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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Movie Project #26: Rudy [1993]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Rudy [1993]

Rudy [1993] 
Director: David Anspaugh
Writer: Angelo Pizzo
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Starring: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
Running Time: 114 minutes

When it comes to inspirational films, Rudy has a surefire winning formula. It’s based on a true story, it involves a massive underdog, and it’s about someone who refuses to stop following his dreams. Football is at the heart of the story, but it’s the type of feel good flick that can appeal to anyone.

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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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Movie Project #9: Major League [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Major League [1989]

Major League [1989]
Director: David S. Ward
Writer: David S. Ward
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Sports
Starring: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen
Running Time: 107 minutes

For as much as I love baseball, it’s baffling that it has taken me this long to watch Major League. I’m a sucker for films about sports, especially baseball, and this David S. Ward comedy still has a large number of vocal supporters to this day.

It’s easy to see why this film is so revered. For one, it’s a classic underdog story. The protagonists are the perennial losers known as the Cleveland Indians, a team that could be called the Cubs of the American League (now that the Red Sox have snapped their awful streak). When Major League was filmed, the team hadn’t won a World Series in 41 years. Now, 25 years later, that streak is up to 66 years. The idea of turning around a team that has been losers for so long is always appealing, and Major League sets up such a rags-to-riches story perfectly.

After the fictional Indians owner passes away, his wife, a former showgirl named Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), inherits the team. Although she enjoys baseball, she hates Cleveland. Her goal is to move the team to a much more desirable location, say Miami, but in order to do so she must lower the season’s attendance to under 800,000 tickets sold. She concocts a maniacal scheme to bring in a brand new group of players comprised of has-beens, bottom tier minor leaguers, ex-convicts and anyone else who has no chance of being on a legitimate big league team.

Major League [1989]

This group of misfits includes erratic hurler Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), oft-injured catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), diva-esque third baseman Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), voodoo-practicing power hitter Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), and the speedy but light-hitting Willie Mays Hayes (a young Wesley Snipes). To manage the team, minor league skipper Lou Brown (James Gammon) is brought in.

It could be argued that these guys have talent, but they have significant flaws of varying importance. At first, as expected, they are terrible. The team is regularly blown out at the beginning of the season. The fan attendance dwindles rapidly, and everything seems to be working out according to the new owner’s plan.

But somehow, some way, the team starts getting better. “Wild Thing” Vaughn gets a pair of hipster glasses that improves his eyesight and his game drastically. Willie Mays Hayes uses his speed to beat out tepid ground balls. The offense starts clicking. All of a sudden, the Indians are fighting for the division lead.

Major League [1989]

It’s here where the film starts to lose its footing a little bit. This was going to be a predictable story from the start, but once the team starts winning, the film becomes a series of one sports cliché after another. It still has its moments, but Major League is at its best when we’re watching this group of castoffs failing miserably. Hell, I could watch an entire movie based on the spring training scenes alone — the bumbling introductions of the players is comedy gold. Even better are the scenes that feature an incredibly snarky Bob Uecker as the game’s announcer.

There are plenty of laughs, memorable characters and enough one-liners to grant Major League entry into my regular baseball film rotation. I didn’t fall in love with it as much as, say, Bull Durham, but it still makes for a great time. Now if only the Indians could get their own “Wild Thing” to finally remove them as laughingstocks of the American League.

7/10

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: Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Madden NFL 25
System: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iOS (later: PS4, Xbox One)
Genre: Sports (Football)
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: August 27, 2013

I didn’t intend on buying Madden NFL 25 this year, but I just couldn’t pass up the Amazon deal that featured this year’s game + the NFL Sunday Ticket pass for $100. I figured at the very least I was getting a great deal on the Sunday Ticket (which retails for $300 on its own), and hey, maybe I’ll even enjoy the latest Madden. Unfortunately, no, Madden 25 just serves as a reminder as to why I stopped playing the series in the first place. I’ll be selling this back ASAP.

Ever since EA Sports struck a deal as the exclusive license holder of the NFL way back in 2005, the Madden series has grown stagnant, offering little in the way of new and exciting developments. Every year some “new” feature is announced — this year “run free” is the gimmicky term for a slightly tweaked running game — but there has not been a legitimate groundbreaking development in years. Still, I went into this year’s game with an open mind, hoping to get at least something out of the experience.

Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Right away, numerous issues are prevalent. The loading times are absolutely excruciating, especially when the game attempts (and fails) to connect to the EA Sports server. It’s possible to spend more than a minute at a time staring at a loading screen while the game tries to get to the next menu. This is inexcusable, especially since the series has had a good seven years to fine tune its performance on this console generation. Navigating through the game’s bulky menus is a chore simply because it’s so damn sluggish. You know the old saying, “less is more”? That’s something EA should adhere by with this game.

Even now, a couple weeks after its release, I have still had issues using the game’s matchmaking system. During the first few days, the online was completely broken, as I would get disconnected from the server immediately. It seems to be working better now, but it could still use some fine tuning. Again, Madden is an extremely popular game; you would think that EA would be fully prepared for any amount of online users.

Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Playing an actual game is still riddled with problems as well. The battles in the trenches are completely ridiculous, and the entire blocking system is simply broken. Down the field, offensive players without the ball routinely run right past defenders, not even attempting to block them. Playbooks are incredibly easy to exploit; sometimes all you need to do is find one play that you excel at and then just run it over and over again. The defense rarely picks up on these play calls.

Then again, this is Madden, and the series is known for some of its outlandish gameplay characteristics. For as much as this wants to be as realistic as possible, it’s still quite possible to pull off insane runs that go from one side of the field to the other. These types of wild antics are fun when playing with friends, but frustrating when trying to play a more realistic franchise game.

Madden NFL 25 [Xbox 360]

Perhaps most annoying is the game’s commentary, performed by Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. These guys are completely devoid of any personality, and most of their rambling is utterly generic and does not match the action on screen. For example, let’s say you score a meaningless touchdown near the end of a blowout win. Even if the score is something like 49-0, Simms will remark how that last touchdown should just about seal the game. Are you kidding me? You can tell that the bare minimum of effort was put into this audio presentation.

In fact, you could say the same thing about the entire game. Madden NFL 25 just feels half-assed all around. Maybe EA is putting most of its resources into the next-gen version of the game; if that’s the case, this shoddy edition would make more sense. It still doesn’t make it right.

The frustrating thing here is that there is a decent enough football game at the very core of Madden, and yes, it can be a lot of fun to play with friends or even random people online. It’s just a shame that EA feels the need to keep piling on excess garbage that just slows the game down while slowly sucking out the remaining semblances of fun that this series once had. I hope they get things right in the next generation, but I’m not holding my breath.

5/10

Movie Review: 42 [2013]

42 [2013]

42 [2013]
Director: Brian Helgeland
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie
Running Time: 128 minutes

Jackie Robinson will always be known as the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, but many seem to forget that he was also a damn good player. In a ten year career, he was a 6-time All-Star, an MVP winner, Rookie of the Year, and a World Series champion. In the new biopic, 42, his excellent career is only glossed over in favor of taking a look at his tumultuous first season.

First, we begin in 1945. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) is looking to improve his team and comes up with an unfathomable idea — why not sign a talented African American player? While there was no rule against letting minorities play Major League Baseball, there was an unwritten code that every team adhered by. After taking a look at several of the big names in the Negro leagues — including Roy Campanella and Satchel Paige — Rickey settles on the then 26-year-old Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), citing his strong demeanor and ability to withstand verbal abuse.

42 [2013]

Jackie, accompanied by his lovely wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie), spends a season in the minor leagues before hitting the majors in 1947. As soon as he steps on the field on Opening Day, Jackie is surrounded by reporters. This is commonplace, as is the racist heckling from the crowd, written death threats and even petitions against him from his own teammates. It’s hard to believe that just over 60 years ago, the U.S. was so heavily segregated. Toilets, water fountains and even baseball stadiums were divided, with different lines for “whites” and “colored” patrons.

Many of the character interactions in this film are downright disgusting, and sadly enough, most of them actually happened. The most notorious example is when Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) attempts to rattle Robinson while he’s at the plate by spewing racial epithets at him over and over again. Chapman is relentless, and this is when Jackie reaches his breaking point. Is he really ready to do this? Can he continue to handle all of the pressure bestowed upon him as MLB’s first African American player, essentially a trailblazing pioneer? Of course, we know the answer to this.

42 [2013]

It’s somewhat disappointing that 42 only focuses on Jackie’s first season, simply because he had an impressive career with many noteworthy moments. This makes sense from a film perspective since it gives director Brian Helgeland a chance to portray Robinson in the brightest possible light (which I have no complaints about), but it still feels like there is just so much more to tell.

The film is given the full Hollywood treatment with tried-and-true cliches, dramatic music and a number of heavy-handed scenes (I half-expected Steven Spielberg’s name to be attached to the project), and it concludes with notes on what later happened to Jackie and a select few teammates. While I was fully expecting this “where did they go?” epilogue, it was bizarre to see notes given on players who weren’t even named in the film. Much of the supporting cast (re: teammates) are briefly acknowledged by a first name, if we’re lucky, and they all just blur together. While it’s nice to know Ralph Branca played for three different teams in his career, why should the audience care when he was given maybe a few lines in the movie?

42 [2013]

Regardless of these head-scratching end notes, it should be stated that the entire cast did a hell of a job with their roles. Chadwick Boseman perfectly nails Jackie’s baseball mannerisms, and Harrison Ford hits one out of the park with his scenery-chewing performance as the cigar-chomping old codger running the Dodgers. An impressive array of character actors fills out the supporting cast, led by John C. McGinley as the legendary announcer, Red Barber, and Alan Tudyk as the racist manager, Ben Chapman.

42 is a serviceable biopic, and it hits all of the proper emotional notes. It is an important film, one that deserves to be seen, even though it may be too “Hollywood” for its own good. Jackie Robinson’s legacy is undeniable, and at the very least this film has deservedly brought him back into the forefront.

7/10

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: NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

NBA 2K13
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PC, Wii, Wii U, PSP, iOS, and Android)
Genre: Sports (Basketball)
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Release Date: October 2, 2012

I have a confession to make: I’m a basketball junkie. I love the sport, and if I were to let myself go, I could easily watch/play basketball all day, every day. This love of the game extends to 2K Sports’ NBA 2K series, and I have to force myself *not* to buy the game every year simply because I know I will play nothing else for quite some time. In the last entry I played, NBA 2K11, I became hooked on the Association mode, even going so far as to play all 82 games of the first season (8 minute quarters) and then a good chunk of the next. For me, nothing beats taking over a struggling team (in my case, my hometown Detroit Pistons) and restoring them to their glory days.

Because I get hooked on sports games too easily, I avoided purchasing NBA 2K13 for as long as possible. It wasn’t until a recent Xbox Live sale that I couldn’t resist any longer — how could I pass up the latest basketball game for just $30?

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

The first and most noticeable difference with 2K13 is that Jay-Z’s fingerprints are all over the game, at least in terms of presentation. The soundtrack is comprised mostly of Hov and his buddies (i.e. Kanye West and Coldplay), and his name is plastered all over the menus. It seems like a marketing ploy, but I have no complaints with it.

NBA 2K13 also introduces a new concept that shakes the core gameplay at its roots: Virtual Currency (VC). This is similar to a conventional XP system, as every game you play, no matter the mode, will earn you VC based on your performance. This currency can in turn be used to purchase upgrades for whatever mode you like. It comes especially handy in the RPG-like MyPlayer mode since VC is used to upgrade personal attributes (i.e. 3-point shooting, rebounding, etc.).

The fact that this system is tied together throughout every mode encourages you to try out every aspect of the game. This worked out wonderfully for me, as I have been putting most of my playing time into MyPlayer, a mode I have neglected in the past.

The great thing about MyPlayer mode is that it is basically a sports RPG. You create a player the way you see fit, then take control of him through his entire NBA career while earning upgrades along the way. Upset about your playing time? Feel free to complain to your general manager. Want to go to a different team entirely? Talk to your boss again and let him know — you may very well get your wish. This mode is completely immersive, as not only are there ties to social media (complete with a faux Twitter timeline), but after every game you partake in a brief, one question press conference.

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

Being able to answer questions however you want is a nice touch, even if the dialogue is sometimes laughable. Sometimes my character would take on a completely different tone in his response other than what I intended, not unlike the notoriously off-kilter dialogue in LA Noire. The conversations with the GM are often ridiculous, too, leading to some unintentional hilarity.

Pretty much every other major mode is back as well, including the improved Association, which now allows you to start a season on that very day (i.e. right now) rather than just defaulting to the beginning of the year. There is one new mode that stands out — MyTeam, which is basically 2K’s answer to EA’s Ultimate Team mode.

In MyTeam, you build a team from the ground up by purchasing packs of cards. Each pack gives you a random set of players, jerseys, skills, coaches and playbooks. These are in turn used to improve your team, and you can buy/sell individual cards using VC in order to do so. It’s a fun little mode, even though it doesn’t feel as polished as that found in FIFA 13.

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

With so many modes and ways to play, there is never a shortage of options in NBA 2K13. Unfortunately, there are a number of bugs that mar certain aspects of the game. For one, no matter how many times I tried, I could not join an Online Association. The fact that this is an issue five months after the game’s release is inexcusable. I also ran into frequent lag during online games, occasionally losing a connection entirely. I know this isn’t a problem on my end either.

There are also some truly bizarre gameplay glitches that pop up from time to time. The most prevalent — and annoying — for me was the sudden loss of the score overlay. This happened in every mode I played, and it seemed to be triggered by pushing “X” through the cutscenes/replays. Not being able to view the game score, let alone how much time is left on the clock, is a huge disadvantage. I cannot fathom how this bug hasn’t been fixed yet.

NBA 2K13 [Xbox 360]

The fact that these glitches are still present is frustrating, but there’s no denying that there is still a fantastic basketball experience underneath. The audio/visual presentation is still second to none, and the commentary from Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellog and Steve Kerr is the best out of any sports game, period.

Even with the lack of competition from EA Sports, NBA 2K13 is still delivering the goods year after year. This is another must play for basketball fans, even if it could have been cleaned up a bit.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: FIFA 13 [Xbox 360]

FIFA 13 [Xbox 360]

FIFA 13
System: Xbox 360 (also on pretty much every other current system)
Genre: Sports (Soccer)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: September 25, 2012

I don’t often buy sports games the year they are released, but I couldn’t pass up getting FIFA 13 this year. A lot has changed since the last version I played, FIFA 11, and what we have now is one of the most complete sports experiences I have ever seen.

Upon firing up the game, the options are nearly overwhelming. Just take a look at the different modes offered: Games of the Week, Ultimate Team, Seasons, Career, Be a Pro, Pro Club Seasons, Skill Games, Online. To the unaware, it would be difficult to even begin to think about where to start.

FIFA 13 [Xbox 360] -- Ultimate Team

I began my FIFA 13 playing career with the Ultimate Team mode. I had dabbled with this before, but never gave it the time of day it deserved. In this mode, you are given packs of cards in which you receive different players, attributes and other options. By playing and winning matches, you earn points that can be used to purchase more packs of cards, with the ultimate goal being to continually improve and upgrade your team. Cards can also be purchased, sold and traded in the online marketplace, allowing you to target certain players if desired. It’s an addictive little feature, and EA has undoubtedly made a great deal of money off of it by allowing impatient gamers to purchase more points with real money as well.

After spending a good amount of time with Ultimate Team, I moved onto “Be a Pro” and created a virtual version of myself. Soccer was always my weakest sport to play in real life, but I fit right in on the cyber confines of FIFA. As a young striker, I joined the celebrated club of Bayern Munich (an ode to my German heritage), but they had little room for me until I worked on polishing my skills. I accepted a transfer to the Scottish Premier League, becoming a starting forward for Dundee United. It didn’t take long for me to begin to establish myself, scoring my first ever hat trick in my second match, and quickly building up my attributes thanks to strong performances on my end. Unfortunately, a couple of injuries derailed my promising start (thanks to me abusing the “sprint” button, apparently), and the team struggled to play well without me. After finishing the season, which was mostly successful on an individual level despite the injuries, I decided to try out another mode: Seasons.

FIFA 13 [Xbox 360] -- Gameplay

I found Seasons to be the most challenging and addictive mode yet. In this, you pick a team and embark on a series of head-to-head matches against other gamers online. Every “season” has 10 matches, and you are required to earn a certain amount of points (three for a win, one for a draw) in order to move up to the next division level. If you fail to reach this goal, you will be relegated back down to the level below you. It’s a very competitive mode, and I found myself outclassed often by others online. After tightening down the settings to only match up against teams of the same star rating as my own, I began to achieve a bit more success, eventually moving up to the next division. A series of devastating defeats sent me right back down to relegation status, however, and I had to work my way back up. While frustrating at times, the level of competition in this mode is fierce, and it’s a great way to improve your own game.

FIFA 13 [Xbox 360]

The Skill Games feature is a welcome addition, as these drills serve as in-game tutorials of sorts, helping improve passing, shooting and dribbling skills. Best yet, they can be completed during the load screens for offline games. I can’t think of another game that offers such useful loading screens.

Between all of these different modes, I have spent a lot of time with FIFA 13, and I have absolutely had a blast with it. There are some minor issues here and there — occasionally my passes went to the wrong player, and I ran into a handful of laggy games online — but this is still an incredible soccer/football title that offers a seemingly endless amount of replay value. For fans of the sport, buying this is a complete no-brainer.

9/10