The Downfall of Potential Ratings In Sports Games

After more than a few years playing through numerous Franchise Modes in Madden, MLB The Show and NBA 2K it is apparent to me that the only truly important rating for a young player in Franchise Mode is ‘Potential’.  It is also one of the more argued about topics on sports gaming forums as well.

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I have found that in simulating multiple seasons of MLB 18 (as well as older iterations) that the primary decider for a player becoming a superstar is potential.  It often has nothing to do with performance or statistics – take a look at the performance of some older players like Nelson Cruz as you play through a few seasons.  While they are still performing at a high level, they will suddenly see a huge drop off in ratings like contact and power as they age by a year… even if they hit 50 home runs the season before.

I have noticed that players with A potential are almost certain to be a lock for being s superstar in all three sports games.  Madden has a bad habit of making their franchise overall rating system as broken as anything else they put a number on in terms of ratings.

In the end, my view of the Potential Rating is not that it should go away completely.  I believe it needs to be molded to fit each game and sport.  Players generally fit into a few different categories of being high potential.  While Andrew Benintendi is no doubt a top level young talent, I don’t see him the same way I see Aaron Judge.  I believe that potential needs to be weighed more towards player type and player role in all sports games.

It shouldn’t be as simple as saying Player A should be a 99 Overall and Player B should be a 91 Overall in terms of potential.  There are some truly once-in-a-generation athletes like LeBron James that defy almost all limitations and are great at almost every aspect of their respective sport.

While a baseball player might look like a 5-Tool prospect, the reality of this is usually that they will be more like a 2 to hopefully 4-Tool guy.  As we play through more seasons of our favorite sports games it becomes easier to focus on the potential rating as the most important number by which we judge a player… unless you are talking about age… quite possibly the most lopsided and biased determiner of ratings decline in any version of a sports game.

Although we are able to edit the ratings of players manually in many of our Franchise Mode experiences, we shouldn’t have to take over where the number crunchers have failed us.  It is really as simple as applying a new descriptor to each player that highlights their role to a team.  This should be a fluid and dynamic description that also serves as a way to lift morale for players on the team.  I would like to see the death of potential ratings as numbers and have them become more in-tune with how we look at the changing landscape of players in every sport.

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Pick Bad Teams For Franchise Mode At Your Own Peril In MLB 18

As I finished downloading the OSFM 1.5 Roster I started to think about which team I wanted to use for my initial three-year contract on MLB 18: The Show’s Franchise Mode. Most aspects of Franchise Mode are generally fun for those of us that enjoy crunching numbers in terms of which players we can afford and how we can project our team succeeding because of our prowess as a General Manager.

Josh Bell MLB 18
Josh Bell’s Lone Home Run In My Time With The Pirates (12 Games) was to the shortest part of Comerica Park. (Where Home Runs Go To Die)

I generally avoid using top-tier teams because it takes the roster building out of the game in the initial season for the most part. That left me with a few teams I wanted to test out for the sake of their stadium and the players I’d be working with.

I have no desire to use the Marlins or the Rays because I truly can’t stomach either stadium and believe that both teams should be relocated for the sake of obligation to cities that actually have good sports fans no matter how their team is doing… that’s right – ‘shots fired’.

This left me with trying the Braves, Tigers, and Pirates.

The Braves would have been a great one to use before they lost a bunch of their top prospects because they violated numerous laws in the real world. So, that means you get Freddie Freeman as your power bat and then Dansby Swanson and Ronald Acuna. Sure, two prospects that have a lot of promise is nice, but wow… the team is hot garbage outside of that.

Onward, you have the Pirates, a team that is half-gutted with a couple mediocre additions in Musgrove and Dickerson. Once you realize that the team has virtually no one that can hit for power (Josh Bell is meh…) you will see that they have even worse pitching and you are wasting valuable trade currency by keeping Marte and Harrison around. I feel the same about Romero as the closer… seriously, why would any team keep a 90+ OVR closer if they won’t win more than 70 games? This team is at least another five years away from winning in any sort of sim experience.

The Tigers… well, let’s just say that Miguel Cabrera is literally the only player worth anything to your lineup. Fulmer seems to be a shadow of his former rookie year exploits. The rest of the team and the farm system are basically a perfect personification and ‘playerfication’ for the city of Detroit. Trash is less trashy than the MLB 18 version of the Tigers. Add to it that they have a stadium that is conducive to boring baseball with the furthest Center Field wall in the MLB and no real way to rob home runs if you had a player that could jump – yeah – it’s that bad.

The only saving grace is that these teams will give you longevity in your journey to build a team from nothing. Outside of that – you will see that being a poor team in money and in performance is an aneurism waiting to happen. Well, not waiting… give it about five games – it’s a short waiting period for a video game aneurism.

Good Luck!

MLB 18 The Show – Sliders and Rosters

This year I will not be waiting for the OSFM Rosters. I will be using rosters for Franchise Mode that incorporate the top prospects with limited ratings changes and special attention to the potential ratings of these new players.

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After simming through to draft day a couple of times I found that there are usually between one and a maximum of three players with 99 Potential in any draft class. I would argue that it should be rare for there to be three with that top rating… 95-98 should be just as rare in my not so humble opinion.

By midnight tonight I will also have sliders uploaded to the MLB Vault under the name ‘NoobTubeTV Sliders v1.0’. The roster will be named ‘NoobTubeTV Opening Day Roster’. This is primarily because I don’t find a lot of value in having completely updated rosters from June 15 if I have to start every season on March 29… it doesn’t bode well for the in-game rosters staying where you want them to be if you have CPU Trades turned on in this case.

I have also switched my batting camera from Fish Eye to Strike Zone 2. This gives a bit more immersion and makes it fun to judge balls and strikes. I have come to love this camera angle for Franchise mode.

Pitching difficulty has always left me a bit irritated because I can’t tell if it’s actually only for pitching or if the CPU batters are also more difficult. While I don’t particularly enjoy striking out 16 batters every time I pitch, I also don’t have a lot of joy when it comes to Legend difficulty and CPU batters hammering 10 home runs a game off of me. To that end, I have decided to stick with dynamic pitching difficulty at this point with the slider left at default for adjustment.

I have also gone to my house rule of pitching until I allow a CPU Run. This makes sure that I start every game batting and pitching and if I want to get those big strike out totals and such, I have to earn them and hope I shut out the CPU in the process. I have only managed to do this twice over the course of 15 games so far.

The three strike out rule with walks and home runs to counter-balance those outs has also given me a lot of fun games and more walks than I can remember in past iterations.

Speaking of more walks, I have been having a heck of a time trying to get the pitching sliders to function in a way that will allow the CPU to give me more reason to take pitches. The first couple of games I played felt like three out of every four pitches was a hitable strike. I have since changed the sliders around in a way that has produced a lot of fun at-bats.

Speaking of fun at-bats. I am all for having ‘realistic stats’ and gameplay. However, I noticed an incredible lack of hitting on the user side with All Star difficulty. I would have hits timed well and with the default hitting set to zone, I would also have location perfect… only to have a weak grounder or a popup. It felt realistic for a couple of games. Then it eventually felt cheap as the CPU would have the same contact for line drives in the gaps and seeing eye grounders. This has led me to adjust the first sliders to benefit the user in a way that gives a bit more solid hits and forgiveness for what I believe is a continued timing issue in MLB. This has been well documented by the community of MLB The Show and I prefer to change my sliders instead of complaining about it in forums.

The only aspect of this I have noticed is that I am seeing a lot more triples than I had back in MLB 17 (or any iteration of The Show). I have also noticed that it gives me a lot more long fly ball outs and feels appropriate when looking at home runs. I will most likely make an adjustment at some point when they undoubtedly patch something in the game and break the functionality of my first slider set. That’s how it goes in sports gaming – you deal with the little things that annoy you so you can have a great time.

Speaking of a great time, I am truly enjoying the game this year and hope SDS continues to listen to the community the way they have been. Look for the Opening Day NoobTubeTV files in the MLB Vault in the next few hours. Here are the slider adjustments as of today if you don’t have internet to download the uploaded file.

Slider Adjustments (All other sliders are default unless stated below)

Human Batting

Power +2

Timing+1

Foul Frequency -1

Solid Hits +1

Human Pitching

Starter Stamina +1

Reliever Stamina -1

CPU Batting

Contact +1

Foul Frequency -2

CPU Pitching

Starter Stamina +1

Reliever Stamina -1

Control -1

Strike Frequency – 1

Pickoff -1

Fastball Speed +3

Offspeed +3

Global Settings

All Errors +1

Fielder Speed -1

The Next Logical Step Is PsychoLogical – Franchise Mode’s Biggest Need

It exists in a sort of infancy stage.  Sadly, it hasn’t grown much in over a decade.  Let’s take away the possibility that player morale and attitude might be something that Player Unions don’t allow.  (I have grown to believe that sports game developers have been denied the ability to give attributes for attitude, motivations and other psychological aspects to real players in their games – this is by no means a researched fact, but simply  my opinion.)

Madden 2005 had player morale and contract holdouts.  They have since done away with that aspect… no one is shocked.  MLB The Show has an entire section for player morale where they give happy or sad faces for anything from salary happiness to location happiness and some others.  This is a good step, but they haven’t developed it much beyond making it accessible and fun to look at for those of us that long for depth and story to drive our experience as a way to pursue longevity in franchise mode.  This isn’t the point of the article today.  The point of this is to give some solid input towards making Franchise Mode a truly great experience that will go for multiple seasons.

User Psychology 

The first aspect I believe should be considered in any franchise mode is how the user develops their in-game character as an Owner, GM, or coach.  Your choices to trade star players for prospects should effect everything from the morale of other existing players on your team to the coaching staff and even other players in coming seasons as you go through free agency.  I would love to see this in order to make users take the concept of trades with a grain of salt.  If the user makes these moves and signs certain players with ability that also lack productive morale it should reflect in contract negotiations and even bench player morale.

It’s time to make a connection between the user and the team they are running.  I think it might even be effective to implement more of the media questions that Madden has at certain points of the season, but make them into multiple interactions that start with an interview to get a baseline of your psyche as you begin the franchise.

A Real Story Mode

While I’m not asking for something like the Madden Longshot or the NBA 2K Story Modes I do think there is value in developing a story or a world to surround your franchise mode.  Even if this world exists soley in your head, it is something that I believe adds to the experience.

Agents

I don’t think it would take much to implement this to go along with Morale.  It might even be an easy way to get around my theory that actual players don’t want a game to say they have ‘bad attitudes’ or that they ‘only care about money’.  Let the morale take effect with team management, player performance, coach decisions, etc.  That leaves a lot of interactions and fun to be had with fictionalized agents and agencies.

These are just a few ideas, but it’s about time we start demanding more depth to a mode that continues to grow stale with every year that Ultimate Team, Diamond Dynasty and such.

MLB 18 – Franchise Mode House Rules

The first rules I generally set for myself in any sort of Franchise Mode involves trading and player acquisition. In my last post, I talked about the sim gameplay aspect of using directional batting – after trying this for the last couple days, I firmly stand by this suggestion. The team management area of franchise mode is what drives me to have the most fun with the game. It can also lead you towards a short-lived journey if you don’t set up some rules to prevent you from dominating a less than stellar CPU AI when it comes to trades and team building.

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Trades/Free Agents During Season

  1. You have to select the players you want from a specific team before offering your own player(s).
  2. You may make one trade in the initial Spring Training (Two trades in following spring trainings).
  3. You are permitted one trade before the All Star Game and it must not occur until at least May 1.
  4. You are permitted two trades after the All Star Break.
  5. You can only sign a free agent during your first season if your team suffers an injury on the MLB level that requires 60 Day – DL.

Scouting Prospects –

I generally prefer to take the scouting aspect as a personal project, but the more I look at how MLB 17 runs things, I tend to believe that leaving scouting on Auto allows your scouts to actually do what they will do based on their ratings. This also prevents the user from figuring out how to find all of the Top Prospects with ease.

In-Game Rules

There are only a couple basic rules I set for myself for MLB The Show. First, I believe that user control generally makes for a better performing team overall. Once you get settings/sliders that provide you with optimal challenge and enjoyment it is crucial to set up a system that you can follow without second guessing your rules.

Here are mine for MLB 18.

  1. Pitching/Defense – Once you allow the first run you must Quick Manage the remainder of the defensive halves of each inning until the 9th inning. If you wish, you may use your closer if there is a save situation.
  2. Batting – You get THREE strike outs per game. These can be offset if you draw walks. If you strike out twice and then draw a walk you can subtract one of those strike outs. Once you strike out three times you must quick manage each half inning your team is at bat until the ninth inning. You can also allow a home run to reset all strike outs.

That’s it… pretty simple in the scheme of things. You will find that your season will progress a bit quicker and you will have a bit less direct influence on the simulation feel of the stats, etc. Also, I have found that this rule gives me a better eye at the plate because walks give me a real goal to offset strike outs.

There are more updates coming. Baseball season is finally here… even if it is 30 degrees outside.

MLB 18 – Franchise Mode Batting – Directional FTW

As we approach the release of MLB The Show 18 I believe this is a discussion that needs to happen for the sake of many that will be starting a Franchise Mode in hopes of seeing a more realistic performance from their batters. (This does not take sliders into consideration as I believe that has more impact on what happens after the bat hits the ball… this isn’t totally the case with User Timing and Foul Frequency – just go with it.)

mlb-the-show-18

I have been using Zone Batting for most of my MLB 17 experience. After finishing a couple seasons with two different teams I felt that Zone Batting providing me with more personal immersion in some ways, but it took away from other aspects in terms of franchise mode in general.

Zone Batting (for those that don’t know about it) is when the user controls the eye/swinging zone (Plate Coverage Indicator – PCI) of the batter in the predetermined area of the strike zone with the left analog stick. As the pitch approaches the plate the user then moves the PCI to the correct area and either swings with the Right Analog Stick or presses the swing button of choice.
The other batting style I have used in the past is Directional Batting. It takes the PCI out of the picture completely for the user. Using this type of batting you simply press the left analog stick in the direction you’d like the batter to hit the ball if contact is made. This leaves much of if not all of the actual contact and overall hitting to be determined by the batting ratings of the batter in question. This is why I feel that a debate is necessary in terms of which aspect provides a more simulation experience from the point of view of batting.

This year I will be conducting my franchise batting exclusively with Directional Batting. As much as I love to have my team dominate and win with a lot of home runs, etc. I also think a Franchise’s longevity is based on the immersion of player development and performance. More ratings come into effect when you take away the user implementation and I argue that that is a good thing for modes that generally require a bit more thought in team building and player ability than user ability.

Taking the use of the PCI out of the picture is only a part of what I will be doing. This season I will also be taking away the ability to ‘guess the pitch’. Again, I want my players to perform based on their abilities and other such things that will hopefully cause me to take a bit more time in deciding who I want to draft, sign, release, and/or trade.

I managed to take the Athletics and Reds to a 2017 World Series primarily because I was good enough with zone batting that it didn’t matter what a batter’s ‘vision rating’ was. I hit over 30 home runs with 6 of my 8 position players during the Oakland Franchise. I am excited about the prospect of taking multiple seasons to build a team into a contender. I have yet to decide which team I would like to use. Up until this point, zone batting made it a bit easier no matter who was on my team. Directional batting will change everything this year, and I look forward to sharing a new NoobTubeTV feature with all of you once MLB 18 comes out.

—- As an aside, I fully support using Zone Batting in Road to the Show and in all Online formats as the interaction is a bit more user focused in and of itself.

The Gaming Version of the Overlook Hotel

Now that I am firmly into a month without access to high speed internet and the ability to game online with the proper bandwidth I can give the world some observations from my time traveling relocation to 2004 while still being in 2018.  I must admit, my initial reaction as a gamer was less than thrilling.

shining
Offline gaming has got me like…

I have found that my overall gaming has dialed back exponentially.  Not only have I been playing less in general, I have also noticed that with a turtle speed wifi connection I have less inclination to turn on my console.  The fact that it takes me an absurd amount of time to download a simple patch for any game is enough to make me wish I had a proxy controller to throw in a fit of gamer rage.  Yet, there is something nice about seeing these limitations.  The first is that first person shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield aren’t even installed on my console.  In their place I have Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy and Borderlands – The Handsome Collection… both of which I purchased at bargain prices last week.  I will soon be replacing MLB 17 with MLB 18 on my PS4 as well (we will get into my reaction to their Online Franchise abandonment in the next article).

One observation about gaming without high speed internet is that you are forced to play hard copy games you already own that you may not have completed to this point.  For me, this means looking at Dark Souls 3, Shadow Warrior, The Last of Us, Shadow of Mordor, Murdered: Soul Suspect and Titanfall 2.

It leaves me feeling like an old man reflecting on my parents telling me as a kid that I didn’t need new games if I haven’t beat the games I have.  I suppose that is similar to the other observation I made in this new trip to the gaming stone age… I have been reading a lot more as well.  I am already quite the bibliophile, but now I basically get a chance to dive into the pile of books we finally managed to unpack and my wife sorted out in her wonderfully efficient manner.  Seriously, we have a small library right now and it doesn’t even start to touch the amount of books we still have in storage.  It’s a nice problem to have, I suppose.

The moral of this story is that while I am inconvenienced in one of my favorite hobbies I am not without other avenues to pursue my gaming.  Not to mention, it’s rather enjoyable to read some books I might otherwise leave on a shelf.  Whether it is your books or your games that have yet to be finished, you really need to take the opportunity to beat the games you have ignored when you do lose high speed internet.