When you have a hot commodity like say, oh I don’t know, an iPhone, there’s a certain pressure to port over whatever successful enterprise you’ve created in order to maximize your profits. This has been a bit of a calling card for certain iOS developers. A company like Capcom sees Street Fighter IV and Dead Rising as important properties on home game consoles, so the decision to port them to a mobile device is a no-brainer.
But there is a flipside to that angle. Street Fighter works as an app game because whether you’re playing it on your couch on a PS3 or on an iPhone while you ride a bus, it’s a game that can be quickly played and put down in a few minutes time.
That same pick up and play mentality does not apply to the recent PC to iOS port of Out of the Park Baseball. For more than 10 years, Out of the Park (or OOTP if you’re monitoring your word count) has been the premier baseball game for fans that truly get into the minutiae and stat tracking of baseball.
I’m talking about a game where you’ll never see a single play with your own eyes. You’ll only read a text based in-game recap overlaid on the only graphics the game has -- a modest overhead view of a baseball field that shows only the most essential information. This is the same game that people each year will call the very best baseball game you can buy, and I’d certainly count myself among that crowd.
Game meant for hardcore baseball stats addicts
For OOTP, the secret is in the spreadsheets. Countless data points for every single player in the game help create accurate representations of what each player would do in a given situation. Even when you’re managing a seemingly forgotten team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, you can say, with reasonable certainty, that if you tell a player with excellent contact ratings in real life to hit and run, you’re likely see more success than if you told him to swing for the fences. It doesn’t sound like much, but for serious baseball nerds, it’s everything.
But given what I’ve just said here about a game that runs not necessarily on action but on intricate, specific details based on a sport where real games take roughly two and a half hours to complete, how can you possibly hope to translate that to an app?
Remarkably, iOOTP Baseball 2011, the first mobile iteration of the OOTP series, does a great job bringing over the best bits of the game by switching its emphasis a bit. And it’s abundantly clear after speaking with Sebastian Palkowski, one of the game’s developers, that the team was completely aware of the sort of hurdles they faced to create a mobile version of their historically hardcore franchise.
“OOTP is often seen as a game for hardcore gamers,” Palkowski acknowledged. “We wanted iOOTP to be a more fun experience that you can play for a few minutes on the bus, while waiting in line for a coffee, or during a rain delay at the ballpark. The hardest part was finding the sweet spot between depth and casual fun.”
Sprinkling it all over the field
Getting to that sweet spot meant jettisoning a lot of what some might consider the bread and butter of the series. There are minor league players but no real minor league seasons. Instead, your minors act as a holding pen for roster changes you might make.
The stats, too, have taken a bit of a back seat. You’ll still find the all the really “essential” stats you’d want in a game, your home runs, ERA, slugging percentage and so forth. But whereas playing OOTP could sometimes feel like advanced class on sports accounting given the amount of spreadsheet data (in a really good way, of course), iOOTP is much more about the in-game experience.
That focus on in-game play is something that Palkowski believes iOOTP will continue to develop as the mobile series continues, as well.
“We have to find a balance between depth and playability,” Palkowski said. “We will not make the game more complex in future versions, we just want it to improve and be more fun to play. I want people to play iOOTP, so editing (in game) or having hundreds of options and settings are out of question for the game.”
In some ways, that makes iOOTP a very different experience from its more hardcore counterpart, but the way it plays out in the game it’s hard to imagine iOOTP any other way. Each game is filled with a tension that your decisions have great weight but, much like the game of baseball, you can only do so much to win the game.
That feeling is expressed expertly in the in-game text play-by-play that tells you basically what is happening at each specific moment of the game. Each time you select an action, like swing away or hit and run, there’s this split second hitch between when you make your selection and when the game registers the result of your choice. It’s strangely exciting. You’re hoping you’ve made the right choice but you find out in a blip of text that somehow conveys the result of each play with such detail it’s almost better than seeing it actually play out.
And while that feeling is present in the PC OOTP too, there’s so much focus on off the field items there that it hits home with greater emphasis in the mobile version. iOOTP can’t spend as much time on the organizational inter-workings outside of the game, so the focus has no choice but to be on the in-game dramatics.
In that way, iOOTP might be my favorite “port” of a video game property that saw its initial success on a different platform. Unlike so many others, it’s not simply recreating a tried and true formula for the sake of some extra sales.
While expressing pride that they were able to take such a dense game and make it palatable for a different, larger audience, It’s clear that the OOTP development team sees their two baseball games as complements to each other rather than just different iterations of the same game.
“iPhone gaming is a great way to get your product into the hands of people who have never heard of you before,” Palowski said. “We wanted a version that captured the spirit of OOTP but was aimed at the more casual user who wanted to enjoy a baseball simulation on the go. iOOTP is not just an advertisement for the desktop game — it is a game that will evolve as its desktop counterpart does.”
For fans of games that might not necessarily seem to work on a mobile platform, it appears the iOOTP team may have crafted a playbook that many others will soon follow.
With iOOTP Baseball 2011, they’ve proven that sometimes you can reinvent the wheel simply by taking a look at it from a different angle. In as many ways as iOOTP Baseball 2011 is similar to PC-forefather, it is an experience all its own, and iPhone gamers are reaping the benefits.