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Review: Out of the Park Baseball 2016

Being a broadcaster with Ring of Honor Wrestling has afforded me the opportunity to travel the United States and Canada throughout 2014 and 2015. Most nights, I have a very specific set of duties that last only a few hours and then I am left with hours before and after the events. On a limited budget, I do my best to sight see without paying anything (yes, I illegally parked, literally ran to the Alamo, poked around, and ran back on Easter Sunday this year prior to my flight), but that still leaves me with copious free time, particularly if my wife isn’t traveling with me. So like most young adults, I turn to video games, in particular sports video games. Sorry, wrestling announcers/baseball writers just don’t party like they used to.

My colleague King Corino is an avid baseball fan, as well, and a huge baseball gamer. One day while lamenting that a PS4 was not possible to travel with to play MLB the Show, King put me on to Out of the Park Baseball for PC. Out of the Park Baseball is a baseball simulation game produced by Out of the Park Developments and originally launched in 1999. I was provided a tester license for the game after talking about with King over Twitter after I mentioned how I had been a huge Baseball Mogul fan in the early and mid 2000s. I’ve had about two weeks with the game for PC and wrote down some thoughts on it.

Background

Just like in real life, the goal in Out of the Park Baseball 2016 for the PC is to win the World Series as much as you can. You take the reigns as the general manager, manager, or both of a team at any point in Major League history from 1871 through present. At the end of each season, you are given a score from 0 to 100 based on how well you met the goals set forth by your owner. Obviously, the better you do, the more points you will score, but you can also earn points by accomplishing specific requests like upgrading a position or signing a player to an extension. You can also lose points that you may have earned by doing the opposite of what your owner has asked.

Game Play

The interface of OOTP 16 is, at first, a bit overwhelming. My wife, while I was playing, asked me why I was playing a stock market simulator. And truth be told, it took me a while to get comfortable with the sheer amount of data and screens available. The side bar on the right is separated into three sections: the goings on in your world as the GM, manager, or both, in the Majors, and the goings on in your organization. Once I got acclimated to the buttons associated with the sidebar, the game became much easier.

If you select the option to be the manager of your own team, you will be able to set your line-ups. This option can make a huge difference in wins and losses. Take for instance the season I started with the 2015 Phillies: straight platooning Brian Bogusevic and Jeff Francouer yielded in on-base percentages near .350 for each player while platooning Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf in the virtual world saw each player hit over 15 homers apiece. I was able to to guide a fairly unchanged Phillies team to a record of 75-87. (Note: I began the game with Cole Hamels.) The same can be true of managing your pitching rotation. I started a simulation with the 1948 Phillies, the year the Whiz Kids really took root in Philadelphia. Unexpected ace Curt Simmons went down late in the season and I was able to cut down to a three-man rotation and remain in the pennant hunt until mid-September.

Once your line-ups are set, you can choose to simulate through a day, week, month, or however long you choose. Your game will be interrupted by “Personal Messages”, which can be modified based on topic or turned off completely if you’re looking to do a long-term simulation. (Note: don’t turn off injury notifications. I did this for a 1976 Phillies simulation and two catching injuries led to Ollie Brown catching and wasting all of the talented pitching on that team!)

The Good

Accuracy: This is, by far, the most historically accurate game I have ever played. Depending on the time period in which you start, you will either see no free agency, limited free agency, recent free agency, or free agency with pretty accurate rules and limits for international free agents. For example, it is very easy to see why the bad teams stayed bad if they had no scouting infrastructure prior to the modern draft with no free agency. Additionally, I had an accelerated turnaround of the Phillies of today by loading up on prized international free agents and made it to the 2017 NLCS.

Additionally, there is a pretty cool tweak where you can choose whether or not your historic players will play almost identical to the seasons they had in the historical seasons they had them or to have them be randomized based on talent and potential ratings plus statistics from previous seasons. The advantage of the former is seeing what Julio Franco and Ryne Sandberg would have added to the Phillies had they kept them. The advantage of the latter is sometimes really unexpected things happen like Von Hayes wins the 1986 MVP or the 1977 Phillies win the World Series with almost no tweaks at all, just better NLCSes from everyone.

– Full minor league rosters: This is a cool feature you can toggle on and off. It may be particularly useful if you are starting a current franchise where all players are accounted for but it may be useful to turn off if you only want players that actually reached the Majors in your historic franchises.

– Excellent trading, free agency, and draft interfaces: What I like a lot about OOTP 16 is the trade mechanics. There is a simple to use trading block as well as a trading system that guides you along to different deals. You know very quickly where you stand with other general managers as you change your offers. Free agency works in a pretty cool way where coming in over the top of a player’s financial price almost always nabs you the player while penny pinching deals can be had heading into Spring Training. The draft works really well and features two sets of scouting rankings to help make informed choices which becomes particularly helpful if you are playing a modern (read: 2015 or later) season when fictitious players will populate the game. Also, being able to offer contract extensions during the season to avoid free agency is a very, very nice touch.

– Clubhouse chemistry: So, this was pretty cool. Players on your team may warn you if you begin negotiations with a player that a player will or won’t fit in the clubhouse. For instance, I signed Johnny Bench heading into the 1978 season with the Phillies and was warned my chemistry would drop by Ron Reed. Sure enough, the team, that had been in first place, started to tank and I started to receive numerous messages asking me to rid the clubhouse of the gossip, who in this case was randomized to be Bench. The game did not tell me outright that Bench had been causing trouble but it offered enough clues to deduce it. Additionally, player roles, expectations, and promotions and demotions effect the success of your team.

– Realistic injuries and suspensions: As difficult as this one is to stomach when it happens to your team, the game has a very realistic, randomized injury and suspension generator that can work for or against your team. For instance, in 1949, Richie Ashburn suffered a career-ending injury that cost my team a shot at the pennant while a suspension to Gerrit Cole for fighting in 2017 allowed my team to avoid him in the final week of the season and pick up a much needed win against the Pirates.

– Stats out the wazoo: If you like stats, this game has all of them, including everyone’s favorite, WAR.

The Bad

– Load times, if all the bells and whistles are enacted in modern seasons: Once I got the game play mechanics down, I opted to start a 2015 season with full minor leagues as well as accurate rosters from Japan, Korea, independent leagues, etc. Simulating each day in these types of modes took 45 seconds to a minute versus about 2-3 seconds for historical simulations. While I understand the game is processing dozens of pieces of data for thousands of players if all players are turned on for 2015, it takes forever to get through one season with everything and everyone available.

– Prospect progression and trade value: Prospects seem to progress or not progress at all at pretty random intervals which I suppose is accurate for real life but it has left my simulations in some very interesting situations. For instance, in the 1948 Phillies simulation, very few prospects from any team panned out in the 1950s and the Detroit Tigers pulled a 1960s Celtics and won eight of ten World Series in the decade. Conversely, in my 2015 Phillies simulation, international prospects became superstars too easily and easily catapulted the Phillies back to the top of the NL East. In a 1984 Phillies simulation, I traded Mike Schimdt for a prospect Paul O’Neal at one point and O’Neal, despite having five-star potential, never progressed beyond a one-star player. While that happens every year in real baseball, there seem to be stretches in the game where it is feast or famine and in three out of four long-term simulations, teams went on tears of dominance because either nobody was developing prospects or everyone was and the team on top just happened to stay on top because everyone developed at the same rate.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to know the secrets of the game and this could all happen very easily within random chance but a little more balance in between feast and famine with prospect development in my simulations would have been nice.

– It’s robustness can be overwhelming: Because it is such an accurate simulation, the amount of options and screens can be beyond daunting when learning the ropes of the game. But the basics of the game (make transactions, set line-ups, win games, do things that make your owner happy, keep your job) are easy enough to understand.

Verdict

Overall, I am addicted to the game, so that should be an indication of how I feel about it. If you activate every player from every team across the globe for a modern season, the load times can be rough but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you plan on singing Leandro Castro away from the independent New Jersey Jackals mid season, anyways. If you are familiar with Baseball Mogul, you will love this game and the incredible depth it adds to the baseball simulation experience. With some tweaks to the prospect engine and the GM AI, this game could be pretty close to perfect as far as baseball simulators go. For more information about the game, check out Out of the Park Developer’s site here.

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