When taking a fresh-out-of-the-wrapper sports game for its initial ride, you know the game is going to have a learning curve.
For some gamers this can be frustrating. Often, however, it can also be very rewarding and help give the game lasting appeal. Generally, I consider myself to be above average at sports video games. Years of playing the real sports and their video game counterparts have helped in this regard.
However, recently I stumbled onto my sports video gaming Achilles heel.
Like many others, I recently purchased a Playstation 3 and the great baseball exclusive title MLB 08: The Show. After hearing all the hype I just had to see for myself what the deal was with this game. While coming late to the party, I still have found myself enjoying almost every minute of the game.
Unfortunately, many gamers are probably suffering from outs because of poor baserunning controls.
Baseball is a sport that most American kids pick up at a rather young age and it seems to be instilled in most Americans to love the game.
Sure, when I first get the game I stink at batting. I am usually up at the plate hacking and my timing is all off. But I equate that to a real life player in spring training following a long winter without competitive baseball. It takes some time for me to get my timing back and get in the grove of things. After a few games I usually start to get the sweet spot of the bat on the ball more often than not.
Pitching usually is pretty easy. It's not hard to make half my Pittsburgh Pirates staff into aces in most cases. And sure, sometimes I make some fielding gaffes, but faulty camera angles or spotty fielding controls tend to be more at fault when I struggle in the fielding department.
I mean think about it -- the controllers for these consoles today are set up perfectly for controlling guys on the bases.
This leaves the one area of gameplay that destroys me every year and takes me the longest to achieve any semblance of control: baserunning.
Of course for the past 18 or so years of baseball video games, very few products have done a good job of allowing you to control up to four runners at one time on the base paths.
This is even more frustrating based on how simple baserunning should be. I mean think about it -- the controllers for these consoles today are set up perfectly for controlling guys on the bases.
Still I am not sure if it is the pressure of the moment, trying to react in an instant, or something else, but I would venture a wager that almost one fifth of all my outs come from baserunning errors.
To me the part that makes no sense is that I am relatively young still and I have good hand-eye coordination. I can play other games well that are faster paced -- like hockey, basketball or football games. Some would even say I am a borderline “stick jockey” in those games.
So does that mean there are more of us out there? Are more people having trouble with baserunning and are just too proud to say so?
And I am not alone. One of my closest friends, whom I often run a baseball franchise with, suffers from the same ailment. So does that mean there are more of us out there? Are more people having trouble with baserunning and are just too proud to say so? Is that the reason that even long-running (no pun intended) baseball franchises seem to switch up their baserunning controls nearly every season?
Perhaps that is another good reason I cannot ever fully master them. Each company seems to think they will revolutionize baserunning, as if they are presenting you the opportunity to be the Maury Wills or Rickey Henderson of the future. All that seems to mean is each year I have to learn something new.
The most recent epiphany came in the top of the ninth, down one run on the road in Atlanta. My Pittsburgh team was rallying, having got the leadoff man on-base. With no outs I pinch ran, putting in my fastest runner (someone who is pretty much on the roster just to run and perhaps occasionally roam centerfield).
Perhaps there is still hope though, as many gamers don't mind the current state of control.
Now with one out and a runner on second, things were looking good. All we needed was one clutch hit. And it came! A shot back up the middle for a solid base hit. My friend, sitting on the couch across the room, was physically waving me home as I fumbled frantically with the controls, trying to get the runner from second to home.
As the baserunner made a wide turn around third, then stuttered and stopped, it became clear to me that I never really had control of him, despite all signs pointing to him doing my will. (No the automatic control function wasn’t on –- although I wish it would have been).
With the fleet-footed track star on third and a ball so deep that I could waltz home myself, I was sure all was good. I was wrong.
All wasn't lost though. I was still in good shape with one out, runners on the corners, and a big stick at the plate. All I needed was a sac fly. But a double play ball would be catastrophic.
Now if I had any confidence in running the bases, I would have sent the runner on first to swipe second, most likely uncontested. However, I wasn’t about to mess with that situation and make an easy out by accidentally sending both runners.
Then it happened. With the baserunning page opened in the instruction booklet, I took my biggest golf swing at a pitch and drove the ball about 370-feet to left-center field. I had done it! With the fleet-footed track star on third and a ball so deep that I could waltz home myself, I was sure all was good.
I was wrong. My runner from first did the right thing and advanced halfway to second. The runner on third also did the best thing and stayed on the bag in tag-up position.
I quickly hit the buttons needed to control the lead runner and advance him and him alone to score. However, my friend and I both quickly noticed there was no such movement. As he frantically shouted controls in my ear I am pushing every possible baserunning button combination to get some movement out of him. Finally I hit the L1 button and I see him break.
I was crushed and deflated. Promptly flying out to left field with the next batter made things worse.
For a second it appears the play will be close, but he should still make it safely. Except the runner from first is booking to second and never properly tagged up. I pound R1 to avoid the tag up out at first and my guy just beats the throw back to first and is safe.
So what happened to the tying run? Well he went back to third despite being about five feet away from crossing home. Apparently R1 sends back all runners.
I was crushed and deflated. Promptly flying out to left field with the next batter made things worse. After 30 some games of spring training and practicing in random exhibitions I was still as lost as ever running the basepaths.
And that, my friends, is a synopsis of what I have gone through in learning to run the bases in nearly every baseball title ever released.
When will I escape my purgatory of baserunning mediocrity? What company will step up to the proverbial plate and master this function so that games will copy their system from that point forward? And lastly, please tell me I am not alone in this!