Current Gen producer Brian Ullrich was kind enough to answer some of our questions about NBA Live 07. Please note that all questions in this interview relate to the Current Gen versions of the game (PC, PS2 and XBox).
What were your goals in creating NBA LIVE 07?
First of all, we wanted to make sure that we continued to innovate and deliver on Current Gen because we have a very loyal following for our Current Gen game. So our first goal with this version of LIVE was simply to create the best basketball game we have ever made.
Second, we felt like last year’s game was really fun, but it needed to get more authentic and realistic without losing the fact that it was an absolute blast to play. The game needed to be a little less frantic, more strategic, and generally more like real NBA basketball.
Third, I thought that while we had done a lot to improve our visuals for NBA LIVE 06, we didn’t get a lot of credit for it from our users or the game press because we weren’t doing a great job at presenting the game in an exciting and authentic way. I think that the NBA is just as much about entertainment as it is about competition, so for NBA LIVE 07 we wanted to focus on things like our presentation, cameras, and overall production values.
What are the main improvements in NBA LIVE 07?
There are a whole bunch of things that we improved, but there are two big changes that I am personally the most excited about:
The first is the concept of realistic battles between offensive and defensive players on the perimeter. This is a little difficult to explain because there is a whole bunch of stuff going on under the hood to make it work, but the result is that driving to the basket and defending on the perimeter feels much smoother and more responsive. Quick players like Allen Iverson can really blow by their defenders, and good perimeter defenders can use their quickness and positioning to cut off lanes to the hoop.
The second thing is that for the first time our players have a real sense of space and weight to them, and the way that they collide and interact with each other makes the game much more realistic, especially around the basket. Scoring in the paint feels completely different this year with lots of in-air collisions, adjusted shots, and players dunking on other players as opposed to through or around them. Scoring in traffic is much more challenging and because of this I find it is also much more rewarding.
What changes been made to Freestyle Superstars™?
The biggest change is something we are calling Total Freestyle Control, which takes all of the freestyle moves and control from past versions of NBA LIVE, combines them with a lot of new moves, passes, shots, and dunks, and puts them all on the right analog stick.
It’s a progressive system that allows users to get comfortable with each level and set of moves before moving on to more difficult (and more rewarding) ones. New users can start off using traditional button presses to pull off very simple Freestyle moves where the CPU chooses the exact dunk for them contextually. Users who want more control move to the right analog stick, using left/right/up/down flicks on the stick to choose the specific Freestyle shot or pass they want to try. To pull off superstar moves like spinning 360º dunks users will have to graduate to the more complex right analog stick movements. The whole thing is very much like the controls used in many fighting games actually.
So while we wanted to create a new way to pull off freestyle moves with Total Freestyle Control, we also wanted to make the whole Freestyle system more authentic and true to real basketball. To achieve this we created different tiers of player ability (regular players, star players, and superstars) for each Freestyle Superstar type so that our players play even more like their real life counterparts. For example, this year Tracy McGrady is a “Superstar” High Flyer and Outside Scorer, while he is a “Star” Shooter and Playmaker. The result is that the NBA LIVE Tracy McGrady is more like the real Tracy McGrady than ever before.
We also wanted to make sure that a player like T-Mac could bring all of his skills and talent into each game, so we added the ability to switch superstar types on the fly. This means that you can now make a no look pass to a teammate with T-Mac as a Playmaker at the start of a fast break, quickly switch him to a High Flyer and then finish the break with a rim-rattling dunk.
The final thing we did was separate the Scorer and Defensive Stopper Freestyle Superstar types into outside and inside types, so an inside scorer like Tim Duncan can be very different from an outside scorer like Gilbert Arenas.
What enhancements have been made to the CPU’s intelligence and strategy?
This year we introduced the concept of game intensity. The idea was to create a system where the 4th quarter of a play-off game felt completely different than the 2nd quarter of a blow-out in the regular season. The result is that each game has a fluid level of intensity that drives how CPU players play (how tightly they guard their man, whether or not they dive for loose balls, etc.). Note that this is different from momentum, which is team specific (you can have the momentum regardless of whether it is an intense game situation or not). Game intensity is shared and controlled by both teams and is constantly changing based on what is going on in that particular game.
We also made a bunch of AI changes and enhancements to make the game more strategic and realistic. We adjusted the game pace and spacing on offense, so everything feels less frantic and gives you time to call plays, maneuver in the post, and work the ball around for open shots on the perimeter. This doesn’t mean the game feels slower though; one of the things that is key to NBA LIVE is an up tempo pace and fast game play.
Other improvements include true secondary fast break logic and an inbound play-calling system. Rebounding was completely overhauled, and we added more control to the passing system so the user (and CPU) can utilize lob passes, better alley-oops, and touch passes. Overall I think the CPU is much smarter and acts in a much more realistic way.
Will each team play a unique style of basketball resembling their real life counterparts?
Yes, teams like Detroit and San Antonio will play you tough defensively and work for good shots, while Dallas and Phoenix will push the ball up the floor and look for early offense. Of course some of this is speculation since we finish the game before we’ve had a chance to see how some of the new players on teams will effect the way a team plays. For example, how will Chicago’s style change now that they’ve got Ben Wallace patrolling the paint? We’ve tried to predict what we think will happen, but that’s part of the fun once the season starts; to see if we got it right.
Have any improvements been made to the substitution patterns used by the CPU (for example, bringing on a power forward and sliding a player already on the floor to another position so the two can play together)? Are we able to set our own substitution patterns?
We have completely re-worked how we handle player rotation not only for the CPU, but also for user sim games. Basically we allow you to set playing time and starting percentages for each position, giving you much more control when you sim.
NBA LIVE 07’s Dynasty Mode™ has been billed as deeper than ever. What improvements and additions have been made to Dynasty Mode™ this year?
We’ve done quite a bit with Dynasty this year but the biggest new thing we’ve added is the concept of player satisfaction and team chemistry. I think that the success and proliferation of fantasy sports has most sports fans focusing on the talent of their players as the most important factor in determining success, but the truth is that there are examples in all sports of teams with very impressive rosters, yet that group of players can’t seem to win a lot of games together. Often what differentiates these teams from other talented teams is team chemistry: the relationships between the players, their ability to play together, and their willingness to sacrifice individual glory for the good of the team.
This is exactly what we have done in NBA LIVE 07: you have to find out what is important to each player by monitoring their satisfaction levels in categories like “Playing Time”, “Roster Stability”, “Market Size”, etc., and then every decision you make in running your franchise affects each player and the entire roster as a group. You need to build a team that gets along well in the locker room and on the court, and you will see a tangible impact in the way guys play as you discover which players are at their best when they play with certain other players.
As a GM you can also use this information to evaluate potential trades or free agent signings to get a sense of how new players might mesh with your current team before pulling the trigger on a deal.
We’ve also completely re-worked the player negotiation and salary cap logic for NBA LIVE 07, using the real NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement as the model for our simulation. We also added things like the “mid-level exceptions”, qualifying veteran exceptions (“Bird Rights”), and “minimum salary exceptions” to get that added level of realism.
Finally, we fully incorporated ESPN into the game, and all of the scores, stats, news, and information will be delivered by ESPN. One really cool feature is ESPN Rumour Central which will introduce lots of rumours and rumblings from around the league (some true, some false) that we let you research with your assistant head coach to determine which ones are true. So if you hear that Ben Wallace wants to be traded to a bigger market you can find out if there is any truth to the rumour before you rush off and try and trade for him.
What can you tell us about the Draft this year?
The integration of ESPN into our game means we can bring a level of authenticity and realism to features like the Rookie Draft that hasn’t been available before. This year when you are browsing through potential rookies we let you know who ESPN thinks you should pick, and what they think about your team’s strengths and weaknesses going into the draft. As each pick is made, ESPN will grade the pick based on the talent available, your team’s needs, and how that player fits your organization.
We also have added an ESPN Mock Draft that gives you a snapshot at any time during the season of who the top draft picks are projecting to be, and who ESPN thinks each team will end up picking. This allows you to focus your scouting staff on the right players and thoroughly investigate their strengths and weaknesses so that you can come to the draft prepared with all the tools you need to draft and sign the superstars of your franchise’s future.
But to me the coolest thing about the draft is we give you the option to begin your Dynasty be re-living the 2006 NBA Rookie Draft, which basically means we pull all of this year’s rookies off of the teams that drafted them and let you draft the players you want right from the start.
What can you tell us about scheduling logic?
Our scheduling logic is improved and now creates much more realistic road trips; your team won’t be travelling from NY to LA, then back to Miami when you should be playing other west coast teams on a trip like that. Also, travel time now affects player fatigue as well, and we’ve given you the ability to track your travel and the miles you are covering so you can better manage fatigue.
Another big change is the ability to schedule more than just games. This year you can schedule things like practices, team events, off days, and press events for the days where you don’t have games, and your choices will affect team chemistry, player satisfaction, and fatigue. This is something that you can do yourself or you can have your Assistant Head Coach do this for you.
Have any changes been made to Create-a-Player and have any other creation modes been added (such as Create-a-Team or Create-a-Coach)?
We have added the ability to edit each player’s dunk package this year, so if you don’t like the dunks we have chosen for your favourite player you can change his package to what you think it should be.
Can you confirm whether any of these features will be in NBA LIVE 07?
- Ability to place a player on the IR without replacing them in the active roster Our roster allows you to have 12 active players and 3 players on the IR. If you have fewer that 12 players you can’t put anyone on the IL, but at that point you don’t have to. The IL will only be used once you have 12 active players.
- Visible Primacy Rating It’s not visible, but we have made lots of changes to the way Primacy works and it is now less important to the way the game plays; we still use it but in a much more limited way.
- Clutch Rating We have added a clutch rating this year that is used for a variety of things.
A big thanks to Brian for taking the time to answer those questions.