Last year I wrote an article (The “perfect” NBA Live 06″) detailing what I felt were the most important issues in the NBA Live series. I wrote it as a kind of follow-up to the annual Wishlist so I thought I’d do the same thing this year. While I won’t pretend to speak for everyone in the community, judging by the feedback for the NBA Live 07 Wishlist and the suggestions for the Top Wishes many of us think alike when it comes to the game.
So, I present my take on what needs to be done in NBA Live 07. You’ll notice that I’ve steered away from big new features such as a single player career mode. While I know this is a popular concept, I feel there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed before the game expands into completely new territory. Refreshing as those new additions may be, they will serve only to take time away that could be spent fine tuning the existing elements of the game. I know not everyone agrees with this line of thinking, but it does seem like a lot of people do share that point of view.
Once again, I’m seperating my thoughts into different areas of concern.
Through this whole NBA Live/2K “war”, I’ve remained loyal to the series I’m familiar with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be a “Comic Book Guy” about this. I won’t sit here and claim that EA Sports owes me big time because in reality, they don’t. They make games, I buy and play their games and if I don’t like their product no one’s holding a gun to my head forcing me to buy and play them. My point is that through my loyalty I believe I’ve demonstrated that I truly do care about the series and am generally fairly positive about it, so any criticism I make is constructive and out of genuine concern for the game. It also means something’s really bugging me.
This first section contains a list of the things that really need to be fixed, because their presence can greatly affect enjoyment of the games:
- Selective abilities. By that I mean the User consistently missing wide open jumpshots with good shooters and proper timing on the release of the shoot button, while the CPU constantly hits all kinds of difficult shots – leaners, fadeaways, you name it – with defenders all over them. The game essentially becomes a shootout as there’s no reward for playing good defense. This kind of thing needs to stop. Anything the CPU can do the human player should be able to do and vice versa…and realism should be the name of the game.
- Cheating. I understand the need for the “comeback code”, the concept of the CPU being able to stay competitive with a human player whose logic and intelligence will always eventually prevail over the AI. But the manner in which the game achieves this is becoming increasingly frustrating. Basically, the CPU decides its players gain superhuman abilities while the human player finds his players strangely sluggish and inept. When my good play and decision making are completely erased in a couple of minutes by the vindictive comeback code, I don’t feel challenged. I just feel like switching the game off.
- Rebounding! Too many offensive rebounds in NBA Live 06 and when the CPU wins the battle on the offensive glass, it usually means a guaranteed bucket. That shouldn’t be the case. NBA Live 2005’s rebounding system was much better in comparison. I do like the fact that timing is more important in NBA Live 06 but rebounding still feels very…pre-determined.The other gripe is that interceptions have once again become too easy for the CPU. They need to be toned down. Even with the slider set to 0, they are problematic and unrealistic.
- Player intelligence. This is another big one. The CPU opponents always seem to know where to go, what to do and how to react. The human player often has to do too much if they want a chance at seeing the game played out realistically since CPU-controlled teammates are too often lost on defense, don’t react at all intelligently to what’s going on and quite often aren’t very helpful.There’s also the matter of player reaction speed. CPU opponents are always on the ball, quickly catching entry passes and beating the defense while the human player pauses long enough for the defense to react, or jumps unnecessarily to catch a pass. Not only does this provide an unfair advantage leading to easy baskets that shouldn’t be easy baskets, it doesn’t make the game feel very fluid. Quite often it’s impossible to jump to block/challenge a shot. I know it’s not a controller issue because the button works fine in all other situations…except when the CPU wants to pull off an unstoppable move (see below). There’s also the problem of initiating a crossover move and having your player turn around and make the move in the opposite direction; very frustrating if you’re making a move on the wing or the baseline.Skating also needs to be eliminated, as well as the morphing animation on steals. The ability for all players to interrupt a dunk or layup animation to pass off to a teammate is essential. Even NBA Live 95 boasted how the user could make mid-air decisions.
- Unstoppable moves. Mostly around the basket. The CPU takes advantage of them mostly, once again giving little incentive to play good defense. A by-product of Freestyle Superstars is that the game often degenerates into a battle of offensive FSS moves. Those moves should be toned down a tad so that they don’t dominate the game as much.
- Inconsistent calls and collision detection. It seems the human users’ players have to endure a lot of contact before a foul is called compared to what goes on at the other end. That means the CPU is able to force a lot of adjusted shots that miss without giving up too many fouls, while at the other end the slightest attempt to challenge a shot results in free throws. Furthermore, the CPU is able to convert on adjusted shots at an alarming rate…no matter what slider settings are used. That needs to be evened out and made more realistic.Other inconsistent calls include double dribbling and backcourt violations. The CPU seems to be able to get away with both, moreso the double dribbles (though the game actually calls travelling if the human player attempts the same move: picking up the dribble then using Freestyle to dribble again). Little glitches like that give the CPU an advantage it shouldn’t have.
- Player tendencies and behaviour. Taking advantage of the situation above where it’s difficult to physically challenge CPU players who enter the paint, small guards are able to slice into the lane too easily and get an uncontested layup, a luxury not afforded to the human player. Many of these players shouldn’t be doing that unless the right opportunity presents itself in the first place. Many times, the CPU player practically WALKS into the lane. The mid-range game is there but needs to be increased. There’s still a lot of “post up, drive or three pointer” play in NBA Live 06.If it takes adding some new attributes to get players behaving like their real life counterparts, so be it. As a fan of the WWE Smackdown! series on the PlayStation 2, I’m familiar with their Create-a-Wrestler mode. There’s a lot of behaviour/logic attributes that determine whether a wrestler is a brawler, a grappler, a technical wrestler and so on. That logic is present for the real wrestlers as well, meaning a performer who brawls more than they use technical wrestling moves in matches in real life will do the same in the game.Other attributes determine whether they go looking for weapons more often or attempt high flying moves to name just a few examples of the attributes that make sure the virtual WWE Superstar will have the same abilities and character traits as their real life counterparts. There’s also usually two layers of logic, so a wrestler may be a brawler first and a grappler second, or a technical master who also likes to brawl. The same concept could be utilised in NBA Live. A player might be a jumpshooter but also a slasher who can also post up at times. Multiple levels of player logic/behaviour will mean you might see players like Kobe and T-Mac taking whichever situation is best while Shaq will mostly be hanging out down low. Likewise, players more likely to pass before shooting or shoot-first but pass before driving would also be accurately represented.And of course, there’s players doing what they simply shouldn’t: big men easily stripping the ball from guards or driving to the basket with ease, small players unable to poke the ball away from tall players who are over-dribbling…players simply not playing realistically, superstar or otherwise.
- The hidden attributes…make them visible again. It seems that whenever they get tucked away in the dbf, it just causes more problems. Primacy was a huge problem in NBA Live 06. Because it was recalculated at the drop of a hat – and not for the better – players would usually end up averaging far less points per game than they should while unlikely players led their team in scoring. Primacy needs to be visible and whatever recalculates it…take it out. It’s doing nothing for the simulation engine. Adding the other attributes to Create/Edit Player would also help immensely.
- The stats engine…the Primacy bug didn’t help at all but the stats engine just hasn’t gotten much better since DStats were abandoned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the right move to make since players’ output declines with age now. But the behaviour is now too random and usually inaccurate. Athletic guards wind up averaging too many rebounds and blocks, bench players usually don’t score enough or play enough or just plain don’t average realistic stats. Steve Nash scores more than Amare Stoudemire. Players like Iverson often only average around 22 per game. Fixing the Primacy problems will help a bit but this really needs to be fixed up.
- The little quirks in Dynasty Mode, such as talented free agents always refusing to lower their price and spending two or three years on the Free Agents before retiring. Adding the mid-level exception or having them accept the veteran minimum would go a long way in curbing that problem. Improvements to trade and free agency logic in general would also improve Dynasty Mode immensely.Another big problem is the generated rookies. There’s still a lot of undersized players in the draft, too many in any one draft. There’s also the inconsistencies with players having great speed but terrible quickness, strangely lousy athleticism and discrepencies such as point gaurds who are terrific passers but can hardly dribble. The lack of depth in drafts often makes it useless selecting outside the lottery. Obviously in a weak or average draft you’re not going to find as many gems, but it seems that even solid, serviceable players are scarce outside the top 10-15 picks.
- The bugs: deflections counting as interceptions, blocked shots not being counted as misses, unlocked items staying unlocked in all modes, players getting meshed together, offensive fouls being called in the no-charge area under the basket and so on.
- On behalf of all the leagues out there, stats saving wherever stats are shown.
- Bring back the clutch rating! That’ll make the end of close games interesting again, as well as determine a better shot selection for both human and CPU players when it comes down to a final shot. It would be cool if this could tie in with Freestyle Superstars someway as well…so long as it isn’t unstoppable. Clutch players should have a higher ability to perform well under pressure, not make the big basket every time without fail.
The thing is, many of these issues have been present for a few editions of the game now so they’ve become real sore points for long time players of the series.The problems described above are the kinds of things that really ruin games. I have had many, many otherwise enjoyable games spoiled by the CPU cheating. The bottom line? Players should be acting more like their real life counterparts, the user should actually be rewarded for playing good defense and the user’s CPU teammates need to be much more intelligent. On the Dynasty side of things, those are issues that need to be addressed to take it to the next step in terms of simulating the GM experience.
Most Wanted Improvements
Phew! We’re through the must-fixes. Now we come to the elements that would be huge improvements but their absence could still leave a very good game. If the above points are necessary, then these are “highly recommended” at the very least.
- Take player trades out of the PDA concept. If realism is the name of the game, then trade discussions shouldn’t involve two emails between teams over a couple of days. Bring back the old trade interface so you can work out deals in “real time”, but then force the user to advance to the end of the day before the trade can be completed. For additional realism, make the traded players unavailable until the following day; you could even have “DNP — Traded” in the Boxscores, just like in real life.And while we’re on trades, bring back the Confirm/Complete Trade dialogue box, so you can see which proposals the CPU will accept in principle and then decide if you want to go through with them or amend the trade. This will much more realistically simulate the experience of conferencing with other GMs to work out a deal. Finally, it would be helpful if teams gave more information as to why they weren’t interested in a trade (“We feel this would make us too weak at point guard”, for example) or even countered with offers. A “Trading Block” feature would be even better when it comes to shopping players and seeing who’s available.
- If possible, start with the PC version and then go to the consoles rather than porting it the other way. At the very least, the PC needs its own user interface. It’s long overdue for a return. Higher resolutions meaning less scrolling, drop-down and pop-up menus, selection sliders…the mouse is there to be utilised.
- Allow up to five players to be traded per team and if possible, seperate picks from players so you could trade the maximum number of players plus draft picks. While I’m on trading, I should also mention the ability to trade for an empty roster space (cash), if only when working with the default rosters. It would make updating rosters so much easier. Also, the ability to have less than 12 players on the active roster. The new active/inactive roster system the league now uses makes it less important but it still happens from time to time.
- Making the offseason less linear is the next step for Dynasty Mode. Changing it so that we have the ability to perform all kinds of roster management tasks every day – trade players, sign free agents, release players, etc – is once again a more true-to-life model. And again, it should be possible to have a bit of back and forth in the one day. Free Agent negotiations need not by done by email, but instead by making a few offers per day. That also allows players to test the free agent market while opening up the possibility of re-signing with their previous team, Bird Rights intact. Trades during the draft, negotiating extensions, mid-level exceptions…basically a more detailed roster management system.And since it’s so popular, it’s worth mentioning multiplayer Dynasty Mode. A few of the old Franchise Mode options would be nice: the ability to select multiple teams, customise the league and so on.
- Hot and cold streaks during a Season, Playoff and Dynasty game, so that each game feels like a unique experience. When the same go to guy is able to perform to the best of his ability every time you play, the game becomes predictable and certainly unrealistic.
- Expanding on Freestyle Superstars, mixing and matching moves for multitalented players would be preferable to the current system. And since Freestyle is about total player control, why not allow all players to attempt some special moves, like faking passes, forcing a dunk no matter what or forcing a bounce pass? Obviously the Superstar abilities would be more spectacular and/or more difficult to stop.
- The stats displays of old, with all the old sorting options, averages, totals and other categories that have long since disappeared. For my fellow old school fans, I’ll throw in the team/category rankings (Scoring, Defense, Ball Control, Rebounding and Overall, with the ability to sort by each when viewing teams). More stats screens, more detailed information/scouting reports for rookies in Dynasty Mode. I also have to mention career stats displayed in a table as they used to be, the same style as on trading cards and in the player profiles on NBA.com.
I don’t know if I can put our desires for Custom Teams any better than we’ve been doing in the Wishlists, so I’ll just repeat myself:
Ability to designate custom team as a regular NBA team, All-Star team, or special team. Special team would basically be the old format of custom teams, while the other classifications speak for themselves. Of course, since it’s a created team, it would be deleted when the rosters are reset, no matter what the classification.Bring back the Custom Team feature, with the following changes:
- Ability to specify uniforms worn – custom made ones (selecting colours, etc), individual NBA team jerseys (so you could create All-Star/All-Rookie/All-Sophomore teams), or perhaps some generic ones.
- More generic custom team art. Simple “NBA” logos, a basketball going through a hoop, etc. Do not make the team logo automatically show up on the jerseys. This way, you could make a custom East All-Stars team from the 80s that would use the East All-Stars logo, but would have a red or white jersey with the 80s style NBA All-Star logo on it. Basically, just a little more customisation.
And needless to say, easily editing the existing special teams – especially the East and West All-Stars – would be fantastic.
What I said last year still stands. The roster of legendary players is starting to get very thin, especially with the 90s All-Stars. It’s getting to the point where it’s almost not worth having them in the game since all the prominent names are missing. If it’s impossible to get them in the game, then there’s really only two options:
- Go as far as the law will allow with stand-in players that the users can easily modify and rename. Kind of like the “Roster Players” way back in the day.
- Remove them completely
It’s a tough decision, basically coming down to choosing between doing as much as possible with the licensing laws in place or deciding not to do it at all if it can’t be done properly. As much as I like the concept, I lean towards getting rid of it if the ranks of legends are going to continue to deplete as they have done in the last couple of games.
Patching & Modding
Here’s where it gets tricky. EA Sports is under no obligation to support or go out of their way to assist the patching community. Producing the games is their job, developing independent mods is at the discretion of rabid fans. But I’d love to see some of the old flexibility back in the databases, even the option to edit the default playoff seedings which seems to have disappeared.
I know that the old CustomArt method of assigning player specific gear and jerseys would also be greatly appreciated by many patchers. Obviously it’s a bit too much to ask that the game be developed specifically so it can be easily modded but any help we can get in the form of flexibile databases, compatible file formats or even easter eggs, would sure be well-received.
Demo & Release
When it comes to a demo it’s a case of letting the cat out of the bag vs getting players excited and in a frenzy about buying the new game. In that debate, I think the positives for releasing a demo greatly outweight the negatives. If a demo is at all feasible, I say bring it on. Who knows, the response from fans might even offer more insight into what we want and prompt some final tweaks for the finished version.
And given some of the issues with NBA Live 06, the early cut-off date for the rosters and the greatly desired improvements and fixes, a later release date (right around the start of the NBA season) I’m sure would be preferable for most NBA Live junkies. Especially if we’ve got a demo to keep ourselves occupied!
So there you have it. The improvements and fixes I feel are most important in NBA Live 07, hopefully many of you feel the same way too. Much of what I said in last year’s article still holds true as well. We shouldn’t expect a perfect game but what I’d like to hope for is a big step up from the year before with as many of our feasible suggestions implemented as possible. I guess now we’ll just have to wait for the previews to start rolling in.