This article originally appeared in issue 244 of PC Gamer UK. Written by Ben Wilson.
The acronym OotP isn't as widely known as GTA, WoW, or FM. But Out of the Park Baseball is to the pastime of home runs, stolen bases and umpire ejections what Football Manager is to the sport of goals, millionaire tantrums and early England exits from tournaments.
Devotees scream that it does text-based sports simulation even better than its big-name, bigger-budget counterpart, and its reach is no longer confined to North America: annual releases are hoovered up by gamers worldwide.
With this year's release of Out of the Park 13, the game has come a long way from its very basic beginnings in 1999. It goes way deeper than the core values of trading for players, selecting rosters, and playing matches by tapping the spacebar to advance to the next at-bat.
Now you get to participate in interactive storylines, where you're forced into taking action when players talk to the media. You get to experience improved UI that presents you with an overwhelming array of stats and facts at every turn, rather than being obliged to cycle through screen after screen just so you can check out one of your player's finer details. Then there's the new option to play games in real-time (three hours per match!), and enhanced online leagues, updated rosters, and everything else you'd expect from an annual update.
Basically, it's a baseball addict's wildest dream. Given that the one thing I love more than staring at a large screen with mouse in hand is heading over to the States to catch my beloved Red Sox in action, you'd think it'd be the only game I need. At least until OotP 14 comes out.
But you'd be wrong.
You see: I've never played OotP 13. Or 12. Or even 11. I won't even download the demos. Because instead of enjoying its wonderfully authentic (yet still totally virtual) world of AVGs and OBPs and VORPs, it would only leave me wallowing in a fog of heartbreak.
Let me elaborate. My first real dalliance with OotP came in early 2008, when I picked up that year's edition (8, if you're keeping score) on the recommendation of a fellow gamer-cum-US-sports-addict. For weeks, I was hooked, lost in a world where I could correct every silly Red Sox management decision, and go after the MLB players I'd always dreamed of seeing in the Boston-based team's famous white uniform.
I filled an entire notepad drawing up strategies for youth players to target, and plotting out my minor league organisations, spending nearly as much time on my virtual team as real-life coach Terry Francona did on his. It was one my finest summers: making excuses to escape the pub so I could sit in my flat with the windows open and set my boys on the road to sporting greatness.
Bear in mind a baseball season lasts 162 games, so even in this virtual world, it took me months to plough through that first campaign. But all those hours ended in crushing disappointment. My Sox made the World Series, but lost pathetically to the New York Mets. After all that effort, I was crestfallen, and my interest in the game waned as the rest of the year went by. I prepared to start afresh with a new team in OotP 9.
The follow-up duly purchased, I immediately tried to apply everything I'd learned the previous year to a new team, the Oakland Raiders. But my heart just wasn't in it. The clean, crisp blue-and-white interface seemed almost too slick – I'd gradually learned to love clunking my way around OotP's ugly, awkward menus, and missed their unsightly green backgrounds, brown menu bars and basic white fonts. Sure, they looked Spartan, but those were the colours I associated with baseball, and I wanted them back, dammit.
Most of all I missed my virtual Sox. And so, writing off almost £30 two days after I'd bought the game, I ditched all hopes of forming a successful marriage with OotP 9 and instead returned to my old flame. And I've never once regretted it. I've made eyes at the newer editions every year since, but despite their suggestive winks back in my direction, I've managed to avoid being tempted away by their wares.
The real madness is that any suggestion of my team mirroring reality on the virtual turf – which is why people play games like Football Manager and OotP in the first place – disappeared long ago. The Sox's best player in real life, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, is a fumbling, powerless clown in my OotP 8 game. Yet I still wheel him out day after day, because I can't bring myself to release one of the real team's heroes.
My star players in the virtual world, names like Jason Bay and Jeremy Hermida, have long since had their best days in the real sport. And I've become attached to new, fictional stars from the draft classes the game self-generates every year, like the incredibly monickered Tony Bustamente: a name like a GTA villain, and fastball that's just as deadly.
I know OotP is going to continue to evolve and improve. But in my head, Bay and Hermida are as vital a part of playing it as that archaic interface and no-frills colour scheme. Four years on, I still haven't won that World Series I spent an entire summer striving for. So while the new games are almost certainly an ardent fans' wildest fantasy, I still prefer to dream of finally achieving the highest accolade in a game released more than four years ago. With Tony B throwing the final out, naturally.