OOTP 18: Another great year for the baseball video game franchise

Year after year, Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) is the top simulation baseball game available. OOTP 18 is no different. The amount of depth is incredible; from being able to play historical seasons, manage every detail of one’s controlled organization, and having complete power over customization, there isn’t much one can’t do in this game.

On a yearly basis, OOTP is a reliably entertaining and immersive game that always feels like there’s nothing else necessary to add. Sure, some minor tweaks to AI always help improve the experience, but it’s almost impossible to come up with something that this game doesn’t have. That being said, the makers behind OOTP come up with new (and great) features anyway, and this year is no different. Allow me to walk you through some of the new key additions this year, my overall thoughts on the game, and a glimpse into the first month of the Yankees’ 2017 season that I’ve played and simulated.

The biggest new features include an improved 3D mode (for those who like to manage and simulate pitch-by-pitch), a challenge mode that allows human players to compete with each other for various accolades, and the addition of the Negro Leagues in historical seasons. Admittedly, I’m probably not going to use any of these features as I prefer to take control of one team and act as the GM without the minute game-by-game details. However, I can absolutely see the appeal of those features. Here’s why:

The 3D mode adds a level of depth to the individual game simulation. It’s not going to wow you if you’re used to console baseball video games, but it certainly improves the usual text-based simulations that many are used to on a single game basis. There’s something about seeing a play unfold, even if somewhat basic graphically, that adds more than reading “Dustin Pedroia grounded out to shortstop Didi Gregorius”.

Challenge mode is a standardized goal-oriented mode that allows you to set up a classic OOTP game set up on a level playing field with other players. You won’t be competing with them head-to-head in the league set up, but rather, you can compare various accomplishments achieved in your career that are tracked on your online profile.

The addition of the Negro Leagues in historical seasons is fantastic, too. As you may already be aware, OOTP allows players to start a game back in time. So, if you start a game at some point earlier in the 20th century, the Negro Leagues can be a part of your game’s universe. Ever thought about how Josh Gibson would fare in the Major Leagues? Fire up an OOTP game, acquire him, and let the years play out. Though I prefer to play in the current year in OOTP, I have to imagine that this is a pretty neat feature for historical players.

Other more additions include updated rosters (as expected), international tournaments and fall leagues, improved AI, ability to eat salaries in trades, and more. All of those are welcomed additions, of course. An entire list of new features can be found here.

My thoughts:

For what I play OOTP for, the game isn’t overwhelmingly different from years past, but I’m not really seeking an overhaul. For me, the game is excellent as is. Yet, there are a few things that I want to point out that either (a) really draw me to this game or (b) are tweaks to this year’s version that I’m a huge fan of.

  • Retaining player salaries in trades: This a a really nice feature on the propose trade screen. In prior versions, cash could always be included in a deal (this is still available), but now the amount of a to be traded or acquired contract can be specified. This is really useful because it essentially allows money moved in a trade to be spread out over time, rather than all of the cash being included up front. It’s a small addition, and I don’t think I ever realized that it’s something I would have wanted in the past, but I’m pleased to have it now. It just adds another small piece of realism.
  • ZiPS Projection System: Perhaps this was around in the past, but I wasn’t aware that the player ratings were generated based on ZiPS, Dan Szymborski’s forecasting model. In recent years, ZiPS has fared very well (if not the best) compared to other systems in terms of accuracy.
  • Customization: There is so much that can be customized to one’s own liking in this game. For me, the first thing I always do is change the player rating system to be on the 20-80 scouting scale. That’s just one example of what can be changed in the game, as there are countless other things that can be crafted to your own liking. Seriously, name what you want to be able to amend, and you probably can. Want to change the name of your team? Go right ahead. Want the DH in the NL? Unilaterally lay the hammer down.
  • Depth of rosters: There isn’t a minor league level or prospect that has been ignored. As the GM of the team you control, you have a say in what goes on from the Major League level all the way down to the Dominican Summer League. It actually can be kind of daunting to have to evaluate and manage so many prospects within a system, but it’s a phenomenal aspect of the game that exemplifies how the creators leave no stone unturned.

Ultimately, I don’t have some sort of formal rating methodology to evaluate this game as video game reviews aren’t my trade. But if I was forced to, I’d have to give it an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. For some, I can see how this game might be daunting to undertake given how deep and immersive it is, but keep in mind that there are so many settings that allow for one to control as much or as little as one wants. On the precipice, it seems like a game for the hardcore baseball fan like me, but given the customization options, it really can be for anyone who enjoys a simulation based game.

Where to buy?

Out of the Park Baseball 18 sells for $39.99 and is available on Steam and through the company’s website at these links:

http://store.steampowered.com/app/465650/

http://www.ootpdevelopments.com/out-of-the-park-baseball/

My OOTP Game (so far):

Now, on to the 2017 simulation that I’ve begun. The second I started my game, Hal Steinbrenner laid out a few demands: achieve a winning season (possible!), make the playoffs in the next four seasons (gee, I hope so), acquire a former MVP (whoa!), and sign Michael Pineda to an extension. Signing Pineda to an extension is a bit odd, but whatever. The acquire a former MVP award winner was surprising though! That’s a pretty big ask. Fortunately, the Yankees’ lush farm system might allow me to do that. These goals are an important facet of the game, as a player can get fired as General Manager for failing to meet some or all goals. It’s not a requirement to reach all of them, but there better be some effort in doing so. There’s also an setting to disallow the owner to fire you, if you so choose (like I said, customization is a huge plus in this game).

To this point, I’ve simulated one month into the year. That took me a few hours, as I like to take total control of the entire system, depth charts, and lineups. I plan to provide updates as the year goes along, but I wanted to give a brief review of what I’ve seen thus far. It wouldn’t make sense to write a game review later this year when I finally finish a full season.

At the end of April, the Yankees stand at .500, going 12-12 (there was one rainout if you’re wondering why I hadn’t played the 23 games the real Yankees played), 3.5 games behind first place Boston. It’s certainly not the pace of the real life 15-8 Yankees, but it’s not a start that’s put the team in a bind.

There are a handful of big news items in the first month of play, but perhaps the biggest for my Yankees team is that I decided to demote Aaron Judge to Triple-A on April 29. Gasp! In my game, he’s performed nothing like the Judge we’ve been watching in reality. In 87 plate appearances, Judge was hitting .167/.240/.308 with 3 home runs and 35 strikeouts (44 OPS+). Yuck. Aaron Hicks, meanwhile, posted a 121 OPS+ (mostly against lefties), so I decided it was time to make a change.

Judge wasn’t the only disappointment, though. For pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka had a rough April. His ERA stands at 5.51 through six starts. CC Sabathia fared poorly too, with an ERA just below the ace of the staff, 5.46. Adam Warren has had a rough go of it as well, with a sky high 7.53 ERA in 14.1 innings pitched. As for position players, Chase Headley is off to another rough start, with a 57 OPS+ (.205/.272/.325). Starlin Castro has been just as bad (58 OPS+).

On the other hand, there have been a few pleasant surprises. I mentioned Hicks before, but Jacoby Ellsbury is performing well, hitting .319/.397/.464 (127 wRC+).

How’s the back of the rotation doing? Not bad. Luis Severino was my fourth starter, and has thrown 30 innings of 3.90 ERA ball. I tabbed Luis Cessa as the fifth starter after a couple of strong starts in Scranton, and he was acceptable in three starts with the Yankees, posting a 4.42 ERA.

Gary Sanchez’ torrid 2016 carried over to 2017. He posted a 159 OPS+ in April, batting .345/.396/.607 with 5 home runs. Michael Pineda was the best pitcher, with a 3.38 ERA and 2.88 FIP in 32 innings.

More to come as I continue the simulation.

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