Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
As you may already know, Episode #90 of the NLSC Podcast featured a lengthy interview with the Executive Producer of NBA Live 15, Sean O’Brien. Sean answered our many questions honestly, and in great detail; as such, we learned a lot about this year’s game, as well as the future of the NBA Live series. This was naturally a very big deal for us, with a lot of good information coming out of the interview.
If you haven’t listened to it yet, I certainly encourage you to tune in when you get the chance. We will be compiling a written recap of everything that was discussed during the interview, but in the meantime, I want to use this week’s Friday Five to talk a little about some of the noteworthy points of interest. To that end, here are some of the best things that we know about NBA Live 15…so far.
1. There’s an increase in animation quality and quantity
Now, this is something that most people will understandably have to see to believe, but based on the information Sean gave us, and some initial hands-on impressions coming out of Gamescom 2014, there’s reason to be optimistic. This was obviously one of the major issues with NBA Live 14, and as we found out in our interview, it stemmed largely from re-using assets originally developed for NBA Live 13. Needless to say, this didn’t make the best possible use of the new Ignite engine, ultimately leading to awkward animations and stiff controls.
To that end, NBA Live 15 is taking a much better approach, making full use of motion captured shots, dunks, and layups, instead of trying to blend those animations with completely separate “gather” animations for the players’ legs. We also discovered that there won’t be complete rag-doll physics in NBA Live 15, but physics will be in effect for shooters and defenders, improving player collisions and seeking to eliminate clipping issues. On top of looking better, the new animations will reportedly feel a lot better, too.
Animation variety was also an issue in NBA Live 14; in short, it was lacking, and that made the gameplay somewhat repetitive. NBA Live 15 will have at least 400 new dunk animations, as well as several new animations for shots in the paint, particularly attempts around the basket. From all accounts, it sounds as though the criticism of NBA Live 14 and previous releases has not fallen upon deaf ears, with a significant amount of time and energy being spent on bringing the look and feel of the game up to standard. I’m looking forward to seeing the results in action.
2. Dynasty Mode & Rising Star have received attention
Even though the core gameplay experience is the focus for NBA Live 15, the game modes (also referred to as the “depth modes”) will be receiving some attention this year. After some vague references to Dynasty being on the backburner in previous interviews, it was a relief to hear Sean confirm that some important aspects of Dynasty and Rising Star have been worked on for NBA Live 15, and that they will be an important part of the game moving forward; more on that in a little bit.
As far as this year is concerned, Sean indicated that upgrades and fixes have been made to the “backbone” elements of Dynasty Mode and Rising Star in NBA Live 15. In particular, the sim engine and trade logic in Dynasty has been tweaked, in an effort to increase the realism and cut down on the amount of silly, highly unlikely, or flat out illogical deals. Added depth and functionality is at least another year away, but the fixes should improve the experience in the meantime.
Being the Dynasty geek that I am, I have to admit that I’m irked by little details such as players wearing numbers that have been retired by the team they’ve just been traded to. During our interview, I made sure to ask whether or not the Edit Player function was available this year, so that we could at least manually assign jersey numbers for players on the team that we’re controlling. That functionality currently isn’t implemented, but Sean did make a note of it. So, if it makes the cut this year, or returns next year, I’m taking credit for that one, fellow Dynasty enthusiasts!
3. Better shooting mechanics, with shot quality feedback
Jumpshots weren’t impossible in NBA Live 14, but they could be very difficult, even after the release timing was tweaked by the official patch. While the basic principle remained the same as always – release the shoot button at the top of the jump, with the release window and chance of success being affected by the player’s ratings – it was tough to nail down the timing. While the old adage of “practice makes perfect” is applicable, that’s easier said than done when the game doesn’t offer anything in the way of feedback on your shot attempts.
That’s set to change in NBA Live 15, as the player indicator will provide the user with more information about the shot they’re attempting. Dashes will appear beneath the player to indicate their ability to make a shot from their current position on the court, with more dashes representing a higher chance for success. Another indicator will show how open or tightly defended a player is, ranging from red (closely guarded) to green (wide open). Further feedback will also be displayed after a shot attempt, letting the user know how well they timed their release.
With all the different signature jumpshot animations to account for, that kind of feedback is invaluable in perfecting our timing on the shoot button. It’s worked out quite well in the NBA 2K series, so I’m glad to see NBA Live adopt it too. It’s also worth mentioning that there are some quick/early release animations, which will help in getting off quick shots when there isn’t much time left on the clock. Needless to say, these quicker releases carry a penalty to the shot’s chance of success, but that of course is certainly realistic.
4. Similar controls, with a few changes (for the better)
At least, I feel the changes are for the better. The removal of the signature dribbling modifier frees up a button for more useful functions, while the signature dribbling moves themselves can now be used more organically and to greater effect. After all, if a player has a distinctive style of dribbling the basketball, that’s what we’re going to see from them whenever they have the ball in their hands. This change should allow the game to better reflect that.
The team also made a couple of good calls in bringing back size-up dribbles and Freestyle passing. They were nice features in NBA Live 10, ones that the NBA 2K series would also adopt following Mike Wang’s return to the development team at Visual Concepts. The new Motion control, which is similar to the one utilised in NCAA Basketball 10 – not coincidentally, another game that Sean worked on – also sounds promising. While the user is free to ignore the prompts that will appear when using the Motion control, its presence is intended to help get your players to the right spots on the floor, on top of the in-depth playcalling functionality.
It is a shame that we won’t be getting manual control over tip-ins and put-back dunks (though they will happen contextually), or the ability to throw alley-oops off the backboard, but hopefully those functions can be implemented sooner rather than later. On the whole though, I’m glad that they haven’t needlessly made a huge overhaul of the controls. I for one have always liked NBA Live’s approach to controls – even if the gameplay itself hasn’t been up to scratch – so I was pleased to hear that they aren’t straying from what’s worked for them in the past, nor are they unnecessarily aping NBA 2K. I think both games should do their own thing in that department.
5. The table is being set for the future
One of the main things I took away from our interview with Sean is that the NBA Live series is in great hands, and has a very promising future if all the pieces can come together. There’s still a ways to go, and as Sean said, unfortunately he can’t take the game that he sees in his head and immediately give it to us. However, the vision that he described suggests that the series is on the right track.
Once again, the main focus of NBA Live 15 is to improve the core gameplay experience. The current plan is to then focus on customisation and game modes in NBA Live 16, which means creation facilities, sliders, and deeper features in Dynasty Mode and Rising Star. As I mentioned before, being a Dynasty enthusiast, I was very relieved to hear that the mode won’t be phased out. Instead, future games will see it evolve and improve, while retaining the core aspects that have made it so much fun (which as you may recall, is something I recently talked about).
As for the gameplay, it all comes down to the team’s ability to polish and fully utilise the technology at their disposal. NBA Live 14 demonstrated the downfall of trying to make the best of tech that isn’t optimised or a good fit, with its use of assets that were originally created for NBA Live 13’s engine. With those assets discarded, and the team working on using the Ignite engine to its full potential, the mistakes of the past can hopefully be left behind, allowing the game to improve in leaps and bounds. I certainly hope that will be the case.
That’s going to do it for this week. Once again, I encourage you to listen to our interview with Sean for the full scoop on what we know about NBA Live 15 so far, as there’s only so much that I could cover in five points. If you have listened to the interview, what are some of the things that stood out to you? Sound off in the comments below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.