Saturday, November 17, 2012

The evolution of baseball video games

Yep. That's a baseball game.
Yesterday we posted a list of some of our favorite baseball video games. I've always felt baseball is one of the most video-game friendly sports and one of the easiest to sort of replicate in the virtual world. A lot of people love their Madden and NBA games, which I like to, but baseball has always been the go-to game for me.

Now as promised, here is a timeline of the evolution of baseball video games through my eyes and thumbs. In other words, these are the most prominent games that I remember playing from my years as a kid up till now. They may or may not have been the most popular games at the time, but I spent hours upon hours playing them and keeping track of my seasons and stats. For frame of reference, I was born in 1987 so there will be plenty of games before my time that I probably don't even know about which aren't on this list. There will be plenty of other games missing from my timeline of course too, so please comment with what games would have been on your timeline. It's a fun way to reminisce about your childhood.

*As a disclaimer, I haven't purchased a new game since 2010 and probably won't for quite a while now that I never seem to have much time for anything since I'm all "grown up" whatever that means. I can't wait till I have kids old enough to play them.

1992 - Legends of the Diamond

Alright. I'm getting off to a bad start here because I actually didn't play this game till much after it was released. It is not the first baseball game I remember playing. I remember borrowing this from a friend in the late 90s and playing it. It was so awesome though. I wanted to include a game for the original NES system though and this one is it. Most of my NES-playing days were reserved for Super Mario Bros. 3 and the gold-cartridged The Legend of Zelda. I never played Legends to the extent that I played any other baseball game so I couldn't tell you a whole lot about it. It was pretty simple though. Pitch, hit, run, catch, and throw and the rosters consisted of all of the most famous baseball players in history up to 1992, hence the title of the game.

1993 - RBI Baseball '93

Now this is the game that marked the birth of my love for baseball video games. I can remember exactly how we got this game too. My brothers and I had gotten an Indiana Jones game for Sega Genesis, I think, for Christmas and it pretty much sucked. A couple weeks later we had to drop our mom off at the airport and then we stopped at the mall and exchanged that terrible game for the glorious one that is RBI '93. The gameplay was simple, yet fun and the graphics and sounds were fairly decent for the time I guess. You could play as any team from the 1990 season, or any playoff team from like 1983 and on, with some All-Star teams included as well.

There was no franchise or real season mode, but there was a mode where you could pick one team and play every other team on the game. Another of my favorite modes related to a fantasy draft. Each player could compose their team of any of the players from any of the other teams to make their "dream team" and face off. There was also the classic home run derby and you were able to pick the speed of the pitch. My favorite though was the defensive practice where the computer would basically hit the ball to certain areas of the field and you had to make the play. There were a limited number of places the ball would go so you kind of knew, but you still had to get there and there were about two or three outs you just could never get because your fielder wasn't fast enough or couldn't throw hard enough. The best was the home run ball hit to straight-away center field that you could hit the C-button to leap and catch.

As far as actual in-game play, your pitchers looked exactly the same and were just either left-handed or right-handed. Some could throw harder than others and had more stamina, but they all threw the same pitches. Down + A was a fastball. Up + A was a change-up. You could somewhat control the path of the ball with left and right. A+C was a spitball. Two of those got your pitcher ejected. There were three types of models for batters: fast guys, contact hitters, and power hitters. The fast guys were small and crouched in their batting stances. The contact hitters were in kind of a sitting position with their backs straight, while twirling the barrels of their bats. Power hitters were just huge muscular dudes that stood straight up and rested the bat on their shoulder. It was a lot of fun.

1996 - Ken Griffey Jr's Winning Run
You've played this game, right? Who hasn't? How could you not? It was at the height of Ken Griffey Jr's popularity. This game was pretty awesome. Maybe it's because of my affinity for The Kid, but I just really loved this game, despite the game being unable to use any name but his. All the teams were real, but all of the players had made up names (except Griffey Jr.), though a lot of the players were said to represent actual players. You could play as any of the 28 teams in existence at the time, and there was a bonus feature where you could unlock the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks who both had been awarded the rights to a franchise at the time. Both of those teams didn't play their first game until 1998.

The graphics on this game were much richer than they had previously been. It was the first game I had to have a full-season mode and I played a lot of seasons on it. I always used the Mariners because they had Griffey Jr. and I don't think you were able to trade for him or else I would have been the Reds. That doesn't mean I didn't trade for a bunch of other players though to make an All-Star team more or less. The only caveat was that each player was assigned a value/rating and you could only trade a player for another player within four points of his value, whether higher or lower. That made it hard to trade your 60 leadoff hitter for an 80. It was easy enough to overcome though. Trade your 60 player for a 64 player, then trade that player for a 68 player and so on and so forth. I think there was a limit to how many trades you could make though. I kept some of original lineup though because I liked them for some reason, mainly SS Rich Arias. He wasn't that good, but he seemed to always get a big hit for me, so I always kept him. I always made sure to trade for Will Hill from the Reds also because he threw a nasty knuckleball.

Speaking of pitchers, they all had the same three pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) and a special pitch. The special pitches were super fastball, knuckleball, screwball, super curve, slider, and a better changeup. There were a couple different models of batting stance depending on a batter's specialty, be it speed, contact, or power, unless the hitter was Ken Griffey Jr. and then you got the sweet stance and swing that he owned. Oh, and I can't forget about the umpires, namely the one at home plate. If you were inactive for too long while pitching and didn't pause the game, the umpire would turn around, tap on your screen, and yell, "Play the game, kid!"

1999 - Wheaties Triple Play '99
Ok, so there is an actual version of EA Sports Triple Play '99 and there is the Wheaties version. I'm pretty sure I got this for free from a Wheaties box or by sending in some upc symbols or something. This was a computer game and during my N64 era. I didn't play much baseball on the N64, but I did own this abridged Wheaties version of Tiple Play '99 and played it with some regularity. It was fun enough. It was a time when graphics seemed to be taking a turn for the better, but there were some growing pains. Everything looked good, but the gameplay was a little choppy. This probably had something to do with my computer too I'm sure.

I seem to remember liking the controls and once I figured out how to hit a home run, I became unstoppable against AI opponents. Without question, however, the most fun part of the game was that fielders could run into each other, instead of doing like a ghost and running through each other like they do on most games. This normally put you at a disadvantage because you always dropped the ball when you ran into another fielder, but it was hilariously fun and the collisions were fantasic. Sometimes when you're up double-digit runs and getting a little bored, it provides a little comic relief to come up with a 6-4-3 head-on collision.

2005 - MVP Baseball 2005
I won't bore you with the details on this one, since this post is so long already. Graphics and gameplay got a lot better by this time. Jimmi covered this one in yesterday's post so go read that. I actually played more '04 than '05, but not much difference there I'd imagine.

2006 - Wii Baseball

There's not much to explain here. Surely you know what Wii baseball is. It was packaged as part of Wii Sports when you bought a Nintendo Wii. There's no MLB teams or players, but it's baseball. You swing the controller and the player swings the bat or pitches the ball. It was pretty revolutionary stuff that has since been incorporated into all the new gaming systems. Fact of the day: I only owned my Wii for 15 days.

2010-present - MLB 10: The Show

I know the most recent game would be MLB 12, and there's going to be a MLB 13 next year, and MLB The Show games really started in 2006, but this is the one I owned. My college roomate had MLB 07 and I played it, but like I said, this is the last one I purchased and it's my timeline so that's that. To me, these games have become the epitome of baseball video games. They are so realistic and fun to play.

The Road to the Show feature lets you control one player for an entire career, so you can't completely control the outcome of games or a team's success unless you're a starting pitcher who can hit multiple home runs a game too. That's probably about the only way. It skips anything in the game that doesn't involve your player though, so you're able to get through seasons much quicker. The feature is so in-depth that it features both Double-A and Triple-A teams where you start your career. To be honest, I don't even bother with the other modes of the game, except an occasional home run derby.

My least favorite part of the game is the baserunning. The camera angles change depending on what base you're at and where the ball is, but it's hard to keep your player running continuously to compensate for the changing angle. It will cause your runner to stop in the middle of the base path or start going backwards and then inevitably get thrown out. Also the game doesn't know what a hit-and-run is apparently. These things get pretty frustrating and can hold your player back, but the game overall is still really fun and worth it. I don't know if these things have been fixed or changed in the newer versions of the game.

Well there you have it: a timeline of the evolution of baseball through my eyes and thumbs. Are these the same games on your timeline? If not, post yours in the comments so we can all compare.

Lastly, you'll be really upset with me because I could have just posted the below four-minute video and saved you the time of reading through my whole post. It just wouldn't have been the same though. Sorry.

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