Inside Pulse 12

Review: Out of the Park Baseball 13 (PC)

Out of the Park Baseball 13
Devloper: Out of the Park Developments
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Genre: Sports
Release Date: 04/09/2012

Out of the Park Baseball 13 could have been another incremental centered chapter in the franchise. A few tweaks there and a new coat of paint. Instead, Out of the Park 13 contains changes that make the game easier to navigate and fundamentally improve the product.

Considering the scope of a game like Out of the Park Baseball 13 (henceforth abbreviated to OOTP 13 or 13), examining every last bit of the game is a task that would render a review outdated. Last year I devoted 70 hours of my life to playing the game in a myriad of ways to try to see everything in the game. This year I have limited my scope to around 40 hours total. The first thing that I noticed was how clean the interface is in 13 compared to OOTP 12.

Modes:

OOTP 13 has its three main modes of play: contemporary league, fictional league and historical league.
Each of those choices can be done in a multi-player online format. The inclusion of the reserve clause last year was the biggest addition to historical leagues and this year the ability to randomly have historical players debut in a historical league adds an interesting wrinkle to a part of Out of the Park that I sometimes feel is overlooked.

All three modes are variations of the same baseball theme but create entirely different worlds – and that is what mode choice is all about.

Graphics:

OOTP looks cleaner, sharper and can be pinpointed as an improvement over its previous installments.
The color scheme lacks the red that stood out on the blues and whites of 12. The biggest graphical strength of OOTP remains the abilities to skin the interface and to import pictures of logos and faces or rely on the built in facegen and logo creation tools.

A fantastic change is that the actual layout of the screen changes given the resolution of your display settings – something that makes my 22″ monitor a valuable asset (well, more valuable). For larger displays, more information can be seen at once – this alone cuts down on back tracking. While not big budget graphics, the intuitive changes to the workman like approach of the last few OOTPs polish a solid framework.

Audio

I will be honest – I do not know anyone who plays Out of the Park Baseball for the aural component. The crack of the bat, the buzz of the crowd and the umpire crying out are all fine additions to the experience, but I tend to defer either to silence (as if I am sitting over a box playing a dice baseball game) or listening to music. The audio is does what it is supposed to do and, when utilized, can help with immersion.

Gameplay:

The layout of the pages in OOTP 13 represents a fundamental change for the better for the franchise. Considering the game’s nature as a simulation, faster access to informational categories is one of the best changes that can be made. OOTP 13’s menus are clean, easy to read and labeled clearly.

I will admit, at first I was confused by the change, but around one hour into playing with the sorting of information and bouncing back and forth between the menus, the game showed itself to be intuitive and incredibly user-friendly. The only change in the presentation and layout shift is the loss of the quick email button at the top of the screen – redundant even in 12 if you take into consideration the fast settings links that were at the bottom of the page in OOTP 12 and that now snugly fit onto the side of the play screen in OOTP 13.

One of the most fun additions to the OOTP universe is Associations. In 13, you can create leagues that are under an umbrella – meaning they share many fundamental operating procedures (such as playoffs rule sets, etc.). This is a fun tool for those of us that find fictional leagues to be the main attraction of OOTP – allowing for interconnectedness that previously was not possible. Considering that I loved having winter ball leagues in Mexico but couldn’t associate them with my US Major League, being able to have those leagues act as a part of a league structure instead of having to baby sit the baby league saves time and trouble.

The last major game play item is the addition of the Real Time Simulation mode. RTS enables a player to watch the games unfold at the same time. Why is that a big deal? Previously you could only simulate a day and see the aftermath after all was said and done. However, in a nod to the amazing final day of regulation play in 2011, OOTP 13 has a mode where you can watch the results of the games of the day unfold in real time (or sped up if you can’t wait for real hours).

What does this mean? Well, a fictional league I had a team a game back on the last day of the season. The team was away playing the top team in the Western Division while their Central Division rival was at home against a middling, injury plagued Western Division foe. I simulated the day and watched the Central Division league leader blow a 4 run lead in the top of the 9th inning while the chasing team managed to scrape up a win in 13 innings. Of course this took seven sim seasons to happen but the fact that it was possible to observe this unfolding all at once with updates on both games going on (and the other, not so meaningful games) captured some of that spirit of the pennant chase that baseball can have – and make it all that more magical.

Replayability:

I cannot really do justice to just how often you can play OOTP 13. Each game and each season can turn out differently. I can have the same line up in two different modern day leagues and have vastly different results. Fictional leagues can create new heroes and villains. Historical leagues can answer what if questions that have haunted people for years. Considering that I could have easily overdone things and put in another 30-40 hours of playtime and still find fresh and exciting stories within OOTP, that should tell you how much entertainment you are getting for your dollar.

If you are a baseball junky – OOTP is your winter fix.

Balance:

Injuries and trades – those are the two things that tend to be discussed the most when talking about OOTP and its claim of realism. Some people think that injuries are too frequent and too severe while others find the trading AI to be easy to dupe and exploitable. OOTP 13 again addresses these complaints.

In playing OOTP extensively I have found that, yes, injuries do happen. Are they super frequent? No, not really. Baseball is a game of nagging injuries and a day in, day out grind. Do I get angry when a player of mine is hurt? Of course I do! Am I left high and dry? I can be if my team has no one in the minors or the ability to trade for a player to substitute for the injured one. That is what real GMs have to face in the season. The fact that you can tweak the injury co-efficient shows that the perceived problem can be addressed. You do not like the injuries? Turn them off and see how things work out with your full compliment of players with you the entire season.

The second issue, trading AI, seems to have been made more competent by default. Trying to wow an
AI GM with highly scouted prospects no longer can garner fantastic results. Mind you, the trading AI did think that a Brandon Inge for Derrick Lee (straight up) trade was perfectly fair but, then again, no one knows what Pittsburgh is doing so I can let that slide. By default, the AI gave options and, while on occasion the choice was pretty obvious, when push comes to shove I can see the improvement in how the AI evaluates talent.

Teams ebb and flow in terms of strength. Your draft picks can all be busts, your team can suffer untimely injuries, steep declines or find new ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Teams that should be world beaters can stumble and rag tag bunches can succeed. Baseball is not about things being 100% assured and OOTP 13 captures the heart of why we play the games out.

Originality:

The biggest feather in the cap for OOTP baseball is that while the game does have a roster update each game you begin is a new world. You can simulate three seasons and they will never be the same. The ability to create fictional leagues and watch the dynamic league feature (a great addition in OOTP 12) cause rule changes still amazes me. If that was not well enough, OOTP Developments added a league evolution area where changes to leagues are documented.

In OOTP 12 you had to dig to find just how a league changed but in 13, it is all laid out there. In one league I created and simulated, I found they seemed to hate the pitcher’s mound. Five times in the league’s history there were changes to the pitcher’s mound… all lowering it to improve offense. In that league, for some reason, a team relocated from El Paso to El Paso… I guess they moved across town or something. Seriously, you cannot make that stuff up!

The fact leagues can have a mind of their own if you let them and, this time around, you can see the results is amazing. Add to it the evolution of OOTP 11’s storyline feature (little bits of spice like off field injuries and the like) to include interactive storylines (such as having to discipline a trouble maker) and OOTP 13 is refining its features – giving you more things in a baseball game.

Addictiveness:

Last year I spent 70 hours of my life trying to find every nook and cranny OOTP 12 had to offer. In reviewing the game I went down the rabbit hole and came up only when reminded that I had to tell the world about what I was experiencing. There are OOTP devotees out there – heck, Curt Schilling likes the game.

The ability to make baseball words, recreate historical seasons and to prognosticate the current baseball world is something that is nigh irresistible. Just like the best simulation series have the OMT (one more turn) syndrome, OOTP has the “one more game” syndrome. Really, OOTP baseball can capture a person’s imagination and not let go. The price point compared to the amount of hours of enjoyment and entertainment is astonishing and you get quite the bang for your buck!

Appeal:

The modern sports gamer, IE Madden fan, may not find OOTP 13 fun, at first glance. Yet, those who stick with it and let the game unfold may find something that can hook them into the world of baseball simulation. OOTP baseball’s appeal is the ability to make something you are imagining into something you can see happen on the screen. Each season is a new expression of baseball and time seems to melt away as you explore new possibilities.

OOTP’s real restriction is only what you want out of it. The game’s ability to recreate or create new baseball history, on a personally experienced level, should appeal to anyone who loves the sport.

Miscellaneous:

I really liked the adjusting display for screen resolutions. This feature made it easier to navigate through the reams of information provided by OOTP baseball. Additionally the move to the forefront with WAR (with good ole VORP still around) is just as welcome as its introduction in OOTP 12.

While I am playing OOTP 13 on a solid state drive, I do notice that the game itself just seems faster. I feel the menus were tightened up and there is less having to dig through screens to get to vital information than in any iteration before 13. OOTP Productions seem to be good at improving their product year in and year out.

The Scores:

Modes: UNPARALLLELED
Graphics: ENJOYABLE
Sound: DECENT
Gameplay: UNPARALLELED
Replayability: UNPARALELED
Balance: VERY GOOD
Originality: VERY GOOD
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal: DECENT
Miscellaneous: VERY GOOD
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary:

Every year I keep thinking OOTP baseball is going to stumble. I will admit that the leap from 8 to 10 did not seem to be as impressive as the previous iterations. However, Markus and his small group of independent developers have made each and every jump from 11 to 13 to be something to experience. I love what OOTP stands for and the intrinsic value of the game from a baseball fan and game fan perspective. Don’t let the ratings fool you, OOTP 13 is the best OOTP yet and you’d be crazy not to get this game. Each OOTP baseball game is a love letter to a fellow baseball fan and those who love the sport will appreciate the adoration of the sport that has gone into OOTP 13.