This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at Dynamic DNA in NBA Live 09.
Generally speaking, most of us want five-on-five basketball games to be realistic; “sim”, as we usually put it. One of the key elements of delivering realism in NBA Live and NBA 2K is to ensure that the players resemble their real life counterparts, not just in appearance, but in the way that they play and perform. As the years have gone by, both games have introduced new ratings, tendencies, and other attributes that are intended to make the action on the virtual hardwood more closely resemble what we see during an NBA broadcast. While there’s still room for improvement, basketball video games have also come a long way in that regard.
EA Sports took a big step towards making NBA Live more realistic with the implementation of Dynamic DNA in NBA Live 09. Not only was it an improvement in player AI and differentiation, it was also a step forward in terms of the official roster updates. Let’s take a look back…way back…
Before NBA Live 09, EA had tried to differentiate between players and reflect real life abilities through Freestyle Superstars. While the idea had merit, it was kind of limited, and introduced a few cheesy moves that didn’t reflect the goal of making a simulation title. Dynamic DNA – also referred to as Player DNA – instead introduced a host of new player tendencies and attributes, which governed players’ offensive styles. DNA was broken up into different tendencies, such as how often a player liked to isolate, run the pick and roll, post up, spot up, and so on. Other tendencies governed whether players preferred to go left, right, or shoot in each situation.
Fortunately, EA wasn’t just making their best guess with those tendencies. The introduction of Dynamic DNA marked the beginning of EA’s partnership with Synergy Sports Technology, a company that collects data on player performance and tendencies for NBA teams. If a player’s tendency in NBA Live 09 was to post up 34% of the time and go to their left 45% of the time when they did, it’s because they did so in real life as well, as per Synergy Sports. As such, looking up a player’s DNA data provided a true-to-life scouting report on how to defend them.
Granted, the results weren’t always perfect. The technology was new, and NBA Live 09 had its issues, just like any other basketball video game. However, it was definitely a step in the right direction, an improvement on previous attempts to capture the playing styles and abilities of every player in the league. This was a key difference compared to features such as Freestyle Superstars, as Dynamic DNA didn’t just focus on stars and key role players. Every single player in the game benefited from the new tech and data, which also included Hot Spots, Shot Streaks, and Impact Streaks.
Of course, player performance fluctuates throughout a season, and Class of 2008 rookies obviously had no real world data to utilise out of the box. That’s where the “Dynamic” part of Dynamic DNA came in, as EA didn’t just use data from Synergy Sports to prepare the original default roster. Synergy continued to feed through updated data throughout the 2009 season via a service called NBA Live 365, which carried the tagline “Made Fresh Daily”. Indeed, updates did come through every day, and not only included new DNA data, but also updated lineups as well. These served as minor roster updates, in between the major, manually produced updates.
There were a couple of catches with NBA Live 365, though. Although the daily updates would add missing players, they had generic placeholder bio data until they were fixed up in manual updates, which tended to come through weekly. The service was also subscription based, although all new copies of NBA Live 09 shipped with a code that activated the updates. Gamers who purchased NBA Live 09 second-hand needed to buy an NBA Live 365 subscription through the Xbox Live Marketplace or the PlayStation Store. This initially caused some confusion and outrage, until it was made clear that all new copies included a free subscription.
Using the official data from Synergy Sports was obviously preferable if realism was what you were after, but if you did want to edit Player DNA for any reason, it was actually possible to do so. All of the DNA tendencies were available to edit and assign in Create-a-Player as well, so created players didn’t have to be stuck with generic or randomised data. However, the frequency of the updates, powered by real life data, generally meant that tweaks to the DNA weren’t really necessary for original players. It was definitely a step up from the sporadic official updates from previous years, on top of the enhancement to player performance and realism.
Dynamic DNA also saw the introduction of NBA Rewind, a feature that allowed gamers to replay games from the 2009 season with rosters and DNA data that were accurate as of that date. The feature was expanded upon in NBA Live 10 with the introduction of Dynamic Season, and NBA Rewind has returned in recent iterations of NBA Live, now featuring additional goals and challenges. NBA Live 10 also received an extra season of updates following the cancellation of NBA Elite 11. Despite the difficulties the NBA Live series has endured, EA Sports’ partnership with Synergy Sports Technology continues to this day, with many ratings powered by real life data.
Unfortunately, I think it’s fair to say that Dynamic DNA wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been back in 2008, and that probably comes down to its name. It’s a catchy moniker, but it also sets off alarm bells for gamers who are fed up with gimmicky names and marketing buzzwords. Judging by some of the grumbling back then, some gamers didn’t really understand what it was all about, and that it was actually trying to achieve something we’d been asking for in terms of adding more realism. As such, some wrote it off as a useless gimmick, when it was anything but. The results may not have been perfect, but the idea was certainly revolutionary.
The NBA Live series still has a long way to go to get back to where it needs to be, but in EA’s partnership with Synergy and the concept of ratings powered by real life data, the development team has a solid, logical approach to striving for realism. It all goes back to NBA Live 09, and that first implementation of Dynamic DNA. Look past the gimmicky name and marketing slogans, and you can see technology that further developed player AI, resulted in the creation of a couple of new game modes, and revolutionised roster updates as it tried to capture the dynamic nature of the NBA season. Here’s hoping future NBA Live titles will continue to be made fresh daily.