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.
Years before I was maintaining the NLSC roster updates for NBA Live, Tim and Lutz were creating the site’s original patches. We’ve seen a lot of fantastic roster updates over the years that have brought attention to the NLSC and been very popular in the community, and that great work certainly continues to this day. However, when you’re talking about the roster updates that made this site what it’s become and inspired so many other people to get into the hobby, you can’t go past those original releases by Tim and Lutz.
Those roster updates are still available in our Downloads section, and if you’re ever in the mood for some retro basketball gaming, I’d definitely recommend downloading them. If you’re newer to the NLSC community though – and especially if you’ve mostly been involved with the NBA 2K modding scene – it might be difficult to appreciate how important and influential those original NLSC rosters were. While I do encourage you to experience them for yourself if you can, I feel it’s important that those early roster updates get their due, especially in light of 2016 marking our 20th Anniversary.
Let’s take a look back…way back…
I’ve already detailed the challenges of modding NBA Live 95 in a previous Wayback Wednesday article, but I’ll quickly recap the situation. NBA Live 95 PC didn’t have any in-game Create-a-Player function, though lineups could be reordered and players traded to other teams. Tim, Lutz, and Brien figured out how to edit the game’s executable file to overwrite players and make other changes, but it definitely took a lot of care since text strings had to be replaced, and it was very easy to mess things up. Despite this, Tim and Lutz crafted some excellent roster updates that they distributed through their new website, the NBA Live Series Center.
Lutz actually continued the roster updates for NBA Live 95 through to the end of the 1998 season. By the end of its lifespan, the roster was much more than a current season mod, however. Thanks to the help of a few contributors, it became a comprehensive roster pack, with current season rosters, final rosters for the previous few seasons, retro season rosters from the 1994 season and earlier, PBA rosters, Greek League rosters, Legends rosters, a fun “Silly Roster”, and more. Roster packs have been taken to new heights by projects such as the Ultimate Base Roster and U R Basketball, but it’s funny to think that they were actually a thing back in those days.
Of course, it wasn’t possible to make those original roster updates as comprehensive as UBR or URB, or even the NLSC updates that I would go on to maintain. The community was much more limited in what it could do with NBA Live 95, even after the release of the EA Graphics Editor. Between the limitations on what could be done with the art assets and the game only supporting twelve man rosters, updates for NBA Live 95 simply had to make the best of the situation. Most gamers understood that there were limitations of course, and appreciated what could be done to bring the game up to date for the new season, or add retro rosters.
NBA Live 96 saw some improvements with the addition of two inactive roster slots and Create-a-Player. Tim, Lutz, and Brien were also able to develop even better tools for the game, which allowed them to simultaneously edit the executable and custom roster data file. The editors were more user-friendly, and were able to overwrite player names without having to replace text strings. As a result, the NLSC roster updates continued to flourish, and although the NBA Live 96 update was handed over to another patcher in the community, it was maintained well beyond the 1996 season and included a couple of retro season patches.
The next couple of PC releases would see further changes and additions that greatly benefited the NLSC roster updates. NBA Live 97 introduced the ability to save and load separate roster files in-game, while NBA Live 98 was the first game in the series to utilise DBF files. Storing player and team data in files that could be modified by database and spreadsheet software made roster patching much easier for the community, especially with the Toolkits that the NLSC team developed. There was no longer a need to modify the game’s executable file, and individual roster saves made the development of roster packs much easier.
However, as the years progressed, the NLSC roster updates began to focus more on keeping the game up to date as of the current season, and dropped the roster pack philosophy. This was due to the fact that Tim and Lutz simply didn’t have as much free time to work on the roster updates, and the rosters themselves were becoming a bigger task to maintain. While the process had been made simpler in some respects, there were now more attributes to account for. With players using real faces, more work also had to go into sculpting custom faces when creating missing players. Retro rosters obviously required even more effort to create, and time they didn’t have.
Nevertheless, the NLSC current roster updates remained greatly anticipated and well-regarded. Side projects such as the Legends and Champs rosters, also created by Lutz, tended to scratch the nostalgic itch of basketball gamers. Lutz continued to maintain the current roster updates through to around 2001, at which point he began scaling back his involvement in the community due to other commitments. At that point, Tim had also taken on a role with the NBA Live development team. As I had been working on my own roster updates for a few years when I took over the NLSC, I also assumed responsibility for those patches, and updated them in Lutz’s stead.
I’d like to think that I did a good job with the NLSC roster updates in the decade or so that I maintained them, but I’m always going to look back at those original patches as being something special. I remember being blown away when I discovered the NLSC and the roster updates, and my amazement at finding out that such a thing was actually possible. The rosters were always high quality, and I feel confident in saying that they not only inspired me to get involved in the patching scene, but plenty of other people as well. As I said, they put the NLSC on the map, as it became the site for NBA Live roster updates and editors in those early years.
On top of the outstanding work in those roster updates, I’d also like to highlight some of the humour involved with them. Beyond the “Silly Rosters” for NBA Live 95, Lutz’s sense of humour can be found throughout the readme files. I’d suggest it’s worth downloading those old updates just to check out his jokes. The NBA Live 96 roster is also “watermarked”, as the copyright screen is modified to read “in holes and in parts”, rather than “in whole and in part”. I have to admit that it took me a few times firing up the game with the rosters to notice it. To today’s crop of modders looking to watermark their work, I’d definitely recommend something subtle like that.
Once again, those rosters are still available in the Downloads section. If you’ve got those old NBA Live games lying around, I’d recommend checking them out; I’ll have some more instructions on getting old games to run in future articles. While roster updates have gone from strength to strength in the years since, I still marvel at those old NLSC patches. It’s where it all began, and they made those early games more than we ever thought they could be. They’re undoubtedly an important part of our legacy here at the NLSC, and I’m glad that we’ve been able to preserve them for posterity.