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NBA Live 07 Community Day Recap & Report

For those who are unaware, I attended EA Sports’ NBA Live 07 Community Day held at EA Canada’s studios in Vancouver where I had an opportunity to meet members of the production team and road test NBA Live 07 on Current Gen, Next Gen and PSP. It’s my pleasure to bring back some info on this year’s game as well as some shots of the game and a couple of other photos from the event.

Introduction

I left Sydney at 10:40 AM last Tuesday, embarking on a 16 hour flight that included a brief stop in Honolulu. This was actually my first trip outside Australia so that in itself was exciting for me in addition to my enthusiasm at getting a sneak peek at NBA Live 07. Leading up to the trip excitement was playing tug of war with nerves since I actually don’t like flying (almost to the point of it being a phobia) but I was fine once I got into the air. Aside from a long line at customs in Honolulu which led to panicked thoughts of missing the connecting flight it was a fairly enjoyable journey. I arrived a couple of days before everyone else which gave me a couple of extra days to check out Vancouver and do some gift shopping. I’ll get to that stuff another time though.

EA put us all up in the Sutton Place Hotel which was a fantastic place to stay. I racked up a bit of large room service and minibar bill but it was definitely worth every cent. I’d like to give a shoutout to Jon at EA at this time for all his work organising the event. He’s also a great guy to hang out with, he really put together a fun couple of days. Thanks Jon!

Meeting Tim

Before I get to the event itself, I would like to mention that I finally had the pleasure of meeting up with Tim a night before the main event began. He’s actually the first person from the community I’ve had met face to face and I was thrilled to have the opportunity because I’ve had a lot of respect for him since I first discovered the NLSC back in 1997. It was great to finally meet him and hang out for a while. Seriously, he’s a very cool guy.

And now, onto the event…

Studio Tour

The first afternoon, we had a tour of EA’s studios. We were actually able to take some photos, some of which I’m allowed to share with you. It’s a great building with a campus-style feel. When you first pull up to the entrance you’ll find a couple of outdoor sports facilities.

Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to use them ourselves but as you can see I got a couple of good shots from the building. Inside the studio, many of the walls were adorned with CDs, artworks and other memorabilia associated with the NBA Live series.

We went through the various offices and production areas including the sound stage where Marv Albert and Steve Kerr recorded their commentary and the QA area. Something that I found very cool was having the opportunity to actually stand on the court that was once used for motion capture.

With all the basketball memorabilia around it felt as much a shrine to the sport as it did a video game development studio which made for a really awesome atmosphere. At the end of the tour we went back to a conference room and met up with Tim as well as Brent (senior producer) and Brian (Current Gen producer), who outlined the following day’s events and showed us a couple of videos. Needless to say everyone was pretty pumped up by the time we went out to dinner where we had the opportunity to meet two more producers, Anthony and Geoff, and ask them a few informal questions.

The next day we headed back to the studios where we finally got our hands on NBA Live 07.

NBA Live 07 Hands-On Impressions

Current Gen

While I tried to spend as much time as possible with all three platforms I probably spent the most amount of time with Current Gen, specifically the Xbox version (though its features and gameplay are the same as the PC and PS2 versions). The version we sampled was fairly close to the completed product so don’t expect any huge changes or big new features to be unveiled at this point.

Alright then. Let’s take a look at NBA Live 07, Current Gen.

Gameplay

I’ll start out with one of the most important areas of the game: the gameplay itself. One of the first things the producers acknowledged before getting into the demonstration was that the introduction of Freestyle Superstars last year turned out somewhat arcadeish because it was too powerful. Even though I enjoyed NBA Live 06 I was bothered by the strength of FSS and to hear that the production teams have taken those criticisms on board and worked to improve the situation so that the concept of total player control goes hand in hand with authenticity was really very promising.

This year FSS moves will be performed by holding down the Freestyle trigger and moving the right analog stick in different directions. This includes rotating the stick for more complex moves. You can also use the buttons in conjunction with the trigger but the game will select what it feels to be the most appropriate move for your player to perform in the current situation. I expect this will allow us to effectively utilise Superstar moves with a familiar system while we’re learning how to master the new analog method.

The moves themselves are effective but not unstoppable. There’s definitely more of a risk/reward system implemented this year. Sometimes Dwyane Wade will be able to rise above defenders to throw it down but other times he’ll be forced to adjust his shot, especially when challenged by a larger player. Player weight really did seem to come into play this year. Shaq isn’t unstoppable but I found I was able to make him throw his weight around while Wade couldn’t soar above a group of defenders as often as he could in NBA Live 06. I thought that was implemented very well.

On a similar note, momentum is a lot different this year. In years past defenders would be able to recover much too quickly, finding their way out to a player on the perimeter in drive-and-dish situations. You won’t find that happening this year (though quick players will have better recovery times as you would expect) so if you beat the defense you will be rewarded for it. That said, you won’t be able to abuse Freestyle control and beat the defender time after time, nor will the CPU be able to constantly blow by you with unbeatable moves either.

That brings us to a subtle yet effective element of the game: on-ball scenarios. These aren’t easy to spot at first but this year when it comes to beating a defender or defending a player with the ball you will find yourself battling your opponent. On defense it will be about moving your feet, sticking to the player like glue and keeping him from getting where he wants to go. For the player with the ball it will be about putting space between yourself and the opponent to find gaps in the defense for a pass or drive, or alternatively creating space to get off a jumpshot. Both the offensive and defensive player can break these scenarios so they don’t get in the way of the flow of the game at all. They’re also very short so they don’t play out like a long mini-game.

On-ball scenarios depend on the player’s abilities but just because a player is quick or strong it doesn’t mean they will always prevail. The lesser player will be able to hold his own but the better player will be able to utilise his talents. For example, Allen Iverson won’t always be able to blow by Antonio Daniels or break his ankles but he will have more success against him than say, Ron Artest. Similarly, Ron Artest will be a tough defender but just as in real life he won’t be able to stop absolutely everything especially when his opponent is a deadly scorer.

Stronger players are able to finish more often, which brings us back to player weight and mass. This year you’ll notice that players will be thrown off balance by other players standing in their way. Something will happen when there’s contact; a foul, an adjusted shot or if they’re strong enough they might still be able to finish. You won’t find a plethora of unstoppable moves as with NBA Live 06’s FSS movesets.

As I mentioned before good defense will be played by moving your feet; that is, moving your player with the left analog stick to stay between your man and the basket and denying him position with the on-ball scenarios. There’s less button mashing to get steals and blocks with timing as well as positioning being much more important. Get into good defensive position early and you will be much more successful. Get there late and you will give up some easy baskets.

Most people probably know by now that NBA Live 07 will allow us to change FSS movesets on the fly for players who have multiple FSS abilities. I think that with practise we’ll find we’re able to do this quickly since it’s just a matter of holding down the FSS trigger and clicking the right analog stick button (what’s referred to as the R3 button on the PS2). It’s going to take good dexterity to be able to utilise a lot of movesets by a single player on the same play but it’s definitely a lot better than being restricted to a single FSS type as we were last year.

Speaking of total player control, when the news broke that NBA Live 07 would feature seperate buttons for jumpshots, dunks and layups a lot of people dismissed it as unnecessary and I myself was skeptical as to the difference it could make but I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by the impact it had on the game. With a dunk/layup button it was left up to the game to decide which was the most appropriate move to execute in any given situation and needless to say it didn’t always make the correct choice. By seperating dunks and layups we can choose to take it up strong or lay it in depending on the situation and like the FSS moves there’s a definite risk/reward aspect to that as well. It had more impact than I expected and is definitely for the better.

Also, for those wondering about attempting dunks with players such as Steve Nash can rest easy. If you attempt a dunk with Nash he will go up for one but will be forced to abort it and try to lay it in or will miss it badly. Players who can dunk but rarely do will obviously have more success but for players who never dunk in real life won’t throw one down even if you try to force them to do so. Their ratings just won’t allow it.

X-Factors…who are they and what can they do? X-Factors players do not have FSS abilities but can unlock them for a brief period of time if they are in the offense and in rhythm. If a player with X-Factor status is struggling they won’t miraculously catch fire time and time again and dominate the end of every game turning a game from a potential 20 point user victory to a 10 point user loss. Likewise you won’t be able to just bring them on in the last two minutes and have them hit every shot. They’ll need to have been involved in the offense and in rhythm if you want to activate their abilities and see clutch performances from them. As you may have guessed, X-Factor players are designated by their clutch rating. X-Factor players also have the potential to develop FSS abilities up to the Star level, which brings me to the next improvement.

In addition to toning down FSS moves NBA Live 07 also seperates those moves into Star and Superstar. Players with Star abilities will utilise different moves that aren’t as strong as their Superstar equivalents. As a couple of previews have already mentioned players can have different levels in each category, so you might have a player who boasts Superstar Shooter abilities but is only a Star Outside Scorer. You do notice the difference and it does seperate the cream of the crop from the players who are just pretty good. It’s worked out very well. Superstar abilities will be identified by a white icon while Star abilities will be represented by blue icons.

I was extremely pleased to notice that the comeback logic has been done away with and replaced by the Intensity feature. The CPU will remain challenging in a close game and play an intelligent game but its players won’t gain superhuman abilities while users find their players missing easy shots and open dunks. The Intensity will build throughout the game if it remains close and will drop if a team is getting blown out. When the Intensity is low there will be fewer interceptions and looser defense so if a team’s being beaten convincingly you won’t see as many unbelievable comebacks.

The Intensity Meter will go from blue to red as intensity increases. In Playoff games and Rivalry matchups the intensity will be at a higher level to begin with. When selecting teams there is a graphic that will be displayed if two teams with an established rivalry are selected. The crowd logic is also tied into the intensity and will react much more intelligently to the action as well as being noticeably more hyped for a game that features two rivals.

Passing has been improved and we have more control over it than before. Tapping the pass button will result in a regular pass while holding the pass button will cause the player to throw a longer pass which is fantastic on the fast break. This also allows you to throw bounce passes and lobs into the post. I noticed players seem to be more intelligent in posting up and running the break this year so if you hit a player in good position he’ll have an easier time finishing, though as I said before not to the extent of having unstoppable moves. We can also choose who to throw an alley-oop pass too instead of the game deciding the teammate you had in mind which as we all know often resulted in the wrong player going for the lob. Alley-oops won’t always be on the money though so again although we have greater control it won’t be an exploit.

Elaborating a little more on teammate AI, they do seem to be a bit more intelligent this year and will call players and run isolations without being prompted if you get yourself into position. They also help out more on defense so there’s less furious switching and CPU opponents finding a lot of easy buckets. Teams do seem to play more like their real life counterparts though it looks like their style will change depending on their roster.

A couple of miscellaneous gameplay notes: consideration has been given to keyboard users this year although as with all NBA Lives since Freestyle Control was implemented it will be much better with a gamepad. With free throws moving to the right analog stick keyboard users will simply be able to use the direction keys to simulate pulling back on the stick then pushing it forward to release the ball. The game will display information about your attempt such as “Released too late” or “Released too early” or “Pushed too far left” giving you advice on how to shoot the free throws and letting you know where you went wrong.

If you don’t trust your abilities with the analog stick you can just press the shoot button to entrust the free throw to the player’s ratings, which will be displayed quickly before the first free throw. If you have a player like Steve Nash on the line you might want to rely on the fact he hits 9/10 free throws in a tight game. If you’re good at the analog method or have a poor shooter at the line you’ll probably want to try your luck with the stick instead.

Overall I was very, very impressed with the gameplay. The pacing felt a lot better, a little slower but not to the point of being played in slow motion. Just more realistic. The CPU doesn’t make snap decisions one after another, scoring at a blistering pace. It will take its time (unless you leave the lane wide open time after time, then of course it will take advantage), settings things up and deciding what to do next based on the looks you give it. Some teams are more inclined to play run and gun of course and the user is also able to dictate the pace moreso than recent NBA Lives.

What really impressed me was how realistic it felt without any slider tweaks at all. We might have to play with them a bit for 12 minute quarters but compared to how NBA Live 06 played out of the box I was amazed at how realistic it seemed. It really seems like a lot of effort has been put into making the game authentic as well as fun to play and I believe it’s paid off. I truly am thoroughly impressed at how many gameplay issues have been addressed and how the expanded Freestyle control has improved the game. A huge thumbs up here as far as I’m concerned.

Dynasty Mode

Dynasty Mode still has a couple of issues which I might get out of the way first. The stats engine is still a little faulty so you might notice players averaging fewer points than they should and a couple of discrepencies with rebounds and assists. It looks a little better than last year though and I did make a point of raising the issue with the guys so we’ll see if any fine tuning is made before the game is finished.

Generated rookies look like being a bit better as far as size and balanced skills are concerned though I did notice a couple of those players sneaking through. Name generation has been fixed though with names reflecting the region the player is coming from so there’s less John Smiths coming out of Africa and seemingly fewer mismatched names so we should see less Dikembe Johnsons as well. There’s also around 550 common surnames in the game so instead of being called by a number generated rookies should be announced by their surname instead. As always, look out for some producers’ names to surface in the game.

Speaking of generated players if you do decide to hold the 2006 Draft again there will be some fictional players in there. This is due to the fact that not every draftee from the class of 2006 will have been signed by the time the game ships and thus cannot be included. Indications are that there will be some roster updates to add missing rookies and players as the season goes on so while that might be an issue out of the box it might not be such a big deal once those updates come along. There were also hints of some official updates for the PC version.

If you re-draft the class of 2006 the default order reflects the final draft board this year so if a team traded up or down they will now hold that pick by default. You can also randomise or adjust the draft order if you wish.

An ESPN Mock Draft and recommendations (including a list of team needs) are available for all rookie drafts including the 2006 Draft if you choose to hold it again. You will be graded on the picks so if you select a small forward when you are already deep at that position you can expect to receive a low score. When viewing prospects you will be able to view the scores that your scout has given them as well as a few comments from unnamed ESPN analysts (no name has been attached this year though they are branded as ESPN Insider content). The Mock Draft is available throughout the season with the picks and recommendations changing to reflect season standings and team rosters.

Speaking of draft picks they seem to be much easier to trade this year. If you offer a team a good deal involving picks they are far less likely to turn their nose up at it. For the sake of testing out their interest in trading picks, I dealt Dwyane Wade to the Bulls for Chris Duhon and a first round pick which the Bulls accepted. Obviously such a deal would never be made but it’s a deal that would have been turned down in NBA Live 06. Fairer deals also suggest we shouldn’t have so much trouble making swaps that involve picks this year.

When signing free agents we are presented with the option of offering a minimum contract, standard contract or the mid level exception. The MLE obviously offers flexibility for teams without cap space while the standard contract option allows us to make an adjustable offer as in years past and the minimum contract option saves us some time sliding the contract offer down to the minimum. The MLE does seem to be effective in getting better players out of the free agent pool and back into the league. Bird rights are also in the game this year.

I was a little disappointed that the offseason is still linear and we have to advance a day or two to see if a trade went through. Still, with the other improvements it’s not so bad and teams do seem to respond quicker to trade offers. Most of the time I got a response the next day which is preferable to simming two or three days to find out a deal has been rejected.

Starting this year we’ll have to pay close attention to team chemistry and player happiness. Players will comment on a variety of things: market size, roster stability, winning percentage, team events, playing time and bench order, team talent and overall team chemistry. Some aspects are beyond your control. If you’re controlling a small market team then a player who wants to play in a big market is only going to be satisfied if you trade him to a big market team. So long as he’s happy about other aspects of the team you shouldn’t run into too much trouble with him.

Bars will indicate a player’s satisfaction with each aspect of the team. He’ll also comments such as “I think we need to make some moves”, “I’m happy with the direction of this team”, “A lot of players have trouble seeing eye-to-eye” and so on. You’re also able to monitor a player’s relationship with his teammates and check out how they might feel about playing with other players in the league as well as how those players feel about their current teammates and whether they might welcome a move to your team. Given that this all affects your chances of success as well as signing and re-signing players it’s a huge improvement to Dynasty Mode.

You’ll also have to monitor your player’s fatigue on road trips. There are diagrams and bars to indicate how far you’ve travelled and how tired your players have become. You can schedule days off instead of practice to give them a rest and if you’re simming, reduce their minutes (more on that later). The assistant head coach takes care of scheduling events and can be done automatically (submitted for your review) or you can control that yourself. Events are assigned in a similar interface to training camp time.

If you have a good assistant head coach you’ll want to make good use of ESPN Rumour Central where you can investigate the buzz on players: who wants to sign where, who may or may not re-sign and who might be up for grabs. His research might not always yield accurate results especially if he doesn’t have great skills in that area so just as in real life you may need to take some rumours with a grain of salt.

A useful new feature is the ability to set rotations and playing time for simulated games. Once you’ve ordered the rosters to set the depth chart you can adjust how much time a player will see at each position (by percentage) as well as determine how often they will start. You’re able to give players time at multiple positions as well. LeBron James may start the game at small forward and account for 75% of the minutes at that position, but you could then also assign him time at shooting guard and point guard as well thus allowing the game to simulate different lineups you might use during gameplay. You’ll find that you can give sixth men a lot more minutes during simulation this way.

If at any time you find yourself overwhelmed by the features of Dynasty Mode, this year you can find extensive help and explanations of the various GM functions as well as a guide to the salary cap and roster management under Dynasty Help. It should be useful to new and returning players alike.

Dynasty Mode looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun this year with more management features and with the improved gameplay I think a lot of people will be enthusiastic about Dynasty this year. There are a few issues remaining as I mentioned but I’m hoping some fine tuning will take place before the game is finished. On the whole I’m really looking forward to it; I’m going to have trouble finishing off my NBA Live 06 Dynasty now.

Presentation, Graphics & Audio

I briefly mentioned the crowd logic earlier in the report and I’d like to touch on that again. They do react to the intensity of the game very well and the crowd audio seems much less generic this year making for a really cool atmosphere when you play, especially in an important contest. A definite step up from last year.

The commentary sounds great this year as well with Marv and Steve also reacting to the intensity as well as team runs and offering extended analysis before the game and at the beginning of the third quarter. I was amazed to find out that neither read from scripts. They’re given a situation or shown video clips and record commentary as though they were watching a real game. That would explain the pauses in dialogue in NBA Live 06 which gave the commentary a more authentic feel and the same effect has been achieved – and improved upon – in NBA Live 07. I’m sure there will be times when the commentary AI messes up and a phrase will be brought out too early but that’s a common symptom in sports games. There are more reactions to what’s actually happening though which is awesome.

The player models look a lot more authentic this year as the heads have been adjusted and made smaller so that they’re in proportion to the bodies. Player headshots were placed over the models to ensure they were the correct size. The lighting has also been redone so the shine effect comes off a lot better in NBA Live 07. I admit I’m a graphics and Dynasty over gameplay fan but I honestly have no complaints about the graphics on Current Gen.

We’ve got some signature free throw styles and jumpshots in this year’s game, though the Next Gen version features many more unique jumpshot styles. This again contributes to the atmosphere and sets players with unique free throw rituals apart from the rest of the league. There’s some new cutscenes including a new starting five intro which I think looks more true to life and the presentation more closely reflects a TV broadcast with the starting five overlays and player behaviour. You’ll also notice more player celebrations as well as celebrations and emotion from the bench.

I should also mention that the FSS cutscenes have been done away with and the starting five intro takes place in Play Now Mode as well. Also, it could be my imagination but I thought the Press camera angle looked better this year and more closely resembled the favoured angle from NBA Live 2005.

I assume we’ll be getting console style menus in the PC version again but the menus this year are much cleaner with less back and forth. While I’d love a PC-specific UI I have grown used to the current style and this year’s layout is one of the better ones since this style of menu was adopted. The choice of colours and font works well and is easy to read. For a console-oriented UI it’s pretty good.

ESPN Integration

There’s nowhere near the level of ESPN Integration on Current Gen as there is on the Next Gen version but there will be an ESPN ticker that will update every 20 minutes. As I mentioned earlier the ESPN brand will appear throughout the game and especially in Dynasty Mode.

All-Star Weekend

It’s basically the same as the past couple of years, though a couple of new dunks have been added to Slam Dunk Contest. I’m not disappointed at all as I think for the moment All-Star Weekend is fine just the way it is. I’ll gladly trade off the addition of a Skills Competition for the focus that’s been placed on gameplay and Dynasty Mode.

Current Gen Wrap-Up

It seems that EA’s reaching the limits of what can be achieved on the Current Gen platforms though I assume they (and most game developers) will begin to phase them out over the next couple of years. Having said that I really liked what I saw with the Current Gen version as it was very impressive across the board. A lot of issues have been tackled and the new stuff looks like it will really enhance the experience. NBA Live 07 Current Gen is definitely worth investing in. I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy it.

Next Gen

The XBox 360 version we played wasn’t as close to completion as the Current Gen version of the game and as such there were a few bugs and animation glitches that should be cleared up by the time the game is finished. Nevertheless what was on display looked outstanding.

Gameplay

I didn’t play NBA Live 06 on the XBox 360 so I can’t really compare the two but NBA Live 07 plays really well. As with Current Gen the seperation of the dunk, layup and jumpshot buttons offers a nice risk/reward system and effective allow you to pick the best course of action with the ball in your hands. Freestyle Superstars has made its way onto Next Gen this year and it can be changed on the fly though there are fewer categories on Next Gen: High Flyer, Scorer, Shooter, Post Player and Playmaker compared to Current Gen’s High Flyer, Outside Scorer, Inside Scorer, Power Player, Shooter, Playmaker, Outside Stopper and Inside Stopper. Switching FSS movesets for multitalented players is achieved by holding the FSS trigger and pressing the right analog button. X-Factor players are also in the game.

A key difference between the levels of stars in Next Gen is that instead of Star and Superstar levels the game utilises three levels of Superstars. This has the same effect though with players who possess Level 3 abilities will have more moves at their disposal than players with Level 1 or Level 2 abilities. Moves are executed in the same fashion as Current Gen with the buttons selecting random moves and the right analog stick being used to execute the moves on cue. The moves themselves are not unstoppable and difficult to abuse on both sides.

Player momentum is even more impressive than Current Gen as “waterbug” player movements have been eliminated. This is where people who are writing off feetplanting as just another marketing gimmick are really selling the feature short. I found myself running out of bounds a bit playing the XBox 360 version as there’s a bit of a lurning curve when it comes to the way players move around in the game, which is to say much more like human players.

Players cannot recover with superhuman speed and you will find yourself off-balance if you try to change direction too quickly to dash out to the perimeter after a kickout. There’s more of a feeling of controlling human players than computer game characters. You also need to gather yourself to square up for a jumpshot or take off for a dunk or layup so it’s not just a matter of hitting a button and watching the game go into a morphing animation.

Free throws are once again on the right analog pad and like Current Gen there’s help and a diagram that indicates where you went wrong shooting the free throw. You can also sim the free throw with the shoot button if you trust your player’s ratings. For those who had trouble with the system last year it has been improved but is still challenging.

Intensity has also been implemented on Next Gen but not quite the same as on Current Gen. You will definitely notice teams buckling down in the fourth and player tighter D. Players won’t suffer from a superhuman comeback logic though; as with Current Gen that concept has been replaced by intensity.

Dynasty Mode

Dynasty Mode is basically the same as on Current Gen with the new roster management features, team chemistry, rumours and the ability to set player rotations. There isn’t much to say here without simply repeating myself but I will say that the menus are much cooler on Next Gen.

Presentation, Graphics & Audio

This is where Next Gen has a clear advantage over its predecessors. The players look fantastic on the XBox 360 version with a new skin texture that looks amazingly lifelike. Players will work up a sweat as they play and hair movements have been improved. You’ll notice hair curling up and twisting that looks better than the “bouncing” effect last year’s game had. Speaking of hairstyles, Ben Wallace will feature a fro in home games and sport cornrows on the road. They’ll be looking at adding multiple hairstyles for more players in future games.

Players show a lot of emotion this year as they react to the play and current state of the game. Whether they’re going up for a dunk or shooting a free throw you’ll see emotion on the players’ faces. Coaches also show emotion on the sidelines and the bench will celebrate big plays. Honestly, I don’t think words really do the graphics of Next Gen much justice. I was blown away by the level of detail and the presentation. I don’t think anyone could be too disappointed with the graphics of NBA Live 07 on Next Gen.

As I mentioned Next Gen boasts more unique shooting styles and while a few are still being tweaked I was amazed at how they’ve captured the form of players like Shawn Marion, Tayshaun Prince and Ray Allen. Obviously the players are extremely detailed and realistic on Next Gen but it’s quirks like individual shooting styles that make the players really stand apart from one another. In other words, it’s not just Kobe’s face and tattoos pasted on a drone player; it’s a virtual Kobe Bryant.

What I said about the commentary for Current Gen applies to Next Gen as well. Marv and Steve have done an outstanding job this year and the way they react to what’s happening on the court is really impressive. Some of the usual issues remain but in all fairness you’d be hard pressed to find a sports game with commentary that is on the money 100% of the time that won’t eventually seem repetitive. A lot of effort has gone into this area of the game.

I love the Next Gen menus as well as the fact you can continue to shoot around while you’re waiting for the game to load. That’s a neat feature.

All-Star Weekend

It’s the same as Current Gen and that’s not a bad thing. Moving on…

ESPN Integration

Next Gen also takes advantage of the ESPN license in a much bigger way than Current Gen. While Current Gen features the ESPN ticker that is updated every 20 minutes the Next Gen version looks to integrate the video gaming experience with real life sports…without ever having to leave NBA Live 07.

ESPN updates can continue to roll in no matter what you’re doing in NBA Live 07. You’ll also have the ability to connect to live streaming podcasts from ESPN, retrieve articles from ESPN.com, listen to ESPN radio instead of the soundtrack, see ESPNMotion content and even see real NBA highlights on the console. The selection of content will likely go back a day or two but perhaps in the future there’ll be a larger ESPN archive that can be accessed through the game.

Since I don’t own an XBox 360 it’s difficult for me to get too excited about these features as it’s likely I won’t experience them this year. But it’s a very innovative concept and it will be available worldwide so I think a lot of players will enjoy it, especially those who don’t get much NBA content.

And as with Current Gen, the ESPN license will also be used in branding throughout the game particularly in Dynasty Mode.

Next Gen Wrap-Up

Seeing as though I didn’t play NBA Live 06 on the XBox 360 I can’t really compare the two but I have a feeling that it will be very well received. The additions of Dynasty Mode and All-Star Weekend alone will surely satisfy a lot of players and the gameplay looks like it will have a good blend of fun and authenticity. They’re still ironing out the kinks in Next Gen so it’s hard to say whether many slider tweaks will be necessary but I liked what I saw. If the XBox 360 wasn’t still so expensive here in Australia I’d be tempted to get one for NBA Live 07.

PlayStation Portable

I didn’t spend as much time on the PSP version as Current Gen and Next Gen but I’ll offer a few thoughts on it as well.

I was surprised at how good the graphics were, which is to say comparable to Next Gen. The PSP version will also have Dynasty Mode this year as well as Freestyle Superstars, though it won’t feature as many animations as its console counterparts. Only the Superstar animations have been used on the PSP version so all players with FSS abilities will utilise the same animations but players that only have Star abilities will have less success with the moves compared to players who are rated as being Superstars in the same category.

There’s a couple of PSP exclusives as well. You’ll be able to play a couple of mini-games, a Freestyle dribbling contest as well as a 2-Ball game where you shoot from various circles on the court to rack up 50 points before your opponent. There’s various picks ups to double your scores, freeze your opponent or reverse their controls and get on fire. It’s a nice little arcadeish side game that offers something fun to play when you don’t feel like diving into Dynasty Mode or a regular game. Defeating the various difficulty levels unlocks some exclusive ESPN highlight videos.

The PSP version also supports Wi Fi multiplayer which is particularly fun for the mini-games. I’m sorry to say I got beaten badly when we had a few multiplayer contests but then again I don’t own a PSP so that’s my excuse.

Licensing Issues

A few of us asked about missing legends and I can confirm that our understanding of the situation is correct. It’s an extremely difficult situation with the legends since a lot of players – mainly those who are in the 90s All-Stars and have been retiring over the past few years – are not in the retired players union and as such cannot be included in the game. While the producers would love to be able to put them in the game they are restricted by budget and considering the cost of getting all those players to sign licensing deals the interest and sales their presence would generate isn’t really enough to justify spending the kind of money they would be demanding.

As far as lookalikes and whatnot…that too presents too much of a legal problem. The way it was explained to us is that you could include a player called Roster Player on the 90s All-Stars, give him #99 and Jordan-like abilities but the moment it begins to look anything like Michael Jordan they can get into a lot of trouble. Madden of course can get around this because the players are wearing helmets, not to mention the fact it’s an entirely different sport with its own rules regarding issues like these.

It’s a similar story for the Euroleague and Olympic licenses.

The Group

We had a really fun group and it was great getting to meet and hang out with everyone. I think on the whole we were all impressed with what we saw and could have spent a couple more days playing the game non-stop. I’ll be gathering links to the other reports as I’m sure you’ll find them interesting and informative as well. A very cool group of guys.

Final Thoughts

I’ve seen it suggested on the forums that first impressions aren’t always accurate especially from events where you’re only playing the game for a couple of hours. That’s probably true to a certain extent but it’s my honest opinion that NBA Live 07 looks fantastic across the board this year. I did notice a couple of negatives as I mentioned before but from what I observed the good definitely outweighs the bad this year. You can see that a lot of tinkering has gone on under the hood, work that doesn’t necessarily make the back of the box as a selling point but is obvious to the returning NBA Live player.

I believe that NBA Live 07 is going to impress a lot of people this year and while there’s still room for growth, great strides have been made this year. If you’re still uncertain when the game is released I’d highly recommend renting it. I think you’ll be sold on picking up a copy.

Finally, I’d once again like to thank EA Sports for this awesome opportunity, especially Jon who organised a really fun event. Thanks also to Tim, Brent, Brian and the rest of the production team who took the time out to answer our questions.