June typically marks the point in a baseball season where contenders start solidifying the claim to the pennant and when fans of certain teams start pining for next year’s spring training. This June was also marked with the release of Out of the Park Baseball 12, the yearly series of baseball general management simulations that has a devoted fan base. After spending nearly sixty hours playing this year’s version, I can safely say I have not even scratched the surface of all the stories that OOTP 12 can tell me.
Out of the Park Baseball has three primary ways of playing the game: historical recreation mode, present day Major League, and fictional league. The historical simulation is based upon any season between 1871 and 2010. The biggest new feature for historical simulation players is the inclusion of reserve clause rule set.
The reserve clause was, simply put, a perpetual contract that a team could renew or abandon at its leisure. Before 1975, players were bound to sign a new contract to play for the team they were on or demanding their release and/or trade. Curt Flood’s historic case to remove the reserve clause, while unsuccessful, lead to the eventual establishment of free agency in baseball and then other sports. Having the reserve clause available in historical simulations is quite good for those wanting to have even more realism in their recreations.
Fictional and modern day MLB games are still able to create any sort of baseball world you can imagine. Really, OOTP baseball is just unmatched when it comes to the style of baseball universe you want to create.
Alas, OOTP’s greatest strength has a downside. Because of the detailed style of simulation, OOTP’s visuals lean on the side of spartan. Sure, there is an automatic logo creator in the game (which has been in there for several iterations). That feature alone caused a leap in immersion. The face-gen player faces adds another check mark in the nice presentation column. However, a person can import all the logos, uniforms, player photos and stadium stills they want, but that doesn’t mean the entire package as a whole will wow your average person on the streets. OOTP is pretty in its own way, but to most of the gaming public the spartan graphics and visual treats bring it down several notches. OOTP is not gruesome, but it isn’t the belle of the ball when it comes to a pretty veneer.
OOTP’s game sounds are serviceable. You aren’t playing OOTP for the aural pleasure, that’s for sure. The crowd noises and occasional umpire yells and boos OOTP plays during games are nice, but I tend to turn sound off and listen to my music library.
Not too much has changed in terms of the gameplay from OOTP 11 to 12, but there are a few new things that have made things more interesting. The addition of the reserve clause has made a significant mode of play available, and the inclusion of simulations have made evaluating your team much more intense.
Simulation pits your squad against another team in a simulated series (default is 162 like MLB’s season). After the simulation is finished running, you get statistics on how the series played out, including game by game scores and totals for things like runs, home runs and the like. Some folks are probably wondering why this is important or even a good idea. What the simulation module allows is for an in-depth look at your team and the opposition, levelling out progress based on a full season’s worth of stats to find out simple things such as your squad really stacks up to the other team. The data created by the simulation module is invaluable in checking out line-ups and pitching match ups against foes. Basically, simulation is another level of stat-gasm for OOTPers.
The biggest three interface changes are the ability to go back one page with a single right mouse button click, the confirmation of swapping players in the substitution screen and the inclusion of a copy and paste feature for line ups and depth charts. The latter is the one I found to be a breath of fresh air. Previously, when setting up line ups, one had to go through the drag and drop process for each of the line ups (DH and no DH). This could be cumbersome, and for folks like me who prefer line ups stay rigid, this is a nice way of speeding up my sickness of keeping every depth chart and line up a mirror. The confirmation button is a relief because it prevents an accidental move of a pitcher to warm up to the pitcher currently in game. This alone has saved my bacon several times.
Those are really the changes I abused in my hour upon hour of playing OOTP 12.
I do not know how to describe the ability to play OOTP over and over again. Each game played is a microcosm of a greater entity (the baseball season) and each season is just another step in the history of a league. I stopped counting the hours I’ve put into each iteration of OOTP. This year I spent at least seventy hours playing the game to review it. Seventy hours. That’s two hours short of three full days of game playing. If that isn’t a tell tale sign of a game that can be played over and over, I don’t know what else to tell you. OOTP will capture your imagination and never let go. Really, it makes possible a personal baseball world – something that is unique and beautiful that any fan should experience.
As far as balance goes, OOTP’s default trade and injury settings can sometimes seem a little unfair. In my M’s campaign, I traded an overvalued Milton Bradley straight up for Curtis Granderson. Mind you, Granderson had yet to tear the cover off the ball in the 2011 season and Bradley was still considered to have some upside. But the ease in which I traded a couple of minor leaguers for Placido Polanco showed me some of the problems with OOTP’s trade difficulty (at default) were still present. Of course, moving the difficulty up to hard makes trades harder to pull off, but much more in line with reality.
As far as injuries go, OOTP sometimes feels like it has too many injuries, but the injury frequency is based on the MLB average. There is now an injury setting though, so you can more easily change the amount of injuries – a welcome addition and another slight tweaking of OOTP that is readily accepted.
The way the game plays out, well, that balance is always changing. You can have career ending injuries, sudden declines and just bad luck. That’s the way real baseball is and that is why OOTP’s ability to represent the real world is so impressive.
The key for OOTP’s originality is its ability to create new baseball worlds or new possibilities. Being able to make whole new leagues in different countries and eras, filling in the history and having the leagues grow through the returning dynamic league feature (leagues can change sans direct input from player) is amazing. Whole worlds come into existence, new heroes are created and a history is made. Not many games can do that or and even fewer do it well. Sure, OOTP is refining itself and making short steps as opposed to huge leaps in what it does, but if creation leads to inspiration and originality, OOTP is in a class by itself.
For the sake of being able to really see how the new features helped OOTP 12, I promised myself I’d put in at least forty hours. After seventy hours had passed, I realized I should finish all the items I was going to write about the game. OOTP has the “one more turn” addictiveness of Civilization mixed with a paradise for baseball fans. Getting sucked into your own world is very easy with OOTP Baseball. I managed to tear myself away from my now above .500 (33-32) Mariners to write this review. In fact, a mini-play diary should be following soon-ish. OOTP Baseball is probably one of the greatest deals in gaming today, offering so much entertainment per dollar. For forty dollars, OOTP is a deal that cannot be beat.
The group of game players that Out of the Park Baseball appeals to is a very specific audience: those who love baseball and love simulation. Unlike games like Sony’s The Show or EA’s Madden games, OOTP has no arcade action – everything is done through numbers. Usually this is a turn off for some people, but OOTP’s ability to capture the imagination of a serious baseball lover is not to be underestimated. Hours fly by and people begin to branch out from current season simulation to online leagues or create fictional universes.
Initially, OOTP’s appeal may seem restricted but in doing something well and having very few limitations in what it does well, OOTP’s appeal can extend beyond its red zone.
Out of the Park Baseball‘s less talked about feature is the ability to go back a page by pressing the right mouse button. For a veteran like myself, this is a fantastic addition. Being able to quickly navigate back a page with one very quick click saves immeasurable time. The ability to modify and change the game to suit your needs (nation files, player names) is another constant in the series. While I would love to have WAR displayed before VORP, having WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in the game is a great addition. I also really enjoy how much faster the game seems. My system is quite old and OOTP 11 began to have a few problems getting bogged down with my old desktop, but OOTP 12 just feels so much faster! The fact that OOTP 12 had a very fast first patch to address a few problems and inaccuracies just tells you how much OOTP Productions cares about their product.
Final Score: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary: OOTP Baseball 12 is yet another must buy game in the series. Year to year, I think to myself: maybe I should skip OOTP and every year Markus and the OOTP Productions group creates another version that manages to improve and innovate. While there are other baseball simulations, OOTP is Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth all rolled into one.