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.
After offering up a few opinions on the real NBA in last week’s edition of the Friday Five, this week I’m back to talking about basketball video games. Being a basketball gamer that prefers to see a healthy amount of realism in the annual titles, I thought I’d reflect on some of the non-sim elements that have found their way into sim basketball games over the years.
For the sim-oriented gamer, these elements can range from pet peeves and minor irritations to major distractions and issues that can severely affect one’s enjoyment of a game. However, as you’ll find out, at least one of the items on this list isn’t such an unwelcome idea. Without any further ado, here are 5 Non-Sim Elements in Sim Basketball Games.
1. Between-the-legs dunks in NBA Live 2002
I’ve argued before that NBA Live is, and always has been, a simulation basketball title. I still stand by that assertion; as I’ve said before, the results haven’t always been what we’ve wanted, nor have our expectations always been met, but by design and by genre, NBA Live is a sim basketball series. However, there was a brief stretch of two or three releases where a handful of not-so-realistic elements consistently found their way into titles that – regardless of any flaws that you might care to mention – were intended to be sim-oriented, at least for the most part.
NBA Live 2002 tipped off that trend by featuring between-the-legs dunks during regular gameplay, an addition that was highlighted by Vince Carter performing one in the game’s intro. Not that it’s impossible, of course, but aside from the dunk contest, it’s something you rarely see NBA players perform outside of exhibition games, such as the Rising Stars Challenge. Put it this way: in an average regular season or Playoff game, you’re highly unlikely to see a player post up, spin baseline, and then effortlessly throw down a between-the-legs dunk in traffic.
In all fairness, they didn’t happen on every play, players needed to have a reasonably high Dunking rating to perform them, and they were actually kind of cool to see, which is probably why they made it into the game in the first place. It’s also worth mentioning that NBA 2K13 and NBA 2K14 feature between-the-legs dunks in five-on-five gameplay as well, though they’re MyCAREER specials and aren’t utilised in the regular dunk packages for NBA players, so I’m inclined to give them a pass. As for NBA Live 2002’s version of the dunk, fun as it was, it wasn’t the kind of thing hardcore sim-heads wanted to see.
2. Blocks in NBA Live 2003
NBA Live 2003 was a game that definitely had a few too many arcade-like elements for a title that was otherwise developed as a sim. There’s a lot that I could mention here, from the speed of the gameplay to the silly “courtside comedy” cutscenes that I’ve criticised in a previous Friday Five. However, the element of the gameplay that I’m going to single out is the shotblocking.
It seems the aim in NBA Live 2003 was to let the user feel like they could reject opponents with tremendous power and ferocity, but if so, the developers went a little too far with the idea. Whether you were controlling a sultan of swat like Dikembe Mutombo, or a far less prolific shotblocker such as cover player Jason Kidd, most blocked shots turned into volleyball serves that would frequently rocket to the opposite baseline.
Now, we’ve seen some spectacular blocks in the NBA where the ball has been turned back with great force or sent flying into the stands, but NBA Live 2003’s swats were just a little too exaggerated, especially when smaller players were regularly sending the ball flying almost the full 94 feet and out of bounds. Thankfully, no NBA Live game since has repeated that approach to blocking animations and physics.
3. Sound Effects in NBA Live 2002, 2003, and 2004
Accompanying the aforementioned volleyball blocks was a deep, booming sound effect, more appropriate to a cannon being fired than a basketball being swatted. The rim sounds in NBA Live 2003 were also a little distracting for the sim-oriented player, a cacophonous crashing that sounded more like someone kicking and rattling garbage cans, or perhaps slamming shut a metal roller door, rather than an NBA player dunking on a breakaway rim.
A year earlier, a couple of sound effects that would have been a little more suited to an arcade game like NBA Jam found their way into NBA Live 2002. A jet-like effect accompanied players as they elevated to dunk, while a whooshing sound could be heard when firing up a three pointer. While they were certainly far more subdued than what came along in NBA Live 2003, I have to admit that those effects were a pet peeve of mine back when I was playing 2002. After all, they were video game sound effects, whereas I wanted realistic, TV-style presentation.
NBA Live 2004 was a great game for its time, one of my favourite basketball titles and a release that addressed a lot of complaints about the arcade elements in the previous two games. Blocks were toned down, sliders were added, and the game took some steps forward in realism and presentation. Unfortunately, the sound effects from NBA Live 2003 remained; on the bright side, I was able to put them to good use in my LIVE JAM mods for NBA Live 2005-08.
4. Dunk Contest Dunks in NBA Live 2005-09
Well, sort of. Some of them are definitely pushing it. We have seen streetballers attempt 540 and 720 degree dunks, along with some of the other creative slams that are possible in NBA Live’s dunk contest. Needless to say of course, they’re a lot more common and easier to pull off in NBA Live compared to real life, and a couple of them are really tall orders. Between-the-legs twice? Pretty tough. A honey-dip to the armpit from the free throw line? A tad unlikely.
As I’ve mentioned in previous Friday Fives, the wackier slams in NBA Live’s dunk contests did bug me a little at first. I ultimately warmed up to the idea though and to be honest, I think it’s actually an area of the game where it’s not only acceptable, but also makes a lot of sense to be a little less sim. The crazier dunks, lobs, and combinations that you can attempt allow for more variety and creativity, which makes the mode more interesting and fun.
Besides, at least you’re not playing Guitar Hero when you’re trying to pull them off.
5. Acrobat Signature Skill Exploit in NBA 2K13
The NBA 2K series hasn’t had a whole lot of blatantly non-sim elements in aspects of the games that were intended to be sim, at least not in the same vein as some of the other items on this list, and not so much in the 2K games that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with. There have been gameplay exploits however, and one that is definitely worth mentioning involves the Acrobat Signature Skill in NBA 2K13.
Signature Skills are, for the most part, a well-implemented feature that are kind of an evolution of NBA Live’s Freestyle Superstars concept. They aren’t as powerful as Freestyle Superstars moves and they’re much better balanced, yet they’re still capable of making a difference. One Signature Skill was problematic in NBA 2K13 though, and that was the Acrobat Skill, which reduced the penalty for a player changing his shot in midair, while also giving him a boost for hop, spin, and euro layups.
A fine idea in theory, but unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – an exploit was present in NBA 2K13 that allowed players to unrealistically boost their chances of making three pointers off a euro step. Since the Acrobat Skill already granted a decent boost to shooting percentages when performing a euro step, players with that ability were even more effective at taking advantage of the exploit. To counteract the problem, NBA 2K ultimately ended up taking away the Acrobat Skill from players in the official roster updates, though it is still present in the game and can be reassigned.
That’s all for the Friday Five this week. What are some other non-sim elements in sim basketball games that you can think of? 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.