The Man Behind The Man - The Story of Ninja Baseball Bat Man
Drew Maniscalco is the creator and copyright owner of the characters utilized in Irem's arcade
interview was conducted by former GameRoom magazine publisher, Tim Ferrante, in 2010.
Tim Ferrante: How did you get involved with Irem America?
Drew Maniscalco: I was working with former Atari executive Frank Ballouz at Fabtek.
TF: How did Ninja Baseball Bat Man come to life?
DM: I was reading an article in USA Today about the top grossing movies of that time. One was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the other was one of the Batman movies. Inspired, I set out to create my own superhero. I liked the word 'ninja' it just sounded very mysterious. He needed a weapon, and a baseball bat came to mind (maybe an influence from the original Walking Tall movie starring Joe Don Baker) and he was a man. So there it is -- Ninja Baseball Bat Man!
Now that I had the name, I need to develop his universe. I knew that baseball was the national pastime in Japan and being a baseball fan
TF:Who programmed the game?
DM: I'm not a programmer. The actual game was programmed by Irem Japan. The characters and Boss's that were used in the game were my concepts. I enlisted the help of artist Gordon Morison whose primary claim to coin-op
TF:Was it always envisioned as a fighting game?
DM: My original game idea was to make it an adventure game similar to Super Mario. I liked that type of game as a kid and wanted to do something in that genre. However, since this was a coin-op/arcade project, we decided that a two-player alternating game would not be able to compete with all of the multi-player games that had become the norm. We added two more characters and made it a four-player scrolling fighting game.
TF: How did you come up with the player names?
DM: When it was a two-player, I was going to use Mickey (Mantle) and Willie (Mays) who were my childhood baseball heroes, but when we decided to make it a four-player I decided to use
TF: How well did the game do in the arcades? Was it a swing and a miss or a home run?
DM: The game struck out in the domestic arcade market, despite good reviews! We sold only 43 units which is a disaster. However! It did chart in
TF:Your brainchild seems to have found new fans on MAME. Were you surprised by this?
DM: Yes! I was shocked reading the many positive reviews Ninja Baseball Bat Man has received! It seems to be very popular with the MAME guys and I think that's very cool. Here it is 17 years later and people are still interested. On
TF:Why do you think it wasn't well-received back in the day?
DM: Lack of Direction! Ultimately a game either sells or doesn't sell because of the earnings! That being said,
TF:It's conceivable that Ninja Baseball Bat Man fell victim to poor marketing due to the company's new direction. What happened after you left Irem America?
DM: Even though I was leaving Irem America, all of my marketing plans for Ninja Baseball Bat Man stayed behind. I had big plans for the release of the game, beautiful full cabinet art package, a great sales brochure, promo items
TF: I heard the game was extremely difficult to play.
DM: That's absolutely true! The gameplay was way too hard and set for Japanese players, not the American audience. If a paying player can't get through the first level after a dollar's worth of coin, chances are you'll lose that player. Most players never got to see all of the levels. It's my belief that the game did not get the proper testing and tweaking needed to become successful domestically.
TF: It was a tough market at the time, wasn't it?
DM: The coin-op market was very competitive back then. We were going head to head with Sega, Namco, Data East, Capcom and others. Ninja Baseball Bat Man was up against a lot of competition with similar gameplay. However, a game that earns a lot of money will sell no matter how bad the market is or how many similar games are on the market.
TF: You said that Irem was a licensee of Nintendo. So why no home version of Ninja Baseball Bat Man?
DM: Oh, there were discussions with Nintendo, It just never happened. It is licensed as part of the ever-expanding game library that's loaded onto Arcade Legends, an upright
TF:We discussed its success on MAME -- why do you think that is?
DM: Simply put, it's fun to play! The programmers did a great job! The game is now being played for free (unlimited lives), so players are getting past the first level and can't wait to see what's next. In addition, there are fans of the game like Parrothead and others who are very active in promoting the game on sites like
TF:Who owns the rights to the characters? Any truth to the rumor that a Ninja Baseball Bat Man 2 is in the pipeline? And I heard whispers of a possible cartoon series ...
DM: IREM JAPAN has the rights for all Video game content for Ninja Baseball Bat Man and I have the rights for all non-video game products. Just recently, I sent a letter to Japan to confirm my rights and they agreed! As for Ninja Baseball Bat Man 2 for Xbox or PS3? That would be up to the guys
#© 2010 Tim Ferrante. All rights and wrongs reserved. So there.