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 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 can probably guess, I’m a big fan of basketball video games. You’d certainly hope that I would be, given that I’m a running a website dedicated to basketball video gaming. While they’re not the only titles that I play, basketball games are certainly among my favourites and whether it’s the more realistic approach of NBA Live and NBA 2K, or the arcade style of NBA Jam, I’ve had a lot of fun with them over the years. However, as we all know too well, basketball games definitely have their frustrating and annoying moments.
There are plenty of major, gamebreaking issues that cause us frustration – cumbersome controls, disappointing AI and so on – but that’s not what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about some of the little things that don’t necessarily ruin basketball games or render them completely unenjoyable, but at the very least take something away from the experience. These are my five biggest basketball video game pet peeves…or at least the ones that spring immediately to mind.
1. Automatic Roster Reordering
As many of you are probably aware, I create roster updates for NBA Live, albeit not as often as I once did. There are several aspects of creating the rosters that are tedious, frustrating and make the whole endeavour feel like a real chore, but one of the minor issues that bugs me is the automatic roster reordering that takes place after you make a transaction.
It makes sense, of course. Not everyone wants to completely reorder a team’s roster after making some trades or signings, so it’s fair enough that the lineup is reset with the best rated players in the starting lineup and active roster. You also want to see CPU controlled teams automatically adjust their lineup after making transactions in Dynasty Mode, accounting for their new depth chart. However, it’s annoying to have to completely reorder a team’s roster after releasing a player on the inactive list, because his ten day contract has just expired in real life.
There was a very useful option back in NBA Live 2001 that allowed you to disable automatic roster reordering. It was very handy when creating roster updates, since you didn’t have to make major lineup adjustments after trading, signing or releasing players. It’s a setting that I’ve definitely missed when making roster updates in subsequent years and often wished that they’d bring back. I’d certainly welcome it in future games.
2. “Courtside Comedy” Cutscenes
NBA Live 2003 does deserve its due. It saw the debut of Freestyle which introduced the concept of performing dribbling moves using the right analog stick, in my opinion one of the most significant advances in basketball video game controls. The controls were also more responsive than in NBA Live 2001 and NBA Live 2002, transition between animations was a bit smoother and there were fewer out-of-control moments where you’d get stuck in an animation.
However, NBA Live 2003 bothered a lot of us simheads due to its fast pace, inflated scores, exaggerated blocks and other elements that weren’t as realistic as we would have liked. There were plenty of major issues with the game, but a minor one that always bugged me was the presence of what we’ve come to dub the “courtside comedy” cutscenes. Basically, almost every player cutscene was filled with goofy antics and even those that weren’t were still usually ridiculous.
It might have worked if they were kept to a minimum and only triggered very rarely as an Easter Egg, but sadly that wasn’t the case. Instead, we saw a player steal the coach’s seat every game, the coach always scolded a benchwarming centre for stopping to sign an autograph on the way into the tunnel at halftime and Brendan Haywood would chew out Michael Jordan for not listening during timeouts. EA were obviously aiming for a fun vibe with those cutscenes, but they just ended up being silly and annoying. I’m glad that we haven’t seen them featured in more games but they bear mentioning as they quickly became one of my biggest pet peeves.
3. Commentary That Breaks The Fourth Wall
So there you are, playing a basketball game. All of a sudden, you do something rather stupid, like launch a shot from three quarter court with plenty of time left, probably because the steal button is also the shoot button. “What was he thinking?” the bewildered play-by-play announcer asks, leading his colleague on colour commentary to joke “I guess he needs to read the manual!”.
I’ll admit, it’s a somewhat amusing idea, something of an Easter Egg that you encounter when you’re messing around or screw up in a big way. When I first encountered it all those years ago, it did actually raise a smile. However, since then it’s become a pet peeve of mine, something that breaks the immersion and detracts from the atmosphere that today’s basketball games otherwise do a very good job of creating. It certainly doesn’t help that it often comes about as a result of the scenario I described above, in which the silliness is the result of a quirk in the controller configuration.
I’d much rather that developers minimised the possibility of those accidents occurring in the first place, while having the commentators just kind of gloss over it when they do…in sim oriented titles, at least. It’s a rather blatant reminder that you’re playing a video game, which goes against the general philosophy of making basketball titles as realistic and immersive as possible. If we’re talking about a game like NBA Jam of course, then that’s a different story. It’s appropriate for an over-the-top arcade game, but keep it out of NBA Live and NBA 2K.
4. Metric Measurements
This is one that you won’t have encountered if you don’t live in a PAL region. I do however, so it’s something that bugged me in the last few NBA Live games on Xbox 360. Because PAL region countries use the metric system, player heights and weights are represented in centimetres and kilograms, rather than the imperial system of feet, inches and pounds.
Now, I obviously grew up with the metric system, so I’m used to it and it’s the form of measurement that I’m more likely to use day-to-day. However, when it comes to basketball, I always think in imperial terms, because that’s what the NBA uses. It isn’t difficult to Google a conversion of course, but it does make creating players a little more tedious when you want to use accurate measurements and have to convert centimetres to feet and inches, and kilograms to pounds.
It also takes something away from the presentation, since player measurements tend to be displayed on overlays during free throws and whatnot. Since the presentation is meant to represent what we see when watching the NBA on TV, it’s distracting to see metric measurements where we’d normally see imperial ones. I like NBA 2K’s approach of allowing the user to toggle between imperial and metric measurements, with imperial being the default setting. If NBA Live must have metric measurements for PAL regions, that’s the solution they should adopt. Even if metric is the default setting, at least we’ll be able to toggle it.
5. Unskippable/Slow Skipping Cutscenes & Overlays
Over the years, the presentation in basketball video games has gotten better and better, both in the frontend and during gameplay. We’ve seen halftime shows added, TV-style instant replays implemented and NBA broadcasts emulated in great detail, with overlays displaying stats from around the league, upcoming games and so on. It’s great to see, it should absolutely be in the game and I’d like to see it expanded upon and improved.
That said…sometimes, you just want to get on with it. That’s a problem because many of those scenes and overlays can’t be skipped or are very slow to skip and in most cases, they can’t be disabled outright. You don’t always have the time or patience to sit through the halftime show in NBA 2K, yet you can’t immediately skip it with a single button press. When the upcoming games overlay pops up, I find myself – out of habit – tapping the pass button in vain, wishing it would speed things along.
Again, these are great presentation features that should be in the game and I do enjoy having them. It’s just that sometimes, I just want to play and am not in the mood for watching all the cutscenes or seeing all the overlays. I’d like to be able to enjoy all that good stuff when I feel like it and immediately skip it (or even disable it) when I don’t. The inability to do so is definitely a pet peeve of mine, so hopefully future games will adopt a more accommodating approach.
That’s going to do it for this week. What are some of your biggest pet peeves when it comes to basketball video games? Let me know in the comments below and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.