The Crowd Goes Wild

The Crowd Goes Wild
Peanuts and Cracker Jack

Jon Schnaars | 9 Oct 2007 08:30
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The COTUT may take place in Illinois, but RBI Baseball is a truly international passion. Over at the Dee-Nee Forums, RBI Baseball enthusiasts from around the world discuss all manner of RBI minutia. Whether it's debates on pitchers hitting homeruns or examinations of the dimensions of Tengen's in-game stadium, there's something for every RBI fan at Dee-Nee. In fact, the site gets its name from the sound the game makes when someone gets a hit. But while the popularity of a baseball game from 1988 can't be questioned, where is all the enthusiasm for today's baseball games? If today's fans are organizing RBI Baseball tournaments across the country, will we be seeing MLB 2K6 Tournaments in 2027?


Even though baseball has clawed its way back into fans' hearts following the strike of 1994, baseball videogames never seemed to recover. Madden dominates today's sports gaming landscape; the NCAA Football series is a close second. What isn't so clear is what happened to America's favorite pastime. It's convenient to say Passan's "fondness" is just nostalgia, but that doesn't explain how baseball can reign as king in 1988 and barely muster the No. 23 spot in 2007.

For Passan, much of the problem comes down to simplicity. "Anybody who's played any kind of PlayStation game can tell you what the four buttons do for football: whether it's hurdle, dive, sprint or spin," he says. "But I don't think anybody can tell you how to play a baseball game. There's nothing consistent from game to game about baseball, and nothing that you really remember." Even within series, developers will often tinker with control schemes from year to year in an attempt to find the mix that best captures the game's feel.

Likewise, Beales cites the older games' simplicity, saying a large part of their popularity comes from "the fact that you don't have to learn moves, or do too many combos, because you only have so many buttons on the controller. I think that the simplicity leads to a shorter learning curve. Take RBI and take any friend who hasn't played the game before. You play one or two games with him, and he's already at least decent." By evening the competitive balance, older baseball games fostered purer competition and more of baseball's bottom-of-the-ninth-two-outs anxiety.

The idea of simplicity, though, points to a larger concern with bringing baseball to consoles. At their heart, most sports games are contests of strategy. Unlike football, where a player need only make a single decision before the snap and then control one man to steer the game's action, baseball requires several independent actors to be working in concert. The nature of each football player's role in any given play is very narrowly defined. Thus it is relatively easy for programmers to make sure your left guard, middle linebacker and even wide receiver behave rationally. Simply program in an error rate that makes computer-controlled players screw up every so often, and voilĂ ! You have a competitive football game.

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