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 an old print ad and trailer for NBA Live 2004.
A few weeks ago, I was using the Wayback Machine at Archive.org to try and find a downloadable version of the official patch for NBA Live 2003. As I mentioned in a recent Friday Five feature, it’s a file that’s no longer available, and I was hoping that I could retrieve it via an archived copy of the game’s official website. Unfortunately I didn’t have any luck in that regard, but I did manage to find some old preview media for NBA Live 2004 and NBA Live 2005. Among them was a print ad featuring cover player Vince Carter, and a gameplay trailer.
NBA Live 2004 is definitely a classic, and I’m sure that long-time members of our community have many fond memories of it. Since we’re also in the thick of the preview seasons for NBA Live 18 and NBA 2K18, I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at how games used to be promoted in the lead up to their release. With that in mind, let’s take a look back…way back…
We’ll begin with the gameplay trailer. As you’ll see below, it’s far from high resolution. Indeed, it’s a mere 320×240; not exactly 1080p or 4K! NBA Live 2004 does support much higher resolutions for gameplay of course, but back then, preview screenshots and videos tended to be much smaller. Smaller videos were kinder to users with slower connections – which were obviously more common – and since a lot of websites were designed for lower resolutions, screenshots tended not to be very big either. It’s one of the reasons I don’t often use really old images for some of my Wayback Wednesday articles, even though I still have them in my archives.
The song used in the trailer is the appropriately named “NBA Live 2004”, by Twista; essentially, the game’s theme song. I have to say that EA Sports did a really great job of syncing the song to the gameplay clips, particularly with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal appearing at the mention of their names, a three-pointer being made on the line about dropping treys, and Tracy McGrady dunking during the lyric about taking it to the hole. It’s also a great demonstration of the expanded Freestyle Control – touted as the Freestyle Revolution on the box – and some of the slicker moves that could be performed in the game.
You may also notice that quite a few retro jerseys were featured in the trailer. The ability to manually select jerseys had been added in NBA Live 2003, and that included throwbacks for every team. The selection of retro jerseys had been expanded in NBA Live 2004, so EA Sports obviously made a point of showing off some of them in the trailer. Interestingly, Yao Ming is seen wearing the Houston Rockets’ pinstripe jerseys, last worn during the 2003 season. Looking at the internal data of the video file, it seems that it was created on July 17th 2003, which may have predated the official unveiling of their new jerseys.
Another interesting note about the trailer is that it doesn’t feature cover player Vince Carter. He isn’t seen performing any of the highlight plays, nor does he even appear in the background as other stars take the spotlight. Considering the date from the video file, however, this isn’t surprising. Carter wasn’t announced as the cover player for NBA Live 2004 until August 11th, almost a month after the trailer was apparently created. EA Sports had released a teaser image featuring Carter’s silhouette, and obviously wanted to keep us guessing. Of course, in hindsight, his absence from the Freestyle Revolution gameplay trailer was a clue in and of itself.
Vince Carter does appear in the print ad – originally distributed as a PDF file – which I also found during my search with the Wayback Machine. Check it out:
Despite the tagline of “You can’t defend what you can’t comprehend”, and the focus on offensive moves in both the blurb and the included screenshots, the defensive game in NBA Live 2004 was much better than its predecessor. Freestyle Control did include defensive moves, after all, and it was also the year that sliders were introduced to NBA Live, making it much easier to tweak the gameplay for a more realistic and desirable experience. Blocks were also far more realistic and controlled, as is evident from the clips in the gameplay trailer.
It’s also nice to see the PC CD-ROM logo in that print ad, especially before all the other platforms. The PC version of NBA Live 2004 was more or less identical to the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube versions, though of course it had the added benefit of modding capabilities. While re-establishing NBA Live on the current primary platforms – PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – is understandably a priority for EA right now, it is a shame that it’s been ten years since we last saw a PC release for the series. Hopefully, NBA Live will get to where it needs to be, and we’ll see a PC port once again some day.
Needless to say, over a decade later, basketball video games have come a long way since NBA Live 2004. The culture and content of the preview season has also drastically changed, as you can see from these assets. We expect to see high resolution videos of NBA Live and NBA 2K, well before their release. Media such as the print ad has been replaced by constant screenshots released through social media channels, developer blogs and vlogs, and more interaction between gamers and the development team. Magazine ads and previews also seem quaintly archaic in the digital age.
Still, it’s fun to look back and see how things used to be; that’s kind of the point of these Wayback Wednesday features, after all. I may not have been able to find the official NBA Live 2003 patch, but I’m glad that I was able to dig these up. As for that tagline of “You can’t defend what you can’t comprehend”…that one might just be worth recycling, especially with NBA Live 18 looking to make another revolution to its controls. Any videos should preferably be a little bigger than 320×240, though.