Out of the Park ‘14: a review

Picture this: It’s the bottom of the ninth and the Braves are down 3-2 at home in the Wild Card playoff game. Bryce Harper, at the plate with Jason Hayward on second, has just taken a second strike to push the count to 0-2. The next pitch—a 95 mph fastball—is in the middle of the plate and Harper clubs the ball over fence to win the game for the Braves.

The year is 2017 and this is Out of the Park (OOTP) 14—the baseball management simulation game—and I have just got into my first postseason proper. Unfortunately I get whopped 3-1 by the Padres in the NLDS.

OOTP has been around for a long time. The first version of the game was released in 1999 and over the years has won a growing fan base. I dabbled with the game a few years back but never had the patience to get into it. When given the chance to review the current version I thought it would be a great opportunity to see how accessible and fun the game was for a relative novice.

ASIDE: I want to re-emphasize the point above. I have written this review from the perspective of a first-timer to OOTP. Have you thought about buying OOTP every year a new version has been released but never quite acted on the thought? If so this review is for you. If you are a hard core OOTP user then by all means continue reading, but this review is a lot less relevant.

Getting started

The game is simple enough to install. Just go to the website and download the game for either your PC or Mac. It costs $39.99. Follow the on-screen instructions and within 30 minutes (depending on the speed of your internet connection) you are good to go. To get authentic team logos and player pictures you have to install the “all-in-one” add-on, presumably because OOTP don’t have full rights to MLB logos and player images. It is definitely worth doing this—there’s no extra cost—as it makes the game more enjoyable.

Once installed it is time to choose a team and get cracking. I selected the best team in baseball—the Atlanta Braves (at the time of writing)— and kicked off (excuse the incorrect sporting reference) the 2013 baseball season. Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to lead this motley crew to the postseason … would it?

The game engine

OOTP’s game engine is impressive and allows the player to choose his level of involvement. If you want to be GM—i.e., trade a few players, invest in better scouting, control the draft, raise ticket prices to increase salary budget—then there is an option to let your manager make roster decisions and manage in-game.

On the other extreme you can play the season literally in real time and watch a three-hour game of baseball simulated pitch-by-pitch, tinkering where and when you like as Tony La Russa was wont to do. And there is a range of options in between: playing select games or managing games but at a much faster speed. Me? I’ve got a job to do and a family to feed so I decided to play quasi-GM. In essence I’ll build up a great team and if it gets to the playoffs, get involved in the minutiae of in-game management to make certain of success.

However you choose to play the game there are many lower levels of customization. Want your manager to favor players with higher OBP? Then knock the OBP bar a few points up. Want to go crazy with hit and run? Ditto on that bar. And so it goes. Suffice to say you can fiddle with many parameters to shape your team in the way you want it to play baseball.

The interface

The ability to customize the game to your own playing ethos is incredible and adds to the enjoyment of OOTP. However, it does come at a cost— the interface is complex and the game has a reasonably steep learning curve. I am not an expert in user interface design but after playing the game for a month I am convinced it is possible to make it simpler.

The current menu system is organized by whether you want to do something at the manager level, league level, or team level. Clicking on, say, the “league” button spits out a sub-menu with a range of options. As I was navigating through the structure I did wonder whether a more “activity-led” navigation system could make more sense, dare I say it, like the ribbon on some of the Microsoft productivity software tools.

On occasion I found it difficult to do some basic tasks that I would have expected a baseball management simulation to do. For example, I was in the market for a new third baseman and ideally what I’d like to do is look at all third baggers and then see who I could construct a trade for. However, this option was seemingly unavailable as the trade engine is team-based i.e., you click on a team and select a player in that team. I am sure there is a (no doubt simple) way to do this but from the interface design I cannot find it.

image

The game

OOTP 14 is very enjoyable. I have played 15 seasons in varying roles ranging from the tinkering micro-manager making play-by-play decisions to the strategic GM sitting in the boardroom buying and selling players. My personal style tends more toward the GM role—this means that you can play through a season in one to two hours, rather than days or weeks if you want to run play through every game.

In GM mode, if I can call it that, the central part of the game is the trading engine, and here, at least out of the box, the game is probably a little generous in terms of trading. After speaking to the guys at OOTP, this was on purpose to prevent players getting frustrated by trading limitations that happen in real life. If you want to up the challenge of trading, you simply change a setting.

That’s probably the right approach but it would be nice to be able to set up trading realism at the start-up screen. And I still found the trading engine to spit out some funny outcomes. Let me give one example. At the end of the 2015 season, I was determined to sign Miguel Cabrera as a free agent. Interestingly he was asking for a two year contract at $20M a year—which is low in years and dollars given he had been as productive as usual in 2014 and 2015.

I piled in with a two-year $50M contract rubbing my hands with the prospect of adding a big bat to the lineup. Cabrera told me he would think about it but eventually signed with the Phillies. Surprisingly, he didn’t sign a long term/valuable deal … rather it was a two-year $35 million contract.

Determined to get my man I decided to dangle Craig Kimbrel in front of the Phillies’ front office to see if that was enough to snag him. Guess what? It was. He was in year two of a five-year, $49 million contract extension (I couldn’t decide whether that was a good deal or not) and had just come off a 5.26 ERA year. So the Phils give up a great hitter and take on more salary to get a closer coming off a bad year.

Want another trade anecdote? How about Brian McCann and three middling prospects for Neftali Feliz and a Rangers Double-A young gun … as a real life Braves’ fan you’d probably take that. Actually I’m okay with this game trade—what made it slightly one-sided is that McCann had just signed a $17 million average annual value contract and I was able to tie Feliz up for significantly less: $35 million for four years (really??). It was a great deal for me as McCann spent much of the next five years on the DL, which given his history isn’t overly surprising.

If you turn up the realism on the trade engine, some of the foibles disappear, and depending on how realistic you want you OOTP experience to be I’d encourage you to do that.

Playing as GM, a core part of the game is to operate within the financial parameters given; i.e., your budget and player payroll. There isn’t a lot of freedom to increase revenue other than by raising ticket prices, which I did early on despite not having a particularly strong team. After a three years, I was able to shunt the Braves from middling in payroll to having the second highest in the bigs—which facilitated the signing on Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper as big-name free agents on A-Rod style contracts.

Trading is a lot of fun but not as satisfying as unearthing a couple of uber-prospects as you unload a couple of high paid veterans to a team in need. My favorite pick-up was catcher David Freitas (first year in the bigs) from the Athletics in return for Jonny Venters, Mark Trumbo and a couple of other make-weights. Freitas went on to produce a string of 7-8 WAR seasons.

Long term playability

OOTP is one of the deepest sports games I’ve played. I’m still going strong in my 13th year as GM of the Braves. Although I didn’t win the World Series, I reached the playoff quite a few times but eventually the team got weighed down with my mega-contracts (hint: don’t sign Strasburg to a $32M AAV seven- year contract and then give him a $24 million AAV four-year extension), and now the team is in rebuilding mode.

The challenge I find in simulation games as you play for a long time is that you don’t know who the players are. In the early years it is fun to hunt for major/minor league talent that you know; then, as you build a winning team, you generate a bond with some of the finds. But as they age I found it harder to sustain interest. To be honest, in the year 2026 I am probably done with this game instance and will head back to the start and maybe see if I can win with a different team.

Conclusion

I’ve had a lot of fun with this game and I’d unequivocally recommend it to anyone. After a bit of fiddling it is possible to set up the game to play quickly (helpful if you are time constrained) or to a much greater level of involvement if you are so inclined. At $40 the game isn’t exactly cheap, but has a ton more depth than many other modern games that cost 50 percent more.

Sure, there are a few minor niggles—the trade system on default mode is a little lenient and spits out a few funny outcomes (see Cabrera above) but it doesn’t really detract from the fun of the game. And the interface is a little daunting and perhaps could be streamlined, but after a few hours of play you’ll figure it out. In short, it is the best fun you’ll have on a computer without MLB.TV open!

RATING: A-

References & Resources
Thanks to the folks at OOTP—specifically Brad Cook—for answer my questions about the game.

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Comments

  1. Rob C said...

    There’s a lot of fun to be had in starting a couple decades in the past and making sure you draft all the best talent.  Stacking teams with guys like Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson allow you to dominate the regular season, but what’s interesting is that it never gets really out of hand.  The seasonal win range was between 105-119, and while my team made the playoffs every year, they only won the World Series about half the time.  So even with all the best players in baseball, there’s no guarantee you’ll win the games that matter.  One season my 117-win team lost the World Series to an 86-win team.  Sounds like real life, doesn’t it?

  2. Tom S said...

    One of the best games ever. Been playing since 2001 and it never gets old. Even if you don’t want to play you can fire up a league (modern, historical, fictional) and let the CPU battle it out and watch history unfold. Was recently inspired by the Pirates to go back to 1992, sign Barry Bond and Doug Drabek to long term deals and see how history plays itself out. So many options, so many ways to play, anybody who loves baseball enough to read this site should not hesitate to buy it.

  3. OBSL Commish said...

    QUOTE:“For example, I was in the market for a new third baseman and ideally what I’d like to do is look at all third baggers and then see who I could construct a trade for. However, this option was seemingly unavailable as the trade engine is team-based i.e., you click on a team and select a player in that team. I am sure there is a (no doubt simple) way to do this but from the interface design I cannot find it.”

    Go to the league stats and leaders under the League Menu then filter by position.  Pretty simple.  Yes the game’s interface and complexity can be overwhelming.  But the OOTP forum and community are the most helpful and active bunch of gamers I have ever associated with, not to mention the OOTP development team who regularly post and answer questions.  So, there is never any need to get angry or frustrated with the game since most issues can be resolved with a simple forum search or a detailed question.

  4. OBSL Commish said...

    You can also right click on a player’s name and, under Trade Options, click “Shop Player Around”.  This will ask the AI for offers from other teams for that player.  A good stepping-off point for seeing what the league thinks of him.

  5. Patrick said...

    Having been a baseball fan my entire life and now a disabled veteran I absolutely love the fact that I can get engaged in a simulation without having to buy a game that only rewards twitchy fingers.  The depth of this game is amazing, I have spent hours replaying the great teams from the 1980’s and leading my beloved Cardinals to the World Series.

    Another amazing feature is the forum support, the great community and the fact that I can walk away from the computer without worrying about something going wrong.

  6. Sweed said...

    Been playing since 2002 and OOTP is simply the best bang for the buck game I have ever played.  There are many reasons for this but #1 is the fact that you can import your current game into each new version and continue on. You never have to start over because you want to play the new version.

    I manage and “play out” all of my games from preseaon to playoffs (if I make it) and games in one pitch mode can be knocked out in 10-20 minutes. I get in 2 or 3 seasons per version and then import and continue in the new version. It is a seamless transition.

    I started with the 2002 season (OOTP v4) and am now in 2026 (OOTP v14) meaning all real MLB players are now retired leaving me with fictional players. Playing out all of the games makes it easy for me to keep up with the fictional players as they enter the league.

    I could see how the GUI could be a bit overwhelming to a new user. But after a bit of playing you will see how well thought out it really is and it will become quite easy to find almost anything you can think of. Anyone that tries the game should be a bit patient and if you need help, as someone else posted, the OOTP forum has many users that are able to answer questions and help another player out.

  7. Colt said...

    OOTP is definitely the go-to game for players looking primarily for a stand-alone, single player, “pure simulation” experience.

    However, a great complement to that experience is a web-based, multi-player game focused on strategy/competition: Pennant Wars (http://www.pennantwars.com)

    It’s a brand new game, but is quickly building up a strong user base (it’s being rolled out in phases, so there may not actually be any teams available at the moment). 

    I like that I can play it anywhere I have the internet (phone/work/home/etc), and I like that I get to deal with and compete against other real players.  (Plus nothing to download/install/debug/etc. it “just works”.)

    The leagues are structured so that you have to work your way up to the top division to compete for the league championship.  Similar to the English Soccer model. 

    If you just care about recreating old seasons, or drafting a team full of historical superstars to win 110+ games, then PW is not the game for you.  However, if you like the challenge of having to analyze/scout unknown players, devise strategies, and build your roster over many seasons against tough competition, then PW is a great up-and-coming choice and I highly recommend it.

    In a nutshell: PW is more of a “game” and OOTP is more of a “model train set”.  Both have their merits, and many people will enjoy both!

  8. Professor Longnose said...

    Are there good computer baseball games to play one-one-one with someone you know, the way tabletop games are played?

  9. Wells said...

    There are some pretty outstanding online leagues to join too, which really makes the OOTP experience shine. Rip off the CPU, sure, no big deal, ripping off fellow human GMs, that’s much more fun.

  10. Mark Geoffriau said...

    Has anyone tried the iPhone/iPad version? I’m curious about how good it is.

    As a teenager I played hours and hours of Baseball Mogul, which was similar to OOTP but a bit more simple.

  11. Jonathan Lazarus said...

    I’ve been playing OOTP for a long time and also played Baseball Mogul years ago. OOTP is an incredible game for the baseball sim lover. . .I’m currently running a franchise that is now in the year 2069 (and second release) and still going strong.

    Great game made by great developers.

  12. Tom S (again) said...

    To add to this, on the loading screen there are quotes and facts. This Did You Know told me Andy Benes lost the most games during the 90’s.

    Well, in that 1992 simulation I started, guess who threw a perfect game?

    Yup, rewriting history is great.

  13. SG said...

    It’s a wonderful, deep, totally customizable simulation that let’s you play the current season, any past season, or any fictional league you can imagine. And it’s career-based, so you can start in the 1800’s and play baseball history with all of the real players and teams. There’s no controller – you use your brain and not your reflexes. It’s the computer baseball game you always dreamed of. Try the free demo. You’ll be amazed.

  14. Mark Allen said...

    I have been plaing in online leagues with this game since OOTP3.  The game is great and so is the online community.

    The BEST ever league had to be PBRL, which had an almost perfect commish and a dedicated group of core GMS.  It jsut recently ceased operation after 120+ seasons!!!!!!

  15. RichW said...

    I’m a definite fanboy but feel sincerely that this is a game for Baseball lovers. The management aspect is great and continues to improve but this game is for playing baseball in a truly realistic way without getting bogged down (unless you want) with day to day minutia.

    One point of clarification regarding price. Many of the comparables to OOTPB require season disks or team disks or era sets to extend playability. With OOTPB the game comes completely playable and customizable almost without limits. Check out the Dynasty threads on the OOTP forums for a sample of what imaginative players do.

    http://www.ootpdevelopments.com/board/ootp-dynasty-reports/

    Best Regards

  16. John Beamer said...

    “For example, I was in the market for a new third baseman and ideally what I’d like to do is look at all third baggers and then see who I could construct a trade for. However, this option was seemingly unavailable as the trade engine is team-based i.e., you click on a team and select a player in that team. I am sure there is a (no doubt simple) way to do this but from the interface design I cannot find it.”

    Go to the league stats and leaders under the League Menu then filter by position.  Pretty simple.  Yes the game’s interface and complexity can be overwhelming.  But the OOTP forum and community are the most helpful and active bunch of gamers I have ever associated with, not to mention the OOTP development team who regularly post and answer questions.  So, there is never any need to get angry or frustrated with the game since most issues can be resolved with a simple forum search or a detailed question.

    I knew someone would have the answer, it is inconceivable in a game of OOTP’s scope that it wouldn’t be impossible. My point, which still stands, is that these tricks are particularly intuitive especially to a newbie even though it seems obvious when you read the above answer.

    Agree with you that the forums and support are excellent.

  17. John Beamer said...

    Has anyone tried the iPhone/iPad version? I’m curious about how good it is.

    As a teenager I played hours and hours of Baseball Mogul, which was similar to OOTP but a bit more simple

    The ipad version is actually a really cut down version of the PC version. If you have ever played Football Manager on the ipad it is similar to that, in scope, versus the PC version. I have a version on iOS from a couple of years ago – I think you can download the ‘12 version for 99c … so would encourage you to do that if you want to sample

  18. Todd said...

    OOTP 14 is my 4th version that I have purchased. OOTP is the only game that you can customize any way you want. You can have Ewoks, Wookies in a MLB, NFL, or NHL type leagues. You can play with 2 teams or several hundred. OOTP is best after learning all the features. Asking questions on the only forum I have seen where even the game creators will answer you personally. There are mods for everything you can think of for this game that make it much more fun. Uniforms, ballparks, logos, player photos, player facegens, etc. OOTP is the only PC game that I have seen in the last 5 years that is worth playing and the only 1 I have ever seen that lets me play the game my way, whatever way that may be.

  19. Don Bemont said...

    Been playing OOTP since 2001.

    The review might not emphasize the player development engine quite enough.  Players develop pretty much like players do in real life.  Big prospects bust.  Unknowns come from nowhere.  Some established stars go on forever, while others fade by their late 20s… 

    However, this fact puts John’s dynasty in a little different light.  Real life major league baseball players might start on day one with their real abilities and potential, but by the end of a season, you are in an alternate universe.  The longer you go on, the less correlation between the OOTP Neftali Feliz and the flesh and blood Feliz.  Personally, I love it this way.  But for those who find it disconcerting that an OOTP Stephen Strasburg could morph into a mediocrity, you can always make your baseball universe entirely fictional.

    The real fun is found in the online leagues. I’ve been commishing a couple leagues for many years.  http://www.bemont.net/  Trading and competing for free agents works a lot better when you are up against humans!

    This game does a great job with the ammy draft, international amateur finds, and minor league development.  If that’s your cup of tea, then this is the game for you.

  20. dave said...

    I think the author would enjoy a historical league.  I started in 1901 (with OOTP 5) and I am about to start 1969.  I love it!

  21. Mark Geoffriau said...

    Oh man, PureSim Baseball. I remember when it seemed like that project would never be done. I don’t know how long it was in development but it felt like I was reading updates for years.

  22. Jabez54 said...

    There is NO doubt That OOTP is The Gold Standard of PC Baseball games … bar none … the Game is so intense … so deep … so wide … so immersive, there’s nothing like this Baseball Game … nothing comes close … their Mods (face photos, logos, parks, DB and the rest of their tools) – their creators, are so multi-talented – without them, the Game would not be where it stand … if you are stuck or in any way needed help, their Forum are extremely helpful – especially, Markus … one of the best Baseball Developer “friendly”, in time of need …I wouldn’t hesitate in buying this game, as long as, you’re ready to be sunk into the Quicksand of strategies, manipulations and Fun …

    Now to those, who may be overwhelmed, there’s a Purer and Simpler Baseball Game, called PureSim Baseball … IT’s FREE … The Game is easier, along with playing in Career mode … while it cannot rival with the OOTP’s LOAD of Options, but it can rival in ways to play the Game and still have FUN … exhibit the Funship, as in the days of Sandlot, the movie … even able to utilize OOTP Mods, as well …

    So there you have it, one the Gold Standard of PC Baseball – OOTP, ever !!! … and the other … PureSim Baseball -  this Game, is the Best Free Baseball Game, currently on the market …

    and Thats Baseball grin

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