Simulating My Life: Sports Video Games, 1995-2019

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As age begins to get the better of me, I spend more and more time reminiscing about days gone by, and a couple of days ago this lead me to thinking about video games; specifically sports game simulations and the whole “create yourself” concept.

This is the idea of creating “yourself” within the game and playing CF for the New York Yankees or center for the Los Angeles Lakers or quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. That’s YOUR name up there. Your height, weight, hair color, etc.

My first experience with this came in the form of Baseball Stars, a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, released in 1989, Baseball Stars allowed you to create an entire team by name, including your franchise itself. A favorite among my friends for many years and still in my NES collection to this day. It was a simplified game in terms of the actual gameplay; the ability to create players and teams made it stand out.

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By 1995, a second version of the game had been released and the concept of player creation was removed. By that point, a large number of licensed sports games were hitting the market and the niche was “real players” and/or “real teams.” NBA Live had both. Madden NFL had real teams, but players were identified by jersey number only. RBI Baseball had real players, but the teams were identified only by their home city.

Tecmo Super Bowl was the exception, featuring real teams and real players. The idea that you could sit down and play an actual video game that featured real NFL teams and the actual players, by name, that played on those teams, was amazing.

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But that didn’t quite cut it. My friend Joe and I craved the concept of having OURSELVES in the game. Wearing the jersey number we wanted. But this was not yet feasible. So, I took it upon myself to create my own universe, using an old NES game called John Elway’s Quarterback, and Tecmo Super Bowl. And it went something like this:

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John Elway’s Quarterback was an arcade-style game that featured no real players and no real teams, which made it perfect for the simulation I wanted to run. I used it as a college football game before such a thing really existed. I would play a schedule I made up on my own, using the “Los Angeles” franchise as UCLA, and since the game did not feature any type of post-game statistics, I would sit with a binder in my lap and a pencil, and when “I” completed a pass in the game, I would see how many yards that completion covered and write it in my binder. At the end of the game I would count up my completions and yards and know how I had performed in that game. I did this for four simulated seasons, and then moved on to play Tecmo Super Bowl as a draft pick of the Cleveland Browns.

In addition to being my favorite NFL team, Tecmo had apparently been unable to obtain the rights to Browns’ quarterback Bernie Kosar from the NFLPA, so he is simply named “QB Browns” in the game. This offered me the opportunity to select my own number (I wore number 9 in my simulation) with the Browns. I played seven seasons with the Browns, winning three Super Bowls, before leaving as a free agent to return to California, signing a deal with the (at the time) Los Angeles Raiders. I played one more season with the Raiders before I started to get bored with the whole concept of the game.

Fast forward a couple of years and I started anew, with a new console and new games that upped the ante considerably: College Football USA 97 and Madden NFL 97 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was a step up in every way.

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While College Football USA 97 did not include the option to create a player (which it did on the Sega Genesis version of the game but I didn’t get it until many years later) it did include ALL NCAA Division I football teams. And Madden NFL 97 did have the option to create a player, so I basically did the same simulation over again, four years of games with the UCLA Bruins followed by creating myself with the Pittsburgh Steelers, as I didn’t have the option to play for the Browns in 1997 as the franchise didn’t exist in that form.

I never actually played a game with the Steelers, as I ended up ending my run in order to start playing Ken Griffey Junior’s Winning Run on the Super NES instead.

By the time I came around again, things had changed exponentially. I had bought a Sony PlayStation and bought every sports game available from 989 Sports, Sony’s proprietary division that produced college and professional sports games.

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NCAA GameBreaker 2000 and NFL GameDay 2000 were truly amazing. I could create myself, by name, height, weight, hair color, facial features, hometown and a number of other settings. Not only that, but I could download myself onto a memory card from NCAA GameBreaker and then upload myself onto NFL GameDay for the NFL Draft. And it was here that I found my most lasting success, fleeting as even it may have been.

Four seasons at UCLA, playing both football and basketball for the Bruins. I was then drafted into the NFL by the Carolina Panthers, a franchise I was never a huge fan of but decided to run with it; I even went out and bought a Carolina Panthers Starter parka, back when that was a thing. It was to be short-lived, however, as my created self suffered a knee injury in week two of my second season with the Panthers and I was on the retired list at the end of the season. That $100 jacket may have been a mistake in hindsight.

My next run at this simulation was in 2013, with the release of NCAA Football 14 from EA Sports along with Madden NFL 25, the 25th anniversary edition of the game, for the PlayStation 3. I wanted a true full-on experience, so in addition to UCLA football I also bought a copy of NCAA Basketball 10, which was the final release of that franchise, as well as a copy of MVP NCAA Baseball 07 for the PlayStation 2, the second and final release featuring college baseball. But, I learned that unhappy, time-consuming relationships don’t mix well with time-consuming video game simulations, so I never so much as got started. I boxed up my games figuring I would try again in the future.

No such luck, as NCAA Football 14 was the final college football game ever released, still to this day. So I keep them, hoping maybe someday I’ll take one final run…

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Which brings me to today and my latest simulation attempt, completely off track from previous attempts. This attempt has begun with me simulating a self-simulation. I created myself on MLB 2005 for the PlayStation 2 and then simulated my career, playing 14 seasons with the Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox. I manipulated this a bit, as I had been a big Oakland A’s fan in the 1980s and began following the White Sox in 1991. I kept my statistics and outlined my career running from 1982 to 1995, those years beautifully encompassing my public school years, from my entrance into kindergarten in 1982 to my graduation from high school in 1995. From here, I will simulate myself as the general manager of the White Sox, on MLB The Show 19.

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While the game will drop this Tuesday, I will not be doing anything with it until the Operation Sports Full Minors rosters are released in the roster vault at some point this spring. At that point, I’ll start playing, making the roster moves as I would as GM. I hope to continue this through the end of the season and when the 2020 version of the game is released, just transfer my up-to-date saves to the new version on a yearly basis.

I wish I had started this three years ago when year-to-year saves became feasible.

While the desire still burns within me to go back to the NCAA Football 14/NCAA Basketball 10/MVP NCAA Baseball 07 games and head back to UCLA, I see that as more of a future option. I am so completely invested in baseball at this point its going to take something major to push me back to other things. Like a potential 2021 MLB strike.

Basically, that’s what I’m holding out to see. If there is, in fact, a work stoppage, I’m boxing up everything I own of a White Sox persuasion and replacing it with everything UCLA I can get my hands on. I won’t lie, there’s a part of me kind of hoping for a work stoppage just for that reason. But we’ll see how I feel when 2021 rolls around.

That’s my life’s experience with sports video game simulations. I’ve loved it every step of the way, and I hope I can make the adjustments to make this new round as satisfactory as previous years. In the early days of this exercise, Joe and I would go so far as to keep our own newspaper headlines and storylines, which certainly added a major creative outlet to the whole experience. I am so ready to do that again. It’s time.

Thank you for reading, and God bless.

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Some Changes I Would Like To See To The MLB The Show Video Game Franchise

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I had hoped this blog would be about the start of Spring Training and the final destination of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but since that never-ending saga is, well, never-ending, I figured I would take the time to address something else that’s been on my mind lately: The state of the MLB The Show PlayStation franchise.

I began playing the Sony MLB offering back when it was known simply as MLB, in 2000, which featured Mo Vaughn on the cover (apparently in those days it was easier to get an Angels player on the cover than it is now, since Mike Trout is clearly this generation’s Mickey Mantle). In those days, the game was stripped down to the absolute minimum, no franchise mode, a “minor league” system that amounted to three players per team, etc.

Prior to owning a PlayStation, my game of choice was Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run for the Super Nintendo, back in the days of games that either featured real players and was sponsored by the MLBPA but had no real teams or games that featured real teams and was sponsored by MLB but featured no real players. KGJWR featured all the real MLB teams but with made-up player names, including “Big Magoo” in place of Frank Thomas with the White Sox.

Going back even further, my game of choice was Baseball Stars on the NES. Most people seemed to prefer the RBI Baseball series because it was licensed by the MLBPA, but I liked Baseball Stars because it was completely programmable. You could create your own team, players and league as well as having the ability to trade players. Back in 1993, in the days before the current generation of fantasy baseball or games like The Show, a friend of mine and I spent a whole weekend holding a player draft, creating a team, creating a minor league team, and playing a full season on Baseball Stars. It was a lot of work but definitely a lot of fun in the end.

When I bought MLB The Show 07 (featuring David Wright on the cover) for the PlayStation 2, I was dumbfounded. I thought it was everything I could ever want in a baseball video game. Real teams and players, just like the previous generation simply known as the “MLB” series, but with real expanded minor league teams and league rules, to an extent.

Now, I need to point out that, of all the gameplay options on The Show, I am a Franchise guy. I like the concept of playing GM better than the Road To The Show option (where you create yourself as a player and work your way through the system). I also don’t bother with all the bells and whistles including the card collecting and that kind of thing. I’m a baseball card collector in real life and have an extensive collection, I don’t need to collect “pretend” cards.

This is not a complaint, I have no issue with this being part of the experience, but it brings me to my first issue with the MLB The Show series:

Make Different Versions Highlighting Different Aspects Of The Game

As it is now, you can buy three different versions (though I’m cheating a bit because one is an online version and two are physical versions) but why not make MLB The Show: Franchise, where you can play the game in franchise or season mode, without all the extra card collecting and packs and stubs and things that I have no interest in.

Make a second version, or even an expansion pack, featuring the cards and all the extras that have nothing to do with playing baseball.

Release The Game When Spring Training Begins

As one who enjoys playing Spring Training games, there’s no reason why, in this day and age, the game can’t be released a month early. With downloadable patches and rosters, the game could be updated throughout Spring Training and give games like me a chance to play the Spring Training games in real time, with up to date rosters, which I do anyway because I spend the winter updating rosters on the previous year’s game, then I play Spring Training through and then transfer my saves to the NEW game once it’s released near Opening Day.

As an example, Madden NFL 19 was released on August 10, 2018. The NFL season didn’t begin until September 6. The preseason began on August 2 with the Hall Of Fame game. Why can’t Sony release The Show on a similar schedule as EA releases Madden?

Make Saved Rosters Transferable

I do my updates on saved rosters. It would make the game a lot more easy to play if I could just transfer those rosters to the next year’s game like I can transfer my season or franchise saves. This seems like a no-brainer to me, considering that, when you transfer franchise saves, the roster is going along with it, it’s just not transferable individually.

Work on that.

Upgrade The Managerial And Coach Hiring Options In Franchise Mode

While you can trade players from one team to another, and sign free agents, you cannot hire another team’s manager or hitting coach or pitching coach. That is ABSURD. Instead, you have the option of hiring your manager and staff from a list of computer-generated made-up names. There is NO excuse for this. The option to hire another team’s coach should be no different than signing another team’s free agents, it should be part of the experience.

Allow Non-Roster Invitees During Spring Training In Franchise Mode

This could be a little trickier but certainly not at all impossible. As each team has it’s MLB roster, AAA roster, AA roster and A roster, add a roster of NRI’s for spring training that can be added to the main roster if need be and released to the free agent pool if you decide not to keep them. Once the regular season rosters are set, the NRI roster would just disappear until the end of the season. There are a huge number of available free agents on the game, so this isn’t impossible by any stretch, and it would add another level of realism.

Make Regional Or Downloadable Covers For Each Team

Too much is made of the cover athlete and this year showed just exactly what a clusterfuck that can turn into. We’re six weeks from launch day and have no idea where the cover athlete will be playing. Why not make regional covers that are available nationwide via purchase from GameStop and Walmart and Target online? Or, even better, have a generic cover or a “legends” cover and make 30 different team covers available for download on the official Show website. I have made my own custom covers three times over the years, it’s not rocket science. If you can make 30 team custom themes for the PS4, I’m sure you can produce custom downloadable covers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the game and I can deal with not having these options available but, for how little it would really take to make these few alterations, why not do it? Too much time is spent on “1,300 new defensive animations” when, does that really matter? I mean, you make a great catch, but in the long run does the style of the animation of that catch really make that big of a difference in the gameplay aspect? Or is it a wig for a bald personality? It’s just a catch. Basically, what I’m saying is the game needs more steak, not more sizzle.

I love MLB The Show, and it’s a hell of a lot better than lining up Big Magoo to play first base for the White Sox on Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run or having no options to make trades or transactions on the old RBI Baseball series on the NES.

But it could be improved. Let’s work on that.
Peace.

2019: My Year, My Rules

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As we pull into the station at the end of 2018, I have to start by saying it was a very good year. It was a B+ year. Which given the abject misery of the seven years that proceeded it, I think I’ll call that a win. Yes, it had its down moments, and there were more than a few, but that’s to be expected in any year. Hell, the best years of my life (1995 and 2010) had their fair share of down moments.

The year started off horribly, and I literally didn’t know where my life was going from day to day. Luckily, everything worked out and things started to look up. I knew there was no way 2018 could be perfect, but it could be very good. It was just a matter of me keeping my eyes on the prize and going forward.

I met a lot of new people in 2018. That was truly a breath of fresh air. And I needed it. Some have been great, and I hope will remain friends for life. Some have not been and have already been eliminated from my life. More will follow.

In what may have been the biggest mixed-bag of 2018, I got to watch all 162 Chicago White Sox games and every spring training game that was televised. But watching a team that finished 62-100 isn’t exactly a treat, either. On the negative side in terms of baseball, I neglected to play a season on MLB The Show, again, for the 18th consecutive season. I first planned to play a full season with my own transactions on MLB 2000 for the original PlayStation in the year 2000. I’ve failed to do so every year since, always coming up with some excuse why it didn’t work.

That will change in 2019. I am updating the rosters daily, beginning with the first transactions at the end of the 2018 season, with daily attention since. Trades, free agent signings, retirements, etc. I’ve kept them all up to date.

One of my biggest issues in 2018 was my inability to stay out of some type of relationship situation, or the desire to pursue such things. It wasn’t until August that I finally realized I was spinning my wheels and that I was better off not trying to find something that I knew wasn’t there to begin with. But even with that revelation, I still kept trying to beat the system. That won’t happen in 2019.

I’m a single man now, and I’ll be a single man on December 31, 2019. This isn’t up for debate or meant as a challenge being issued. It’s a statement of fact. The situation doesn’t matter, the answer to anyone who attempts to lure me into anything beyond a basic, online friendship, will be “no.” No questions asked.

I was told I was being unfair and closed-minded. Perhaps. But that doesn’t matter to me. I have to live the life that works for me. And this is it.

My life went through a number of upgrades in 2018, not just out with the old and in with the new as far as removing the gutter trash and replacing them all with a much better group of people. I bought a new 55” Smart TV and TV stand, a new stereo for my bedroom with a built-in card reader for a little project I undertook this year, a new stereo for my living room, a new cigar humidor which I filled with some amazing sticks and are seasoning for a great 2019 and a new phone, which I had not upgraded since 2016, but needed to in order to use some of my favorite apps.

I’m not expecting a lot of change on that level in 2019. I’ve been a very lucky man most of my life, when I want something, I go buy it. That was a big part of my life in 2018 and I made the most of it. I’ll go on a case by case basis in 2019.

I lost 20 pounds in 2018 but that’s not even a blip on the radar of what I hope to lose in 2019. Stress helped to put roughly 60 to 80 extra pounds on me between 2011 and 2017, and once the causes were eliminated, I started to drop back a bit but not nearly enough. If I could lose 60 pounds I would be absolutely ecstatic.

I hope to get back into grilling and biking in 2019, which will require me to get a new grill and a new bike, but those are both items that will help me a lot.

I have also been through a multitude of things I would like to watch in 2019, and I finally decided I would like to watch the entire available Star Trek series, from the original 1960s series through The New Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, as well as Discovery and all the feature films available.

If I watch one episode per day, that will more than see me through 2019.

So, as 2018 comes to a close I can look back with mostly happy and enjoyable memories of the past year while also knowing 2019 is going to be even better, because I will live 2019 under my rules. I answer to no one, except myself and my Lord.

In closing, I want to with the best to everyone in 2019. Make it a great one.

God bless.