Of all the game releases anyone might need a reminder about, an annual sports series seems unlikely to be jostling for a space at the front of the queue. Out of the Park Baseball [official site] is different though. It's different because baseball isn't a popular pastime or even part of the cultural background in many parts of the world. It's different because it's one of the most in-depth and customisable simulations of anything ever. Out of the Park isn't the Football Manager of baseball sims, it's the Dwarf Fortress. To explain why, I'll tell you about the three games I started when I downloaded the new version last night.
Out of the Park has three modes. You can play with the upcoming MLB season's opening day rosters, start with any historical MLB league from 1871 onwards, or create fictional leagues to play with. As I do every year, I've started one game in each mode. This year, I'll be playing each one in a different fashion to the next.
1) In the present day league I'll be attempting to take the New York Mets to the World Series because I am a stubborn fool.
2) The historical league will start in 1871 and I'll switch off all of the checks that balance player progression with reality so that my eventual 2015 league is a complete alternate history of baseball. I'll mostly be simulating the process rather than playing as a specific franchise but I'll jump in from time to time when a particular team looks like it has hit an interesting spot in its development. OOTP's Commissioner Mode lets you take control of teams at any time if you want to play around with the simulation model rather than challenging yourself or roleplaying an actual manager.
3) My fictional league is the British Baseball League. It begins with two subdivisions, each containing four teams. They're split between North and South, and I'm taking charge of the Manchester Monsoon. The start date is 2015 when an unknown benefactor has decided to fund the construction of ballparks in eight major cities, and has spurred on the creation of a major, televised British league. OOTP can simulate rule changes, drafts and, most excitingly for my fictional league, expansions. That means there's the possibility that by 2035 we'll have sixteen or twenty four teams across Britain as the sport takes hold.
Alongside the usual simulation and UI improvements, additions this year include full MLB licensing, smarter in-game strategy selections, and improved intelligence and personalities for AI coaches. The new feature that I'll probably make most use of is a GM mode that I'm probably going to apply to my New York Mets game. That'll allow me to concentrate on trades and staff management while leaving gameday to the AI.
I should also admit that I was childishly excited when I realised I could click a button to load up Google Earth and see the logos of my fictional teams planted on the cities their ballparks are located in. Needless to say, I'm tempted to create an entire global system of leagues with a genuine World Series at the end of each season. I'm not even sure if that's possible but I'm determined to try. And by try, I mean download someone else's hard work in the form of a mod.