Skip to main content

Out of the Park Baseball 13 Review

Releasing a new sports game every year isn’t easy. The large publishers jump through hoops to get gamers to pay attention to their annual releases, trying to lasso them into buying yet another $60 upgrade to a game that they bought a year ago. At the very least those publishers can tout fancier graphics and smoother animations. Yeah it’s the same game but check out those grass textures!

What about text sims?

You can make the argument that hyping a yearly release of a game that is at its heart a glorified spreadsheet with an interface is an even tougher challenge. Yet games like Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) continue to do just that.

With OOTP 13, Out of the Park Developments had some work to do. I’ve played every version of this game since OOTP 4, dutifully upgrading every year and porting my solo and my online league over to the latest version. Last year, my long running online league ported our OOTP 11 game into version 12 and was immediately met with problems, bugs, frustrations, and more importantly, I was left with a league filled with owners who were none too thrilled with dropping another $30 or $40 bucks on an upgrade that simply wasn’t worth it and even though I spend nearly every day using the OOTP 12 software, it wasn’t the upgrade I had hoped to receive.

Thankfully, OOTP 13 is that upgrade. While by no means perfect, this is far and away the best OOTP release since OOTP 6. Of course it’s still effectively the same game – it’s hardcore text based baseball with all of the nuts and bolts that entails, but the interface‘s improvements are immediately noticeable not only from a speed standpoint but from a navigation one as well.

There is a mountain of data in OOTP and allowing users to effectively sift through it takes great care when developing the interface. I had grown so accustomed to the OOTP 11 and 12 interface that I was blind to the fact that the UI simply wasn’t very good. OOTP 13 changes all of that. It looks better, is cleaner and easier to find what you need and is remarkably faster. Some are just tweaks – like being able to sort the draft or free agent pools by “all outfielders” or “all relief pitchers” rather than having closers and middle men on separate pages. Others are more significant like the brilliant Team Home Screen which is littered with important and interesting bits of info about your club. There was a home screen in OOTP 12 but it was a mess of data.

OOTP 12:

OOTP 13:

The minor league arrows are back (finally) that shows GMs at a glance who is ready to move up or down in a minor league system without the hassle of looking at a separate screen. Even the individual player screen is cleaner with more info packed on one page – the fewer clicks you force on users in a game like this the better.

One new feature that I didn’t expect to enjoy but now can’t live without in my solo league is the real time simulation engine. Basically it allows you to do your usual stuff – check standings, browse lineups, look at stats or whatever while the game is running in the background and you’ll see scores change in real time along the top of the screen. You can speed up this process or slow it down to literal real time but seeing your league play out in this manner is terribly immersive. This is particularly true late in the year when you need a specific team to lose a game. In the past you’d simply sim the games and see the final score. Here it creates drama to the pennant chase. (Hopefully this can be tweaked to work with online leagues…)

There’s also some general clean up that is appreciated – the game now handles the Rule V draft properly and players who were drafted and cut are returned to their team of origin. Player creation is better and you’ll see fewer fast players with home run power who somehow lack the ability to hit a double. You’ll also see fewer players who hit for high average and power but strikeout 200 times a year.

The CPU AI remains hit and miss and you’ll notice some seemingly bizarre moves both in game and during the off season with contracts – even though the trade AI is significantly better this year. Also improved is the in-game engine as more players score from 1st base on a double and things are not as station-to-station on the base paths. Still, further CPU GM AI is needed in certain areas and I’m still no fan of some of the in-game play by play text, although that is admittedly a minor quibble.

Still, with the inclusion of real life rookies randomly showing up in a league (a feature I love for my fictional solo league), a stat engine that is markedly improved, and an interface that is far less intimidating, for solo OOTP players this is an easy sell. It’s the best the series has been in years and you’d be crazy not to upgrade if you’re still playing an older version.
Let me put it this way: My solo league uses version 13 and my online league still uses 12 and every time I go back into version 12 to do online league stuff I can’t wait to exit and get back to the new game. It’s that much of a difference.

Granted, this review is mostly dealing with solo league play. Our online league is waiting to move to version 13 after we finish our current season and I’ll talk more about online play at that time. But for solo play? Even though they are different games, I’d rather play OOTP 13 than MLB: The Show or MLB2Kx to get my baseball fix – and it’s not really close.

And for that reason I’m giving OOTP 13 the very first ever No High Scores High Score Award.

Out of the Park Baseball 13 Preview

When I sit back and think about it, I have probably spent more time over the years playing Out of the Park Baseball than any other game. That might sound odd, and honestly it surprises me, too – the fact that I have spent so much time playing a text based statistical spreadsheet baseball game more than any other piece of software.

It’s true, though.

I got hooked on OOTP years ago with the release of version 4. Since then I have organized and played the “commissioner” role in a couple of online leagues, the most recent started with the release of OOTP 10 and has continued through versions 11 and 12. We have played over a decade’s worth of baseball in our league, forming our own rivalries, dynasties, cellar dwellers, player and owner personalities, and creating our own sense of baseball history. It’s fascinating stuff.

I spend nearly every single day, in some capacity, playing OOTP. That can be either simulating a week’s worth of games, talking to other owners about trades, tweaking my own team’s lineup or pitching rotation, scouting the free agent pool for overlooked youngsters, or just chatting with other owners over Google Chat.

Some days I will spend 15 minutes with the game, on other days I’ll spend over an hour. Fact is, I know OOTP like my old, oiled up baseball glove and I still contend that in this sort of format OOTP takes games like The Show and MLB 2K and whacks them on the noggin’ like a Goose Gossage fastball.

But OOTP is also starting to suffer a bit from what big name publishers deal with: namely, justifying a yearly purchase of a new game that is essentially a modest upgrade over what they already own; there’s also the issue that most OOTP releases don’t hit their stride until months after release when the patches are issued and the kinks are ironed out.

My online league owners, for example, are pretty much split on whether to switch to OOTP 13 when it drops in April. In fact, I’m almost certain that we won’t switch until we’re all sure the game works as intended and is really ready for league play. We switched to OOTP 12 almost immediately after release and that didn’t go over too well. So we’re going to play the waiting game this time.

My hope is that there are no immediate issues when OOTP 13 drops next month as I have been playing a beta of the new game and I like a lot of what developer Markus Heinsohn has done with this version – even if most of the initial features are more focused on solo leagues rather than online play. That said, I converted our OOTP 12 online league into OOTP 13 without a hitch; a good sign to be sure.

The first thing I noticed, obviously, was the new interface. OOTP changes interfaces like I change shirts. However, this time the UI seems more functional and design savvy than in the past. I have grown so accustomed to the game’s UI that I tend to overlook its issues. Show the UI of OOTP 12 to a new player and they cringe in fear – and I’m talking about game developers who have an idea about how to design an interface. It can be an unwieldy beast.

Version 13 makes some simple yet effective changes to the interface, even small things like combining the potential player ratings and the current ratings into one screen. The interface is less cluttered looks cleaner, and is easier to navigate. There are still menus and sub menus and reams of data that you have to sort through but at least it’s all easier to find now. There’s also a new team home page with a lot of great info packed into one easy to read screen.

One of the biggest additions to this year’s game is Real Time Sim mode. Currently this is just a solo play feature although online leagues should get a taste of this in a future update. The idea is that when you activate RTS mode you see the day’s games play out on one screen in real time. As painful as that may sound (baseball is a somewhat measured pace sport) you can increase the game speed up to 300x to get things moving. The thinking here is that you can see important games play out in front of you, which adds a level of tension when an important game in Boston takes place the same time as your game in Cleveland and you need Boston to lose to get a leg up in the race.

Is this something that many will use when it’s the middle of July and their team is 12 games out of first? Not likely. However, the final week of the season when you are battling for a playoff spot – RTS mode can add a ton of drama to a race. It may not be something I use every week but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless. I really hope this gets added for online play as we’ll certainly use it.

Trade AI has always been a sticking point with a lot of OOTP solo players and 13 is trying to make one-sided deals a lot more difficult to pull off. Trade AI has been an issue in every sports game ever made and so far version 13 looks to do a pretty good job of making your life as GM a little tougher. Even one for one deals are tough. CPU GMs want stuff in return, imagine that.

I am, however, still concerned with some of the AI front office moves. After converting our league over to the new version and turning every team to AI control, I saw a lot of BIG name players in our league turn into free agents rather than be re-signed by teams with ample funds and a reputation for winning. Sure, that can happen in real life (Albert Pujols) but I saw a lot of 4 and 5 star free agents available which was a bit of a surprise. Maybe those players simply wanted to be frees agents? Certainly possible. Maybe I was just upset to see great players on my own team leave for pastures that couldn’t possibly be as green – we breed champions in Jefferson City, damn it.

There are other tweaks to the OOTP formula that might sound small but in fact are huge to those who play regularly.

Player generation is vastly improved both for the rookie draft as well as general player creation. In the past OOTP would generate some players that could only exist in a videogame. Specifically players who could run like Hayes, hit like Mays, but had no “Gap Power” so you’d see guys with blazing speed, vicious home run power, and a lack of Gap Power so they’d hit 10 doubles a year, steal 50 bases and hit 40 homers. Those players simply do not exist in the real world and now they do not exist in OOTP.

The rookie draft is no longer plagued with an overabundance of Middle Relief pitchers, much to the delight of everyone in my league. Now most pitchers enter as Starting Pitchers, and you’ll have to decide where they belong. In addition, in the rookie drafts that I saw when testing version 13 there are more highly rated players which leads to more early round busts, something with which OOTP has always struggled. In our 2020 draft, for example, my scout saw 64 players rated at least 3 out of 5 stars. That was unheard of in the old games as by the end of the first round we’d all be drafting 2 star projects.

New CBA rules are in place which allow for additional playoff structures and the removal of certain types of Type A/B free agents. A small addition, sure, but one that is welcome nevertheless.

The new storyline feature is worth mentioning as in the old games the storylines were sort of goofy. “John Smith hurt his hand mowing the lawn” and stuff like that. Cute, but pointless. The idea was to add some flavor to a league, which was nice and all but it had very little actual impact – an injured player is an injured player. Now, the storylines are interactive. John Smith is now a team cancer, throwing water coolers around in the dugout and calling teammates out for making errors and generally acting like a jackass.

Now OOTP asks: what do you DO with John Smith? Ignore him? Fine him? Suspend him? Trade him? This adds actual gameplay to the storyline idea and gives players more personality in the process which is something that is overdue; it asks you to make tougher decisions that may not be solely baseball stat related.

Finally, something I have always wanted to see in a baseball game is the Random Historical Player Debut feature . I love old time baseball, and just like in earlier versions you can play OOTP as an historical sim, importing any year in baseball history and starting from there. That’s nothing new. However, having Ty Cobb randomly show up in your league in 1975? Sign me up for that. You can even use these players in other league formats. I love, love this idea.

There’s actually a lot of new stuff in OOTP 13 and much of it a tweak here or a fine tune there. The big question, and what really is the essential question, is how will the release go? If OOTP 13 ships without a hitch and only a smattering of issues pop up then both solo players and online league owners should jump at it. It’s clearly a better game than version 12. If not, it’s going to be best to wait until it’s humming along as intended.

So far so good…