We uncover lost stories of the never released Power-Up Baseball, sometimes referred to as “MLB Jam,” with then programer, now arcade game developer, Brian Smolik. Back in those days, Smolik lived the life only a young 25 year old could: programming and testing until 6 a.m. while riding a sugar high brought on by giant Slurpees. This breakneck paced work cycle was mirrored in the sweat inducing, get a running start for you pitch, maybe even break your hand on the screen style of gameplay involved in Power-Up Baseball.
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Profile: Collector’s Call
Kelsey Lewin 00:09
Welcome to episode number 18 of the video game history hour presented by the Video Game History Foundation. Every episode or normally every episode, we’ll be bringing in an expert guest someone who’s done the research and has an interesting story from video game history to tell something a little bit different this week, which I feel like I’m saying half the time now, but
Frank Cifaldi 00:27
it’s the last three episodes I think.
Kelsey Lewin 00:29
Yeah, that’s, that’s okay. You know what, this will be an interesting story and He is an expert. My name is Kelsey Lewin. I’m the Co-director of the Video Game History Foundation. And I’m here as always with Frank Cifaldi, the founder and co-director of the Video Game History Foundation.
Frank Cifaldi 00:43
Today we’re very pleased to have a special guest with us. Brian’s Smolik is who is an arcade game developer, who we invited on the show because hopefully, you all saw we just published an article going into the history of a game called Power Up Baseball, which was never manufactured at least more than 15 or so cabinets. arcade game that was meant to be a baseball follow up to NBA Jam. Brian was one of the programmers on staff and one of the subjects of our oral history. Brian, welcome to the Video Game History Hour!
Brian Smolik 01:22
Hi, thanks for having me. Thanks for inviting me. And I’m looking forward to this.
Frank Cifaldi 01:27
Yeah. So actually, I don’t think that that, uh, that we’ve really spoken since the article went out. So I don’t know, where should we start here? I mean, should we should we kind of start at the the genesis of where this game came from?
Brian Smolik 01:45
Sure. First off, let me say the article is great. I brought back so many memories. It was it was just really good. And I had so many people reaching out to me as well, like, Hey, did you know you were here you know? I had all those linked all over and like, all over and then immediately after somebody on my Facebook was like, I can’t believe that isn’t your profile picture? You know, that little baseball card? So I had to change it over and… yeah.
Frank Cifaldi 02:13
Oh, is that your picture there?
Brian Smolik 02:15
Frank Cifaldi 02:16
Oh, it is. I was looking right at it. Yeah. So yeah, I mean, I had a couple of conflicting accounts. But really, it seems like, and this was before you started at I.T. So actually, maybe I should speak to this part. But the origins of this game seem to be that, you know, Midway had, of course, a monster hit on its hands with NBA Jam. And was, of course pursuing other similar titles. They’ve done an NHL title, they would eventually do an NFL title. And the subject of baseball came up. And they essentially went to Incredible Technologies, which was another Chicago–Well, I should say is–another Chicago based developer, Golden Tee is, of course, their most famous game. To get this project off the ground, an agreement was made. One Jim Zielinski, who’s a baseball nut was probably pretty happy about that. And you’re off to the races.
Brian Smolik 03:21
Exactly. So yeah. And that’s, that’s a great way to say sort of how it started. I came into the project, probably one third of the way into the game. I was I would have had just started working with Incredible Technologies I had come on as a tester for another game, and had gone back and forth for a while. And at the end of testing, they said, hey, you’re, you’re pretty good at this, you know, and they said they had a new project that they had just started working out with Midway, and would I be interested? And it was like, yeah, you know, like, Where do I sign up? Right. So like everybody else on the planet, I was a huge NBA Jam fan. And Tournament Edition a probably, you know, I’d probably be rich if it wasn’t for Tournament Edition.
Frank Cifaldi 04:16
Well, and you weren’t just a fan, you were an active fan on the internet, right?
Brian Smolik 04:21
Oh, yeah. So I was working on the Tournament Edition FAQ back in the day, right. So and this was, you know, pre- lots of things. Back then we posted these out, which was frequently asked questions. And they were on like, you know, just forums or bulletin boards back then. And mine was for Tournament Edition. And what was cool was I had started a bunch of stuff and I gotten contacted by GamePro and AGM and they all wanted to use that, you know, that FAQ. So it was cool that was kind of like my, ‘in’ into the game industry, basically. And and went from there. I don’t know how I don’t want to need to get into my whole history, I guess of how I got into I.T. But…
Frank Cifaldi 05:13
Well, I think it’s kind of remarkable that you know, you’re that level of a fan. And your first project is like, Hey, you want to work on a sequel?
Brian Smolik 05:27
Exactly, right? You know, it is mind blowing. It’s like, yeah, where do I start? You know, sign me up. What do I got to do? I literally left a governmen–a cushy government job. You know, I was, I was 25 years old. And my government boss was like, What do you mean, you’re quitting? You-You’ve been here for a couple years, you’re set for life, basically. And I’m like, I’m gonna work on a game. He’s like, What? You’re crazy. Why would you ever do that? You know, and I just, I didn’t even think twice about it, you know, now, you know, 20 something years later, I’m like, Hmm, maybe cushy government job would have been the way No, I’m just kidding. But, but yeah, you know, there was I, you know, I put in my two week notice instantly and was like, I’m gonna go work on, you know, the next big thing. That’s amazing.
Kelsey Lewin 06:19
And part of this, too, is that you’re in Chicago. So were you kind of seeing a lot of these test games early and getting the jump on the FAQs and getting the jump on the internet high ground?
Brian Smolik 06:30
Yeah, absolutely! That was the big thing, right. So before the NBA Jam tournament, edition FAQ, I did the Killer Instinct, one. That was really my claim to fame that that one blew up like crazy. And everybody, you know, Killer Instinct was so huge. The combo system was crazy. And it was, you know, there was just hundreds and hundreds of moves to document on that thing. So that FAQ was, like more complicated than just about any of them out there. So did the Killer Instinct FAQ did worked on the NBA Jam Tournament Edition one. And then from there, that’s when I was doing, I had found a new test game, which was Street Fighter: The Movie. And this is kind of before everybody knew how that game turned out, which we all know now. Not so hot. But But back then, you know, this was this was the only one there was one in existence. It was on test. It was you know, 20 minutes from Incredible Technologies. And I just happened to be playing at that arcade and stumbled upon it. And I was like, well, I just finished the Killer Instinct one, I’m going to start writing this one. And started the Street Fighter FAQ was going through all the moves, figuring out everything. And I had a lot of complaints. You know, there was a lot of, but that’s early on. This game was literally on test to see how it did and everything. So I remember writing the FAQ stuff and getting an email one day from Richard Ditton, who’s the head of Incredible Technologies. He’s one of the owners. And he said, Hey, how about instead of complaining about this game all the time you come help us make it better? And I was like,
Kelsey Lewin 08:10
He was tryin’ to set you up.
Brian Smolik 08:11
Yeah, exactly, right? So I was like, yeah, sure, I could do that. So then, every single night, I would leave the cushy government job, you know, about 5 or 6 PM. And I would drive to Incredible Technologies and get there about 7 PM. And then I’d play till midnight or one in the morning there. And I would just play Street Fighter, Street Fighter, Street Fighter constantly. And Richard come in and bring us pizza or whatever. And we would go Hey, Honda’s hand slap isn’t working, right? And they go show me what’s going on. And we’d go back and forth. And Richard be like, I’ll be back in like 15 minutes, and then we just keep playing. Then 15 minutes later, he’d come back with an update and go Okay, that’s fixed. Let’s see if this works for you. You know, so, when, when they were done with the Street Fighter game, or mostly done with it, as when they made me the offer, they’re like, Hey, your gameplay instincts are really good. We really like hanging out with you. And you know, the way you work with the rest of the department and the crew, would you be interested in a programming job? And that’s when you know, I was like, Yeah, like, didn’t even think about it. I don’t even think they made me an offer for money. I think I agree before there was before there was even a price on the table. So
Frank Cifaldi 09:31
I think the lesson here is that if you’re a video game company, you should hire your internet trolls.
Brian Smolik 09:39
Right? That’s exactly it. That’s probably a bad idea, but…
Frank Cifaldi 09:45
So yeah, you had programming experience but…
Brian Smolik 09:49
I did have programming experience.
Frank Cifaldi 09:50
… but not in 68,000 Assembly.
Brian Smolik 09:53
No, not an Assembly. So that was definitely a rough, rough thing for sure. You know, had some experience had taken some classes with it, but had not actually done anything besides the standard, you know, hello world stuff, right? So it was all new to me and Richard didn’t and Chris Oberth kind of took me under their wings and said, we’re going to help you, you know, learn this. And here you go. And, and it was just, it was just awesome. I couldn’t ask for, you know, better people to help me learn it and get going.
Frank Cifaldi 10:27
So, as you said, projects underway. But pretty early at this point. So
Brian Smolik 10:33
Yeah, yeah. I would say it’s, you know, they’re just starting to get some of the the, kind of like the Modeseven working with the ground, because it’s all like a 2D system back then, you know, we were Golden Tee was basically built on. So, you know, all the 3D wall stuff was all kind of faked. And the ground was all sort of these weird, giant textures. And yeah, but they had very beginning stages of getting all that going.
Frank Cifaldi 11:03
And what was your role on the team?
Brian Smolik 11:07
So my main role was programmer brought me in, and I was like, you know, there, Chris Oberth was the systems guy. I think Richard Ditton was kind of leading the overall gameplay stuff. And then I was like, the, hey, everything else goes to you. And we don’t have time to do.
Frank Cifaldi 11:28
That usually means U.I., in my experience.
Brian Smolik 11:30
Oh yeah, that usually means U.I. But, you know, in the arcade world, there’s not a lot of U.I. and I had done, you know, the U.I. for this, I’m like, Okay, here’s the balls and strikes, right. But mine, it was a lot of the other stuff. It was like, Okay, you got to get this guy to walk in. And I had done a ton of the trackball field to try and get it to feel just right, of the, you know, how fast does it got to spin the swing? how fast you know, how fast is your guy come in? How fast does he pitch? That sort of stuff? It was, you know, then a ton of late nights with John Newcomer who is, you know, obviously, the brains behind the–a lot of it. You know…
Frank Cifaldi 12:15
Let me just sort of introduce Newcomer here. I think it’s a good segue to that. So John Newcomer was working at Midway, and, and he had had a long career at that point, as long as one could really at that point. And, you know, probably most famously, was the designer of Joust. And, you know, he, of course, touched most of the Midway Games in that era, I think most people there did work on NBA Jam a little bit, etc. And he was essentially the one in charge from the Midway side of designing the baseball game and working with Incredible Technologies to see it through.
Brian Smolik 13:00
Right. Yep. So and I believe how it and I don’t know, this might be this is where some of your stuff is different, depending on who you talk to. But I think…
Frank Cifaldi 13:10
Ooh, juicy okay, okay, let’s go.
Brian Smolik 13:13
I think this is just, you know, how I think it started and again, I was, I was, you know, programmer who came in late to the party. But I think how it had gone down is, you know, they were still do working on Blitz, or Blitz had been out, but they’re out working on like, the next next version of Blitz at the time, probably. And there just wasn’t enough teams at Midway, you know, you’re either working on Mortal Kombat, or, you know, Blitz or whatever. And I don’t think they had another sports team, which is why it probably ended up at with Incredible Technologies, is they know, we could do it, you know, and John’s like, Hey, you know, there’s no team for me here, you know, what the heck? So I think that’s probably how he got the permission to pull that off. I don’t know for sure. I don’t know if that’s the actual thing, but that was kind of how I thought it probably went down is, you know,
Frank Cifaldi 14:04
So that’s, that’s your recollection?
Brian Smolik 14:07
That’s right, and I could be completely wrong.
Frank Cifaldi 14:08
Alan Nunes recollection. That is, okay. But I think it was Newcomer’s recollection was Oh, and I should say, after this article came out, we did speak to Jim Zielinski, who was the designer on the I.T. side, also, his recollection matches yours. Newcomer’s recollection was that I.T. came to Midway, looking to work together. So, you know, as historians, you just kind of have to look past those disagreements. But either way,
Kelsey Lewin 14:46
And well it could be conflating two separate things like they had, you know, they’re two Chicago based companies, right. So you could totally have a situation where you’re having beers going Hey, we should work together and then the story continues. as everyone else remembers it, you know? Yeah, it’s it’s a difficult thing when you’re interviewing. I feel like the more people you interview, sometimes the murkier, it becomes if you could just–hear one person’s story and be done with it, then our jobs would be a lot easier.
Frank Cifaldi 15:16
Brian Smolik 15:17
I guess there is a possibility of that, because I’m not sure the story of how they also ended up with Street Fighter on their plate.
Frank Cifaldi 15:23
Kelsey Lewin 15:23
Brian Smolik 15:23
How did Capcom not make Street Fighter, right now? Right? So, you know, it’s very possible that they went, hey, we just made this Street Fighter game. We can make your game for you guys. Right?
Frank Cifaldi 15:33
Yeah. Capcom, hiring an American developer to make a Street Fighter seems pretty odd now. Though, I will say that at least in the 90s. I think it was mostly the US division that was handling the IP. So you know, it’s not completely out of _left field_ to use a baseball reference. Ha, did you like that?
Kelsey Lewin 15:34
Frank Cifaldi 15:53
Brian Smolik 15:54
Oh, man, I gotta look up some baseball puns quick.
Frank Cifaldi 16:00
Something that you told me in our interview for the story, and you mentioned this briefly was that a lot of your role was essentially interfacing on site with Newcomer and tweaking the game with them. Right?
Brian Smolik 16:14
Yeah. So, and I think some of this was probably because I was the new guy. Some of this was probably because, you know, I was doing a lot of the tweaking and things after, after Richard had gotten a lot of the stuff going, or Chris had gotten, you know, a lot of the systems stuff going, they were, they had other things they were doing Richard’s running a company, you know, so it was, you know, I would get a, you know, someone stopped by my office, and it’d be like, 5 o’clock in the evening or something. And they’d be like, hey, Brian, John’s on his way in, he’ll be here about 7. If you could help him out tonight. That would be great. Thanks. You know, it was like, it was like, you know, like, Hey, I’m gonna have to ask you to work the weekend. But it was, you know, is that sort of scenario where they’re like, and then everybody else would just leave. And Newcomer would come in around 7 o’clock, and he’d have two giant Slurpees, which was like, a good way to get me kind of goin’. And now thinking back, it was probably enough sugar than to keep me up for the most of the night. You know, he showed up at 7 PM with this, you know, gallon of Slurpee.
Frank Cifaldi 17:24
Good game producer trick right there.
Brian Smolik 17:26
Yeah, absolutely, right? Oh, man, if I could tell you some E.A. stories.
Kelsey Lewin 17:31
So hire someone young, who’s a fan and feed them Slurpees. That’s, that’s what we’ve learned.
Brian Smolik 17:37
Absolutely. Right? So he would come in with these Slurpees. And we’d be going and he we’d always play one game first. So that would be it, he’d come in, and we’d play because he’d usually come in maybe once or twice a week. And with the other times, you know, we’re just working on the game. So he’d come in and play just to see where the progress was what we’ve got going sometimes I’d be involved. And we’re like, we’d play some two player or sometimes he’d plays single player. And, basically, you know, I’d have, you know, your standard work desk, and PC. And we have this giant arcade cabinet in my office. And, you know, it was just squished in here. And John would be in there with another chair. And just banging on the trackball and playing, you’d be like, I don’t like the way this is too fast, you got to slow this down. And I’d go in and kind of slow it down, and recompile it and send it back over. And we would tweak some more and play. And we would just go back and forth all night long. So probably, you know, maybe 1 o’clock in the morning, 1 or 2 o’clock. And then you know, it’s getting to the point where neither of us are good for anything, right. So like, we’re getting kind of tired. And it’s kind of hard to program at 2 AM. And you’ve been there all day. And so then we would go Alright, this is this is a good spot to leave it. And then the real work would start because I’d have to take all the code and all the compiled stuff. And we’d go over to just like the workshop at I.T., where we would burn all the ROMs. So then I’d have to stay there and burn all these rounds, which took for ever back then. I don’t know if they’ve actually sped that up now. But that process, I remember it being pretty painful. And you’d burn all these ROMs. And then I’d have to put them all back in a motherboard. We put the motherboard back in the cabinet and test it out and see if it worked. And sometimes that the ROM burning doesn’t go so well. Then, you know, you’d get a bad one or two or who knows what we’d have to go back in erase all the ROMs which was done with like, you know… black…
Frank Cifaldi 19:45
Ultraviolet light, right?
Brian Smolik 19:47
Right, ultraviolet lights, so we’d set them under this thing and John and i would just sit there and talk for half hour while we waited for the ROMs to erase.
Frank Cifaldi 19:53
Baking them in your Easy-Bake Oven.
Brian Smolik 19:55
Yeah, exactly, right? And then and then we you know, I do the whole process over again. And hey, we’d play around. It wasn’t crashing, you know, that was the other thing. So when we were building and playing and building and playing, we were playing on like, it’s not an emulator, it’s like a ROM emulator that’s connected to the actual motherboard. But that didn’t always mean that it worked when you burnt the ROMs. So, you know, we’d have to make sure it wouldn’t crash or whatever. And like, it would literally we’d be there till 6 AM, I’d finally hinge on either the motherboard with the ROMs on it, or tubes of ROMs. Because I think we had to burn like two or three sets every time. I’d give that to him, and he leave and he’d go from there, right back to Midway, I think usually. And he would then set it up in their cafeteria or their test game, wherever it was, you know, and then I would pretty much just pass out. And then, you know, people would start filing into the office at 7 or 8. And, you know, they’d find me there on my desk or on a couch or on the floor. And I’d be like, Alright, I’m gonna go home for 2 hours, and take a shower, and I will be back and start it all over again.
Frank Cifaldi 21:08
Game development life, baby.
Brian Smolik 21:10
Exactly. This was, you know, there’s, there’s, I wouldn’t have changed anything for the world, right? I mean, you know, people always say, oh, testing sucks, or whatever. And it does, like if you’re a tester, but like, Man, this is this was everything I’ve ever wanted being a huge Midway fan, you know, doing the Killer Instinct stuff doing the NBA Jam stuff. I this is, this is literally my dream, you know, wouldn’t change any of it for the world. This is what I wanted it to be. I wanted to be up till 6 AM working on the next big hit. Yeah, so…
Kelsey Lewin 21:41
Did you feel pressure of like working with Midway is your first I mean, this is your first real development job so.
Brian Smolik 21:48
Kelsey Lewin 21:48
And it’s the people that you love their games. Right? That sounds scary.
Brian Smolik 21:53
Right, exactly. So it was the first time and this is, you know, I, of course, I’ve been an arcade fan forever. My dad was an operator back in the 80s. So I was that kid that had a Pac-Man game in their garage in the 80s. So the rest of the neighborhood was over, you know, and then I had a Donkey Kong or whatever. So like, I grew up in the arcade industry, you know, and had had all this stuff, and just loved everything about it. But then, you know, I didn’t know really who was a programmer who designed what back then. Right. So when the first time I get introduced to John Newcomer, um, I was like, Hey, I know you. You’re that guy from NBA Jam. Right? Because…
Frank Cifaldi 22:37
Did you read him his initials and a date?
Brian Smolik 22:39
His initials and his birthday, that’s exactly, right? So, I can play as John. So I was like, Oh my god, you’re totally famous. You’re like, then you look him up and like, Oh, he’s actually really, really famous. He’s not just the the guy that you you know, from the NBA Jam. So yeah. And then once I realized that, you know, is like, Oh my gosh, this is, you know, it’s not just make a game for Midway. It’s working with John Newcomer, you know, he brought me…
Frank Cifaldi 23:11
It’s pleasing the Joust man.
Brian Smolik 23:13
Exactly. He literally, I have to this day, he gave me a Joust 2 control panel. I’m not sure why or how. I just know I own it. And it showed up from him. And he also gave me a Joust 1 empty cabinet at some point. I believe that was from him. That That one’s a little fuzzy. But I know the control–the Joust 2 control panel came from him. And like he would just show up, and I think this was one of those where like, you know, maybe you know, the seventh or eighth time we did this the Slurpees were wearing off. It’s like, ugh, good god, great Slurpee–
Frank Cifaldi 23:48
Digging through the garage to please the fan boy.
Brian Smolik 23:50
Exactly that’s what it was. He was like this will make him happy for a day, you know, you can just bring me little presents
Kelsey Lewin 23:57
You didn’t tink to autograph the Slurpee first?
Brian Smolik 23:58
Right? So that was it.
Frank Cifaldi 24:02
So um, I think we should actually describe the game at this point.
Brian Smolik 24:09
Yeah, I guess at some point.
Frank Cifaldi 24:09
Because Yeah, cuz I know, we know from talking just now that two player game you against John, I believe we’ve talked about how it’s trackball based but I mean, what what is this game? How does it play?
Brian Smolik 24:22
So basically, you know, the idea was, it’s the next like you said, it’s the next NBA Jam. It’s the next NFL Blitz. This is, you know, MLB Power Baseball. This is the next big extreme sports over the top, you know, crazy action game. And it was played with two joysticks. I believe there were 5 buttons. You had one button for each base and a power up button. And it was just an insane, pitching, duel battle sort of thing. Yeah, there’s big pitcher on this. screen, you had a _huge_ batter on the screen, I remember he took up a lot of the space. And, you know, the idea was, and because it was trackball, it was alright, the faster I’m going to swing this ball down, the faster the other player has to push up, you know, and just spin it to swing the bat. And I just remember it was, it was so insane. You know, you had 2 people playing next to each other. And I don’t know, if you’ve ever watched like professional people play Golden Tee Golf, they basically take like a running start at that thing, you know, and put their fist through the, through the monitor, and we’ve had multiple calls of broken monitors, you know, and Golden Tee or like… whatever, right? Because people are just being crazy. or breaking their hand is usually what goes first is that somebody busts a finger. So now, to play this game, you’re spinning as fast as you can to run between bases and to running and feel the ball. And you know, the other guy is spinning. It is just as fast. You were drenched in sweat by the end of this game.
Kelsey Lewin 25:42
Frank Cifaldi 26:07
Actually, you know, I can back you up on that because collector Chance Palmer who has the cabinet that we installed the game into? He just got it today. I think he told me today he was covered in sweat after playing a game this is not hyperbole, folks, we can corroborate this.
Brian Smolik 26:27
No, this game was a serious workout. And that was you know, and that was it. It was it was basically meant to be an intense inning after inning pitching and batting and running around the field and throwing the ball from base to base. You know, it was pretty crazy. So… man, good times.
Kelsey Lewin 26:50
And it was kind of following the same, like extreme. I mean, obviously the physical it was physically extreme in with the trackball, but it was kind of also trying to follow this extreme. Kind of like fanciful version of baseball, the NBA Jam it kind of set the bar for right. So you got like some strange power ups and that sort of thing.
Brian Smolik 27:11
Yeah, exactly. You know, you had just crazy, you know, you could do like a beam ball pitch, it just nailed the guy in the head if you wanted to.
Kelsey Lewin 27:19
And the animation of him falling over that.
Frank Cifaldi 27:19
No strategic reason for that.
Brian Smolik 27:21
Right? He’s just, like, falls out, like you’d knocked him out. He’s done. But yeah, there was all sorts of, you know, we didn’t have the crazy, you know, I can slam and break the backboard sort of thing. So we had to come up with all these other things for pitching, you know, there was like the tornado pitch where the guy just, he’s just a blur, and this ball just comes out of nowhere. You know, and you could do like this slow underhand pitch and trying to throw everybody off with the speed. On the batter side, you know, we had crazy things like a lightsaber, you know, you’d be holding in your hand. And then or, like, you’d grab the ball, literally, you know, over the base, toss it back up and hit it, you know, which I don’t think is really allowed.
Kelsey Lewin 28:06
You know, if you can catch it with your bare hands, I think you deserve it at that point.
Brian Smolik 28:09
Kelsey Lewin 28:10
They should just let you do that. If you’re willing to break your hand,
Brian Smolik 28:13
Yeah, if you’re willing to stick that hand out there. You can throw it up and hit it. You know, there’s like the caveman swing and stuff where he just overhead, you know, Tomahawk’d it sort of thing. So
Frank Cifaldi 28:24
Yeah, that one’s kind of fun. Because that one is only used as a response to the bean ball. It’s a defensive move to not get hit in the head, is to transform into a caveman and whack it overhead.
Brian Smolik 28:40
Right? And, and the odds of you knowing that that guy was gonna throw the beam ball, you know, so you can be ready to counter it, you know, is crazy
Frank Cifaldi 28:48
The only thing I can think of to make that strategy happen is that every move does take a certain amount of power. So if you got really good at the game, you could probably keep an eye on how much power was used by the pitcher, and then make an educated guess. But other than that, there’s no way to know that.
Brian Smolik 29:08
Right? I remember, I remember early on, because we were the Golden Tee company, right? The way you were gonna do pitching was kind of complicated. Like you had to pull back to, you know, for the pitcher to sort of wind up and then roll it forward to throw the ball. Actually, it was reverse that. So the person batting and the person pitching, we’re rolling the balls in opposite directions, I believe. And when it was the more complicated sort of Golden Tee version, you could kind of keep an eyeball on where, you know, where your opponent was rolling that trackball. So if he was coming, like back left, and then he was gonna, you know, move his hand to kind of go forward, right, you knew what was coming or you knew the height, you know. And that was one of those. I think that got taken out pretty early on. If I remember correctly, or at least dumbed way down. Because it was just over complicated. I remember, right, putting things out on test. So we’ve all been playing this game forever. And when it went out on test, we’d sit there and watch people play. And all of a sudden, they weren’t, you know, and it’s a new game. But these people weren’t nearly as good as we were. And it didn’t seem like they were quite picking it up, you had a lot more strikes, and you had a lot more, you know, misses and stuff. And it was like, Oh, yeah, we’ve been playing this for like 6 or 8 months, and we’ve become pros at it. And any normal person can’t just couldn’t do it, you know, they were just missed. You could, you could actually throw the ball high, medium or low. And if you didn’t pick high, medium, or low, you missed, you know, if you didn’t pick the right thing. And I think towards the end, as long as you if you always picked middle, you would either pop it up or ground it. Or if it’s through in the middle, then you know, you’d nail the thing out of the park. But before I think it was if they threw high and you in the middle, you missed so
Frank Cifaldi 31:09
Kelsey Lewin 31:09
So it was too much like actual baseball?
Brian Smolik 31:11
Right. Exactly. That is exactly it.
Frank Cifaldi 31:15
Um, so something that I found interesting talking to Jim Zielinski, this morning, actually, the trackball situation, you know, he and this isn’t really so much in the article, but he really thinks that the damage being done to the track balls was maybe a larger factor in the game’s cancellation, then, then maybe he will give it credit for he was describing to me that the track balls would stop would break, like, in a day, you know, I and you know, he’s saying like, you know, Golden Tee. Yeah, the track balls are gonna break track balls don’t last forever, but it’s gonna be in maybe two weeks. Baseball was happening in like, a day. And it was, you know, I was asking him, is it just like, the frequency of how often you have to roll the ball? And he said, Yeah, absolutely. Cuz you are, as you said, Brian, you’re just constantly rolling that thing. Like, as fast as you can, working up a sweat just destroying this machine.
Brian Smolik 32:16
Right. That’s actually really interesting that he mentions that, because I actually remember that as well. I remember them coming to us and saying, look, it didn’t last through the weekend. You know, it went to you. You guys put the new ROMs in on Friday and Saturday night, it’s gotten out-of-order signs. The trackball doesn’t work, you know? But I absolutely remember that happening. And I thought that was kind of a bigger factor too. But someone else I had talked to said they didn’t think as much of that was the case. But I, if Jim mentions it, I believe that was true, because because I remember saying hearing that as well. It was just they take such a beating. And its not just rolling, right, when we were playing this game, you were kind of slamming your fist down into that trackball. You know, so it wasn’t just like, you know, you weren’t like the the little flywheel, you know, wasn’t what was dying. It was you were busting that piece of plastic that’s holding the, you know, the ball in place. These things were just getting destroyed. And I actually remember right around this time, Golden er Incredible Technologies, was looking into designing their own I think, and I don’t know, for sure. I want to say we were using some trackball, you know, up until this point. And this was right around the time when I.T. decided they were going to either, and I don’t remember if it was them and have controls or what the whole deal was. But I remember them designing a new trackball or helping design in some way, like saying, look, this doesn’t work for us. We need to solve this.
Frank Cifaldi 33:49
Yeah, if we’re gonna continue shipping these Golden Tee games we need to not be and and they’re a hit, by the way. So there’s a lot of these trackballs.
Brian Smolik 33:59
Yeah, exactly. Right. But but I absolutely Remember, you know, hearing about them just being destroyed out there, because people were just so intense on this game.
Kelsey Lewin 34:08
So what can you speak a little bit more about some of the other issues that there were with Power-Up Baseball, because obviously, I mean, that sounds like a very big part of it. But the game itself had more issues than just the trackball beating,
Brian Smolik 34:21
Sure, right? I think one of the biggest problems that nobody saw coming, which was, which was weird, you know, because we, you know, there are a lot of work and a lot of design and a lot of time, you know, goes into into a game like this. That being said, there’s a lot of, you know, sitting around at 2 AM going Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we did this, like, yeah, let’s throw that in there. But I think something nobody realized even while we were playing and right till it went out on test was the length of time it took to play. In the back of your head, you always thought up 9 innings. You know, there’s 4 quarters in baseball, there’s you know, 3 in hockey, there’s 4 in football, 9 innings, not not a big deal. The problem with all those are the other 3, all have a timer on them, they all start and stop. And that’s it. in baseball, you can be batting forever, as long as someone was pitching you, you know, easy hits. And you would have, you know, we’d have games easily in the 15 minute range, or more, you know, we’d be 3 or 4 innings in. And if you had two really good players, you know, it’s like 8 to 7 or something there or higher. You’ve got all these crazy amounts of runs. And the game just took way too long. There was no, there was no stopping it. You know, in your head, you nobody thought about yes 3 outs and you’re done. But nobody thought it takes forever to possibly get to those 3 outs once in a while. And that was I think the biggest one was, yeah, I think that really killed it was the the time.
Frank Cifaldi 36:08
Yeah, I imagine a lot of people hearing this are like, well just cap it at 5 runs or, or put a timer on each inning. But I mean, surely you tried all of that stuff.
Brian Smolik 36:19
Right? Yeah we thought about that–Yeah, we tried a lot of things. I remember. We tried. We even went down to like a 3 inning game, right. But then it became well, how much do you charge for a 3 inning game? How much you charge for 9, you know, NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, it was $2. It was you know, whatever it was 50 cents, a quarter or whatever. And ours It was like, well, we I guess we want to be a $2 game. They’re all $2 games. How do you split that up across 9 innings, you know, 9 doesn’t really go into $2. So I remember we went to like 3, 3 innings to try and speed things up. But nobody wants to play 3 innings of baseball really, you know, it was almost too short. At that point, you know, and we were going to try, I remember if we were going to try and just charge $1 for that. But then a full game was $3. So now you’re in trouble because you’re $1 more than the other 3 major hits that are out there. And then I remember we even put it down to like a quarter play you you could or a quarter an inning, you could just play you know, one quarter an inning and just go or 50 cents an inning. But who nobody is walking up to a game like this and playing 1 inning. Especially if you’re playing by yourself, you know, you’re just gonna go out there and bat 3 times and pitch 3 times and you’re done. You know, that’s, or whatever. That’s not fun at all. So I think that was a, there was a serious hook, which came out of left field. Hey, I got my pun in. But you know, I don’t think anybody really saw it until it went out on test. And we went Oh, that’s that’s not gonna work. You know.
Kelsey Lewin 37:59
So were you guys actually seeing like 15 minute games and just sitting there going?
Brian Smolik 38:03
Kelsey Lewin 38:03
Oh, my God. Oh, wow.
Brian Smolik 38:06
Yeah, especially. And when it really came was between people that weren’t good at the game. I’m thinking about it. Because the people that weren’t good, they didn’t know how to throw the crazy pitches or pitch higher pitch low or whatever, they literally just pitched a straight ball down the middle. And the person batting just batted straight down the middle. Right? So it was just, you know, that guy’s throwing the perfect pitch right to you. And you’re just going to hit it out of the park or you know, hit it into the field every single time.
Frank Cifaldi 38:38
Right? Because the default, no buttons roll versus roll.
Brian Smolik 38:42
Frank Cifaldi 38:43
It’s down the center, and then a perfect hit down the center.
Brian Smolik 38:45
it’s exactly, that’s exactly what it was. And we just made, you know, the game now takes twice as long or if you’re a complete newbie at it, which is the exact opposite of how games are supposed to work. That’s supposed to be the longer you play, the newer you are.
Frank Cifaldi 39:05
And you also mentioned something to me about how, you know, I.T. was kind of thinking of this as a bar game as well. And that kind of provided its own set of issues.
Brian Smolik 39:16
Right, you know, so you also had, you know, people just weren’t you know, it wasn’t Golden Tee was the perfect bar game again, if if you know if I can hold a beer in one hand and play in the other. That’s a moneymaker. And that’s what I.T. thought was a moneymaker. Right that that is the formula that has worked for them on multiple games. Suddenly, this isn’t that you you’re not holding a beer and playing this game. You’re working up a sweat, you’re going crazy on the thing. And it just, it just really wasn’t that I can sit and relax bar game. You also had the problem of people were going crazy. So if it was doing well at a bar, you had two intensely crazy people playing and yelling and screaming, while everyone else is trying to either watch the game or watch a fight or, you know, whatever it is. And it was, it was just too much for bars that normally had someone in the corner playing and Golden Tee going. I’m going to putt now “dink,” you know, the exact opposite of that.
Kelsey Lewin 40:21
So with all of that said, I mean, do you think Power-Up baseball was a good game?
Brian Smolik 40:26
I do. Um, I think there’s a lot of mixed feelings about it. Was it the next NBA Jam? No, probably not. But I had tons of great plays, I’ve got tons of great memories of playing that game. When when I got a chance to kind of play the emulated one here, I was just like, oh, man, this is you know, this is so good. I remember, you know, I remember doing this, I remember doing that the game was really good. I’m kind of looking forward to getting a chance to play it on an actual cabinet. Now, thanks to you guys. You know, and all the work that you’ve done to kind of bring this thing back to life. Chance has, you know, one of the cabinets that was discovered, I’ve got another one. Like I said there was I think there were 15 cabinets made, 3 of them went to Incredible Technologies. One of them is it been in my garage for the last 20 plus years. It was given to me when I left, it was painted over black. And there was no board in it. So I literally just had a game, sitting there with nothing. And it was one of those were like, ah, one of these days, I’ll make a project for it. Or one of these days, I’ll do something with it and just never did. And now that you know, all this stuff has been discovered, and we’ve got the ROMs I’m 100% looking forward to you know, getting aboard firing that game up and and just enjoying the heck out of it.
Frank Cifaldi 41:51
I love you were telling me about that cabinet. Because as you said it was is painted over black but
Brian Smolik 41:57
Frank Cifaldi 41:57
in a weird way that that preserved it.
Brian Smolik 42:01
Oh, it absolutely did. So when I took it over, there was another guy that we everybody had started working with. His name is Jeff and he was doing he was helping Chance, he had Chance’s game. He something weird happened, I’m sure the whole exact story of that. And somehow, I guess through you they got a hold of me and said hey, do you do you know anything about this game or how it works? And I was like, actually, I’ve got one in my garage, you know? So, um, it was funny, because they didn’t have a control panel for it. They just had the the cabinet.
Frank Cifaldi 42:37
Yeah, he actually his cabinet was is probably one of I.T.’s because when he got it, it was running. I think Golden Tee 2.
Brian Smolik 42:47
Okay, yeah, that would make sense. And I think, and I’m totally gonna be wrong on this. I think his serial number was 7 or something like that. And mine is 8 or 9. That’s in the garage. And mine. Like I said, mine had been painted over black, I took the control panel off, because the control panel on mine still had the grass texture. And they didn’t have any of that now it had all the button layouts, and what you know what the art look like on that. So I said, I’ll bring my my control panel over. And you guys can scan the grass texture or whatever you need and see how the buttons are laid out and everything. And when I was talking to Jeff, I said, Yeah, you know it, the cabinet is under this black, but I have no idea. You know, I don’t want to touch it. I don’t want to screw it up and try and get that black off. Because I’m afraid I know the art is under here, but I’m afraid to do it. And he goes, Well, how much do you trust me? And I’m like, Well, nothing. I just met you, you know? So, but he’s like, Look, give me give me some time. Leave your control panel here and let me see what I can do. And I was like, yeah, that’s fine. Sure. You know, an hour later, he sends me a text with a picture of the control panel. And it’s beautiful. It is it is in pristine, perfect shape. That black However, they painted on it, kept it in mint condition. It isn’t faded. It isn’t anything. It’s just perfect side art, the date from the day it was printed, you know, way back then. So.
Frank Cifaldi 44:18
So two lessons here. Hire your internet trolls and cover your collectibles with black paint.
Brian Smolik 44:27
Oh, man. This is not good advice for anybody. But yeah, that was it. It totally preserved it. You know that cabinet is an absolute mint shape. So
Frank Cifaldi 44:39
yeah. And you know, I guess we should kind of jump in here because in a way we’re a part of the story too, because as you said,
Brian Smolik 44:48
Yeah, as I said its you guys that made this thing come back to life.
Frank Cifaldi 44:52
Yeah. And the reason that that came about was because early in 2020 We were contacted by someone actually, he reached out to Steve Lin, one of our board members, someone recommended he reached out to Steve because he was selling video game collectibles for the Oberth family. And Chris Oberth, who was one of your co workers, Brian shared an office with him, I believe,
Brian Smolik 45:23
Yep. For about two years, it was him and me back to back.
Frank Cifaldi 45:27
Yeah. So they were basically like Chris had passed away, and I believe 2013, and they were selling his games that he just kept in his basement all this time, and sort of the deeper, they got into Chris’s stuff. You know, like, past all the box, retail games and all that they started finding his development work. And Chris was a game developer going back to the late 70s, you know, he had, he made Apple II games on an Apple II with like, serial number 200, or something like that, and, you know, he had a long career where he worked on a couple of ColecoVision games, he worked on American Gladiators for the NES, and, you know, eventually wound up at that Incredible Technologies. And in digging through his stuff, and, and sort of, we were helping them, essentially sort out what was sellable? Because, of course, we wanted the family to, you know, be able to generate some, some income from from the stuff he left for them, essentially. But some of the other stuff, you know, we talked to them, like, hey, this stuff he probably shouldn’t sell. So, you know, for example, a disk that, like a floppy disk that, you know, had maybe the source code for one of his games is like, Well, that seems safe. But this hard drive that had every file on this computer, you probably shouldn’t sell that, because there might be some compromising information on there.
Brian Smolik 47:01
Frank Cifaldi 47:01
And so one of the things that they had was a CDR, they just said baseball on it, in Sharpie, and you can actually see it on an article. And, you know, I kind of helped them look at it, and did a did a little bit of Googling, and there wasn’t much out there yet. Searching for, you know, Midway in credit, because I, I looked at the source code, and it was like baseball game for Midway, you know, was like the title. And I was like, I don’t know, a Midway baseball game. So I looked, and it’s like, oh, my God, that Power-Up Baseball. And so we, we worked out an arrangement with the family, we actually ended up paying for the CD to make sure that you know that they got something out of it. And they, you know, wanted to sell it to us to sort of make sure that it was preserved, and that people could enjoy it. So, you know, we came to that mutually beneficial arrangement. And I spent a good deal of last year on and off, figuring out how it worked, getting it emulated, but also getting Chris’s source code. Well, actually all your source code, we have the full repo getting the source code for the game, buildable again. And while finding that finding that compiler was was quite a story that I won’t get into, because
Brian Smolik 48:27
I can imagine.
Frank Cifaldi 48:29
But I believe I found it in a source code repository for a thermometer.
Brian Smolik 48:35
Frank Cifaldi 48:37
I think that’s where I found the only copy of this compiler on the entire internet was the source code for a digital thermometer. The game is now buildable. We put it on GitHub, if you’re a coder out there, you know exactly what that is. And, you know, you can go in there and learn assembly you can try to fix up the game even. But yeah, the game is now buildable, it’s playable in MAME one of the one of the developers in MAME, @TheMogMinor, put in, you know, a lot a lot of extra time over the last week to actually fix some bugs and things like that. And the game is preserved and playable. So you don’t have it in your cabinet yet because you don’t have a board yet right?
Brian Smolik 49:23
Nope, no, not yet.
Frank Cifaldi 49:25
But we’ll help you out with that. But–
Brian Smolik 49:26
I appreciate it. And yeah, I’m getting dust off. I’m trying to make some space in my arcade now. To set it up.
Frank Cifaldi 49:33
Well it’s a big boy too. Right? It’s got–
Brian Smolik 49:35
Frank Cifaldi 49:36
–the NBA Jam panel so it’s big enough before
Brian Smolik 49:39
And Midway was notorious for like those are the heaviest cabinets in the industry. It’s the worst coming out of my basement I tell ya.
Frank Cifaldi 49:46
You know what else is cool is that you mentioned Jeff West earlier and not only did he scan your control panel, he scanned the side art for the whole cabinet from from Chance’s. So Theoretically one could make their own Power-Up Baseball cabinet if one wanted to.
Brian Smolik 50:05
Frank Cifaldi 50:07
And I kind of want to over here we don’t have space in the office, but it’s like, it’s such a point of pride.
Brian Smolik 50:14
Kelsey Lewin 50:15
I want to get one to like a like a Chicago baseball team or something like just–
Frank Cifaldi 50:20
Kelsey Lewin 50:21
Someone should be having this and celebrating it.
Frank Cifaldi 50:23
Yeah, we talked early on about like, you know, we should talk to the Sox and see if we get one in the clubhouse.
Brian Smolik 50:29
Oh, that’d be awesome. Well did you guys move yet. I remember hearing you guys were moving at some point.
Frank Cifaldi 50:35
Brian Smolik 50:37
Right. Wherever you move, it just needs to have an arcade.
Frank Cifaldi 50:41
You know, it actually does. So I don’t I don’t know if I can. So we’re, we we share a space with Digital Eclipse which is the game developer that I used to work at. And you know, when I sort of left to do this it wasn’t it wasn’t really leaving it was more just I’m gonna take that office and I’m gonna do my own thing and yeah, I still share a space with them. And there is an arcade and I don’t know if I can get if I can get Norm Badillo to move his Toobin’ machine home. Nobody wants to play Toobin’, come on,
Brian Smolik 51:19
At least for a while. Right?
Frank Cifaldi 51:20
Brian Smolik 51:22
Enjoy your Toobin’ for a little while. Let’s get some crazy Midway action in here.
Frank Cifaldi 51:26
We got Marble Madness there. Be nice next to it.
Brian Smolik 51:29
All right. Perfect.
Frank Cifaldi 51:29
Brian Smolik 51:30
You can see which one last longer.
Frank Cifaldi 51:35
Great. You know, Brian, thank you so much for joining us on the Video Game History Hour. Where can people find you on the internet? And the projects that you do?
Brian Smolik 51:48
Right so I guess right now you can find me? Usually at TeamPlayInc.com that’s [Team Play inc .com] where I’m still making arcade games today I make games that go into like Dave & Busters and Chucky Cheese you know, I’m still making there’s still some arcades out there. You know, I’ve got games in Round One. So I’ve just addicted to the the arcade industry I can’t get out so you can also find me if you want to just know more about me. I did a half hour special for Collectors Call they did a big thing on my giant Pac-Man collection. So I got to spend some time with Lisa Whelchel who’s Blair from Facts Of Life. She hung out for a day we filmed that and it’s anything and everything Pac-Man crazy collection…
Frank Cifaldi 52:39
Pause there tell us about the collection.
Brian Smolik 52:42
Oh boy. So it’s it’s ridiculously huge. There’s like hundreds and hundreds of items. So some of the bigger claims to fame are Ms. Pac-Man rollerskates which if you Google Image Search that I’ve got the only pair known to exist or ever even had a picture of taken.
Kelsey Lewin 53:05
Brian Smolik 53:07
I’ve also got a flat version of the famous Pac-Man lunchbox that every kid owned I’ve got like the test version before it was stamped with like artists notes on it that say this color is off by a little bit you know and that’s framed that was actually traded on the show.
Frank Cifaldi 53:26
What’d you trade–
Brian Smolik 53:26
The other big claim to fame is you know, I guess still sticking with the Midway theme. I’ve got one half of the sign or the front half of the back half it was two sided of the giant six foot sign that was outside of Midway that says Williams Bally Midway: We Make The Games That Make The Industry you know that that sign is in my my collection and was featured on the Pac-Man show as well.
Frank Cifaldi 53:51
So when Hollywood does the dramatization of Midway you could find you could charge them a really good fee…
Brian Smolik 53:58
Frank Cifaldi 53:59
… to borrow that sign, yeah.
Brian Smolik 54:00
right yeah, you guys can borrow this it’s you know $1,000 an hour
Frank Cifaldi 54:08
and then you have another hobby RC cars right?
Brian Smolik 54:12
Yeah, so I’m also the owner of Big Squid RC you can check it out BigSquidRC.com it’s like the largest RC news site in the world basically if you’re if you’re looking to to get a new hobby you know if if video games aren’t enough for you and you want to drive you know really fast crazy cars around [Big Squid RC .com] is the other place you can find me
Frank Cifaldi 54:36
Cool, Anything else? Anyone wants to bring up about Power-Up Baseball for we wrap it up today. All right.
Brian Smolik 54:44
I just want to say I can’t thank you guys enough for for bringing this back. This is one of those things that like you know, like I walk past the cabinet in my garage all the time. I’m so happy for you guys. I you know I’m ecstatic. I love everything you guys do.
Frank Cifaldi 55:01
I’m happy to reunite you with your first game, man!
Kelsey Lewin 55:05
Yeah, we’re just so happy to see people see their games again.
Brian Smolik 55:08
Oh yeah, this is it’s so huge. It’s such a big deal so I you know, I can’t thank you guys enough you know, let me just plug you guys if you haven’t go donate they have a Donate button. Go click their button Go help them out you know whatever you can these guys are these guys are like heroes to me now for making this happen.
Frank Cifaldi 55:29
That CD cost quite a bit of money. I’m not gonna disclose how much but help our war chest for the next time a legendary lost game comes up.
Brian Smolik 55:38
Frank Cifaldi 55:39
Brian, thank you again so much for being here for the kind words.
Brian Smolik 55:42
Thank you guys very much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Kelsey Lewin 55:45
Thanks for listening to the Video Game History Hour brought to you by the Video Game History Foundation. If you have questions or comments for the show, you can find us on Twitter @GameHistoryHour or email us at Podcast@GameHistory.org Did you know the Video Game History Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit and that all of your contributions are tax deductible? You can support this podcast and all of our other work on Patreon or at GameHistory.org/Donate. This episode of the Video Game History Hour was produced by Robin Kunimune and edited by Michael Carrell. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.