Download Microsoft Baseball 3D 1998 Edition (Windows)

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Microsoft Baseball 3D 1998 Edition

Windows - 1998

Year 1998
Platform Windows
Released in United States
Genre Sports
Theme Baseball, Licensed Title
Publisher Microsoft Corporation
Developer Wizbang! Software Productions
0 / 5 - 0 vote

Description of Microsoft Baseball 3D 1998 Edition

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She's a beauty

"Not much upstairs, man, but what a staircase!"

Ever heard that one before? I sure have. It was just about the favorite phrase of an old football-playing high school friend of mine, and I got to hear it just about every Monday morning between 1984 and 1987. But he'd never give me any actual details about his weekend dates or the girls themselves. Instead, my quarterback buddy would just flash me a glance that was supposed to be of the 'wink-wink' sort (but always turned out sort of bovine and vacant) and leeringly repeat the above.

The opening menu screen. I hadn't thought of that line since the late 80s --- it had vanished into the closet of my mind along with my Union Jack muscle shirt and teenage angst --- but it all came back to me last week when I started playing a gold release copy of Microsoft Baseball 3D. My pal's catch phrase might not have been a fair way to describe his various conquests, but it is certainly appropriate in characterizing the latest arrival in the 1998 computer baseball game lineup.

Simply put, MSB3D is a knockout. It is one of the finest looking PC games available today in terms of visual chrome and overall presentation. At the same time, however, the game is missing something pretty essential in a baseball game and that's the game of baseball itself. With the developers at Microsoft and WizBang! spending all their time fine-tuning the gorgeous stadium art, realistic player animations, and terrific audio, they forgot that all of these elements were intended to complement a baseball game underneath. Priorities were reversed, so we ended up with a game that features art by the digital equivalent of Leonardo Da Vinci and artificial intelligence by, um, Kathy Ireland.

One in a million

It doesn't look so bad from the beginning, though. MSB3D loads up quite quickly, utilizing 122mb of your hard drive (don't even bother with the minimum and typical settings unless you have an extremely fast CD-ROM drive). A rather massive swap file is required even with the maximum install, and the game will refuse to load at all if you have less than 60mb free on your swap drive. So as you might expect, there are quite a few loading delays due to HD and CD access.

All of the available options are accessed from the main menu screen, which reminded me of a rather glam standard Windows interface. The major gameplay selections --- Single Game, Season, Playoffs, and Play Saved Game --- are in the middle of the screen with the Help and Option settings in a small menu bar the top right corner. The game is closed or minimized via the standard Windows 95 boxes. Not much can be customized before playing, although you can select the number of innings in your contest, whether you'll be playing with the DH or not, and what difficulty level (Rookie, Veteran, or All-Star) you prefer. Once you choose your teams, you can decide how you're going to handle fielding, if you want to try advanced batting (you have to choose pitch location as well as time your swing), what stadium you want to play in, and whether you'll be playing a day game or under the lights.

Some of the menu screens. Overall, the interface is very user-friendly. Unlike so many other PC sports games, this one does not possess a console heritage, so full mouse support is everywhere. Changing your batting order or pitching rotation is a snap, thanks to drag and drop capability. Just grab a player's number and place it where you want it. It's simple, straight-forward, and should be the template for this sort of thing in the future.

The batting and pitching engines are similarly easy to use. When hitting, you have a choice of Normal, Power, and Contact. Just pick what approach to want to take and then get ready for your cut. You can also use an advanced batting setting that requires you to guess the location of the pitch with the d-pad to get good wood on the ball. Pitching is handled the same way. Just click on the pitch you want from the on-screen menu, and move the d-pad around in the strike zone graphic to place it. There is a good variety of pitches available, from fastball through splitfinger.

The game also features a separate General Manager utility program that allows you to edit player stats, appearance, and even make trades and reset lineups. It's a very useful little program, but it does take away from the actual game in some areas by featuring stats that cannot be accessed while actually playing. For example, you can't see the ratings for a pitcher's individual pitches while on the mound --- you have to load the GM program to do this. Not a big deal, since this program doesn't require a pile of memory and runs quite well in combination with MSB3D itself, but it seems ridiculous that you have to do this in regards to such a vital gameplay component.

As you should expect from the title itself, MSB3D requires a 3D accelerator to run. The game runs through Direct3D, and as such supports just about every card on the market. All of the work involved in detecting and setting up your card is handled automatically by the program itself. This didn't thrill me, because I have two Direct3D-capable cards in my system, and there is no way to manually select one over the other. According to the documentation, however, the game is supposed to find the best 3D card available, and in this case MSB3D did its job well, bypassing my ATI Rage card for my 3Dfx. It still would have been nice to have a manual option available, though.

Don't fall in love

With actual gameplay, everything begins to fall apart. The first thing that you'll notice is the speed. Everything is accelerated to an incredible rate, closer to hockey or roller derby than the national past-time. What's more, there's no way to alter this velocity, so you're stuck with double-play balls rocketing through the infield at the speed of light and lazy fly balls falling to earth quicker than David Wells on a six-pack. Hardball 6 didn't do a lot of things right, but that title's "Game Speed" slider bar should become a standard feature of all arcade baseball games in the future. As it is now, MSB3D is impossible to play if you want to manually control your fielders.

Making matters even worse is the lack of good viewing angles. Even with all the glitz and glam, you still only have two points-of-view to choose from defensively: Follow Ball and Follow Player. Neither provides a good angle with which to make plays, and each is also deficient in just watching them. Too often the play outstrips the camera, and the ball is in the first baseman's glove or through to the outfield before you know what's happened. In this regard, even with the outstanding graphics, MSB3D is a game of results, not actual plays.

Two men on; between pitches in Phoenix. The game also forces you to choose between completely automated fielding and throwing, and no assistance whatsoever. So, unlike virtually every other game, you can't have the PC make the plays with you still retaining control over throwing. To me, this is a huge oversight, which is all the more magnified by the fact that the computer often makes horrible throwing errors. The game almost never tries to nail a runner at the plate, preferring to concede the run in favor of either a sure out or simply holding the ball. A very frustrating state of affairs, especially when you have to watch helplessly as the winning run comes in without even an attempt to stop it.

And that's not all. The absolute worst problem occurs with routine singles, which the computer has a tendency of coming in too close on. It's sort of funny at first, seeing two outfielders converge on where the ball was and then turn and chase it to the wall, but it's also very sad that such an obvious bug wasn't caught in testing. I've found that this problem often occurs in flurries --- if you see it once, chances are you'll see it six or seven times in that game.

Hitting is so easy as to be no challenge whatsoever. Even at the All-Star level on the advanced hitting difficulty setting, I was still cranking out an average of 15 hits a game in my first few times playing. Homers are common-place even before you master the swing timing. Take over a heavy hitting club like the Indians and you'll crank out half-a-dozen a game. So as you'd expect, run totals are generally pretty high. Once you get ten or 11 games under your belt, you'll be plating at least ten runs every nine innings without even breaking a sweat. Much of this problem is the result of pitchers who often act like they're throwing in a home run derby. Almost every at-bat you'll get a meaty one grooved right down the middle within the first three pitches. Just click power, wait for what you know is coming, and tee off. It's fun for a while, but this gets old fast.

Pitching is not as much of a walk in the park, but it isn't too much of a challenge either. I've found that it doesn't seem to matter how you work batters, as they'll get good wood on just about anything that crosses the strike zone. Set somebody up perfectly, with an array of heat, changes, and curves, and you're soften rewarded not with a K, but with a liner in the gap. MSB3D is about offense, so don't expect to do a whole lot of damage here even if you're running the Atlanta Braves. The computer batters will get to you --- repeatedly --- whether you've got Greg Maddux or Tim Wakefield on the mound.

If you do, you'll find out she don't love you

As I've already pointed out in the opening, MSB3D is a stunning title in terms of aesthetics and presentation. Even though I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this game, it really should be experienced just to see what is graphically possible in a PC baseball game. After this, there's no excuse for anything as rough as Hardball 6 or as dated as High Heat.

The stadiums are particularly beautiful. Each lends the game a unique setting, much like the real ones. Fenway Park is old and sort of plain, but still distinguished by the Green Monster and short porch in right. Yankee Stadium carries the same majestic air here that the real thing pulls off in the Bronx every summer. Play a night game at Wrigley Field and you feel the same sort of spooky awe that you get watching that legendary park lit up on television. Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix is space-age yet still homey, as is SkyDome in Toronto, and even Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Some parks even feature unique special touches. If the Mets knock one out of Shea Stadium you get to watch that big red apple rise above the center field fence. Ewing Kauffman in Kansas City features a working waterfall beyond the fences. All of them boast flags that wave in the breeze and active scoreboards that flash messages after strikeouts.

The Bronx Zoo, Ewing Kauffman, and Olympic Stadium. Player graphics rank up there with the most realistic figures ever drawn for a PC game. Each wears an approximation of his real life counterpart's face, and some of these likenesses are almost photo realistic at certain angles. Wade Boggs wears his trademark walrus-like moustache, Mark McGwire looks appropriately menacing with his flaming red goatee, and Junior Griffey looks like a spoiled brat who spends his weekends in the mall. Cal Ripken even has his trademark grey hair. They are also sized appropriately, so expect to see a rather portly Cecil Fielder (they call him Big Daddy for a damn good reason) and a wire thin Marquis Grissom. All players have also been given fully detailed uniforms, exact right down to special shoulder patches (for example, you can see the bat-swinging elephant on the Oakland A's unis) and names and numbers.

Animations are also very well done. Batting styles vary for all players. Larry Walker crouches down, as does Paul O'Neill and Todd Zeile. Manny Ramirez and Omar Vizquel both come to the plate with their bats held high. Sandy Alomar and B.J. Surhoff have open stances. Same goes for pitchers, who will come at you with anything from a full submarine-style delivery to the standard overhand. Fielding motions such as jumping, diving, and simply moving into position are lifelike, if a little bit limited (you'll see the same backwards leaping stab three or four times a game, for example). Players also have all the nice little tendencies that add to the overall realism of the presentation. Pitchers will windmill their arms on occasion and hang their heads if you knock one out off them. Batters are never entirely still at the plate; bats always waver just slightly, giving a great indication of tension. Omar Vizquel even taps his front foot in readiness to uncoil his swing. Infielders will lazily scratch at the dirt with the cleats, and wander over to the bag between pitches to keep the runner guessing.

Audio quality is also beyond reproach. Crowd noise is well realized and very intelligent. Expect a polite, restrained round of applause from the home crowd for minor things like a strike-out or a single, and serious foot-stomping cheers for a dinger or a bases-loaded siutation. If you're visiting, you'll of course receive the same sort of attention with boos and catcalls. The occasional shouts of hecklers and vendors can be heard loud and clear behind the low roar of the crowd. Gameplay sounds are of the same high quality, with the crack of the bat ringing out in convincing fashion.

The play-by-play of Terry McDonald is excellent, filled with lots of funny, yet sarcastic, observations like, "He swung, and suddenly the wind was blowing straight out" and "Maybe hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sport." He's also got a tendency to describe pitches by nicknames, so expect to hear things like "The heater," and "There's charlie!" a lot. Overall I found the commentary to be very entertaining and smooth. I never even considered turning it off, although I could have pulled the plug on Terry and still listened to the independent calls from the umpires.

Why would I lie?

Even with all of MSB3D 's obvious flaws in gameplay, I still find myself drawn to it because of its overall attractiveness. Make no mistake, you're not going to get closer to recreating the look of Major League Baseball on your PC than this title. Still though, eye candy only goes so far. Once you get over the jaw-dropping cinematics, you quickly grow tired of hyper-reality fielding, laser beams from the outfield, and five or six or sixteen hits per inning. Sure it's nice to see Mark McGwire dig in and crouch down at the plate, but for $50 we deserve a lot more.

As I often said in reply to my high school friend, "You've still gotta talk to them sometime." I think that the same line works pretty well here too. Empty beauty is just empty in the end. Hopefully Microsoft will realize this next year and give us a complete game.

Review By GamesDomain

Captures and Snapshots

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