Written by: Rik

Date posted: April 29, 2012

Note: this is a discussion review, which is, at the time of writing, a new development on FFG (see here for more information). You could say we needed to pool our knowledge of the subject matter for this one, although two lots of not very much still results in quite a bit of ignorance, for which we offer sincere apologies – particularly to American readers, baseball fans, or anyone hoping for some informed coverage of this particular game.

 

PRE-GAME

Where’s the ball? No wonder we kept missing.

Rik: So, Hardball III was your choice. Care to elaborate on your reasons?

Stoo: Well, I felt like trying something a bit different for both of us. You play sport games but not baseball so much, and any kind of sport is new ground for me. The only sport game I ever played extensively was Puma World Football. My thinking was you’d have a slight headstart just due to playing more games involving dudes waving bats at balls, if not this particular sport.

Rik: I did briefly own Hardball 4, before realising it was a mistake to buy it in the first place. I guess I have the slight edge, although you lived in the States for a bit, which evens us up a bit, I reckon.

Stoo: Actually, a baseball match is the one professional sporting event I ever attended. Shamefully, I can’t even remember who was playing, although I think one side must have been New York. Or maybe New Jersey. ‘Cos that’s where we lived.

Rik: Essentially, though, neither of us know all that much about baseball.

Stoo: I have no animosity towards it and certainly don’t regard any UK sports as superior. I just know nothing beyond “hit ball, run for it”.

 

PLAY BALL

Stoo: I’ve only had limited time to play so I could probably improve with practice but so far getting mostly thrashed. I could pin down several things I either find tricky or don’t fully understand but what do you think let you down in particular?

Rik: I did okay in terms of winning matches, but I’d have to say that I didn’t swing the bat with much success. I know hitting a big slug out of the park is supposed to be fairly rare, but I don’t think I managed it once in about 15 games. I found I could still piece together some scores, but never with a big hit. I didn’t exactly have a strategy as such. You pick the type of shot before the ball is pitched, so you’re already committed to power, normal or bunt, and when I connected I didn’t find I had much control over direction at all.

Stoo: That bit where you select low or outside or high/outside etc – did you figure that out? I think it’s something to do with where you’re expecting the ball to reach you, like, nearer your feet or to one side or something like that?

Rik: I tried different strategies, but I can’t say I really got the hang of it.

Stoo: Me neither. I just ended up selecting POWERRRR (whilst saying that in a Jeremy Clarkson voice), then a random direction.

Rik: I always missed with POWER(RRR). Or usually did anyway. I alternated between trying a strategy with the direction of hitting, and going random, depending on how tired I was.

Stoo: I think bunting might be useful if there’s a guy waiting on third base – like, a very conservative hit that just gives enough time for him to make it.

Rik: Yeah, I had some success with the bunt. Although you look like a bit of an arse if you miss.

Stoo: I don’t miss too much, which surprises me as I have no reflexes to speak of, but my asshole batters do like knocking it out of bounds.

Rik: Did you keep the ‘pitch to center’ option on?

Stoo: Erm…

Rik: (I think it’s on by default)

Stoo: In which case, yes. So we’ve established I’m probably even worse at this than I thought! I guess you’re meant to watch what sort of balls the pitcher is sending you’re way, then adjust your direction choices accordingly.

Rik: In terms of reading the flight of the ball, I actually quite liked that aspect of it. That’s something that’s missing from a lot of cricket games – the need to actually watch the ball and where it’s going. Usually you get to see the bowling marker on the pitch before the bowler even runs up, which obviously you don’t get in real cricket, thus removing most of the challenge of batting. Here though, the main thing that seemed odd to me was choosing the strength of shot beforehand.

Stoo: I found the fielding quite tricky.

Rik: I turned auto-fielding on, I have to admit. When fielding was on manual, I basically couldn’t do it. At all.

Close calls at the base prompt these inset shots.

Stoo: I think I had it on manual as I had a guy highlighted in yellow who I had to control. What got me was he’d be chasing the ball, I’d think he’d got it, I’d hit “throw”, but he doesn’t have it yet so instead the button selects another nearby fielder, so you get a few seconds panic and faffing.

Rik: That’s the kind of thing that made me switch to auto. But even putting it on automatic it can be troublesome. Although they field automatically, you still have to choose which base to throw to. I found if one of your baseman ran off to get the ball and then back to base, he didn’t seem to effect a run-out (or whatever it’s called). So I’d hit a button out of frustration/panic and then, of course, he’d chuck it to another baseman with the batter still miles away.

Stoo: I noticed you have a pitching option to not even actually pitch and sort of fake it, wait for someone to try and steal, then lob it to a baseman. The AI runners sort of edge a bit towards the next base when awaiting a pitch, but I’m not sure at what point they’re “committed” and can’t just retreat back to that base. And of course you can order your own guys to try stealing when you’re batting.

Rik: When the bases are loaded (is that a genuine baseball expression? [Yes – FFG researcher]), I find it can be chaos. I panic whether I’m batting or fielding. Quite often I found the batter running to first and the guy on first not moving, because you have to tell him to run to second.

Stoo: Yeah, your guy can’t run if there’s nowhere to run *to*, I guess. Can you control runners other than the dude who just hit?

Rik: When you connect with the ball, the batter runs to first automatically, but then you’re supposed to control all of the others manually. Although you only have one set of controls, so exactly which one you’re controlling at any one time is a bit of a mystery. I generally didn’t find it a problem, though: just kept forgetting to send my guy already on first to second. I did however find it quite hard to judge a run. I don’t think the game does a good job of giving you a sense of how big the stadium is. I can’t think of a good way to put this, but…basically, when you hit it far, it actually goes further than the graphics seem to show.

Stoo: Right, I see what you mean. Instead of fielders actually looking further away they just seem to move slower.

Rik: It’s quite a clumsy way of conveying distance. Throws near the bases are quick and zippy, but further away they’re much slower and loopier.

 

CHISELLED GUYS WITH MOUSTACHES

No moustache, admittedly, but check out those pearly whites.

Rik: Otherwise, though, I thought the presentation was quite good.

Stoo: I was impressed that it has commentary. I wasn’t expecting that from a 1992 game. It’s very obviously pieced together from short clips…

Rik: STOPPED by the SECOND baseMAN…

Stoo: Hi! I’m AL MIchael! WELcome back to\ HardBALL 3. With a little pause as if there might be multiple options for what he’s welcoming us back to.

Rik: It does seem that there are gaps where it makes no sense to have one, like different parts of the same word have even been recorded separately. Even when he says the name of the game, it seems kind of chopped up. The commentary in Hardball 4 used a similar method. I remember thinking, this is a pretty stupid way to record the commentary. And that one was on CD so it really didn’t make much sense to do it like that.

Stoo: I hope we’re not mocking some legend of baseball here. American readers, we’re just kidding.

Rik: It seems likely. I’ll find out before we post anything. [Note: Moderate research suggests he’s a legend of sports broadcasting, although, bizarrely more associated with American Football than baseball.]

Stoo: Otherwise, I think for a 1992 game it’s fine. VGA, jangly midi music…

Rik: I did notice that this was developed by Mindspan, who also brought us Summer Challenge and Winter Challenge. The presentation is recognisably similar…quite often I’d see a portrait of the guy I’d spent many hours trying to guide through the biathlon. They all seemed to be chiselled guys with moustaches.

Stoo: Heh, I take it they’re not real life players then?

Rik: I don’t think so. Even if the names are, the pictures aren’t.

 

THE BOTTOM OF THE 9TH

Exactly what’s happening here, we couldn’t tell you.

Rik: So, overall impressions? I sort of had fun with it, then I discovered just how many games there are in a season.

Stoo: I just played one-off matches…I take it a season takes a while?

Rik: It’s about 10,000 games. [More like 92 – FFG Researcher].

Stoo: You’d have to want to play for several hours a day to get through that in a reasonable time, and really I couldn’t see myself being that motivated.

Rik: It’s hard to tell whether it’s the game, or baseball itself, which would stop me from playing for so long. Generally in sports games, the motivation to “get the hang of things” is what keeps you going, and can sustain you through even fairly average titles. But the best ones are the ones you want to keep playing and master.

Stoo: Did you feel you were getting the hang of this one?

Rik: I felt like I knew what I was doing a little more than when I started. But to be honest, after a certain point I didn’t think I was actually getting any better at the game. Ideally, you’d have occasional good moments that you’d aim to repeat more consistently, but I’m not sure I made much progress, and my batting seemed to get worse.

Stoo: I think, and this goes as a general point in gaming, you need to know what difference your actions are making – what output comes from a given input. When you can’t tell, it becomes frustrating.

Rik: Yep, that’s what I would have said if I could use words properly. It might be that baseball isn’t a particularly easy sport to translate. A parallel, that I understand, would be cricket. A common failing of cricket games is the randomness of wickets falling. You don’t know what you did wrong, if anything, or whether the game just decided you were out. Here, I’m not convinced there’s a way to master the batting so that you’re hitting it consistently well. It might be that you get better with practice, or you just drive yourself insane trying to figure out a formula.

Stoo: Maybe baseball is just more random like that. I wonder if it’s something to do with striking the ball with basically a cylinder instead of a flat surface *pure speculation*. So how would you rate it against say aged cricket games?

Rik: Probably about the same in terms of longevity. The main problem with most cricket games is that bowling is boring. Pitching is slightly less so, although again I didn’t have a strategy as such, I just mixed things up and tried to stick with what worked. The quick turnaround of innings in baseball is certainly one positive over a cricket game, though.

Stoo: Fielding is basically something that doesn’t take you forward, you’re just trying to stop the other team from making too much progress. So in a basic psychological sense it’s less exciting – you don’t want to be at it for hours.

Rik: That said, 9 innings still involves quite a bit of fielding, even if it’s not all in one go. Any other thoughts?

Stoo: I’m wondering if a more modern game would be more accessible to someone like me, or if I’m just intrinsically bad at this kind of thing!

Rik: I’m not sure we see new baseball games over here. I don’t think they bother releasing them.

Stoo: Well there’s…Out of the Park Baseball 9 on Steam?

Rik: I think that’s a management game.

Stoo: Ahh, so it is.

Rik: I’ve heard good things about it on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. It looks kind of stat heavy. But apparently baseball’s a stats game.

Stoo: I guess we don’t have the frame of reference to compare this to other baseball games. For what it’s worth I had some fun, just not enough to want to stick with it until I become competent.

Rik: I’d agree with that. It’s difficult for me to judge against other baseball games, but from a newcomer’s point of view, although it’s playable enough, after a certain point my curiosity had been satisfied.