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.
Seeing as how it’s my favourite game mode, I’ve naturally written a couple of Friday Five articles about Dynasty Mode in the past. I’ve talked about some of the improvements that were made in NBA Live 14, as well as what I want to see added in the future. This week however, I thought I’d talk a little about some of the things that have made the mode so much fun for me over the years.
In a nutshell, the key to making a mode like Dynasty fun and enjoyable is for it to be both deep and immersive. While there is obviously still room for improvement in that regard, I find that a lot of enjoyment actually comes from the basics, not to mention the right approach. Without any further ado, here are five things that I believe greatly contribute to the fun of Dynasty Mode.
1. Messing around with your lineup
Hey look, there’s the Rotations screen from NBA Live 14 again! Don’t worry, I’m not going to gush about it for the umpteenth time, but it’s an appropriate screenshot to illustrate something that makes Dynasty Mode so much fun for me: messing around with my lineup.
I’m not even talking about making trades and signings here; more on that in a moment, though. No, I’m talking about changing the starting lineup, experimenting with your rotation, and changing up your player’s roles and court time as the situation demands. Over the course of an 82 game season, there are plenty of opportunities to micromanage your lineup in this manner.
To that end, I’ll freely admit that I kind of like looking at my team’s stats at the end of the season, and seeing that not everyone on the roster played or started all 82 games. I enjoy giving a bench player an occasional start after a great performance, as I once did with Eric Piatkowski when he became an unexpected fourth quarter hero in the previous game. Finally, it’s also why I’d like to see the return of in-game injuries in NBA Live, so that I’m forced to make adjustments accordingly.
2. Making the right trade or free agent signing
I’ve previously mentioned that making too many trades can ruin the Dynasty experience, leaving your team without an identity and quite often creating a stacked lineup that simply isn’t all that fun to play with. I still stand by that assertion, but having said that, making a few moves here and there to sculpt a roster to your liking goes a long way towards increasing your enjoyment of a Dynasty game. In short, don’t make a lot of moves; make good ones.
Early on in my NBA Live 2004 Dynasty game with the Chicago Bulls, I traded Jalen Rose, Marcus Fizer, and Roger Mason Jr. for Kevin Garnett. It wasn’t exactly a realistic deal, but I was still giving up three players for one All-Star, and my roster definitely wasn’t stacked afterwards. I ultimately won the championship, but the games were still competitive and I didn’t go undefeated. KG’s also long been one of my favourite non-Bulls, so at the end of the day it was a trade that most certainly added to the fun.
During the offseason in my NBA Live 06 Dynasty – once again playing with the Bulls – I acquired Chris Wilcox and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (the latter long before it happened in real life). It wasn’t really working out, so I ended up making a few trades and picking up a rookie point guard who was the fifth overall pick. Something just didn’t feel right, so I swung a few more deals and acquired Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver, both of whom had recently signed with the Bulls in real life. With a couple of moves inspired by reality, and a more balanced lineup, I corrected a few mistakes that I’d made in assembling my roster. The experience from there on was much better for it.
3. Developing the skills (and identity) of a generated rookie
The ability to customise Draft Classes is a great feature in NBA 2K’s Association Mode, and I’d love to see the same functionality make its way into NBA Live’s Dynasty Mode at some point. However, there is something to be said for fictional, generated rookies, and the way that they facilitate the fantasy aspect of Dynasty Mode.
For those of us who enjoy maintaining story threads, generated players allow us to exercise our creative writing abilities as we weave interesting back stories for them. Their stories continue to unfold as we play the games, develop their abilities, and in some cases, see them become All-Stars and even all-time greats. Even if you’re not maintaining a story thread, that’s still a big part of the generated rookie experience.
Some of the most entertaining examples of this can be found in Kenny’s NBA Live 10 Dynasty story thread featuring the Denver Nuggets, The Next Level. Readers of TNL will no doubt be familiar with the career of Borislav Perko, a triple double machine who led the Nuggets to multiple titles. The exploits of Perko, T-Mac 2.0, and other generated players in Kenny’s thread demonstrate that the game can still be a lot of fun, even as it moves further and further away from reality.
4. Creating an alternate reality
Following on from that point, creating our own reality and a fantasy version of the NBA is ultimately the name of the game when it comes to Dynasty Mode. Sure, most of us want some level of realism – a reasonable amount of trades, not too many big names switching teams every year, players putting up realistic numbers, and so on – but ultimately, the longer a Dynasty game goes on, the more removed from reality it will become.
For me, that’s absolutely part of the fun, and judging by the story thread interviews that we’ve been running in recent months, a lot of Dynasty gamers feel the same way. We enjoy using the mode to play the “What If?” game, doing the things that we wish our favourite teams would (or could) do, getting a couple of our favourite players together on one team, and generally shaking things up.
Are you growing a bit weary of your favourite team losing and seemingly making all the wrong moves? It doesn’t have to be that way when you’re in control! Peeved that your team was just eliminated from the Playoffs by a long-time rival? Take it out on their virtual counterparts, and rewrite history! Single player career modes are fun for the fantasy experience that they provide, and I really enjoyed MyCAREER in NBA 2K13, but with the ability to change the landscape of the league and assume a variety of roles, I find that there’s a lot to keep me hooked on modes like Dynasty.
5. Winning the championship
Yes, it might seem that this one goes without saying, but it’s still worth mentioning as it is the ultimate goal of Dynasty Mode, after all. Besides, you really do feel a sense of accomplishment when your players hoist that virtual Larry O’Brien trophy…especially if you play every single game with 12 minute quarters, as I generally aim to do. It may not allow you to progress through as many seasons, but it makes the ones that you do complete feel all the more worthwhile.
Come to think of it, I don’t recall ever failing to win the championship in a season that I’ve completed, playing all 82 games. I have, however, come up short when simulating the entire season and Playoffs. Strangely enough, I’ve never gone undefeated in the regular season when playing every game – I believe that 77-5 is my best effort to date – but I have actually managed a perfect 82-0 season when simulating. With enough star players, NBA Live 2003’s sim engine was quite generous in that regard.
When it comes to winning a championship in Dynasty Mode, the moment can be sullied a little if the post-game cutscenes are somewhat brief and lacklustre, or if you accidentally skip them. Still, it doesn’t bother me too much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more elaborate championship celebrations and the ability to replay cutscenes, but…well, I’ve been playing video games for a long time, and I remember finishing games in the 8-bit and 16-bit days. You’d get a short cutscene or slideshow if you were lucky, but quite often it was just a brief (and sometimes badly translated) message of congratulations. Sometimes, it’s more about the experience and feeling of achievement, rather than on-screen pomp and circumstance.
What are some of the things – big or small – that make Dynasty Mode (or Association/MyGM) fun for you? Let me know 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.