I have a lot of the coding done but I ran out of time; the same can be said for Achievements with Game Center), and recently we implemented the historical seasons as a database in the game, so historical gameplay will see a lot of nice additions, some of which will happen 2012.

Our new graphic designer wants to redefine the interface, and as always we will improve the baseball part of the game, but next year I want to add a killer mobile feature. Something I’m really interested in is Apple TV support: to sit in front of my big screen TV and play iOOTP on it (using the iPad as a mouse pad) sounds great. And we will definitively look into Retina support, something we often get asked about by our community. iPad support will get much more attention: our numbers show that we have a very large iPad following and the device will give us many more possibilities in the future.

Games like FMH and iOOTP were among the first more complex mobile games available, but now more in-depth games, especially role-playing and strategy titles, can be found for iOS. With my limited time for games, I find myself increasingly using iOS devices – sometimes my iPhone, but, more often, my iPad – to play them. I’m really looking forward to what the mobile market will offer in the future.