R.B.I. Baseball is a sports video game developed by Namco and published by Tengen for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game is an adaptation of the Japanese video game Pro Baseball: Family Stadium for the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom).
Pro Baseball: Family Stadium was created by Namco programmer Yoshihiro Kishimoto. The origin of the game can be traced back to when Kishimoto began playing Nintendo’s Baseball for the Famicom during his free time when working on the title Toy Pop with game designer Takefumi Hyodoh. While playing the baseball game with colleagues, they noticed that particular parts of the game could be fixed or improved to provide a better overall experience.
One of the most notable things that the game was lacking was the use of player names and abilities. Kishimoto was also disappointed in the game’s lack of playable defense and once the development of Toy Pop completed, he decided he wanted to try to make a baseball game of his own that would address the short comings that he noticed in Nintendo’s Baseball for the Famicom.
When Toy Pop wrapped up Kishimoto approached is supervisor to see what projects were in the pipeline for him to work on and his supervisor advised him that he could work on an original title while waiting for other projects to start up. He took the opportunity to start developing Family Stadium for the Famicom due to the system’s massive success in Japan. The game was Kishimoto’s first time developing for the Famicom and was his first-time programming using assembly code.
Pro Baseball: Family Stadium was Namco’s first baseball video game, as all prior baseball themed games created by Namco such as 1979 Pitch In and 1981 Batting Chance were mechanical arcade games. The game released in Japan on December 10, 1986 and was very popular. The success of the game drew the attention of Atari, who approached Namco to publish the game for North America.
Atari Games (Arcade)
|License Owner||Major League Baseball Players Association|
|Successor||R.B.I. Baseball 2|
Nintendo Entertainment System
|Release||Famicom / NES|
JP: December 10, 1986
NA: June 1988 (Licensed)
NA: 1989 (Unlicensed)
NA: September 1987
Atari programmer Peter Lipson adapted the game for release in North America and the game was renamed to Vs. Atari Baseball. The localized version of the game was released in September 1987 for the Nintendo Vs. System arcade platform. This version of the game was later released for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Atari affiliate Tengen as R.B.I. Baseball.
Tengen was a video game developer and publishing company owned by Atari that became best known for circumventing the Nintendo Entertainment System’s lockout chipset and publishing unlicensed games for the Nintendo Entertainment System without the consent of Nintendo. Atari Games tried to negotiate with Nintendo to obtain a less restrictive license agreement to produce games for the Nintendo Entertainment System however Nintendo refused to budge from their already established license policies.
This led to Atari Games reluctantly agreeing to Nintendo’s standard licensing terms so they could start creating games for the Nintendo Entertainment System in early 1988. Tengen began working on R.B.I. Baseball, Gauntlet and Pac-Man for the Nintendo Entertainment System while also secretly working on a way to bypass Nintendo’s lockout chip. R.B.I. Baseball was one of the company’s only three officially licensed games released for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
R.B.I. Baseball became the first home video game console game to obtain licensing from the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and was able to incorporate the use of real MLB players into the game. Tengen did not secure licensing from Major League Baseball (MLB) and as a result was unable to use real MLB team names or logos. Instead Tengen included 8 teams in the game that were only referenced by their city’s name. The game included Boston, California, Detroit, Houston, Minnesota, New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco. These teams were chosen as they were the top teams in each division in the 1986 and 1987 MLB seasons. The game also featured two All-Star teams, American League, and National League, both of which included popular established Major League Baseball players such as George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Andre Dawson.
The game was a critical and commercial success in Japan and North America, selling over 2.05 million copies by 1990. When Tengen determined how to bypass Nintendo’s lockout chip, they began manufacturing their own unlicensed games using a rounded matte-black cartridge that had some resemblance of an Atari VCS cartridge which stood out from Nintendo’s official grey cartridge. Tengen decided to manufacture unlicensed versions of the three officially licensed games they previously released through Nintendo while working to develop a chipset that would bypass Nintendo’s lockout system. The three Tengen published games, R.B.I. Baseball, Gauntlet and Pac-Man had an official Nintendo license version and unlicensed version released for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The unlicensed version of R.B.I. Baseball released in 1989 and continued to sell well. Sales of Pro Baseball: Family Stadium and R.B.I. Baseball reached approximately 2.2 million and resulted in the creation of two long running video game series. The Family Stadium franchise remained relevant in Japan for decades while the R.B.I. Baseball series ran through 1995 then received a series reboot in 2014.