Super Mega Baseball, one of the best sports games in recent memory, is getting a sequel next year. Although indie studio Metalhead Software isn’t turning the baseball title into an annual franchise, the small team is iterating on the first game in much the same way a company like 2K Sports might. As with any follow-up, Super Mega Baseball 2 is designed to keep what worked, fix what didn’t work and add what was missing.
Metalhead Software essentially came out of nowhere with Super Mega Baseball, which debuted on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in December 2014. The latecomer managed to delight baseball fans everywhere, including Polygon’s sports aficionados — we awarded Super Mega Baseball our Sports Game of the Year honor in 2014. The following year, Metalhead ported the title to Windows PC and Xbox One.
Super Mega Baseball 2 is in development on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Metalhead is focusing on three major upgrades over the original game: adding the ability to play online, expanding on the customization options for players and teams, and delivering on a less outlandish art style. But the company says that the core of Super Mega Baseball — its simulation-quality representation of baseball, which surprised players who were expecting something more ridiculous — is returning for the sequel.
First on the docket for must-have features in the sequel was online play, the lack of which was by far the most common criticism that Metalhead heard even from the people who loved Super Mega Baseball most. For the tiny team working on the game, launching without online play was a bad option, but it was also the only option.
"If we would have attempted to do online play, we would’ve gone out of business"
"If we would have attempted to do online play, we [...] would’ve gone out of business before we shipped a game," said Scott Drader, co-founder of Metalhead Software, in a phone interview with Polygon last week. "I mean, we almost didn’t ship the game as it is, because it was such a big project for the number of people involved."
Drader explained that with a full-time staff of just three people making Super Mega Baseball, there was no way the developers could have included online play. Metalhead has staffed up for the sequel by bringing the team size up to nine members, with as many as 15 in all when part-timers are counted. That expansion of the studio has enabled the company to deliver competitive and cooperative online play for Super Mega Baseball 2.
While there won’t be a persistent online league system in the game, it will keep track of statistics when you and a particular friend play together. (Super Mega Baseball 2 will support up to four players in co-op or head-to-head modes.) And according to Drader, players will have a "fairly seamless experience" regardless of whether they’re playing in local or online co-op.
Metalhead is also improving on single-player offerings for Super Mega Baseball 2. Players of the first game were dismayed to find that it didn’t save stats after they completed a season. The sequel will maintain a stats database for both offline and online play. It will also bring back leaderboards based on the Starpoints rating system, and since players got invested in the leveling aspects of the season mode, Metalhead is looking to offer longer-term solo play over multiple seasons.
Customizing players was a key element of the season mode, and in Super Mega Baseball 2, Metalhead is giving people a lot more options in that respect. Players will be able to edit names, logos and uniforms for every ballclub, with the logo editor offering prefabricated text and images as well as more abstract options for creative people. The season mode will also allow players to customize the number of teams in the league, along with the length of the season and the number of playoff teams. Plus, the option to edit individual players will return.
The look of the game — and in particular, the look of the players — is the third major area of focus for Metalhead. Drader told Polygon that the studio "got a lot of [...] polarized feedback on the look of the characters and the art style" in Super Mega Baseball. The cartoonish art direction evoked casual, kid-oriented games like the old Backyard Baseball series, and suggested to customers that Super Mega Baseball would be an arcade sports game.
"we got a lot of polarized feedback on the look of the characters"
Instead, the game contained an accurate simulation of baseball under the hood, including realistic ball physics. The only exception was the exaggerated player models — everybody had giant heads and tall torsos atop relatively tiny legs. The design not only turned some players off, it actually caused a gameplay issue: With players that, at something like 9 feet tall, were effectively out of proportion with the physics of the game, defenders were able to catch balls that they shouldn’t have been able to reach.
"We were running up against some problems trying to make certain things play properly," said Drader. In developing Super Mega Baseball 2, Metalhead "didn’t want to lose the personality and uniqueness that the [original game’s] art style had," so the studio went with player models that are still caricatures rather than attempts to represent realistic humans — albeit with more reasonable body proportions.
After all, Metalhead wanted the original game to be a sports title that people who didn’t know anything about baseball could still enjoy. The studio’s hope is that the new art style will help achieve that goal, while conveying the message that Super Mega Baseball 2 still offers a solid simulation of the sport. And while Metalhead isn’t offering a more specific time frame than 2017 at this point, Drader acknowledged that launching the original game in December was "questionable timing" for a baseball title, and said the company won’t do it again.