Sports Gaming on the PC certainly has seen better days. As you look across the spectrum of games available now, you're forced to settle with bad EA Sports ports, obscure soccer games, and text sims. It wasn't always like that though, and one baseball franchise broke all sorts of new ground doing things nobody else even thought possible.
So let's set the time machine back to 1992. The Chicago Bulls beat the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA Finals before they were known as the "Jail Blazers", Pat Borders and the Toronto Blue Jays became the first Canadian team to play in and win a World Series with a four games to two win over the Atlanta Braves, and my dad, younger brother, and I were locked in one heck of a baseball season on the PC's Hardball III.
The full name of this game was "Al Michaels announces Hardball III", the third in a fine series of games that appeared on the PC, SNES, and Sega Genesis. Today we focus mostly on the PC version because in my opinion, it was the superior version of the game despite it's graphical shortcomings.
Hardball III featured the play-by-play stylings of Emmy Award winning broadcaster Al Michaels. I recall opening the game up for Christmas one year and being saddened to learn that because we hadn't yet purchased one of those new fancy soundcard things for our computer, we had to settle for light crowd noise and midi-sounding baseball sound effects. It wasn't until my dad decided to upgrade our PC with both a CD-ROM drive and a sound cart that the true beauty of this game appeared. Real life sound does wonders to the overall experience.
By itself, Hardball III featured generic teams with generic players playing in eight different authentic stadiums. But the combo pack I got as a Christmas gift included the MLBPA license add-on disk and another add-on disk including every current MLB stadium. Pretty nice, huh? Could you imagine having to pay extra for that sort of thing now? Shhh...we don't want to give EA any ideas for Xbox Live Marketplace downloads. The MLBPA pack not only included the player's names and stats but also a pixelated face shot of each player included. No other baseball game in this era offered anything like that.
So now that we had the real players and the real stadiums, we still faced the dilemma of having generic teams. Lucky for us, this game had another feature that, up until then, had never been seen in a sports video game before. You could edit your own logos!
Before my dad, my brother, and I were to start our season, it became my assignment to use the primitive logo editing software to create the logos for all twenty-six MLB franchises. It took me a while but I did a pretty decent job at replicating the main logos of all the teams. Finally, we were ready to start our season.
Because a PC joystick was so difficult to set up, we decided we'd simply use the keyboard to control our little digital guys with big hearts. The controls were pretty simple. We turned auto fielding on but controlled where we threw the ball. To pitch, you simple used the arrow keys to select which pitch you wanted and where you wanted to try to throw it. To hit, a simple stroke of the space bar made your batter take a swing.
The true joy of this game was the full 162 game season mode. My dad chose his beloved Yankees for our season. I went with the still intact Bash Brothers in Oakland. My brother chose the Atlanta Braves. Because of a massive hard drive meltdown, we never got to finish that season. Darn shame too because I had Mark McGwire on pace to break Roger Maris' single-season home run record, a record he'd go on to break in real life six years later.
Accolade and developer MindSpan did a pretty good job of coaching play by play talent Al Michaels. Though robotic sounding if you go back and listen now, at the time the things they were doing with the sound was pretty impressive. As your player would step up to bat, Michaels would announce his current batting average and how many home runs and runs batted in that player had. Again, while this may sound like the norm today, trust me when I say that back in 1992, this was unheard of and thoroughly impressive. I used to have my friends over just so they could experience all the goodness that was this game's sound.
For a game that shipped on multiple 3.25 floppy disks (look it up, kids), this game really had it all once you installed the add-on's. Real players, real stadiums, and Al Michaels calling the play by play, and it all added up to a gaming experience I'll always look back fondly on.