Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part preview/review of Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) 13, a computer baseball simulation game that is set to be released by Out of the Park Developments on April 6, 2012. Part one will be more a general overview of the series as a whole, targeted primarily at explaining the game to those who have never played OOTP, along with some first impressions. Part two will follow in a few days and will delve into some of the game’s new features and will offer up some final thoughts.
We stray off the Blue Jays path slightly today to bring a little discussion about the OOTP game series. We at Infield Fly were lucky enough to get a beta/preview copy of OOTP 13 recently and as a long-time fan of the game, I’ve spent the last couple days exploring the new game.
To put it simply, OOTP may just be the best game series you’ve never heard of. While to the loyal diehards who have already been converted it is an annual must-have, the series as a whole remains in a relatively niche market that hasn’t yet hit the mainstream.
Off the top I’ll say that this type of game definitely isn’t for everyone. If you require flashy graphics and more traditional video games, OOTP might be lacking the frill you require. However, if you’re an analytical baseball fan, one who loves poring over stats and box scores, who enjoys following your favourite team’s prospects or one who has ever questioned why a team’s general manager has or hasn’t made a certain move, this is a game worth exploring.
30 men are fortunate enough to be general managers in the major leagues and 30 men are lucky enough to be on-field managers in the big leagues. For the rest of us, this is as close and as real as you’re going to get!
I should also note that this writing comes not from someone who is trying the game for the first time, but from someone who has been a loyal customer for the past 10 years. That loyalty comes from the fact that for the past decade I have been consistently satisfied that OOTP is the best baseball simulator on the market.
So what is OOTP, anyway?
OOTP at its core is a baseball universe simulator. Unlike other games though, you won’t see graphics of your players taking the field and making the plays and you won’t be controlling the action in terms of deciding when to swing and where to locate your pitches.
In this game, you are able to jump into the role(s) of a team owner/general manager/on-field manager/league commissioner or any combination of those roles that you see fit. The beauty of OOTP is its sheer customization. If there’s an aspect of the game you don’t enjoy doing, you can easily hand it off to the computer AI, but essentially, in OOTP you are able to run an entire baseball organization, from setting your team’s lineup and pitching rotation, to deciding who to select in the annual amateur draft, to deciding when to call up your hotshot minor league prospect to the next level.
The games do play out with some basic graphics of ball flight and player pictures and detailed play-by-play text. Meanwhile, all player development and game outcomes are handled by the game’s simulation engine. That really only scratches the surface of the game, but in a nutshell, it’s a simulation game of what it would be like to be in charge of a professional baseball organization.
So, how do you play?
There are several styles of OOTP games.
Major league: OOTP 13 ships with full rosters for all 30 MLB teams. It’s all here, from your Jose Bautista’s and Ricky Romero’s with the big league squad, all the way down to top Blue Jays prospects like Anthony Gose and Travis d’Arnaud. In one of the MLB seasons I simulated the Jays made the playoffs in 2012 with 92 wins, with Brett Lawrie leading the way with 29 homeruns. We can dream, right??
Due to licensing issues, the game doesn’t ship with real team logos, but another perk of OOTP is its strong community. All you need to authenticate your MLB game will full graphics is easily downloadable from an OOTP mod site.
Historical: OOTP also allows you to play any season in baseball’s history and to try to either recreate or rewrite the history of the game. Want to take over the Blue Jays during the Robbie Alomar glory days and try to bring the city more than just the two championships in 1992 and 1993? Go for it. Want to play as the 1994 Expos and without the annoyance of a baseball strike, perhaps go on to win a championship and then subsequently keep the franchise in Montreal? Your call.
Perhaps you have a flair for the game’s history and you want to replay some of the Yankees dynasty years with Murderer’s Row? Or take charge of the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati? Or maybe take over the Jays right from the beginning in 1977 and see how many championships you can win in the franchise’s first 35 years. The options are truly endless for baseball fanatics. What’s great is that as you play the seasons, the subsequent draft years will feature the actual draft classes for that specific year, so you’ll see the various players arrive into professional baseball when they did in real life.
For purists, there is a “historical recalculation” function where after every season, players ratings will be reset so they will perform relatively similar to how they did in real life. Or, if you prefer to let the game take over, you can avoid that function, in which case you might see a player that was a superstar in real life end up not having all that illustrious of a career, or likewise, perhaps someone who was a first-round draft pick bust will end up going on to a Hall of Fame career in the OOTP simulation.
Fictional: Last, but certainly not least, is fictional play. If you play a Major league game for long enough it will obviously eventually become a fictional game, as all real players retire and are replaced by new fictional rookies who enter through the amateur draft.
However, many OOTP players (myself included) prefer to start out with fictional players and/or teams and league constructions. It’s fun to jump into a game where you have no preconceived notions about what or who a player is and you simply start to develop thoughts for these players as you play through games or seasons. It’s hard to explain, but with time it’s easy to develop attachments to these fictional players, who are essentially just a compilation of ratings and statistics, but will eventually mean so much more.
Do you stay loyal to your 35-year-old aging catcher and offer him one final contract so he can finish his career with your team, or do you let him go to free agency and hand the reins to your hotshot 22-year-old prospect in AAA who has shown big promise but is untested at the major league level? It is those types of scenarios that will play out again and again that will have you hooked on fictional leagues and players in short order.
Some may prefer to stick with the traditional MLB style league and team setup, but for myself personally I find it a lot of fun to set up different styles of leagues. One of my favourite is an international style league where there are teams from all over the globe all competing under one league banner. I’ve also set up Canadian leagues and North American leagues. Again, the OOTP mod community has a plethora of different team logos and uniforms that you can use to customize things to your liking.
You are really limited only by your imagination when it comes to what kind of league you want to create.
Online: While playing solo against the computer is a fun experience in OOTP, the real challenge comes when you join an online league and compete and match wits against other humans.
I would assume this would appeal to those who participate in fantasy baseball, as while it’s a much more in depth and rich experience, it’s similar in a feeling of enjoyment when you pull off a blockbuster trade or sign a coveted free agent from your division rival, for example.
I am currently in three online leagues and the three leagues I compete in shows the sheer variety of options there are in the online OOTP world:
World Baseball Hierarchy (WBH) – This is a fictional league that features a ‘promotion/relegation’ tiered system. To put it simply, if you win your league, you get promoted to the next highest (and more challenging) league, and if you finish last, you are demoted to the league below. So it’s a constant struggle to not only try to win championships, but also to try to rise to the most prestigious league (the United States league). I control the Seoul Warlords and have yet to come anywhere close to the U.S. league in about 15 simulated seasons (I joined the league in year 2011 and the league is now in 2026).
Planetary Extreme Baseball Alliance (PEBA) – This is another fictional league and it’s one that moves at a slower pace than traditional leagues. There is a focus on writing and developing characters and stories in this league and it’s really filled with many bright and engaging personalities and features a vibrant community. I’ve just recently joined the league and am the owner of the Kalamazoo Badgers, a rebuilding ball club who I likely won’t be able to bring into contention for another few seasons.
Second League of Offseason Play (SLOP) – This is another fictional league and is OOTP on speed. It’s a very non-traditional league, as injuries are turned off, and entire seasons are simulated in the run of one week. The idea here is to focus on offseason team building through the draft and free agency. Things progress quite quickly so in a matter of months in the league I’ll be able to see if an 18-year-old I drafted out of high school ends up going on to become a league star, or a washout. I have been with the league for a short time, about six seasons now, and while I’ve turned my Carolina Kings from a perennial bottom feeder into a perennial playoff contender, I’ve yet to bring home a championship.
While I prefer to play in fictional leagues there are also plenty of leagues with major league teams and rosters and also some historical ones as well.
So now that those who are uninitiated have a feel for what OOTP is all about, let’s talk about version 13. These thoughts come after a few days with the game, primarily spent simming through a couple major league seasons and also messing around with the new associations feature and customized playoffs.
– The new interface and design is great. Everything seems a lot “cleaner” now and while it takes some getting used to, to find out where everything is now, I think in the long run it will be better and easier. For those who have never played OOTP, it should be noted that there is a somewhat steep learning curve to the game. It’s quite possible to just jump in and play but with so many options and customizations available it will take some time to realize where everything is and how to best get around the game. But exploring the game world is part of the fun.
– At first glance, simulation speeds don’t seem improved to any great degree. It took me about 10 minutes to sim through a full major league season, for what it’s worth.
– The new player profiles look great. The bigger Facegen player photos are definitely welcome and it’s great having information like salary info right on a player’s main page. The new actual/potential ratings bars will take some getting used to, but design wise I think that’s a plus as well.
– On the transactions screen there are now green and red arrows next to certain players. I haven’t definitively figured out what those mean yet, but I would assume it means a player should be demoted or promoted. A nice touch for those who want a quick and easy look at their minors system overall.
– It is quick and easy to associate leagues. I think this will be a good stepping stone to the future, even if it’s not everything that everyone wants in the first iteration.
– The increased playoff customization is nice but I think more work could be done. Yes, we can now include first-round byes in playoffs but you still don’t have full customization. For example, there’s no option to have a bye in the second round (at least that I’ve figured out so far)… So, options like having a mini-playdown where some of the league’s bottom teams playoff in more than one round to see who advances aren’t necessarily possible.
– Real-time simulation mode won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who enjoy it, I think it will be a great addition. It’s pretty cool to be looking around in the game and having games unfolding around you in whatever speed you specify. Finding that “sweet spot” of a sim speed that is right for you will be important.
– There doesn’t seem to be anything radically different from OOTP 12 in terms of in-game sounds and layout of the gameplay simulation screen.
– I haven’t yet actually played or managed in the game much, so I haven’t yet experience any of the new expanded storylines, but I’ll try to get to some of that for my final review.
So there you have it. So far I come away impressed that this version is a nice incremental advancement of the series.
As I said, part two will delve more into the specific improvements made in this game, how the new features work, and the final thoughts.
If there are any questions from OOTP newcomers, please feel free to ask. Overall, if you have an interest in baseball, I highly recommend giving this game a shot when it comes out on April 6.
For those who are familiar with OOTP, please let me know any questions or concerns you might have, or things you might want to see in part two of the writeup.