The week has flown by and we find ourselves at another Friday here at the NLSC, which means it’s time for a new edition of The Friday Five. If you’re unfamiliar with The Friday Five and are wondering what it’s all about, 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.
NBA 2K14 current gen hit stores earlier this week and as such, our community is spending a lot of time checking out the game, delving into the various modes and of course, getting a start on modding. My bargain hunting efforts mean that I’m still waiting for my copy of the PC version to arrive from overseas, so I thought I’d momentarily turn my attention to the next gen games, which we’ll be seeing a lot more of very soon. This week’s Friday Five is all about what I’m hoping to see in the next generation of basketball gaming, this year and in the future, as I present to you 5 Wishes for Next Gen Basketball Games.
1. Proper Competitive Balance
As the artificial intelligence of basketball games has evolved, there has been a focus on making the CPU play more realistically and strategically. There is still plenty of room for innovation in this area and I expect that it will continue to be a priority for both EA Sports and 2K Sports in their next gen games. I would suggest that having players and teams play and perform like their real life counterparts and intelligently counter the user’s strategy is indeed what both companies are currently striving for.
In doing so, I hope that the next gen games will have fairer competitive balance, eliminating or at least minimising some of the frustrations that we’ve endured in basketball games up until this point. Those frustrations include the CPU being able to do things that the user cannot, as well as gaining temporary superhuman abilities and unfairly handicapping the user to maintain the challenge or mount a comeback. Suddenly incompetent CPU controlled teammates, missed dunks and layups while the CPU nails turnaround fadeaway threes from 30 feet, out of a double team…you know the drill.
It’s easier said than done of course, but I’d like to see a basketball game that can defeat the user without needing too much of an unfair advantage. Instead, I’d like to see the CPU winning through clever strategy and the ability to capitalise on legitimate user mistakes and weaknesses, rather than manufacturing them. Nobody likes to lose, but it’s easier to swallow when the game is playing fair. Striking this balance will go a long way in setting next gen basketball games apart from their predecessors.
2. Balance Between Physics, Animations & Control
Speaking of balance, it’s important that the tech of the next gen games can deliver in these three areas, without having to make too many compromises in any of them. For example, it’s important that the animations look good and are more realistic than previous generations, but the game can’t feel clunky with the user not feeling like they’re in control. At the same time, while it’s important that the controls are responsive, player movement that isn’t aesthetically pleasing and suitably lifelike can be distracting and detracts from the experience.
As I’ve said in previous Friday Fives as well as on our weekly podcast, I feel this is a challenge that both EA and 2K are facing as they look to make their debut on next gen. Both are trying to achieve that balance, seemingly coming from opposite ends of the spectrum. NBA Live’s animations have been criticised while NBA 2K’s have been lauded, but being animation heavy hasn’t always benefited the feel of 2K in the past while Live’s controls did receive promising praise at E3 this year.
If I had to make a prediction, I’d suggest that both series will put forth an admirable effort in this respect for their first next gen release, but it will remain an important issue in the years to come. If nothing else, it’s sounding like both titles will have a really solid foundation that they can build upon.
3. Game Mode Innovation
We actually touched upon this in our most recent podcast. While the game modes currently on offer are still fun and enjoyable, at the same time they are a bit stilted and stale. There’s room for improvement in terms of cleaning up bugs, tweaking logic and the like, not to mention adding some new bells and whistles here and there, but what we haven’t seen in a while is something particularly revolutionary.
If the current game modes make their way onto next gen, that will at least be satisfactory…at first. I definitely don’t want to see too many modes get the axe, as that certainly didn’t do NBA Live 06 any favours when it came out on the Xbox 360 all those years ago. We should keep our expectations realistic for the first year of next gen, but I’d like to see subsequent releases bring more and more new and innovative stuff to the table, offline and online.
I like the idea of an evolving experience; we’ve seen it before, but there’s more that can be done with it. There are the ideas that JaoSming and Leftos were tossing around some months back to make modes like Dynasty, Association, MyCAREER and now Rising Star an even deeper and more immersive experience, from small details such as players automatically wearing protective gear after an injury to in-depth player personalities and AI that make you really think about how you’re managing a particular situation. Stuff that will take the existing concepts to the next level while perhaps introducing us to The Next Big Thing. That’s what I want to see from game modes on next gen.
4. A Fully Customisable Experience
For many years now, we’ve had several gameplay sliders and other settings that have allowed us to tweak basketball games to our liking. Naturally, there are some issues that simply can’t be fixed by those adjustments, but for a lot of people the results have offered an improvement over the game that’s come out of the box. It’s therefore absolutely vital that we continue to have these options for modifying the basketball gaming experience as we move into the next generation.
However, I’d like to see these options expanded upon even further. Ideally, the experience we get out of the box should be fairly close to what most basketball gamers are after, but anything we can conceivably adjust to alter or improve the game should be accessible. As the artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, it’s important that we can adjust all the variables to keep it in check and challenging while also playing fair and realistically, since difficulty levels aren’t always enough to get the job done.
I’m not just talking about gameplay either, as game modes could greatly benefit from this as well. How handy would it be to be able to adjust the frequency of trades or the likelihood of blockbuster moves between CPU controlled teams? The frustration with simulated stats could be greatly reduced if we could tweak the logic and upper limits, or alternatively we could create a very different, fantasy-driven experience in terms of player performance. The default settings should be geared towards realism in the first place, but allowing for that kind of customisation, and as much of it as possible, could be the difference between great annoyance and great enjoyment for some gamers…even if they just make a couple of changes in the areas that bug them the most.
5. PC Releases
Saving the best for last, right? This obviously isn’t happening this year, but hopefully it won’t be long before we start getting ports of the next gen game on the PC. While a current gen port is better than having no PC version at all, it’s clear that there won’t be too much innovation taking place for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game from here on out. On top of that, there’s the uncertainty of how long those platforms will continue to be supported; we certainly don’t want to see the plug pulled on the PC version when the PS3 and 360 are no longer getting the game.
Porting to the PC does of course present some technological challenges. Even though top of the line gaming rigs outshine the forthcoming consoles, there’s still the matter of hardware not being standard and other such compatibility issues. On the bright side, the architecture of the new consoles will hopefully better facilitate PC ports, though anyone scraping by with a system that just barely meets the requirements for NBA 2K right now is going to have to upgrade. You can’t demand next gen games and expect them to run on decade old technology.
I don’t think I need to explain or outline the benefits of this one to anyone in our community but in a nutshell, it means that people who prefer the PC as a platform for their gaming would get basketball games that are aesthetically superior and much more likely to continue improving and innovating, compared to the port we currently receive. I’m sure we can all imagine the amazing possibilities it could open up for our modding community, too. Here’s hoping that it happens sometime in the near future.
That’s going to do it for this week. What are some of your wishes for next gen basketball gaming? Let me know in the comments below and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. As for current gen, hopefully my copy of NBA 2K14 PC will arrive soon and I’ll be able to join in with everyone else who has been enjoying the game so far. In the meantime, thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.