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.

Madden_NFL_16

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 – 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.)

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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.

2018 – The Year of the Sports Game Boycott

It seems that sports games have been lost to the same dark side that we have seen first person shooters and real-time strategy go to as well. 

Madden, MLB: The Show, and NBA 2K8 have all resorted to becoming nothing more than digital card pandering pieces of binary garbage.  They have polished the graphics and added content to their Ultimate Team/Diamond Dynasty/MyTeam card collections instead of real improvement to the core game itself.  For a few years I could understand the change I was seeing.  I could compartmentalize the fact that I simply wasn’t their target audience. 

Thanks largely to Twitch and YouTube streamers/content uploaders that open packs for the voyeur fandom to gawk over we have lost what was once the potential pursuit for true sports gaming simulation.  I must give some of these guys credit, as they do have a certain pizazz to the way they carry themselves online.  I even watch some of their videos – they do make it look like a fun experience.  That is all great and wonderful until I get inspired to try my hand at online PvP against some random guy with a name like XxHitThatLoud420-69xX.  You realize quickly that they play the game by using money plays and exploits.  Suddenly, this potentially fun experience has you wondering if you’ve stepped into some effed up version of The Matrix.  Just as you get ready to play a different game you realize that you don’t care if you lose this game because you don’t plan on playing it again.

Say what you want, but All Pro Football 2K8 proved one thing when they released a game with legendary NFL players.  The same can be said for current players depending on the year as well.  Some gamers love creating their own version of Dream Teams and I am one of them.  I remember doing this back in Triple Play 98 when I would put Griffey, Frank Thomas, ARod, and others all on the same team.  It became a habitual thing to do each year, but in the end I still wanted to play a challenging baseball game. 

I happen to come from the generation of sports gamers that can remember Dr. J vs. Larry Bird on Atari 7800.  I also remember Tecmo Bowl and Bases Loaded through Bases Loaded 4.  RBI Baseball 94 was the first game that introduced me to the concept of playing a full season – I never finished one, but damn, it was pretty cool to have that option and even see the potential grow into franchise modes in other games.  When they finally started to present us with multiple seasons and stats it was a dream come true. In all honesty, the graphical improvements were secondary for me after a while.  I loved what Madden had turned into by Madden 2005.  Hell, even MVP Baseball 2005 was one of the better games I had ever played in terms of – that was a year to remember when it came to EA doing some truly amazing work. Now it’s as if they have sold their souls and there is no looking back.

It seems that Franchise Mode has gone the way of the dodo in recent years.  It is still present in all of these games, but it is a shell of itself.  Much like Kobe and Jordan at the end of their career – you can see flashes of what they used to be, but in the end they just aren’t performing like they once could… and it’s sad.  Madden Ultimate Team and MLB The Show’s Diamond Dynasty have essentially powered their way into a position that is most likely permanent and will eventually completely destroy innovation when it comes to gameplay and franchise mode.

This isn’t something I say lightly and it isn’t something I want to be known as an acceptable issue. 

I do want those of you reading this to look at 2018 sports games with a critical eye and take this opportunity to speak with your wallet.  It is time to demand the product that we have been denied for years.  I urge you to avoid pre-ordering any sports game this year. If you are going to buy the game, look for it second-hand in hard copy form.  Do not pay the full retail price if you feel compelled to play them.  It’s time for these companies to feel the only kind of pain they understand – financial.


Madden 25 – Six Months Out

Now that the NFL Combine has started there will be a few weeks of excitement before the actual NFL Draft and the announcement of who will be on the cover of Madden 25.  Until that time comes, we are going to take a look at what this game looks like from the standpoint of ‘what is already known’.

Simms

The first aspect of Madden that most fans are interested in is whether Connected Careers Mode will be updated and fixed.  CCM was a step in a somewhat new direction for Madden and while it provided many gamers with a new wave of interest in playing multiple seasons it also presented new problems and brought into focus (yet, again) some of the biggest short-comings of Madden.

  • Trades Are Still Broken – In case you haven’t noticed, you can trade away your draft picks and easily get between seven and ten future first round draft picks.  Player for player trades are a bit more difficult to pull off but that isn’t enough to save the atrocious draft pick trade logic that still plagues this game.
  • O-Line/D-Line Interaction – Every time I play Madden it feels more like I am playing Tecmo Super Bowl and the linemen are going through the suction motions.  This is certainly one aspect of gameplay that 2K mastered back in NFL2K5 and All Pro Football 2K8.
  • Commentary – Phil Simms is a jack-ass.  Okay, this isn’t something limited to Madden (as he exhibits this in every broadcast in ‘real life’) but his commentary is often out of place and even hypocritical.  When a Quarterback gets sacked from the blind side (Enter your Sandra Bullock joke here) he will say one of two phrases “Boy do they hurt” and then he will say a few plays later “They don’t hurt at all”.  Which is it Phil?…  or rather – Madden Devs?
  • Injuries – One of the most annoying aspects of Madden is that it doesn’t have realistic injuries.  While the NFL is trying to make it seem like football is safe, we know otherwise.  EA needs to make a decision as to whether they are going to make a representation of real football or some sort of football farce.

Keep your eyes and ears open as Madden 25 starts the annual hype machine.  You are destined to get excited and eventually let down by the beginning of September.  If you want a sports game that will make you feel like Madden is lacking – go get MLB 13 the show next week.

Why MLB The Show is King In Sports Gaming Quality and Why Baseball Is Dying

Before jumping into this explanation, please understand when referring to baseball video games we are referencing the MLB The Show series.  In no way is 2K Baseball close to being as good as The Show.  That is a different point for a different day.

Today we are focusing on comparing MLB The Show to any other sports gaming platform out there.  The top competitor is actually soccer/futbol but in the United States you will be hard-pressed to find anyone that knows how transfers and team management works in soccer (present party included).  If it seems that I am coming from a somewhat biased perspective it is because I am.  The best selling games in 2012 have been the more popular titles of course, but are they really the best?  No.

The Show has been one of the most consistently high-quality and true simulation sports games over the lifetime of this console generation.  SCEA (the developer of The Show) has been one of the most highly rated sports gaming developers because of the quality of The Show.  Between the actual gameplay and the depth of modes like Franchise Mode as well as the new Post-Season Mode there is little more to be desired.  However, that is where The Show really shows why it is the best sports game out there with so many details like ball trajectory and other physics based implementations that you will start asking where it is in other games like Madden.

While The Show is by far the best baseball game when competing with the awful 2K Baseball, its only competition in terms of quality comes from EA Sports’ NHL and FIFA games.  The one thing you will notice is that baseball, hockey and soccer are all ‘niche titles’ with relevance to a select number of people in the United States.  Baseball has been dying a slow death in terms of popularity among sports fans.  That may be a big reason why The Show flies under the radar when compared to games like Madden and NBA 2K (which are typically the higher selling sports titles in the U.S. every year).

The trend of baseball gaming has been on a down-slope as far as game sales go.  But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the fact that if you enjoy baseball and want to play a great video game version of the sport.  Go out and buy a PS3 if you don’t have one (as this game is only available on the PS3 console) and get The Show.  It is that good.

Why Is Baseball Dying?

I am of the opinion that baseball was both saved and destroyed by steroids.  The 1993-94 strike made many fans turn their backs on baseball.  It wasn’t until the home run explosion between 1996 and 2001 that people started to care about baseball again.  Say what you want about the ‘purity of the game’ but steroids brought fans back and brought more money to owners as attendance went through the roof.  Then, as if someone called the cops to bust up a great party – the Mitchell Report destroyed the game from the inside out.

Kiss your career good-bye, Alex. You’re done.

The legacy of steroids in baseball goes back to the 1980s where there was a tremendous boom in the overall use and production of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).  This is also the same time period that saw the beginning of Free Agency (players were able to look for new teams as their contracts expired).  While this was something that happened a few times before, it became quite normal as the 1980s and 1990s came and went.  This should make you consider the motivation that players had to use PEDs – it was about the ability to command more money in their contracts.  If a player like Barry Bonds could increase his output as a batter from an average of 25 HRs during his time with Pittsburgh to 39 HRs during his stay in San Francisco, why wouldn’t he use what he could to demand more money?  The same goes for players like Alex Rodriguez who could be on his way to a Lance Armstrong collapse in the coming weeks.

People suspected that players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds were on some sort of PEDs as they started having numbers pile up that no one had seen in the history of the game.  Why is it that some fans were so appalled when the report came out.  Many people started making these players they all but worshiped at one point into pariahs to save face in some sort of non-existent social witch hunt.

The Three Musketeers

I am not suggesting that steroids should be legalized or that they don’t artificially inflate statistics.  I will demand that society takes a look in the mirror and honestly asks what they want from entertainment.  Society doesn’t want purity in sports.  Society wants to appear concerned about safety and legitimacy while demanding more power, speed and violence.  We are living in the greatest example of hypocrisy in entertainment and the only thing we can do is edit our video game rosters and change every player’s ability rating to 99 – call it digital steroids.

 

MLB 13: The Show Starting To Feel Like Madden?

For the longest time, MLB: The Show has felt like the one sports game you could count on to ‘get it right’.  They focused on all the tweaks, gameplay improvements and other nuances that can really only be noticed in baseball.  Then came the news that MLB 13 is going to have fans vote on the cover athlete.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it will be one of three players – Bryce Harper, Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera.  The only other wild card I might throw into the mix is Stephen Strasburg simply because he is the only pitcher people seem to care about.  (I am still laughing about the ‘plan’ to hold him out of the playoffs.)

Regardless, we are entering into an area in sports gaming that EA Sports has made rather notorious with their Madden cover votes.  Should I react with such distaste about something so ‘minor’?  I am sure you are thinking something along those lines – such as my favorite line… ‘You mad, bruh?’.  Yes, I am.

I expect more out of The Show.  The closest they came to being like EA was shutting down old servers for rosters setting up poor online services altogether.  Now they are going in the direction of fan input for cover athletes?  This is the slippery slope my friends… I don’t think I want to see what will be next if they keep going this direction.