Let's Play Ball!

by Alan Zisman (c) 1998. First published in Vancouver Computes, July 1998

Hard Ball 6

Triple Play 99
Electronic Arts

Baseball is the classic summer game. So with baseball season in full swing (no pun intended), it should be no surprise to find the virtual version also tempting sports game fans.

This year, the focus is on 3D?combine the improved graphics with sound and the new crop of games is more realistic than ever. We presented our teen game-playing panel, Joey and Frankie with a pair of the newest: Accolade?s HardBall 6, and Electronic Arts? Triple Play 99.  They looked at both the PC and Sony PlayStation version of Triple Play 99 (TP99).

Both games offer a range of play modes: you can play a single game, a championship series, or pilot your team through a whole year?s worth of games. You can trade players to improve your team?s chances. Both games are available for Win95 computers and Sony PlayStation. The Windows versions require DirectX 5.0. They both want a fairly new Pentium, between 20 and 120 megs of drive space,  and offer optional support for 3dFx graphics accelerators. Each supports play across a network, over a modem, or via the Internet.

Hardball 6

Accolade claims that its HardBall series, now in its 10th year, is the all-time best-selling baseball game.

A nice feature is the ability to test your team against an All-Time All-Star Team, with historic players represented in the best year of their career, like the 1927 60-home run hitting Babe Ruth. Players can fine-tune weather conditions ranging from wind to humidity as well as a vast number of options for customizing gameplay.

The boys found it an enjoyable play, but were disappointed with its take on 3D, at least on their non-accelerated test system. Joey complained that the graphics seemed blocky, with players? legs looking squared of and not at all realistic. They did, however, liked some of the details as the game was starting off, and in some little vignettes, such as having the players wipe the dirt off their close after sliding into base. They also approved of the way the game shows a player running from base to base (by comparison, TP99 shows a dot going around a little inset picture of the field). They found the announcing OK, but complained that while they got information about the day?s weather and the field conditions, there was no information about the player up at bat. (Right-clicking on a player?s name in the pre-game lineup screen pops-up the player?s baseball card.)

Overall, 7 out of 10.

Triple Play 99

TP99 is the third version of Eletronic Arts? baseball game. This year?s version offers a number of new features, including Batter Point of View (which looks cool but is hard to play), in-depth manager mode, and multi-season career mode. Like Hard Ball 6, it optionally supports 3DFx hardware acceleration (though this feature is buggy). Full-league draft lets you try to create your dream team?but you can?t simply grab all the best players.

The boys found Electronic Arts? offering quicker to get up and running-- just two screens between game startup and playtime. And when the game started, they both were impressed with its level of realism. They liked the announcing by TV announcers Buck Martinez and Jim Hughson, and appreciated getting the lowdown on each player as he came to the plate. They enjoyed the background noises?the sounds of the crowd, the calls of ?popcorn here?, even the heckling, making it feel more like being in a real baseball stadium.

Even the grass looks realistic, they commented. Electronic Arts worked on many minor details, which the boys noticed, such as the marks on the bats after a hit. Then there?s the player?s little dance after hitting a home run, accompanied by fireworks and an enthusiastic crowd.

Overall, the boys rated this one 9 out of 10, making it the winner.

They also spent some time with the PlayStation version of the game. Joey pointed out that on that platform, it loaded quicker and the graphics looked more realistic. Frankie agreed, feeling that the the appearance was ?smooth and crisp?. Perhaps because of this, he felt it was easier to hit the ball than in the PC version. Inevitably, it was easier to set up 2-player mode on the game system. However, if you want to play against a remote user, the computer version is the only way to go.

Where?s Microsoft?

We had hoped to have a copy of Microsoft?s first entry into this genre?Microsoft 3D Baseball, but the game simply wasn?t ready in time. It may be out by the time you read this, but if they wait too much longer, they may be too late for this year?s season.

It is the summer? hopefully you won?t spend too much time cooped up in front of the computer or PlayStation screen. Go out and play some real baseball. But if it?s raining, or everyone else is off at summer camp, you won?t go too far wrong swatting a few virtual home runs around the stadium with either of these two games.

(It showed up later...)

Search WWW Search www.zisman.ca

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan