Building a Better Baseball Game: Part II

Building a Better Baseball Game: Part II

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 7/13/2004 for
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A few years ago when I worked for GamePen I wrote an article called Building A Better Baseball Game. It mentioned a number of improvements that could be made in the baseball genre which have since been implemented into today’s baseball games. And while I’m impressed with how far baseball games have advanced in the past couple of years, I can’t help but think that there’s more that could be done to cater to fans.

Foremost, the designers need to start catering more to hardcore fans. How do you do this? Simple, by including the actual MLB umpires. Serious, real fans at the games know names like Angel Hernandez, Ed Montague and John Hirschbeck. Why not include them and their likenesses in the game? And while we’re at it, let’s include their tendencies into the game too. Tailor the strike zone to cater to how the actual official calls the balls and strikes in real life. Some are also more apt than others to throw players out of the game. Give them a temper meter that gauges how upset they are at specific players and managers. When that line is crossed let them throw the players out of the game. Ejections happen almost every single day, it’s about time that they’re better incorporated into our video games. Better yet, when players get ejected let the player choose how he reacts to it. Nothing fires up a team better than an ejection. How about they let players pull a Milton Bradley and toss a bunch of balls onto the field? Then make sure to penalize players for it. Sure it might energize them and bring them back into the game but it might cost that player a suspension. Baseball is a game of consequences and repercussions and players should be able to take a part in that.

Since we’re already including the umpires, it would be nice to see the designers flesh out the player/umpire interaction. Almost everybody in the game argues balls and strikes yet the developers fail to capitalize on this. What if after a strike out you can press a button to dispute a call? Then from there, the umpire (depending on his personality) will take into account your reaction. If his reaction was positive perhaps your strike zone will shrink, if it was negative then it’ll grow. Let the same happen for pitchers. All too often will you see a pitcher walk off the mound for what he thinks is an inning-ending strikeout, only to be called back to the mound by the umpire. While we’re at it, how about batters who head for first base on what they think is ball four only to be called back for strike two? It’s the type of thing that you see in real life, why not in video games?While we’re talking about the strike zone, how about a dynamic strike zone? Real strike zones aren’t imaginary rectangles and they certainly don’t stay consistent for every single batter. What we need is a dynamic strike zone that varies based on the batter at the plate. Because of his crouch, Rickey Henderson had a very tiny strike zone in real life, but in video games his zone is just as large as Carlos Beltran’s. Designers could even give the player the option to play with this feature or without it. Hell, get QuesTec in on the whole shebang. Throw the cameras into the game and add another layer of realism to it all.

Real fans know how much strategy there is in the game of baseball. There’s much more strategy than just pitcher/batter and fielding match-ups. One of the most overlooked and underappreciated portions of the game come from the pitcher’s delivery. There are certain situations where pitching from the wind-up is more logical than the stretch, even when there are runners on base. For this we propose that video games allow players to choose whether they’d like to throw from the stretch or the wind-up. Whenever a runner is on base in a videogame the pitcher will always throw from the stretch, regardless of the situation. But what if there are two outs and there’s runners on second and third? There’s no need to hold the runners on because the primary concern of the pitcher in this situation is to get the out at the plate. There are other situations where this is pertinent as well. What if I’ve got a slow lumberer like Jason Giambi on first and there’s two outs? Few teams would even bother to hold Giambi on at first base, so why should they confirm to the stretch? This isn’t a major addition but it’s one of the little things that hardcore fans would welcome with open arms.

Some of the games are offering you the chance to fill the role of GM, why not give them some real expenses to worry about it? Team not doing well? How about you pull some funds from the field upkeep and put it into some new whirlpools? Then you’ll have to worry about the condition of the field. Let it slide too much and other teams will complain to the league office which will result in a penalty. It would also be nice to see a travel budget added to the list of expenses. Remember that scene in Major League where the guys fly on that beat up old plane and are too tired to play the next day? Make the stingy GMs who follow suit pay by lowering the stamina of players until the next game. Want to make the team travel from Boston to New York by bus? Make Curt Schilling start with 70 percent stamina, that’ll make you think twice about pinching pennies where it counts.In my last article I brought up something I called a confidence meter which gauged how well players would play based on their performance. 989 Sports tried to include this in their MLB franchise but the incorporation was a little weaker than I would have liked. I feel that more should be done to exploit this since it’s such a huge part of the game of baseball. If a pitcher is getting shelled out there you can’t realistically expect him to retain his pinpoint precision. Rattle him a little bit; make the pitching cursor shake as the player’s trying to aim. It’ll help to recreate the nervousness and fatigue that the pitcher is currently going through.

Major League Baseball’s marketing pros absolutely love rivalries. It gets the fans going, and most importantly, it puts more people in the seats. That’s the reason why the interleague play was started and it’s the reason that video games need to take advantage of this. Again, MVP Baseball 2004 tried to incorporate this facet but the feature never was fully fleshed out. Things need to change when huge rivals go at it. Fans need to become more ferocious and tempers need to start flaring between the teams. Being at Dodger stadium while the Reds are in town is one thing, but being there when Barry Bonds and the hated Giants are there is another. Fans get more energized and excitable during these outings. I once lost my voice because I was doing so much heckling at Barry Bonds.

Marketers also like a good player rivalry. In fact this year’s All-Star buzz seems to be built around the Piazza-Clemens rivalry from a few years back. EA’s already done something like this with its NASCAR Thunder franchise, there’s no reason why it can’t keep track of something like this in a baseball game. Let’s say you bean a player repeatedly, maybe next game he’ll be more prone to charge the mound. Or maybe if you anger him his ability to hit the ball will go up. These are plenty of options that the developers can play with. Incorporating something like an aggression meter might be pertinent to the situation.

There are plenty of other things that we’d like to see in next year’s baseball games, but we’ll leave those suggestions up to you. Email us your suggestions and we’ll include them in a separate feature. Afterwards we’ll pass them along to all of the major developers.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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