Serious baseball fanatics know that there's no series truer to the national pastime than Diamond Mind Baseball. Tom Trippett's venerable franchise enters its ninth edition as the "King of Text-Based Baseball Replay Simulations" by generating statistics that match up with real-life seasons right to the last decimal point. Unfortunately, it remains more of an uncannily accurate baseball-stat calculator than a game, with virtually no amenities and a punishing interface.
As with previous releases in the series, unfriendliness is the biggest problem with Diamond Mind Baseball 9. The menu system seems to have been designed as a warning for those who aren't dedicated season replayers, since you've got to be a real baseball nut to suffer through the interface's steep learning curve. This is probably the most easy-to-use edition of the game thus far, although this isn't saying much. Trippett has never really embraced Windows development (version 8, released in 2001, was the first Windows version of the game), so you can still see the old DOS architecture peeking through.
At any rate, the game opens with a completely blank screen, there is no interactive tutorial, there are no graphical or audio elements at all, and it's hit or miss whether or not you can click on hot links to pull up lineups and stats. Everything requires one or two--or a half-dozen--extra steps. Want to see how your Yankees are doing? You have to click on "report"; click on "standard, customized, memorized"; select a report type; pick New York; and, finally, click "generate." This is pretty cumbersome, especially when every other text-based sports sim out there lets you display team stats simply by clicking on the team's name in whatever menu you happen to be displaying.
There is a spreadsheet mentality at work here that makes playing through seasons much more work than it should be. Many options require you to set things up manually. Take the postseason, for example. While the game-simulation engine is undeniably, incredibly complex and advanced, it lacks the ability to schedule playoff series. You have to manually set up the postseason by inserting division and wild-card winners into the appropriate slots.
Making matters worse, you have to do so by closing the control panel, which provides standings and game results, so that you can wade through nested menus in an encyclopedia-like separate window called "the organizer." And this isn't easy. The scheduling command is practically hidden in an anonymous tools menu. If not for the in-game help files, we'd still be trying to figure this out.
Such a stripped-down approach does have a few good points, however. Mainly, Diamond Mind Baseball 9's lack of frills and amenities, like career play, lets you concentrate on pure baseball, whether you're playing solo or with friends in an online league (there are dozens). In this department, there are no letdowns. Trippett puts an astonishing amount of research into his game, and it shows in the final results. Generated numbers for any given season are indistinguishable from reality. Box scores are the best in the baseball-sim business. They are error-free and come with an incredible amount of detail, including new game logs that go over everything that happened on the field. League stats for 2003 were re-created almost perfectly in each of the dozen or so seasons we replayed.
The only question marks arose in regard to individual performances. Boston's Bill Mueller was the biggest aberration. He was a hitting machine in most of our replayed 2003 seasons, and his batting average was usually a good 60 points higher than his actual average for that year. Other numbers were dead on the money. Mike Mussina's win-loss record and ERA mirrored real life at least three times, for instance. We didn't see anything even remotely implausible during our simmed seasons.
Also, you can zip through seasons at a blistering pace. Simulation speed is the best that we've ever seen in a sports management title. Games just fly past, so simming an entire season requires fewer than five minutes. There is no need to sit back to wait for game results to come in, which is a real plus when you consider the doctor's office atmosphere of some other baseball sims. This really benefits the season replayer, who often isn't as interested in individual games as much as in seeing what would happen over the course of an entire season if a few key lineup changes were made. You can, of course, slow things right down to manually call every pitch of every game, if you desire.
Some nice amenities have been added this year as well. Online games are now supported via the NetPlay feature, so you can test your managing skills against other human players. Textual play-by-play, which is shown when manually playing out games, is much improved over the last edition, and it includes plays that take into account specific park quirks. A separate encyclopedia lets you store the results of hundreds of seasons for later reflection. You can even generate Web pages, based on this data, for easy strolling down memory lane.
Even with all these good points, Diamond Mind Baseball 9 is hard to really enjoy. The arcane interface makes playing the game a hassle, even if you're a hardcore season replayer. Many others will be disappointed by both the lack of a career option, which has become a necessity in sports sims these days, and the complete absence of frills that complete the illusion of running a big-league ballclub. Price is another potential problem, since accuracy comes at a cost. The basic game, with either the 2003 season disc or the projection 2004 season disc, is $69.95 at the official Web site. Diamond Mind Baseball 9 remains an impressive series for baseball grognards who love nothing more than to pore over authentic box scores. Unfortunately, it's still too daunting for more-casual hardball fans.