Out of the Park Developments released the nineteenth iteration of the most robust baseball simulation game on the market this spring. It may not be revelatory to review a game that hit the market three months ago but, with OOTP’s ongoing patching and tweaks, now is as good a time as ever to catch-up with this year’s release. In addition, OOTP is currently on sale through the all-star break.
Markus Heinsohn and company put significant resources into fleshing out the in-game components of Out of the Park. In the past, players who pressed the “Play Now” button to manage games in a play-by-play mode were treated to less-than-mesmerizing visuals like a small dot moving across a generic ballpark to indicate the path of a batted ball.
With OOTP 19, however, each major league stadium comes to life with 3D renderings of ballparks and each play receives enhanced animations with avatars moving around the diamond to bring the play to life. The play-by-play text at the top of the screen pauses during action on the field allowing you to follow the action without interruption, but I did notice that, like many sports games with play-by-play announcers, the animation on the field sometimes doesn’t synchronize well with the action on the field.
Not only are the ballparks painstakingly detailed, but the crowds in the seats dynamically rise and fall with the local fans’ interest in their teams.
Owners of previous versions of OOTP will still recognize the basic game modes:
New 2018 Season – Featuring the complete opening day 2018 rosters with accurate disabled lists and suspension statuses. Patches during the summer can add features like accurate draft classes, international free agents, and, occasionally, changes to the games’ engine.
Historical – Players can start games all the way back to 1871, with historical rosters and historical minor league teams, in order to re-simulate the history of Major League Baseball complete with expansion teams, new parks, and accurate minor league debuts. I simulated the entire history of Major League Baseball, for example, and a few things changed.
Fictional – Make up your own league, in whatever environment you’d like with whatever offensive and pitching environment you’d like. Mess with player development rates and different run environments.
In all three single-player modes, a challenge mode is available, which forces the human GM to follow specific constraints:
- Play-as-commissioner, settings and rules adjustments, and the player editor are disabled, preventing the human GM from cheating their way to success
- Scouting accuracy cannot be set any higher than “normal,” meaning the GM will need to determine for themselves if they trust their scouts’ eyes in regard to every player
- Simulating long stretches is disabled during the season, forcing the player to work through the season one day at a time
Online – Starting with recent versions of OOTP, it became easier than ever to search for and join online leagues. The days of scouring the internet or the OOTP forums for an online league may be over with the ability to join a new league right from the game’s interface.
Online leagues face a variety of unique challenges: the need for a place for owners to interact in real time to make trades, discuss scheduling, and keep in touch. The need for a way for owners to check results and stats without constant access to OOTP. The need for a commissioner who can keep the league fair and balanced for up to dozens of owners who are all looking to take advantage of any features in the game to help their team.
In every game mode, MLB and MLBPA licensing allows the game to use accurate player names, team names, and team logos.
What’s Yet To Come
Recently, Heinsohn teased information about OOTP 19’s Perfect Team mode. This mode, which was announced without details before the game released, resembles the Ultimate Team mode in EA’s Madden or FIFA games. It’s no surprise that OOTP has joined the EA family, in a sense, as these modes have proved wildly popular for EA’s AAA sports titles. Perfect Team will allow each player to open their season with a “starter pack” of player cards to fill out their Perfect Team roster. As the player plays through OOTP’s Challenge mode, more packs can be unlocked. No word, yet, if Perfect Team’s packs will eventually be given the loot box treatment (in which packs can be purchased directly).
Rust in the System
OOTP has come a long way since the days when players had to manually download and import Lahman database CSV files or the years when the game lacked MLB licensing, leaving team logos and other frills to the player community. This wouldn’t be a fair review, however, without addressing a few long time bugs in the game.
With credit to the OOTP community, who have listed, discussed, and found work-arounds or discovered “working as intended” issues with the game:
1. Lack of 3-way tiebreakers built into the game
2. Trading engine is still a work in progress — other teams tend to send you bizarre offers or refuse to accept what most mangers would agree are good offers for the AI-controlled team. The game is much better than in past iterations, though, where a human GM could just load up an offer with five star relievers to acquire nearly any player they wanted.
3. Player Aging and Development – It’s absurdly difficult to create an algorithm to explain human behavior. That’s probably why players in OOTP don’t tend to retire, or not retire, as expected. For example, I started several games in 2018 and Albert Pujols retired after the season in almost every game, in spite of the three years and nearly $90MM remaining on his contract. In addition, you’ll never see a Justin Turner or Jose Bautista-like player in OOTP. Once a player reaches his late-20s, you may see sudden drops in a player’s ability, but the development engine will not take a player with very poor hitting or pitching skills and turn them into a star.
In spite of a few bugs still in the system, there simply is not a pure baseball simulation game that combines all of the features and detail quite like OOTP. In addition to the flexibility of the league builder and the detail put into in-game simulations, a legion of OOTP employees and fans work on compiling scouting reports for players from around the world every year. You can find real players from independent leagues and former MLB players currently in foreign leagues. The game now includes real minor league players, too. In the historical simulation I ran, I was able to find my high school baseball coach, and his father, neither of whom ever made it to the major leagues in real life. This is still a game a baseball fan can and should get lost in.
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