Championships are won on the field. But having all the pieces for a Championship team? That comes from the front office. It’s that relationship that makes Out of the Park baseball a compelling baseball series, and the latest version holds true.
Of all the team games, Baseball is probably the one most scrutinized by stat gurus. That’s because Baseball, at its core, is the matchup of pitcher versus hitter. The other eight players only get involved in balls in play. So, you think, getting the best pitchers means that you’re automatically going to win? Or conversely, if you have a murderer’s row of long ball hitters that you’re going to clobber everyone?
As Lee Corso would say “Not So Fast, My Friend”.
Building a championship team is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle while blindfolded, and some of the pieces have sharp jagged edges. You have a vision of what it looks like, but when you remove that blindfold, you may not have created the Mona Lisa, but something out of the nightmares that spawned Giovanni Da Modena’s 1410 creation “The Inferno”. Sure, you need some guys who swing the heavy lumber, but if you don’t have some slap hitters in front of them, a lot of his homers are going to be solo shots. And the greatest pitcher in the world will look foolish if the fielders behind him look more like the Keystone Kops than a Big Red Machine when the ball actually gets hit.
If your defense looks like these guys, your pitchers will hate life. And you.
That’s the core of the Out of the Park experience. In games like MLB: The Show and what have you, you don’t mind trading that 19 year old super stud for a big bat that can help you now, because A) the money is all abstracted in console gaming, and B) It’s unusual to get five seasons in, never mind 100 or more. Out of the Park can give you a fresh “history of baseball” equal to what took us 140 or so years in the span of a few hours (if you have a beefy enough computer). More than once, I’ve heard people say something like “I have to sim like 25 years before I pick a team, just so my league has HISTORY” or “I just did a historical replay and drafted Joe Dimaggio to the Red Sox, just to see what would happen.”
It’s that sense of a world of baseball that OOTP provides so well. Anyone can win now, but it’s a lot harder to create a franchise that keeps on being successful. I mean, when you think Dynasty (in a historical perspective), you think the New York Yankees. They have the most money, they have to most fans, but… they haven’t made the playoffs in five years. And I’m not making this point just to make fun of the Yankees (well, maybe SOME of it is to poke fun at those Damned Yankees), because the Red Sox are a prime example of Murphy’s Law when it comes to big free agent signings. Take the Kung-Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval (Please!). When the Sox signed him to a five year, $95 million deal, they thought they were getting a cornerstone player. Thanks to injuries, and Sandoval being a wee bit overweight, the contract now hangs around the Sox like something you’d see in a Monty Python skit.
Albatross! Get your Albatross here! (How about a Kung-fu Panda instead?)
So, you have to get the fans on your side, so you can get the money to sign the star players to win the championships to.. get the fans. It’s a vicious circle, and I’m not talking about the talk radio reaction when your team is horrible.. although that is pretty vicious too, now that I think about it. One bad move however, and the vicious cycle turns on you. Fans have expectations, and you may want to tick the “cannot be fired” button if you fear disappointing them.
I’ve played about 15 seasons worth of games using the two beta builds provided to me, and I love the feeling that one bad move can hurt you for seasons to come. For example, my first game was as you guessed it, the Red Sox. We have Sandoval on the hook for 17,000,000 a year until at LEAST 2020. Sure, being a big-name team like the Sox, Dodgers, etcetera can help, but when you’re talking about the amounts of money being thrown around, you don’t get to miss often. And that feeling persists throughout the game. Sure you can sign Joey Bats to that long term deal, but what do you do with that stud minor leaguer that’s now going to be stuck behind him, and will you regret it when Bats can’t catch up with the fastball anymore, and that minor leaguer is hitting 50 homers a year… for someone else?
As usual, Out of the Park pays a nod to the history of baseball by offering somewhere around a million historical players for play (well, I’m exaggerating, but not by as much as you think. That’s 140 or so years of historical major leaguers, 200,000 or so minor leaguers at all levels from the high minors down to that C or D level league like the Texas League, and now the addition of historical Negro League players. You can set up historical replays where players come in at the same time they did in “real” life, and see if they would have lived up to (or down to) their production, or run what if’s like “What if Ted Williams didn’t go off and fight TWO wars, would he have hit seven hundred homers?” (He missed parts of SIX seasons due to World War II and the Korean War). Or with random debut leagues, you could have a battery of Nolan Ryan and Roy Campanella, facing off against a three-four-five of Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire and Hank Aaron.
When one digs deeper into the game, it’s clear that there’s so many variables in fact that it can be hard to get your fantasy baseball world to match up well with the real world. I’m not talking about the core baseball experience, but things like financials can get a bit off if you’re not careful. I know more than a couple of folks who would rather the game focus on engine tweaks and refining the core experience than adding things like Challenge mode or adding in all these minor leaguers. But I think that’s a side effect that as Out Of the Park gets more popular and “mainstream”, text-simmers like myself can feel left behind. It’s almost like hipster-ism.. one of my forum friends posted during the OOTP discussion at a text-sim board something to the effect of “new people to this series are feeling like we did a decade ago, it’s new and shiny and awesome to them, but old hat to us, and it no longer “wows” us”.
Game recaps are a way to bring back the days of reading newsprint and are filled with the necessary player doublespeak.
I can understand that point of view, but I don’t totally agree with it. Let’s face it, grognards like me and my fellow text-sim addicts are a small minority compared to the mainstream public that gets turned on to the game as it gets more attention, and things like the MLB/MLBPA license the game has or adding things like challenge mode probably will bring in more customers than “Oh, I messed around with the financials for 2000 hours, and they should be 1% better then they were.” That’s not really a selling point for folks who haven’t been playing Out of the Park since the first version of the game in 1999.
A shot of the in-game engine. If you focus on the fact that the hitter has gone 3 for 21 for the year more than the 3d engine, well, you may be me.
So, even the niggles can come off a bit petty, because despite concerns that folks like me can sometimes have, you will not find a better baseball management game. Ever. I’m talking about PC, console, even things like Strat-o-Matic. It’s not even close. So, is OOTP 18, perfect? No. But nothing in this world is truly perfect. OOTP 18 comes damn close however, and the folks behind OOTP had a great base to build from, with OOTP17 earning the Metacritic Game of the Year award, and OOTP 18 is a step forward. It’s not a humongous step forward, but it didn’t need to, s because, well, I’m not sure how many more humongous steps forward there could be. Out of the Park 18 is a good to gfreat game for single game players, season replayers, historical replays and building your own fantasy universe alike (either in a single player league or OOTP supported multiplayer leagues).
Out of the Park Baseball 18: Available March 24th via Steam and via the Out of the Park Developments website
An8BitMind Rates it: 93/100. OOTP 18 is a baseball fan’s Field of Dreams. They make it and you will come and play it.
Positives: Infinite setup options for any kind of league you want, anywhere in the world you want. The game is plugged in like no other to the history of baseball.
Negatives: 3D field is improved, but still not great, finances can get somewhat out of whack in long term leagues if you don’t keep an eye on it.
(ethics note: An8BitMind was provided a review copy of the game)