TAG Labs: Backyard Sports

An Era of Greateness

Humongous Entertainment’s Backyard Sports, pioneered by Backyard Baseball in 1997, came along at the perfect time of our lives. 

These sports games – which eventually added soccer (1998), football (1999), basketball (2001), hockey (2002), and even skateboarding (2004) iterations – pitted children against one another in pick-up style competition. Lucky for us, the games were easy to relate to since we were roughly the same age as the children on the roster. 

Some of the games included kid versions of famous professional athletes including the likes of Barry Bonds, Tim Duncan, Tom Brady, Jaromir Jagr, and Brandi Chastain. However, these greats were hardly the highlights of this franchise. The real stars were a crop of kids from all different walks of life.

backyard sports kids

For those of us privileged to have played a Backyard Sports game, the nostalgia strings are likely getting tugged right now. As for the rest of you unfortunate souls, you should first notice the series’ dedication to diversity. Playable characters included children from many different backgrounds. 

Unquestionably a fan favorite, here’s the iconic Pablo Sanchez playing card from Backyard Baseball. To say he’s good would be an understatement. More on this later.

backyard baseball pablo

Fun First

The games necessitated a fun play style, and lived up to that demand. Coupled with a simple control scheme that took advantage of point-and-click, the games distinguished themselves from the industry-leading simulation giants like Madden, NBA Live, and FIFA. 

Sport-specific power-ups plus slapstick humor created an atmosphere that was more inviting to the average gamer. Below, we list a few of our favorite abilities, which could be triggered to create devastating highlights:

  • Transforming the soccer ball into an unstoppable bowling ball when kicked
  • Performing a super dunk from virtually anywhere on the basketball court
  • The cough drop defensive call which would force an automatic fumble

Above all, these games were a blast to play. Don’t just take our word from it; check out some of the reviews we pulled from Amazon.

“I LOOOOVE DIS GAME! I use 2 play it n ’01 or around dat year, me & my sis played dis game 4 days, it is so ADDICTIVE.” – Amazon sibling

“My kids loved this. We then ordered Backyard Football and Basketball, which they’ve also enjoyed.” – Amazon parent

“Don’t dislike anything about this product. It’s a gift for my grandson who is a hockey buff. It looks just like it was reported to be.” – Amazon grandparent

Cult Classic

If you follow SportsCenter on Facebook, you may have noticed this post last week.

build your backyard baseball core
Pablo = GOAT

A common practice in creating teams of athletes (and sometimes superheroes) puts the reader in an auction draft mentality. Ultimately, the point of this post was to see how people would distribute their  funds to assemble the best possible team of players. In essence, each player is worth a certain amount of dollars depending on their perceived value.

It’d be a sin if we didn’t include two of the greatest comments we have ever read on the internet:

How would you split up your $10? Are there any kids who you would adjust their value (aside from making Pablo worth $11)?

Introducing TAG Labs

In brief, our aim for the rest of this post is to bring you into our brainstorming process. We want to reimagine a classic and come up with ideas for a modern version of the series. We’ll go into depth on how the game will look, feel, and play. 

Welcome to Two Average Gamers Laboratories (AKA TAG Labs)!

mandark laugh
Insert crack of thunder

Neighborhood Sports

One of our goals is to establish a new brand, while paying homage to the classics which Humongous Entertainment blessed us with over the last two decades ago. 

As in most sports games, there would be a handful of different modes. Aside from the obvious quick play/exhibition mode, we will focus our brainstorming around the “career” mode.

Story (CAREER) mode

Selecting the story mode will launch you into a five-year “career” mode. You take a 3rd grader and progress him/her up until middle school graduation. The game would progress through an academic calendar beginning in August, with practices starting as the school opens. 

Eventually, each sport would be played during its appropriate season. Here’s how the games would be divided up:

You may have noticed cw made two changes to the prior Backyard games. In our version, tackle football would be replace with flag football and ice hockey would be replaced with street hockey. These are a little safer for our pre-teen characters.

Additionally, you’ll find the inclusion of dodgeball in the lineup. We would probably tone down the violence from Super Dodgeball, but the premise would be the same.

THE SPORTS

Softball would have a similar playstyle to Backyard Baseball, with the exception of pitches being thrown underhand. Of course, this would only make Angela “sugar pop” Delvecchio even more powerful!

On the gridiron, children would have 3 flags around the waist in our modified game of full-contact football. Ultimately, this eliminates the need for tackles and substitutes missed flag grabs for missed tackles.

As the seasons changed, we would take our crew indoors for the winter sports. Basketball would have two different game modes: a half-court 3v3 and a full-court 5v5 mode. Rules would stay mostly the same between these but the smaller games would have shorter halves. Additionally, players need to take the ball back to the three-point line after each change of possession.

Conversely, dodgeball would pit teams of 6 against each other, with kids on the inside and outside of the court. The first team to knock out all the opposing team’s inside players wins the game. matches would run in a best of three series.

When the snow has melted, we would venture back outdoors. Soccer and Hockey would both play very similar to their Backyard Sports counterpart. It’d be cool to have a new trick system for offensive characters to dance around defenders. As a bonus, this would introduce numerous animation options to the game.

Now that we’ve laid out the seasons, let’s dive into the players who will eventually become multi-sport legends.

CREATING LITTLE JIMMY/SALLY

Initially, you would create your 3rd grader, a three-phase process. 

Customization

First, you will decide on the look of your child. Customization options would include things like gender, skin tone, height, and body type. We won’t go to the extremes that you see in the NBA 2k series, but you will have control over things like head shape and facial features. For a good comparison, think The South Park Avatar Creator

To add more depth, you will answer a range of questions (ie. favorite sport, favorite color, favorite after-school snack) to flesh out the player bio and bring your own personality to the player. 

After finalizing the look of your child, you will be allotted 21 points to be distributed between six core stats: strength, speed, agility, endurance, dexterity, and luck. Each stat would max at 12 (to represent each grade level — see what we did there?). 

Distributed evenly, you will start with a kid who was at a 3rd grade level in every core stat, with 3 points to put where you’d like to specialize initially. The variance in each stat will became greater the older your character becomes. You’ll find more one-trick ponies (we’re looking at you Luanne Lui) as the kids age. Later, we’ll describe how you progress your child.

Specialization

The next step would be to assign sport-specific stats. Each sport would have 4 specific skills that progress in the same way as the core stats. For example, basketball would have 3-point shooting and defense. In contrast, dodgeball would have catching and dodging. You get the idea.

As if Pablo needs to score from down low…

In the long run, each character would earn badges depending on challenges that you complete. Become a ‘slugger’ by hitting 15 homeruns within a season. Unlock ‘rocket arm’ by completing more than 6 throws of greater than 20 yards. 

Eventually, the badges would give you special bonuses in clutch time as you progress through the season. This is especially helpful in the playoffs where your competition is the most fierce.

Team Creation

Finally, you’ll move your kid into a house. After selecting a town, you would see a map populated with a handful of neighborhoods. From there, you can choose a street and a building. Your choices will generate a town that divides kids into groups of friends based on their proximity to one another. 

The team will mostly have kids from the same street, as well as a couple from nearby neighborhoods. Their looks and stats will be randomized and you’ll be given the option to change the randomized names, a la Baseball Stars. Subsequently  this feature will add more replayability to the game as your squad and opponents will always be different. 

Building Chemistry

After reviewing your teammates, you will set your lineups for the fall sports. A weekly calendar view will let you assign practices for individual skills or schedule scrimmages to develop team chemistry. Basically, team chemistry will affect how well your players gel with one another, elevating them beyond the summation of their individual skills. 

Chemistry will fluctuate based on team morale and success. It’ll be presented as a grade from A+ down to F. 

As an added feature, you can schedule ‘hang out days’ to serve as rest periods which explicitly boost team chemistry. Some options would be to schedule a LAN party, a movie night, or even a dreaded study session. 

Scrimmages provide a good opportunity to practice techniques and get a feel for how your friends perform as a unit. To keep things fresh, the game will add elements of drama between the kids, forcing you to make adjustments on the fly.

Maybe your ace pitcher, Fiona, got a C on her math quiz this week and now her head isn’t in the game. As team captain, it’s your job to account for this. It may make sense to move her to right field for the next game. Conversely, if Benny got a new pet dog this week, his otherwise horrific endurance rating may get a boost. Chasing the new pup forces him to exercise outside of practice. Make sure to utilize that in tomorrow’s soccer match.

Finally, honing your own skillset is important. Mini-games give boosts to both core and sport-specific skills, both as temporary bonuses for a few games or permanently for your character. 

In that sense, you might play a game of guard the pins to improve your agility or take a karate class to increase your strength. Most importantly, the game will allow you build your own path to greatness as you decide which stats are highest priority.

Playing the games

After the first two weeks, the school year will begin. Games will appear on the calendar and you can see the strength of your schedule. 

Your group will typically have one to three games per week and they will vary between the two sports of the current season. Two weeks of playoffs would conclude each season.

There will be 15 other squads in your town and the top eight will make the playoffs in each sport. If you make the playoffs in both sports, it will be that much more important to manage your time to prevent distractions and exhaustion. In some cases, you may even have to play two sports in one day, effectively lowering your endurance levels for the second game.

Power-ups will be carried over and expanded upon from those that were in Backyard Sports. You will be able to use grade points from the previous week to buy the specific ones you want. 

At the end of each academic year, you’ll be allotted a points based on your team success and individual performance to rank up for the next school year. These will have a milestone component (ie. make the playoffs) and a per-game component depending on how well you played.

Progressing through the years

Each new school year will increase in difficulty as games are played at a higher level. New power-ups will also be unlocked for use. In your final season, there will be 8th graders with the potential to have core and sport-specific skills at a 12th grade level (hello, Lebron). 

At the conclusion of this final year, the game will prompt with one question:

 “By the way, did you have a younger sibling?” 

You would have the option to start the process all over again! This time with the added pressure of trying to escape the shadow of your older brother or sister.

One easter egg we’d include ensures that your rival squad always include a member of the Sanchez family. Pablo would be the first one up but his younger siblings have more potential than he does, if you can believe it. You would watch the GOAT progress alongside you and have specific goals in each rivalry match.

The games would play out as described, with an option to simulate matchups. Since the focus of this section is mainly about the concept of the game mode, we will end our discussion here and open the floor to your suggestions.

Would you play this game? What more could we add to make this an ultra-unique experience and not just a rehash of the original? How could this stand out vs being a dumbed down version of Madden or 2K? 

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