The Friday Five: 5 Favourite Basketball Games to Mod

The Friday Five

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a list of my favourite games to mod over the years.

A combination of burnout, different priorities, and less free time has seen my modding efforts dwindle over the years. I do like to release some kind of mod every now and again when I can find the time though, because it’s something I’ve really enjoyed doing for the basketball gaming community. Although modding can be time-consuming and sometimes a chore – that is one of the reasons I became burned out on the hobby, after all – there is a lot of creative satisfaction in it. Whether it’s been the current rosters for NBA Live, dabbling in making some art updates, or finding other things to mod, it’s been great messing around with several different games.

Of course, when it comes to modding, not all games are alike. While the process may remain largely unchanged from game to game, and sometimes we’ve been fortunate enough to have a large amount of file compatibility to work with, each release has its own idiosyncrasies. Sometimes the files are easier to modify, other times there are limitations on what can be done with texture sizes or the roster databases. Just how much you enjoy modding a game can also depend on how much you like playing it in the first place. Looking back on all the games I’ve created mods for over the years, these five are the ones I’ve enjoyed tinkering with the most, in chronological order.

1. NBA Live 96

Andrew's 1997/1998 Roster Mod for NBA Live 96

There’s a healthy amount of nostalgia here, as NBA Live 96 PC was the game that I was playing when I discovered the NLSC and NBA Live modding some twenty years ago. Not only is it one of my all-time favourite games in the series, but it’s also the very first one that I modded, after discovering the tools that Tim, Lutz, and Brien had created. No longer did my created Michael Jordan have to lack bio data. No longer did I have to put up with incorrect jersey numbers when I updated the rosters to reflect the current season. No longer were retired players an obstacle that I couldn’t overcome. It was really exciting to discover, and it got me hooked on the hobby.

Modding NBA Live 96 was extremely easy with the tools that the original NLSC crew created. A mod could also be created relatively quickly, since the Create-a-Player system was obviously still quite basic at that time. Creating a complete season mod didn’t take much time at all, with the most time-consuming aspect being the process of entering previous season statistics. Using a hex editor to change text strings was also a fun experience, especially when I found chunks of unused data. When I went back and created the Definitive mod a couple of years back, I found myself feeling the same satisfaction as when I created the Complete Update.

2. NBA Live 2004

Michael Jordan in the 1995/1996 Roster for NBA Live 2004

By the time that NBA Live 2004 came along, we were long past having to deal with the executable and a roster.dat file to create custom rosters. Roster data was stored in DBF files, and custom rosters could be easily saved and loaded. Like NBA Live 2003, NBA Live 2004 used a detailed CustomArt system for art mods, which meant we could have players wearing their own practice gear and even unique game jerseys. The limited Create-a-Player options were a little frustrating, but it didn’t stop us from making great roster mods, especially since there were quite a few people making quality player faces for the game.

My favourite project for NBA Live 2004 would have to be my 1996 season mod, which I updated earlier this year for the first time in about a decade. That brought back fond memories of doing my best to sculpt suitable faces for the players that I’d created, and the feeling of satisfaction as everything came together in both the 1996 and current rosters. NBA Live 2004 had been a refreshing return to a more realistic approach following NBA Live 2003, and was the start of a strong run on PC for the NBA Live series. Without a doubt, my enjoyment of the game made me eager to create new experiences for it, and I’m sure that a lot of people felt the same way.

3. NBA Live 2005

Michael Jordan in the 2012/2013 Roster Mod for NBA Live 2005

Another one of my all-time favourite games in the midst of a strong era for the NBA Live series, NBA Live 2005 was an improvement over its predecessor in just about every way. Gameplay was better, modes were better (especially with the debut of the All-Star Weekend), and even modding was better, too. Granted, we lost some of the individual player customisation functionality that we’d had in NBA Live 2003 and NBA Live 2004, but the new method of placing all custom art files directly into the sgsm folder simplified the installation process. Modders no longer had to explain the step of enabling CustomArt in a config file, and the necessary subfolder structure.

Thankfully, the Create-a-Player options were expanded, so if you had to add a player with a created appearance, you could do a good job of making them look somewhat unique. Funnily enough, it was no longer really an issue anyway, as it was around that time that I started collaborating with some of the face modders in the community and including art updates in the NLSC rosters. Looking back, I feel like I started doing some of my best work with the roster updates in NBA Live 2005. I’ve also always appreciated the fact that the Reorder Roster screen displays the entire team roster. Without the need to scroll, it was just a little bit quicker to adjust lineups.

4. NBA Live 06

Shaquille O'Neal dunks in NBA Live PC for NBA Live 06

The PC version of NBA Live 06 currently stands atop my list of favourite games in the NBA Live series. My Chicago Bulls Dynasty is still one of my all-time favourite basketball gaming experiences, and while the game does have its issues, I feel it’s still fun to play. As such, it’s probably not surprising that it was also one of my favourite games to mod. With the exception of the removal of the Primacy rating in the Edit Player screen – which did cause a few problems beyond modding – it has some of the best roster customisation tools, including the ability to enable and disable the new Freestyle Superstars movesets. I really enjoyed making rosters for NBA Live 06.

Out of the final three or four NBA Live games released for PC, it’s generally the most stable and bug free, which is why we chose it for the NBA Live PC project. It’s also largely compatible with files from NBA Live 2005, though using jersey files from 2005 unfortunately doesn’t resolve the issue of only the large numbers being used on both the front and back of the uniforms. Issues like that aside, NBA Live 06 was very moddable, and our community was really active at the time. It was fun to be a part of that, and even when a few years had passed and NBA 2K had come to PC, I took great pride and enjoyment in keeping an old favourite relevant and up to date.

5. NBA Live 08

Michael Jordan vs. Clyde Drexler in the Ultimate Jordan Roster for NBA Live 08

Unlike the other games on this list, NBA Live 08 PC is not one of my all-time favourite games in the series. Issues with fatigue and other gameplay bugs are the primary reason for that. However, it was actually quite a fun game to mod. It’s as easy to mod as any other NBA Live game that utilises DBF files, and the introduction of the FIBA teams allowed for even more flexibility when adding new teams to a roster. There’s a bunch of leftover data from a scrapped plan to include historical teams; with the appropriate art assets, that can be put to good use. There’s also close to 100% compatibility with files from NBA Live 07, particularly team and player art.

NBA Live 08 was also the first game where I made a serious (and successful) effort to mod the art files. The first art mod I made was a logo update for the Philadelphia 76ers, and since then, I’ve gone on to create several new logo mods. I really enjoyed making the practice court mods, and I’m particularly proud of my re-creation of The Hangar. I was able to put those skills to use in creating mods for NBA Live 2005 through 07 as well, and once I figured out the easiest way of converting rosters, starting with NBA Live 08 and working backwards proved to be the best method. Not my favourite game to play, but certainly one of my favourites to mod.

Although I still did have fun tinkering with other games, including the ones that I’d consider my least favourite to mod – and I’ll be getting to those next week – these are the titles that I’ve had the most fun modding, and ultimately provided me with the most creative satisfaction. Fellow modders, what have been some of your favourite games to create updates for? Let me know in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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