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Feature Article by Erich Becker
April 21, 2000


Baseball is America’s game. Since the dawn of sports games only Electronic Arts has managed to capture the pure essence of the game. Sega is looking to top EA with World Series Baseball 2K on the Dreamcast console system, and now Microsoft is looking to take a share of the market from EA on the PC platform. From what I’ve seen so far, it could be a close battle.

Microsoft is entering the market with Microsoft Baseball 2001 (MSB2001), how original =). A run down of the features is in order so here they are.

Note: Information taken from Company Line

  • Manage teams and players’ careers over multiple seasons. New Baseball Mogul technology lets players build and develop a team over time — just like a real MLB General Manager. Players’ stats will be kept for a period of days, weeks, months, or even full seasons.
  • Control your team’s finances. MSB2001 allows gamers to manage the action not only on the field, but [sic] behind the scenes as you take over as General Manager and CEO of the team. Keep track on the farm system and keep an eye on your player’s salaries.
  • Real life MLB atmosphere. The MLB and the Players Association that allows all 30 teams, 1200 plus players, and 35 stadiums to be rendered in the game complete with accurate stats.
  • Superlative graphics. Microsoft’s company line boasts "…the best graphics available in any PC baseball game…" High levels of detail based off of extensive motion capturing and life like renderings of the 35 stadiums featured in this year’s game.
  • Endorsed by Nomar Garciaparra from the Boston Red Socks.

Of course this information is based off a pre-release beta copy of the game, and not all features listed could make it into the final game, but most likely they will make it in.

From the beginning the game looks very polished. Installation of the game went without a hitch. Three options are presented to you to install by a Compact install, Typical Install, and the Full Install. Having some limited space on my hard drive I chose to go with the Compact install which uses up around 60 Megs of HD space. This is where my first problem arose.

Proceeding to play the game with the minimum install required the game to read off the CD for information. Not knowing before, but the game would take an immense amount of data off of the CD during gameplay. Music, speech, even player data has to be loaded off the CD. One little quirk that I experienced was playing through the Home Run Derby mode, and having the game stop to load the announcer data to announce the home run. That was an unusual thing. Also every time the announcer would want to announce something he would stutter the first and last words about three times because of the data loading off of the CD. Now, this isn’t a real problem with the game, but if someone does choose to do the compact install, this could be an issue. This happen to me with a 40X CD-ROM drive, so it isn’t a slow piece of hardware.

Microsoft isn’t lying when they boast superior motion capturing for the game. The players move life-like, and look great. They step in to swings and react like real players when struck by the ball .How would you like to be the person getting hit by the ball and being motion captured?

Now there are a few issues with the game that I must point out. I was really disappointed with the graphics in the game. I could see polygon tears on the players in the distance, and in a few stadiums I could see a line right down the middle of the field to the extent that home plate was a few pixels off, and very noticeable. The players in the distance don’t accurately move, as they should. When the catcher returns the ball to the pitcher the pitcher holds out his glove to the appropriate site, but the ball seems to hit him in the head each time. Sometimes it is rather funny, because you expect him to hit the ground, but he actually gets the ball. The game does have a few graphics issues in the game itself. The playing field has an overly blurry feel to it, like someone was using too many buffers on the graphics. There is some nasty clipping with the ball and the stands when it is hit that far. Yet, I must reiterate that this is a pre-release copy and these issues could be fixed for the final release of the game.

The sound in this game is superior. Microsoft has always had a reputation, in my opinion, for including energetic music in its games to get you into the spirit of the sport. In my recent review of Microsoft International Soccer the music was one of the things that impressed me the most into giving it a higher key rating than I had originally planned. MSB2001 is no different, the menu music is catchy, and lets you enjoy the clean menu system that this game boasts. The announcer, Thom Brennaman, sounds crystal clear most of the time, but you can tell where sound bites have been laced together because the pitch of the voice will change. Thom Brennaman is also the announcer for my hometown team the Arizona Diamondbacks, so that was something a little extra special for me.

The batting and pitching systems are very innovative, but seem to have been influenced by Acclaims All-Star Baseball series for the Nintendo 64. Pitching was a little more difficult using my Sidewinder Pro because of the sensitivity of the D-Pad my cursor would move too quickly and I would end up hitting the player most of the time. Still the batting system lets you pick from 3 different kinds of swings, and the pitching system lets you pick from 4 kinds of pitches and the intentional walk option.

With many different modes to play MSB2001 will keep you occupied. Picking from a Single Game, Home Run Derby (personal favorite), and Playoff play and letting you totally configure: outs, innings, and number of games. You can fully customize your game to fit your time and interest needs.

Microsoft Baseball 2001 will keep die-hard baseball fans, as well as the regular fan occupied in a great game. I did have a few problems with the graphics, but remember the fact that graphics don’t make a game fun, gameplay makes a game fun, and this game is very highly regarded by me in the gameplay department. As it stands, Microsoft has done a great job with this game. If the tradition continues then the great music and gameplay will come together to create a game that is truly enjoyable to play. I look forward to the final release.

 

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