We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with a few thoughts on nicknames in NBA 2K.
When I finally succeeded in getting my face scanned into NBA 2K18 – or more specifically, The Prelude – it didn’t turn out anywhere near as good as my NBA Live 18 scan. As I noted on my Twitter at the time, it ended up looking a little like a combination of young Adam Sandler circa Billy Madison, and young Alan Ruck from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Once the full game came out and I was able to visit Doc’s barbershop – expensive haircuts and all – I was able to add a beard. While it still isn’t a great likeness, at least it looks a little less like a Sandler-Ruck mash-up.
A few weeks back, I ended up giving my MyPLAYER longish hair, in the process making him look a little like Jaime Lannister from the early seasons of Game of Thrones. I briefly reconsidered renaming him, and even went so far as to outfit him with some yellow wrist tape, in an effort to imitate Jaime’s golden hand (uh, spoilers for anyone who still hasn’t gotten into GoT yet). I also looked at changing the audio nickname, but the most appropriate choice was probably “Cold Hands”. It got me thinking that the selection of nicknames for MyPLAYERs in NBA 2K could definitely stand to be much larger, and more varied.
This is, of course, a relatively minor complaint. Gameplay issues, the aggressive implementation of Virtual Currency, and other aspects of MyCAREER, are obviously all far more crucial areas of concern. I have discussed those issues before, and no doubt I’ll touch upon them again at some point, but as I said, the lack of nicknames has caught my attention recently. From a presentation standpoint, the nickname that you choose for your MyPLAYER comes up a lot. This has been an annoyance in recent MyCAREER stories, where your player has been saddled with silly and corny nicknames: Frequency Vibrations, The President of Basketball, and D.J.
On the bright side, although cutscenes and various lines in the commentary will retain the primary MyPLAYER nickname, we do have the option of selecting a secondary nickname for the PA Announcer and commentators to use. While it would be nice to use that nickname exclusively, perhaps selecting it during MyPLAYER creation, the current pool of names leaves something to be desired. Admittedly, the nicknames they have at the moment aren’t all bad. They sound like the kind of nicknames basketball players might have, and they’re suitably generic. However, even though there are 90 to choose from, it still feels as though there’s a lack of variety and creativity.
Part of the problem is that there’s repetition and redundancy. For example, there’s “Magician”, and “The Magician”. Similarly, there’s “Smooth” and “Big Smooth”; “Captain Clutch”, “Clutch”, and “Mr. Clutch”; “Doc” and “The Doctor”; “The Great” and “The Great One”; and “Skinny” and “Slim”. They’re variations of each other that gamers probably would like to be able to choose between, but ultimately they’re very similar, particularly the “Clutch” related nicknames. Take out D.J., Pres, and Freq, and consider that several of the remaining nicknames are a little too similar, specific, or strange, and you don’t have a lot of unique or desirable options to choose from.
Obviously, there’s always going to be a finite number of nicknames available. Visual Concepts aren’t going to be able to account for every moniker and pet name, or variation on common nicknames. There are a few options to consider, though. One suggestion would be to include more NBA nicknames, past and present. Another would be to add some more nicknames based on common first names and surnames. Your initials, perhaps with your jersey number if you like, could also be an option. For that matter, it’d be nice to be able to skip the nicknames altogether, and choose to have the game call your first name and/or surname (assuming they’re available).
To that end, NBA 2K could stand to take a few cues from WWE 2K. When creating a wrestler in WWE 2K, gamers can choose a nickname, first name, middle name, and surname. Although the bank of names doesn’t account for uncommon surnames (and a few common first names, for that matter), it’s still quite comprehensive. Names can also be pieced together to be announced in different ways. For example, the nickname can be called before or between the other names, and “the” can be selected independently of nicknames. Since NBA 2K has its own bank of names, a similar approach could be taken to piece together custom audio for your MyPLAYER.
Once again, I must stress that this far from the most pressing issue in NBA 2K. I’m simply taking a break from discussing matters of greater importance to offer up a few thoughts on something that recently caught my attention. However, I would suggest that there is some importance in providing more nicknames and better audio options for MyPLAYERs in NBA 2K. Quite a few gamers have expressed dissatisfaction at having to play as characters called Frequency Vibrations, The President of Basketball, and D.J. The unappealing nature of the nicknames, even when replaced by slightly more desirable alternatives in certain situations, can detract from the experience.
Since MyCAREER adopted the story-driven approach, the mode has struggled to seamlessly integrate a linear storyline and character arcs with an RPG-style approach that invites users to place themselves into the game. Needless to say, resolving that issue goes beyond the nicknames we choose for our MyPLAYERs. There also needs to be story branching, meaningful choices, and other RPG elements. All the same, being able to personalise our MyPLAYERs with custom audio, or at the very least, choose from a wider variety of nicknames that completely replace the default moniker, would alleviate the problem of being put off by an undesirable handle.
As it stands, I’m still using “A-Train” for my MyPLAYER. It’s become something of a tradition for me since my memorable MyCAREER game in NBA 2K13, as it’s the nickname I chose back then. However, it’s also telling that five years later, it’s still the most desirable option available to me, and only because my name starts with an A. Audio for my surname is actually available in NBA Live 18, so the fact that NBA 2K18 doesn’t even offer some appealing new nickname choices to change things up is a bit of a disappointment. While I do have a certain fondness for “A-Train” at this point, I’d like to have some other viable nicknames to consider.
Historically, created players in basketball games have always been conspicuous. Their faces have tended to look generic, and far less detailed and realistic. In terms of the commentary, their surname might be called if it’s in the game; otherwise, it’ll usually just be their jersey number. Games have come a long way though, especially with the ability to scan our faces for use in career modes. However, the lack of variety in the available nicknames, not to mention the limited audio options for created players and MyPLAYERs alike, is disappointing. Improvement in that regard could add some much needed personalisation to custom rosters, and the RPG aspect of MyCAREER.