It’s one week until the soft launch of NBA 2K16, and Mike Stauffer is feverishly typing values into a lengthy spreadsheet, his shoulders hunched and his face obscured by dual monitors. The 25-year-old leads a modest team at 2K’s headquarters in Novato, Calif., working tirelessly to make the world’s most popular basketball video game as authentic as it is addictive.

It’s 2K’s development team that creates the universe within which the greatest basketball players in the world are digitally confined, but it is Stauffer who creates the boundaries that keep those 1,500 players in check. He decides how high Andrew Wiggins can jump, how effortlessly Russell Westbrook can split double teams, and with how much tenacity Tony Allen plays defense in the closing minutes of games.

But despite his godlike presence within this immersive world, Stauffer is refreshingly realistic about the limitations of simulating real life using 61 attribute sliders that range from straightforward staples like speed and free-throw shooting, to more complex measures, like defensive pass perception and boxing out.

These ratings are an inexact science that Stauffer, hired by 2K in May 2014, has been studying for a long time.

Growing up in the small town of Twinsburg, Ohio, he was a die-hard Cleveland sports fan, a self-described stats geek, and an avid gamer. His first love was baseball, and while in elementary school he would spend hours memorizing the information on the backs of Topps cards and playing World Series Baseball on his Sega Nomad. The realism of that game, at the time considered to be one of the most accurate virtual simulations of sport ever, was what initially appealed to Stauffer. But it wasn’t until he upgraded to the more robust Sega Dreamcast in 1999 that he began to experiment with editing rosters.