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Shane’s NBA Live 2005 Community Summit Report

On August 6th, 2004, various members of the NBA Live community as well as some of the web’s top video gaming sites met at EA Sports’ studio in Canada to take part in the first Community Summit. They were able to meet the production team, play an early version of NBA Live 2005 and ask questions about the upcoming title.

Shane Hefty represented the NBA Live Series Center at the event and compiled the following report about the upcoming addition to the NBA Live series.

(Originally posted in the NLSC Forum, August 8th 2004)

Alright, I know you guys have been dying to hear from me, and I got off work early, so here I am, exhausted and typing.

I’ll keep teasing you for a bit longer, though. First off, EA’s hospitality was wonderful, as they gave us great accomadations and perks and so on. Denise Gamboa did a great job coordinating everything for Devin (Danet) and the others so we’d all be there on Thursday and so we could get a hold of each other before we even left. Even if the game sucked (which it doesn’t, quite the opposite, actually), the trip alone would be worth it just to see Electronic Arts and all their studios. The building is truly spectactular, and they seem to take great care of their employees. But I have to be realistic, and it is a PR event, so of course it’ll look that way. I’m sure they have the programmer’s shackled in the basement typing away on Apple II’s.

Secondly, the producers and programmers and other members of the NBA Live team were great. They encouraged us to be candid, to say whatever we liked, disliked, encouraged us to tell them what sucked. And just so you know, they DO frequent all of the NBA Live related message boards, such as operation sports, IGN, .org, and, of course, Tim Tscirner’s old site – this forum.

Alright, now down to the good stuff. After our tour and what not, all seven of us sat down with X-Box’s and a very early version of the game. By very early, I mean early…player ratings had not been updated, some animations (such as the net) were missing, and there were numerous glaring bugs (just graphical glitches) that the team was well aware of, and they told us that the majority of them had been fixed already. The ratings will be updated in the next couple of weeks, as the official stats from the NBA were given to the team just recently.

Oh, just a quick note: I’d like to comment on the sound, but it’s difficult to do so when there’s six other X-Box’s going along with people talking. However, from what I could hear, the commentary is better than last year (especially with Kenny Smith and EJ doing the dunk contest), and the music seems to be better as well. Oh! I do know that the team completely redid ALL of the sound effects from scratch. Apparently, they were still using sounds from previous versions.

And now….

Frontend 

The frontend is much improved, as is the overall user interface. They went the way of Madden and allow the shoulder buttons of the controller to shuffle through menus (if that’s not clear, just rent a copy of Madden or NCAA Football and you’ll see what I mean). They no longer have the court in the background with your favorite team, but they do have short slide shows of players in the background. Like I said at the summit, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, save the use of shoulder buttons (which someone else brought up, I didn’t even think anything of it they were so natural), but I just like the menus a lot better. I think they load quicker, as well.

Also, in the dynasty mode, you can access your PDA at any time by pushing down on the left analog stick (I believe it’s the same for PS2, sorry Gamecube users). This makes it much easier to get to the PDA, a very, very important part of dynasty mode, and drastically decreases the amount of time it takes to navigate between the PDA and the game.

One thing that I hope they manage to change is the manuevering in the PDA. When you open up a text msg or email or whatever they are, you have to go back out to read the next one, in the same menu, up. It’d be nice if they had the time to make it so we can simply scroll up or down, and less annoying. Also, (I’m only saying this because I know they’re going to read this) I thought that, for instance, in the rookie scouting mode, if you get two or three rookie reports, you shouldn’t have to read each one as you can access the scouting information for each player from the scout players menu. Just a thought.

Dynasty Schedule 

I thought this would be an apt place to put the new dynasty schedule. I think it deserves its own section, as it is so important to the game and makes it seem much more realistic. What they’ve done is added a real time calender to the offseason; that is, the free agent signing period is 3 weeks (I think), the training camps are a week, the lottery and the draft are on certain days, and you only get so many days to scout players, along with the resigning period. Also, your players (and the CPU’s) can retire at any time during this schedule – not all on the same day – so this adds another facet of realism to the game. We might not know if Malone is retiring until the day before training camp, and the game reflects that.

Box Scores and so on 

The box scores are sweet! They’re authentic looking, and you can look at both teams box scores in each game. This means that the computer actually figures out who scored how many points, how many rebounds, etc. for each game that day. It’s a very sweet option, and for us stat fanatics, it’s wonderful! On the consoles, you can only look at one day’s games, and after that, the games are gone; however, on the PC, I think they’re planning on keeping a box score for EVERY game played, as the hard drive space is available. This option is just so cool and so new, it blows my mind. I’ve never even thought to have box scores for every team, and they’ve done it…

Trading and Free Agents

I never actually tried trading, but Shawn Drotar from Operation Sports said that the AI is much improved, and you can’t rip off the computer. The salary cap is part of the barrier, but the one instance he was able to rip off the computer wasn’t that bad at all. Also, the way the trading works is you send your proposal off to a team, and they might not answer back for a week, or they might answer the same day. Because of this added facet of time, you can’t trade your entire team away before trading camp. I believe they said they are implementing the 60 day rule involved with trading, but I’m not positive…if so, that’d be great. And yes, they do know the within 48 hours thing, but that would be far too difficult to program into the trading AI at this point in time…there would be too many problems, and the guy in charge of the salaries and what not said that he’d rather have everything right in one new feature before trying to take the next step towards realism, and I agree. Just so you pessimists know, this is the consensus of the Live team members we met: they want to get things right before adding things they don’t have time to implement correctly.

The free agent signing is also affected by time. They somewhat explained the computer’s logic, but I didn’t catch all of that. Anyway, time affects the free agent signing as well. You send an offer to an agent, and they get back to you in a few days on your PDA, telling you whether or not they accept, reject, or want the contract changed. It’s very nice, a lot more like Madden. Also, you can set percentage increases or decreases (I forget which it was exactly) in the contract, which means you can build your cap back up after certain years. Very cool feature…

Rookie Scouting 

You can scout rookies for the entire season. As a matter of fact, the owner expects you to If you don’t, your GM rating will lower and you have more of a chance to be fired. You can scout players from all over the world: the midwest, east coast, Africa, Asia, Europe – everywhere. The scouting involves using your dynasty points to look at three areas: athleticism, offense, and defense. The scouts go out, and a few days, or even a few weeks, later the scouts report back to you and grade the player (A,B,C sort of grades), and from there you can decide who you want to actually scout in the one on one mode in the off-season.

The one on one mode is finally useful! You know how in past lives, you draft a player in the top ten, he has great ratings, but you hate playing with him for whatever reason? Well, this is a way to find out if the player fits your style before you even draft him. Not only that, but it is more realistic, more like the pre-draft camps used to evaluate talent, and it’s more like the private workouts teams get with rookies.

As of now, the scouting interface is clumsy, but that’s probably because they hadn’t implemented the sorting features and so on. Regardless of whether or not they fix that, this is a huge step in the right direction (but please, fix that before release).

Dynasty Mode 

PDA

The PDA, which you’ve all heard about, is akin to Sports Illustrated in NCAA Football and the Owner’s box of Madden. However, it is drastically different. Here you get emails from the owner, urging you to buy dynasty extras, wondering why you aren’t scouting players, why you aren’t training them, telling you why you’re fired, telling you if you’ve been offered other jobs (your dynasty doesn’t end if you’re fired, and teams try to hire you away from your current team…in theory, didn’t happen to me, but that’s what they said). You get news from the NBA, say, if a trade goes down or a superstar is injured. You can access your scouting reports, your coaches, your medical, and there’s like two other things that I forget what they were. Oh! Agents (if you’re trying to negotiate contracts). Also, you get upgrades to the look of your PDA from the owner, and they look nicer as you go up…I managed to get two or three upgrades. I’m sure you graphical guys will love more stuff to mess with.

If you don’t check your email in your PDA, you can miss out on trades, agent renegotiating contract requests, owner “requests” (demands), and big news about the team you’re playing against (star player injured/trade). This is where everything is, and if you don’t check it (don’t worry, a little email icon flashes in the upper right hand corner when you get mail), then the odds are good you’ll miss out on computer proposed trades and then find out you’re on the verge of being fired when you do check the email, and you wiated to long to do anything…and then you’re gone. Also, you can access the PDA from any screen (as I already mentioned) by simply pushing down on the left analog stick. If you don’t have a controller for your PC, get one, as if you don’t, you’ll miss out on a lot of stuff. The controller’s are cheap, under $20, so save up your money and get one before the game comes out…I used to play keyboard, but I Finally broke down and bought a logitech PS2 lookalike, and it’s worth it.

Training Camp

Training camp is improved this year. Your players will not decline, only improve. That isn’t to say that it’s easy, you have to figure out the right balance to show improvement, but this year I was able to improve players….I never, never, never was able to improve players in last year’s version, and that just annoyed me. You get the training camp report on your PDA, and you can go straight to the rookie evaluations. You can do more than the three areas, though, as the scouting agents will throw additional comments in. You can only scout five players at a time, which is realistic. Scouting was an area where I wasn’t enjoying it as much because sorting wasn’t available yet, but if it was there, I pry would have loved it. Hopefully they can divide the regions by positions, but sorting would be good enough…

I rambled off a bit there, sorry. 😉

All-Star Weekend

You have to have a player invited to the All-Star weekend in order to participate in All-Star weekend. I’ll specify: you can only compete in the slam dunk contest if you’re Boston and Ricky Davis is invited. You can go to the All-Star Game if Paul Pierce is invited, the rookie game if Marcus Banks is invited, and the three point shootout if…uh, Walter McCarty is invited. Get the idea? If you don’t have a player invited, you can’t play the All-Star game, rookie challenge, or three point shootout. And it IS the whole weekend.

Here’s a note about the All-Star game: when you play it straight from the frontend menu (when you start up the game), it’s like it is in real life – a lob fest, slam dunk contest, no defense, just arcady fun – but in dynasty mode, it plays how you have your sliders set. If they did it the same as the separate game modes, then they would have to change all your sliders in the dynasty, which most players would hate, especially if they’re like me and rarely play the All-Star game in the dynasty.

Intervention

I LOVE this feature. As you simulate games, it gives a quarter by quarter point total. If, at the end of any given quarter, you want to jump in, you can. You can play overtime, or you can play the fourth quarter, or whatever. You can’t play two quarters, quit and sim the rest (which I hope they’ll add eventually, I mentioned it), but this is a great feature, and it’ll save time for those of us who love playing all 82 games…now we can, in a reasonable amount of time.

Draft Lottery

This again fits with the time…it has one day in the offseason, as opposed to something on a list. It’s the same as past versions, which were great.

Draft

This is also the same as past versions. Again, nothing wrong with this, except you actually know what players you want as opposed to guessing. You can get that second round steal even better this way, and the old-fashioned, realistic way: by playing with them.

One on One Scouting

This is great. I played Alvin Williams one on one with a rookie I’d been scouting for a while, and I ended up drafting the rookie because he was a blast to play with. He was a 5’9 ball of speed who could dunk…nothing fancy, but the fact that he could dunk was great. He had quick hands, a decent shot, and good ball handling…the type of player I like. It would be nice if I could have been able to try out his passing skills, but ah well…they’ll figure that out sometime. They’d like to add drills, ala Madden, but who knows when that’ll be…bball drills are much harder than football drills for a game to do. Regardless, the ability to play with a draft prospect before you draft him is just a great feature for them to put in.

Dynasty Wrap-Up

The rest of the dynasty is the same as last year, for the most part. The dynasty extras and what not. I’m sure I forgot a lot of things, so if I wasn’t clear on something, ask me to elaborate, and I will.

Gameplay 

The gameplay is much improved. I had a very accurate gameplay experience in the first game I played, on All-Star. I was the Raptors and I played the Heat in Miami. Sadly, Shaq didn’t get the ball every time down the floor. However, he still ended up with about 15 points and 12 boards, which isn’t bad considering the majority of his points were from offensive rebounds. I lost by ten in overtime because my team apparently fell apart…it wasn’t an annoying falling apart, it was just like in real life…I was down by 15 for most of the game and I came back and tied it for overtime, and it seemed like my players just ran out of steam. Probably just me thinking wishfully, but I’d never played a game of Live where I wasn’t pissed off that I lost. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the catch-up bug is gone, so if I screwed up on offense, it was because I didn’t execute and not because of a glitch…so I couldn’t blame the computer.

Alright…I’m rambling, I’ll try to stay focused now. The computer’s offense is vastly improved, and I’d almost say they made the court a little wider, as the spacing for both computer and PC players is much, much, much improved. Because spacing is improved, the computer drives to the hoop, and double teams and their effectiveness are decreased. The double teams also seem smart, as they double teamed Chris Bosh in the corner and in the post, but left Jalen Rose and VC alone until I got inside the three point line. I don’t know if that was a fluke or if the PC was recognizing my players ball handling ability, but it happened.

Spacing and the absence of the speed bug allows you to swing the ball around for an open shot. You can start in one corner and move it all around the outside before the defense can rotate and get an open shot. It’s so much fun to finally be able to do this. The PC also does this, which I love. There weren’t too many early shots in the shotclock for them, generally around 10 seconds was when they did.

Another thing that I really liked was the running of fast breaks. A few times I turned the ball over at the top of the key, so the only person who could get back on D was my point. Anyway, I’d get back and near the hoop, but three of the PC’s players were streaking down the court…the ballhandler in the middle, two other guys on either side. He’d either drive towards the hoop and dish or just dish it out for an open three. Whatever they did, it was a well-executed fast break – just like in the NBA. The great thing is that your players do the same thing…the fastbreak AI is great. And for the next question? Well, fast breaks didn’t happen too often. More than in real life, but not an annoying amount. Remember, I was the Raptors playing the Heat…neither is much of a half-court team, even with Shaq. The Lakers run a lot, but that’s expected with their lineup (my second game was against them). I should have played against the Mavericks or Kings, but that’s what I have.

As for scores, the final in overtime was 60 something to 50 something….which is great for five minute quarters. It just was hard to score more than 10 or 15 points in a quarter, and my best quarter was 20 some points, and that was the fourth. I didn’t make it all the way through my 12 min quarter game, but the score 3/4 of the way through the third was in the mid seventies, so everything seems accurate. I couldn’t find the substition slider and the fatigue sliders b/c I wasn’t used to the Xbox controller (had no idea how to switch slider screens :embarassed:), so that didn’t happen until the third quarter or so. That was against the Lakers, and Kobe had 20 some points and VC also had 20 some points. Both were shooting around 50 percent, and Kobe was unstoppable to the hoop and hard to do anything against. But again, it wasn’t frustrating…it was refreshing because he is just that damned good. It was a lot of fun.

DANet told me he’d comment on the post game at some point, so he can answer those questions.

As for the defense, it’s really easy to steal the ball, but that’s because they haven’t tweaked ratings. They’re dividing up some of the ratings, such as the defensive awareness and steals and blocks (I think, anyway, Danet or Eric correct me if I’m wrong) and adding more player styles, so that’ll help in that regard. The steals will be lowered in number when they get the fouls attributed to the freestyle air. Right now, if you run into a player and it should be a blocking foul, nothing is called and the ball rolls away and is usually picked up. This happens for both cpu and user, and they said that that will be a foul most of the time once the game ships. That probably would have cut the steals and turnovers in half, down to about 8-10 a game, which is still high, but not nearly as bad. Also, it’s easy to steal the ball with some sweet new animations, but they said reach in fouls will be called more often too. I can’t remember if they said they were dividing up the blocking/charge foul slider, but they might be.

The blocked shots are much fewer, and that’s probably because of the speed bug’s absence. You guys have no idea how good of a game Live is and probably was because that speed bug ruined it. I think there were something like 5 blocks total for both teams in the Miami game (2 for me, 3 for miami) and maybe 4 in the LA game. They’re down drastically, and they’re by the right people.

The computer takes midrange shots! And you can make midrange shots! Don’t really need to say anything else…

The freestyle is great. They balanced it even better than last year, and it’s not too easy to dominate with the prohop. They said that when they implement something new like this, they make it easy to abuse. That way, the user gets used to using it and can master it easily. In the next version, they can tweak it till it works like it should inr eal life…that way, when the user uses it, they can use it realistically. That’s why the freestyle was so effective the first year and the pro-hop in 2004. In 2005, the prohop doesn’t work as well, maybe 1-5 times, and the majority of the time you’ll be collapsed upon by the power forward and center, thus forcing you to pass the ball. Which brings me to passing: there are new animations, no more jump passes, and soome of them are no look wrap around dishes, little dump offs, stuff you see all the time in real life. Think Kobe dumping it off to Shaq sort of things. Great to watch and fun to use.

Now to elaborate more on the free style. Because they modified the defense, you don’t get pushed back every time you try to freestyle. The defender gives you a little room, and you almost always have that, so it’s realistic in that regard. It seems that the only time defenders get in your face is when you pick up your dribble, which is realistic. Otherwise, they give you a little room to create. Basically, everything that sucked about the glue-like defense is gone…the freestyle is effective, but it’s a realistic effective. You have to do something crazy to get by a good defender, but not as much to get past an average defender.

The computer also does freesytle, and it works quite well. There were some bugs (someone reported Dwayne Wade dribbling between his legs for 15 seconds), but it’s a lot of fun to take on the computer one on one in an iso…and lose. Like I said, it actually drives, and when it drives, it sometimes dishes. The offense is run much better, and the balance between scorers is better…ie superstars scoring more than role players.

A few other random thoughts on it:

  • The computer sometimes stepped out of bounds on the baseline because they ran out of room and tried to do something they couldn’t…which happens a lot in the NBA
  • The difference between superstars and role players is obvious in this version, more so than 2004.
  • Shooting percentages for the PC were still a bit high, but I expect that to be fixed with ratings. The user was a bout right, but still high…around 45 percent.

A huge thanks to EA Sports for holding this event and to Shane Hefty for representing the NLSC so well at the Summit.