Discover a field of dreams on your computer screen with simulations

Pastime: Games can put you in the action in any baseball park, as a player, a manager or a fan.

April 12, 1999|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,Sun Staff

It's spring, PC fans, and you know what that means: computer baseball.

The national pastime inspires more computer geeks to create more entertainment software than any other subject save killing. In a given year, nearly a dozen baseball titles line store shelves. And the '99 season is no different.

Among the first games out of the chute this season are two of the best on the market: Triple Play 2000 (Electronic Arts; $39.95) and High Heat Baseball 2000 (3DO; $29.95).

Triple Play is an arcade-style baseball game with more emphasis on adrenalin than simulating every nuance of the game. High Heat, on the other hand, caters more to hard-core fans who want to immerse themselves in baseball minutiae.

First, full disclosure: I was never the kid who rattled off RBIs, OBPs, and ERAs (I was lucky to get through my ABCs). Instead, I craved the sound of wood hitting horsehide and the odor of fresh sod. So before popping Triple Play into my PC I knew it might be my digital field of dreams. (More later.)

Let's start with the similarities: Both games have the blessing of Major League Baseball and the Players' Association, so you'll find all your favorite teams, players, and stadiums (Camden Yards looks particularly good). Both ship with '99 rosters that reflect most recent trades and acquisitions. Both allow you to put yourself in the shoes of a manager and guide a team to the series, or to get off your virtual derriere and personally shag every ball. And for the first time, both games are fully playable over LAN, modem and the Internet.

But Triple Play is the visual champ here, with stunningly realistic 3-D graphics and animation. Watch batters work over a piece of gum as they wait for a pitch and strut down the lines after they've pared the leather off a fastball. When your man on the mound gives up a homer, you get a close-up of his scowl, one of many TV-perspective shots.

Triple Play offers four options: exhibition game, season, playoffs and something new called the home run challenge. The final option is pure heaven. Pick a player like the Orioles' Albert Belle and spend the day crushing homers until your finger hurts.

Some dramatic touches in EA's vision of the game may rattle purists. The ball in Triple Play, for instance, spews a comet-like tail as it streaks around the diamond. (I say: Cool, man!) The Dolby sound effects are designed get to the juices flowing too: When bat and ball connect just so, the impact registers with a heavy thud like a bank vault door being slammed shut. Even home runs have a cinematic quality: Hit one, and suddenly you're atop the ball watching the stadium shrink away as you arc into the clouds.

Triple Play serves up a richer audio stew to put you in the mood. Play-by-play announcers trade verbal volleys about everything from a batter's performance to historic games of yesteryear. In the background you can hear fans, vendors, stadium announcements and commercials. High Heat's play-by-play man, San Francisco Giants announcer Ted Robinson, and crowds sound subdued by comparison.

That's not to say High Heat is a dog. It's not. While its 3-D graphics and sound effects are a notch below Triple Play's, the game's playability is solid. Where High Heat really shines is in its ability to simulate the whole experience of baseball, from guiding a kid through the minors to keeping stats. Oh, the statistics you'll get here: Sometimes High Heat looks more like an Excel spreadsheet than a game.

In fact, the game's statistical engine is so solid that High Heat's designers claim last year's version predicted that the Yankees would win the World Series and Mark McGwire would shatter the home run record. This year's prediction? New York Yankees over the Houston Astros.

The arcade-style action is also infused with verisimilitude. Pitchers get tired and throw someplace other than where you told them to. Batters who guess what kind of pitch is coming will hit better.

The bottom line: If you like action, Triple Play's your game. If you're a bit more cerebral about your baseball, try High Heat.

Triple Play 2000 requires Windows 95/98 with a Pentium 166 MHz or higher processor, at least 20 MB of hard drive space and 16 MB of RAM. For more information, visit ww.ea.com

High Heat Baseball 2000 requires Windows 95/98 with a 166 MHz or higher Pentium CPU, at least 60 MB of hard drive space and 32 MB of RAM. For more information, visit www.3do.com

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