A Battle For the Ages: 1908 Cubs vs. 1984 Tigers

Today we have a guest post from Out of the Park Developments!

A Battle For the Ages: 1908 Cubs vs. 1984 Tigers

One of the great new features in Out of the Park Baseball 17 is the Historical Exhibition Mode that lets you replay any World Series from history, complete with accurate rosters, as well as match up any two historical teams for an exhibition game or a series. It’s a fun way to create all kinds of “What if?” scenarios or get revenge for a favorite team that lost a heartbreaking World Series or two (or three or…).

You can also decide the era, the modern one (2016) or one of the team’s eras, that will dictate the managerial strategy and statistical parameters. For example, you can bring a dead ball era club into the modern era, which means their AI manager will utilize his bullpen differently and his sluggers will enjoy watching a few of their hits sail into the stands. Or you can put a modern team in an earlier era and watch their AI manager keep his starters in until their arms fall off, while the power hitters endure some frustrating at-bats.

When we talked to Eric about doing a guest post, he mentioned that he’s a fan of the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs, so we proposed matching the 1984 Tigers against the 1908 Cubs in four seven-game series. Each team would have two chances to be the home team and play according to their era’s strategy and stats.

Eric thought that was a great idea, so we set up the first series. Here’s how the Historical Exhibition setup screen looks. We left the rosters at their default limits of 25 players but turned injuries off so no one lost a star player with the series on the line.

08Cubs-84Tigers-setup

After you choose your teams, you move on to the Team Roster Setup screen. We left the default rosters intact, but you can tinker with them, if you want.

08Cubs-84Tigers-rosters

Then it’s time to play ball. You can either simulate the action or control one or both teams.

Series One: Tigers, 4-2

Here’s how the first series, hosted by the Tigers, turned out as they won in six games. You can click “Box” next to any game result to see the box score and pitch-by-pitch game log.

Cubs-at-Tigers-series-1

As you can see, neither team’s top starters fared well: Chicago’s Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown posted an 0-2 record with a 5.06 ERA and Detroit Jack Morris was 1-1 with a 5.87 ERA. Both clubs put on hitting clinics, though, and Detroit third baseman Howard Johnson was the MVP, going 10-for-24 (.417) with a pair of homers and six RBI.

The series opened with a 4-0 win by the Tigers as Dan Petry pitched eight strong innings. In Game Two, the Tigers carried a 7-3 lead into the top of the ninth inning and Morris exited after giving up a lead-off single. Bill Scherrer entered in relief and coaxed a flyball out but gave up a single and a run-scoring double. Willie Hernandez then entered the game and gave up two more runs before striking out Joe Tinker to finally end the game.

That late-inning mojo carried over into Game Three as the Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the eighth and won with a walk-off two-out single by Del Howard in the bottom of the ninth. The Tigers returned the favor, though, in Game Four with solo home runs by Chet Lemon and Darrell Evans in the top of the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, for the win and a 3-1 series lead.

In Game Five, the Tigers took a 4-2 lead, but Howard singled in a run in the bottom of the seventh for the Cubs and Tinker delivered a two-run homer that put his team ahead for good. Game Six saw the Cubs take a 3-0 lead after the first inning, but the Tigers knotted the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the seventh and Kirk Gibson delivered a series-winning walk-off two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth.

Series Two: Cubs, 4-1

In the second series, though, the Cubs got their revenge with a 4-1 win:

Cubs-at-Tigers-series-2

Brown and Jack Pfeister earned all four of their team’s wins while Dan Petry posted a 2.13 ERA in two starts but was 0-1. Morris was 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA. The Tigers’ hitters also struggled while the Cubs got used to playing the modern era. Joe Tinker was 12-for-21 (.571) with a home run and eight RBI, earning himself series MVP honors.

In Game One, the Cubs took a 3-0 lead into the late innings and Brown allowed a solo home run by Gibson in the bottom of the eighth. Since the series was played according to 1984 strategies, Rube Kroh entered in the bottom of the ninth and gave up a solo home run by Larry Herndon before nailing down the save. Tired of close games, the Cubs then rolled to a 14-2 win in Game Two.

The Tigers earned their only win of the series in Game Three but Willie Hernandez made his teammates sweat by allowing a run on three singles before striking out Frank Chance to end the game. The Cubs won Games Four and Five, though, nailing down the final contest with a 3-2 victory that was void of late-inning drama.

Another cool feature in OOTP 17 is the automated recap that appears at the top of the box score of a series-winning game:

Cubs-at-Tigers-series-2-recap

Series Three: Cubs, 4-2

For the next two series, we moved the action to the 1908 Cubs’ home era, and they took advantage of that in the third series as they won, 4-2. The Tigers had a 2-1 series lead, but the Cubs reeled off three straight wins, including shutouts in Games Five and Six. Here’s the series rundown. Note the pitching stats:

Tigers-at-Cubs-series-3

Even though the Cubs won, Morris earned series MVP honors, thanks to his 2-0 record with a 0.50 ERA. Seems that 1908 suited him well, whereas Dan Petry fell apart, going 0-3 with a 7.88 ERA. The Cubs rode three starters to victory. Unlike the last two series, this one had no late-inning drama.

Series Four: Tigers, 4-2

Moving on to the final series, the Tigers emerged victorious, 4-2, as they won Games One, Two, Five, and Six. Morris was again a stud, going 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA, and Dan Petry twirled a shutout in his lone start. However, Alan Trammell was 10-for-26 (.385) with one home run (his team’s only dinger0 and eight RBI for series MVP honors.

Here’s how the final series went down:

Tigers-at-Cubs-series-4

In Game One, Morris and Brown traded goose eggs through seven innings before the Tigers put up four runs in the top of the eighth on five singles and a triple (welcome to 1908, guys). Game Two saw the Tigers lead 1-0 until they put together a three-run rally in the top of the seventh to give them breathing room.

In Game Three, the Cubs averted a 3-0 deficit by rallying for two rungs in the top of the eighth for a 5-4 win, and in Game Four they carried a 6-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth but allowed a pair of runs before finally securing the win (amazingly, both teams’ starters were left in the entire time).

Game Five saw Petry toss his shutout, 4-0, and the Tigers secured the series win at home with a 9-2 romp in Game Six.

Who’s the Better Team?

As these sims showed, the 1908 Cubs and 1984 Tigers were fairly evenly matched teams. They split the four series, and three of the four went six games. As they showed, anything can happen in baseball, and the fun with these “What if?” sessions is found in the discussions that happen afterward.

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PC Game Review: Out of the Park Baseball 16

Out of the Park Baseball 16

Out of the Park Baseball 16
System: PC (also on Mac/Linux)
Genre: Baseball Simulator
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: March 23, 2015

When it comes to baseball gaming, there are essentially two options: 1) MLB The Show, for those who want to play the games on the field, and 2) Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP), for those who want a pure text-based simulator and are more interested in the analytical side of the sport. While both have their merits, I end up spending a lot more time developing and obsessing over my own in-game worlds within OOTP. This year’s version, Out of the Park Baseball 16, is easily the best one yet.

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Out of the Park Baseball 15 Review [PC]

Out of the Park Baseball 15

Out of the Park Baseball 15
System: PC (also on Mac/Linux)
Genre: Baseball Simulator
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: April 21, 2014

With the arrival of spring every year, there are two things that excite me even more than the warm weather: Opening Day, and the annual release of Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP). Strategizing and analyzing baseball statistics brings me just as much joy as Ben Wyatt gets when he receives a stack of accounting ledgers on Parks & Recreation. Out of the Park has successfully fed my addiction for 15 (!) years now, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

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PC Game Review: Franchise Hockey Manager

Franchise Hockey Manager

Franchise Hockey Manager
System: PC (also on Mac)
Genre: Hockey Simulator
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: Fall 2013

Straight from the creative minds that brought us Out of the Park Baseball comes a new sports simulator geared toward ice hockey. Franchise Hockey Manager has a similar text-based appearance to its sibling, and it comes with many of the same bells and whistles. However, it also has a fair amount of shortcomings that might be expected from a rookie effort.

At first glance, the sheer amount of options FHM has to offer is absolutely mind-boggling. From the title screen, you are able to begin as general manager for teams across the world, not just the NHL. I discovered leagues that I had never heard of, including Asia League Ice Hockey (the only such league outside of Europe and North America), four leagues in England, and a third tier Finland league. If you just want to stick with the NHL, you can play historical leagues all the way from the late 1940s to present day. It’s absurd how many options are available from the get-go.

As general manager, you have control over every aspect of your organization. You are in charge of lineups, including penalty killing, powerplay and who you want to bring in as extra attackers. You can tweak the tactics of every lineup as well, with options to change forechecking, aggressiveness and more to whatever suits your playing style. You can even train players in specific categories. There’s also an in-depth scouting system that monitors young players across the world while also providing development updates on those in your own system. Your team’s owner even checks in regularly during the season to rate your current job performance.

Franchise Hockey Manager

Stat junkies will find plenty to love, as every player has detailed information kept for every season. There are even advanced statistics that I wasn’t familiar with before starting the game. What’s great is that all of this is accessible right from the start. There is a pretty deep learning curve in terms of navigating the game’s menu system, but once you get the hang of it, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

If you prefer to micromanage every detail, you can go through and “play” each game individually. This option, which is my favorite way to play OOTP Baseball, is unfortunately a huge disappointment. Playing an individual game basically consists of watching play-by-play text slowly scroll down the screen. You can go in and mess with lineups and tactics, but you can’t physically do anything while the game is simulating. Each game, even at its max speed, can take anywhere from 15-20 minutes to finish. It’s almost entirely hands-off, making for a frustratingly dull experience. As such, the best way to play FHM is to simulate games and avoid this option entirely.

Franchise Hockey Manager

During my first season as GM, I noticed a handful of bizarre situations unfold. Coaches were fired seemingly every other day (San Jose even hired and fired two coaches in one season!), and at least a half dozen GMs got canned before the season’s halfway point. Perhaps most surprisingly, I received multiple job offers despite only having 25-30 games under my belt. When the simulation stopped to tell me I received a job offer, it was already too late — the teams had already hired someone else. Yet despite their recent hiring, the game still gave me the option to go in and negotiate a contract with them. I didn’t go through with it, so I’m not sure if I would have just stole the new guy’s job, but I found this rather peculiar.

There was also a moment in my first season where my top three goalies all became injured at the same time. My AI assistant had already called up another goalie to replace them, but I still needed to have a backup for him. The game wouldn’t let me call up anyone from my AHL squad, and it refused to let me sign a goalie off the streets even though I had enough cap room. I tried proposing a deal to another team, but they wouldn’t accept anything right away. Eventually, I had to change the position of one of my backup centers to goalie just so I could play my next game. Needless to say, my team got destroyed, and it was the beginning of the end for my once-promising season.

As mentioned earlier, there is a steep learning curve when it comes to learning the ins-and-outs of the game’s interface. While I did get the hang of it after a while, it was still far less accessible than its OOTP Baseball brethren. I feel bad for comparing it to a simulator that has been around for over ten years, but FHM could learn a thing or two in terms of its user interface. It can be difficult to maneuever throughout the myriad of screens available, and sometimes it requires more clicks than seemingly necessary. One small example: why not make the scores at the top of the screen clickable, that way they go directly to their box score? The game recaps are beautiful, but it takes more than a simple click to access them. Some minor tweaks here and there would make for a much more user-friendly interface.

Franchise Hockey Manager

When I first played FHM months ago, I had problems with the game randomly crashing, but I am happy to report that hasn’t been an issue after their latest patches. That is one significant plus in regards to this simulator — it has a dedicated development team supporting it, and it is constantly releasing patches to improve the overall experience. There is still a lot of work to be done, especially in terms of computer AI and team management (not to mention an overhaul of the play-by-play system), but it is promising that major updates are still being delivered.

There is a ton of potential within Franchise Hockey Manager, but it could have arguably used some more time in development before its initial release. It’s still very much a work in progress, and it requires a bit of patience. Hardcore hockey fans should give it a look, as it is still capable of whetting your appetite, but I would recommend downloading the free trial first. Even with its issues, I am remaining optimistic for future iterations. If anyone is capable of making a top-class hockey simulator, it is the folks at Out of the Park Developments.

6/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

Divekick
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC)
Genre: 2D Fighting
Developer: One True Game Studios & Iron Galaxy Studios
Publisher: Iron Galaxy Studios
Price: $9.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: August 20, 2013

Divekick is simultaneously a parody and an homage to the fighting game genre. What started as an innocent joke — what if there was a fighting game where all you could do is dive and kick? — quickly grew legs and became a sensation on its own. Now this “minimalist” fighter has been unleashed onto the PC, PS3 and Vita, giving the general gaming public a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

The result? A bona fide cult hit.

Divekick‘s concept is kind of genius, really. While there is a good-sized community of hardcore fighting game fans, there are even more who steer away from the genre due to the overwhelming complexity of many modern titles (myself included). By stripping away the gameplay to its absolute purest form, Iron Galaxy Studios have created an immediately accessible game that anyone and everyone can play.

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

There are only two buttons to memorize: dive and kick. Essentially, dive is a jump button, causing the player to ascend vertically on the screen. While in the air, he can perform a kick. There are also special moves that can be used by pressing the two buttons together. Hitting your opponent with any kick variation will end the round. The first player to win five rounds is the winner of the match. That’s basically all you need to know.

What’s amazing is that there is a startling amount of depth to these seemingly simple encounters. An example of this is the game’s versions of “headshots”. If you manage to kick an opponent in the head, they become concussed for the next round, causing them to move incredibly slower than usual. This potentially creates a huge disadvantage for your opponent, making them easier targets for your next devastating kick (or headshot).

By only allowing for two moves, everyone is on the same level. In a way, each round feels like a poker game. You are constantly watching your opponent, learning their mannerisms and trying to outsmart them. Sure, some matter of luck is involved, but there will likely never be a situation where you feel you are outmanned from the start. That can’t be said for other fighting games.

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

Divekick has a total of thirteen characters, each one with their own style of play. Fighting game buffs will recognize most of these options as spoofs of characters from other titles. In fact, there are countless in-jokes scattered throughout the game, most of which will go over the heads of those not in the know. That’s not to say this is only funny to fans of the genre; that’s not the case at all. Some bits are just generally amusing, such as Uncle Sensei’s “pro tips” that display on loading screens. This is a game that does not take itself seriously at all, and it’s all the better for it.

As far as modes go, Divekick is incredibly basic. There are brief, nonsensical story modes for each character, but they grow tedious after finishing one or two of them. The real heart of the game comes in the form of its versus and online modes. Nothing compares to playing against friends locally or against random people online. Each match, when paired against someone else, is a tense, adrenaline-filled affair. Best yet, they are over relatively quickly, working perfectly as a quick go-to party option. Divekick + friends + booze = one hell of a gaming night.

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

The PSN version of the game is cross-buy, meaning one purchase nets you both the PS3 and Vita versions. I played both extensively for this review, and I noticed no differences in terms of content. The Vita even has a unique way to play local versus matches — one player uses the d-pad for their two buttons, whereas the other uses the right buttons (i.e. square and X). I had a harder time finding ranked matches on the Vita, but that could have been an aberration.

Divekick is an incredibly addictive little game, and it gets my vote for the best party title this year. While some may scoff at the notion of a two-button fighting game, I am willing to bet that most will get hooked when they actually sit down to play it. That’s what happened to me. Absolutely worth a look for everyone, not just fighting game fans.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

PC Game Review: Out of the Park Baseball 14

Out of the Park Baseball 14

Out of the Park Baseball 14
System: PC (also on Mac/Linux)
Genre: Baseball Simulator
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: April 15, 2013

I have been an avid supporter of Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) for years now, and it never ceases to amaze me how they come up with new ways to re-invigorate the game year after year. The latest, Out of the Park 14, is no exception.

For those unfamiliar with the series, OOTP is essentially a text-based baseball simulator. It is ridiculously deep with every kind of statistic imaginable. If you can think of it, you can do it in the game. Every season in baseball history can be played, complete with accurate rosters and player ratings, and fictional leagues are also available. You can act as owner, general manager and manager if you like, micro-managing even the slightest details. Different lineups and depth charts can be set for matchups against right-handed pitchers and lefties. Team finances can be controlled, including ticket prices. It’s mind-boggling exactly how many options are available.

This is a simulator with no end date — you can keep playing for hundreds of years, if you like. I have one saved game that I import to the newest version of OOTP year after year. I started it in 2010 and I am now in the year 2034, using one team and playing nearly every single game manually. At this point in my game, guys like Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria have been in the Hall of Fame for years. Now I find myself getting attached to fictional characters, especially players who I personally scouted and drafted. Even when they don’t pan out, I have a hard time parting with them. Maybe I’m getting too sentimental in my in-game old age.

Out of the Park Baseball 14

This year, I decided to start fresh with a new campaign to try out all of the game’s new bells and whistles. First, here’s a quick rundown of what happened in my simulated 2013 season:

  • The Tigers beat the Dodgers in seven games to win the World Series. The Tigers were down 3-1 but went on an impressive run once their offense started clicking, scoring a combined 32 runs in the last three games.
  • No World Series MVP was announced for some reason, but my guess is that it would have went to outfielder Andy Dirks, surprisingly enough. He hit .381 with 4 HR and 12 RBIs, including a monster 3-HR game. Miguel Cabrera (.367, 3 HR, 8 RBI) and Prince Fielder (.423, 2 HR, 10 RBI) would also be strong candidates.
  • Detroit manager Jim Leyland promptly retired after winning the World Series.
  • Other playoff teams: Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington, Cincinnati, San Francisco.
  • The AL East was the most competitive division. Every team finished with a winning record, and the gap between first-place Tampa Bay and last-place Baltimore was just six games.
  • Detroit and Atlanta tied for best record at 97-65.
  • The Houston Astros finished with the worst record at 58-104, with the Cubs (64-98) not far behind.
  • Nick Swisher suffered the most unfortunate injury, a fractured skull, and it caused him to hang up his cleats for good.
  • In an amusing tidbit, middle reliever Al Alburquerque, shortly after being traded from Detroit to Seattle in a package deal for closer Tom Wilhelmsen, strained his back in what he called a “wood-chopping” accident. It was later revealed that his injury happened during a weekend rendezvous with a 23-year-old massage therapist.
  • Reds prospect Billy Hamilton spent most of the season in the big leagues, but he struggled at the place, only hitting .226 (.281 OBP). He did swipe 83 bases, though.
  • Jurickson Profar (.260, 16 HR, 64 RBI) and Adam Eaton (.305, 7 HR, 52 RBI) won Rookie of the Year.
  • Justin Verlander (19-9, 3.32 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) and Jordan Zimmerman (18-9, 2.51 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) won Cy Young awards.
  • Prince Fielder (.333, 39 HR, 147 RBI) and Bryce Harper (.325, 33 HR, 107 RBI) won MVP awards. I imagine there was another hotly contested debate from sabermetricians, as Mike Trout put together another stellar season, leading all of baseball with 10.7 WAR.

Out of the Park Baseball 14

During my season, a few new additions really stood out to me. One was the Player Development Tracker. Twice during the season — once at the All-Star Break and once at the end — I received updates as to how my players’ attributes were changing. Some of my young guys were improving, and their star ratings went up a half point, while a couple underachievers had their overall ability lowered a bit. This was a much-welcomed feature since it provided me a better idea of when my prospects might be ready.

I also loved the new playoffs screen. It is much more detailed than ever before, and it shares extensive information (including player stats versus that team during the regular season) for each matchup.

Out of the Park Baseball 14

The new trade log feature is also slick and well-designed. Now it’s easier than ever to look up all trades made during the season, complete with the player stats up to that point.

One of the more puzzling additions that I’m not sure I’m sold on yet is the inclusion of performance-based achievements. These are modeled after the like-minded systems used by the Xbox 360 and PS3, but they feel out of place in a baseball simulator. I guess it’s cool to be able to see when my last walk-off win happened, but I wish more information was available as to how some of these achievements are even triggered. In my World Series-winning season, I didn’t even unlock a single gold achievement, which makes me curious as to what exactly it would take to do so. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a full list of available achievements in the game.

Other improvements include a better player origin system, more intelligent trade AI (including the option to block a player from being offered to you) and a recoded scouting feature. What’s amazing is that after playing every single game of a full 162+ game season, I’m still discovering little tweaks and new things to do.

Out of the Park Baseball 14

I did encounter one bug during my playing time that could have been disastrous. I won an achievement after finishing a game, and the popup would not go away, causing the program to lock up. Luckily, I was able to use the keyboard to close and save my season, but I was scared that I might have lost everything. On the plus side, this problem has since been patched, which shows the dedication that this close-knit group of developers has for their game.

Out of the Park Baseball 14 is another winner, full of extraordinary depth and infinite replay value. I know I will be playing this all the way through the regular season and likely through the winter as well. If you have any interest in the more analytical side of baseball (i.e. stats and micro-managing), this is the game you’re looking for.

10/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Hotline Miami [PC]

Hotline Miami [PC]

Hotline Miami
System: PC
Genre: 2D top-down action
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Dennaton Games
Release Date: October 23, 2012

Hotline Miami is one of the most violent games I have played all year. It’s also the most addicting.

Heavily inspired by Nicolas Winding Refn’s brilliant 2011 film, Drive, the game places you in the role of an animal mask-wearing hitman dubbed “Jacket.” At the beginning of each chapter, Jacket receives an anonymous phone call in which he is told to “pick up the laundry” or something similar — essentially code for “go to this location and massacre everyone there.”

Every location is stacked with enemies that will kill you with one hit. It takes some serious trial-and-error to develop a successful strategy for making it through each level. As such, Hotline Miami feels most like a puzzle game. You can’t just go in guns-a-blazin’ and expect to win. Every level requires meticulous thinking and quick reactions, because not everything will go as planned.

Hotline Miami [PC]

Before each chapter, Jacket is given the option to select a new animal mask. Each mask has its own perk (i.e. increased ammo, one shot doesn’t kill, etc.), and using the right one is crucial to succeed. There are a number of weapons in each level, most of which can be picked up after killing an enemy. Guns are a popular choice, obviously best for long-range targets, but there are a number of melee weapons (i.e. baseball bats, machetes) that can be used for up-close brawls.

Deaths in this game aren’t pretty. Enemies fall down in a pool of their own blood, with body parts often flying aross the room. Hotline Miami doesn’t glorify violence, however — it makes you question just what the hell you’re doing. After successfully wiping out everyone in a chapter, the game forces Jacket to walk back through every area, observing the carnage he has created. It feels like a punishment for following through with these anonymous jobs. Who is calling in these requests, and why is Jacket accepting them?

At times, the violence can get to be too much, and I found myself needing to take a break much more often than usual. Chapters are quick, intense affairs, and they require extreme precision. It’s a physically and mentally demanding experience, but the well-refined gameplay kept me coming back for more.

Hotline Miami [PC]

It also helps that Hotline Miami is undeniably stylish. The top-down view shows off its gorgeously retro pixelated graphics, and the 80s setting lends way to some sizzling neon colors. The soundtrack is also a perfect fit for the on-screen action, and the music is very, very similar to that found in Drive (whose soundtrack I included in my top 25 albums of 2011). Seriously, the music is amazing, and the intense gameplay really feeds off the frenetic energy the tunes provide. In an awesome moment of generosity, the soundtrack can even be listened to in its entirety online.

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Hotline Miami, and all of it has been deserved. Quite frankly, there isn’t another game like this.

9/10

 

PC Game Review: To the Moon [2011]

To the Moon [2011]

To the Moon
System: PC
Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
Publisher: Freebird Games
Developer: Freebird Games
Release Date: November 1, 2011

It’s always interesting when a new game comes out that tries to do something different with the medium. With last year’s indie hit, To the Moon, actual gameplay was basically scrapped in favor of telling an emotional story. Many fell head over heels for this, and it even won “Best Story” in Gamestop’s 2011 “Game of the Year” awards. It’s clear that the game struck a nerve for most. Unfortunately, it seems everyone is grading on a curve here because of the medium and not for the actual quality of the game.

To the Moon tells the story of a dying old man who has a lifelong dream to go to the moon. In a setting not unlike that of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there is a company that allows artifical memories to be constructed, letting its recipients live out their dreams. Two employees of Sigmund Corp. — Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts — are sent to help this old man get his one wish.

To the Moon [2011]

In order to do so, they have to go back through his actual memories in reverse chronological order by picking up “mementos” along the way. This allows the scientists to learn about the man’s life while discovering exactly why he wants to go the moon. Without getting into spoilers, it isn’t a happy story, as the old man has suffered from a number of traumatic events throughout his life. In fact, by the end, this becomes a bit of a tragedy, with a few scenes included specifically to tug on the ol’ heartstrings. Unfortunately, these big reveals feel forced, and I felt little empathy for the old man, who wasn’t much of a likable fellow.

The game’s dialogue, mostly between the two scientists, is laughably bad. Neil, in particular, is a poorly-written character who acts incredibly immature — to the point of sheer annoyance. The writing is full of weak attempts at humor, as well as references to internet slang and acronyms that will surely be dated in a few years. In short, it comes across as amateur, and it is a significant cut below the films and novels that undoubtedly influenced it.

To the Moon [2011]

As for the actual gameplay, there is little. It mostly consists of walking around different areas in the old man’s life, talking to characters and picking up random “mementos” throughout. There are also half-assed attempts at sliding puzzles between each stage of his life, and they never increase in difficulty. There are a few diversions here and there, such as a brief “whack a mole” mini-game and a segment that involves riding a horse, but they just feel tacked on, and they add little in terms of entertainment.

While I am willing to overlook certain gameplay limitations if there is a good narrative to back it up, To the Moon lacks in both areas. It’s clear the emphasis here is on the story, but it cannot hold its own when compared to other dramatic works. Are we so starved for quality plot devices in video games that we are willing to grade anything resembling something different on a curve?

To the Moon [2011]

I will give the game credit for its aesthetics. Despite using the dated RPG Maker engine, the 16-bit graphics work well in this setting, and I enjoyed the throwback to days gone by. The original music score is beautiful and fits with the game’s more serious moments wonderfully, even if the title theme is played a bit much.

I hate to talk down an indie game, especially one that tries to differentiate itself from the rest, but To the Moon doesn’t come close to reaching the stars it so desperately seeks. The in-game writing, highly praised by most, would get laughed at in any other medium, and the actual gameplay is far too simplistic. At a brief four hours, at least the game doesn’t overstay its welcome.

5/10

Poll Results: PC vs. Mac vs. Linux

PC, Mac or Linux? The winner:

old-pc

THE RESULTS:
– PC: 10 votes
– Mac: 7 votes
– Linux: 0 votes

Long live the PC! Thankfully we have grown from the days of large IBM computers with dual floppy disk drives, and it’s even better to have a variety of solid options these days. Windows is improving with every version (well, that remains to be seen with Windows 8), Macs has been reliable for years now, and Linux has all sorts of free distros to choose from. And with the advent of tablets and smartphones, we live in an exciting time for new technology.

This Week’s Poll: Let’s get back to movies this week. Since it’s now December, it’s time to bust out the egg nog, Christmas tree and (unfortunately) the holiday music. It’s also the best time of the year to watch Christmas films, of which there are quite a few annual classics. My question for you is: what is your favorite Christmas film? Since there are so many to choose from, I am allowing for TWO votes. Are there any that you watch every year?

Have a great week, folks!

PC Game Review: Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

Out of the Park Baseball 13
System: PC (also on Mac/Linux)
Genre: Baseball Simulator
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: April 9, 2012

All hardcore baseball fans, no matter who they root for, have one thing in common: they believe they could run a professional team, sometimes even better than the actual general manager does. Of course, some are more vocal about their beliefs than others, but diehard fans especially love to nitpick every move their favorite team makes. I am guilty of this myself, so I turn to baseball simulators to prove that I can successfully manage a professional team. While there are a few options available, there is one franchise that is a clear cut above the rest, and it is one that I keep coming back to every year: Out of the Park Baseball.

This year’s version, lucky #13, has the same in-depth simulation offerings but is also packed full of upgrades. Immediately, the most noticeable difference is the brand new interface. The traditional menu system and its core buttons have all been switched around, with a shiny new right-side toolbar providing easy access to the most important screens. If you’re familiar at all with previous versions of the game, this graphical overhaul definitely takes some time getting used to. I did enjoy its changes in the long run, however, and I like this particular direction the series is taking.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

The biggest, perhaps most impressive, addition to the game is the real-time simulation mode. Basically this means that you can follow each game pitch-by-pitch, adjusting the speeds as necessary, and even jumping in to play the game if you want to. It’s pretty cool to keep an eye on several games at once, especially when you happen to stumble upon a rarity such as a no-hitter in progress. This is especially convenient for those running leagues as the commissioner.

Quite a bit of attention has been given to the core engine as well. Trades are noticeably tougher — a good thing — and teams can be labeled in three stages: Win Now!, Neutral, and Rebuild. This makes it slightly easier to find a trade partner, although it is still difficult to pry away their talent without giving up some big-time players or prospects of your own.

If you were a fan of the newspaper/mail system in previous editions, you will love the improvements in OOTP 13. Several unique storylines have been added, offering a much-welcomed freshness to the articles. One of my personal favorites so far was a story about a veteran on a struggling team taking it upon himself to hold his teammates accountable for their actions. A couple weeks later I was sent an article about this leader holding a kangaroo court about some minor action (I believe a teammate stepped on the team logo) and charging him a $100 fine. Brilliant. Little things like that give OOTP a touch of personality that just cannot be topped. I love this stuff, and would be very pleased if more of it seeped into future updates/versions.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

Of course, Out of the Park also comes pre-equipped with all of the latest MLB rosters, and new seasons are built with the recent rule changes in mind (i.e. more wild card teams, and Houston’s move to the AL West in 2013). Player photos are missing initially, but there are countless mods available to fully customize the game any way you see fit. Seriously, if there is any one thing you don’t like about the game’s setup, you can change it. The official forums are a great source of information for the game, with all sorts of awesome expansions and goodies available. The creators of OOTP are also very active in the community and regularly provide patches to fix many of the bugs that users come across. Rest assured, if there is a significant glitch discovered (unlikely), Markus and the guys will be on it ASAP.

There are so many ways to dig into OOTP that everyone will play it differently. I chose to import my association from last year’s game and immediately continued playing as if nothing had changed. It was terrific — my settings were transferred over, and I played through the rest of my season while also getting to enjoy the new features of the game. Of course, if you don’t have an association to import, you can create a new league (real or fictional) starting at any year you desire. You can play the games individually or sim them in bunches — it’s up to you. You can even join an online league with other GMs, which is an absolute blast with a good group of guys.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 [2012]

I have been speaking nothing but praise for the game so far, but there are a couple of minor flaws I feel I should mention. For one, the in-game text is a little difficult to read. I have a 19-inch monitor and occasionally have to squint to accurately read the team lineups and current statistics. While the in-game interface can be switched around, there is no way to increase text size. I have gotten used to it, but it would still be nice to adjust as needed. Also, while the trade engine is certainly improved, I was able to manipulate the system in one area. I noticed that it was a little too easy to sign a free agent to a minor league contract halfway through the season and then flip him to another team for a superior option. It was strange to me that I was able to do this. After all, if a team had any interest in the player I signed, why didn’t they just sign him on their own? Not a huge deal, but it is tempting to take advantage of this.

Again, those are two unbelievably minor flaws in the grand scheme of things, and they do not lower my rating at all. Folks, this is a 10/10 if I have ever seen one. Easily the best baseball simulator I have ever played, and it is one with infinite replay value. For only $40, you will get your money’s worth and then some. If you are into baseball statistics or are a diehard fan of the sport, do yourself a favor and give it a shot.

I will leave you with this warning, however: this gets addictive, FAST.

10/10