Wayback Wednesday: NBA Live 96 Complete Update

Kobe Bryant in the Complete Update for NBA Live 96

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 the Complete Update mod I made for NBA Live 96 PC.

Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since I’ve worked on a major roster project, or perhaps it’s talking about old mods in recent editions of Wayback Wednesday, but recently I’ve been feeling somewhat nostalgic about the days when I was more active in the modding community. I’ve talked about my 1996 season mod for NBA Live 2004 (which will be receiving further updates, thanks to Murat) and the NBA Live PC project for NBA Live 06 (which I’d love to update if I had the time), but this time I’m going back even further, to the Complete Update that I made for NBA Live 96.

Even though it’s obviously been far surpassed by the numerous games that have followed it, the PC version of NBA Live 96 remains one of my all-time favourite basketball games. Indeed, it was for that very reason that I was still making updates for it as late as 2001, even though it was already becoming something of a relic. Let’s take a look back…way back…

As I’ve mentioned before, I was very excited, and inspired, when I discovered the original NLSC roster updates by Tim and Lutz. With the editors that they provided, it wasn’t long before I was tinkering with the games myself, in particular NBA Live 96. With Tim and Lutz moving on to create tools and updates for newer games in the series, there was an opportunity for other people to step up and make new rosters for older titles. I created several season updates for NBA Live 96, ranging from 1995 through to 1999. Until April last year, I thought that those updates were long gone, but I tracked them down in my archives, and uploaded the pack here.

Vince Carter & Allen Iverson in the Complete Update for NBA Live 96

By 2000, I’d moved on from playing NBA Live 96 on a regular basis, but the lure of creating updates for the game still remained. Part of the appeal was the simplicity of the process. There were fewer player ratings, and no face textures or detailed created appearances to worry about. The rosters were therefore a lot quicker and easier to update, especially since at the time, there was less emphasis on complete update packages that included new artwork and the like; especially for a game as old as NBA Live 96. However, when I decided that I wanted to make a new roster in late 2000, I ended up putting together a more comprehensive mod.

One of the reasons that I decided to do this was because a member of our community had succeeded in using the EA Graphics Editor to create logo updates for NBA Live 96. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the person’s name, and rather embarrassingly, they aren’t listed in the credits in the readme file for the Complete Update, either. However, they made some great logo updates for the Wizards, Warriors, Jazz, Nets, Magic, 76ers, Celtics, Pistons, and Timberwolves. They even managed to change the golden text art for the Bullets to Wizards! We weren’t able to modify the audio files, but the cosmetic changes were more than what previous roster updates had included.

Later versions of the Complete Update for NBA Live 96 even included portrait patches for Austin Croshere, Allen Iverson, Antawn Jamison, Antoine Walker, Bruce Bowen, Derek Anderson, Fred Hoiberg, Isaac Austin, Jason Caffey, Kobe Bryant, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Shandon Anderson, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Tim Duncan, and Vince Carter, all taken from NBA Live 2000. Furthermore, the palettes for the jersey art files were also updated. NBA Live 96 didn’t have very detailed jersey art, but with updated colours and trims, they at least resembled the designs from the 2001 season, instead of being stuck with the colour schemes from 1996.

The rosters themselves presented a bit of a challenge, as NBA Live 96 only had fourteen roster slots per team, as well as fourteen slots in the Free Agent Pool. This meant that benchwarmers that spent most of the season on the inactive list had to be omitted. The major players were accounted for though, which is what mattered most to basketball gamers in search of updated rosters. Players also had to be overwritten, so there were incorrect portraits, and rookies who had the career statistics of retired veterans. Again, this was just something that we all accepted when modding those old games, because we understood that there were limitations on what could be done.

Patrick Ewing in the Complete Update for NBA Live 96

Looking back at those 2001 season rosters, I’m also reminded of how we were seeing a changing of the guard. It was something of a transitional era with a lot of the stars of the 80s and 90s calling it a day, and new stars becoming the faces of the league. A lot of the older stars whose careers were winding down were also joining new teams. Scottie Pippen was dealt to the Trail Blazers a season earlier, and Shawn Kemp had just joined him in Portland. Patrick Ewing was traded to the SuperSonics in the 2000 offseason. Grant Hill left the Pistons for the Magic. Quite a few role players were also in the midst of stints with teams I’d since forgotten they once played for.

I kept updating the rosters through February 16th 2001, with the final release (v1.09) including updated lineups for the 2001 All-Star Game in Washington. Oddly enough, that last update came a week before the trade deadline, which you might think would’ve been a more sensible time for a final update if I was going to call it quits before the end of the season. However, NBA Live 2001 PC was released on February 8th, so I’m guessing that I simply got into playing and modding the latest game, and forgot about the Complete Update for NBA Live 96. Needless to say, there was a lot more interest in content for NBA Live 2001 at that point.

Of course, I knew that I was creating the Complete Update for a very small group of people who were still interested in NBA Live 96 mods. In fact, I remember one person in the original NLSC Forum expressing a great deal of surprise when they saw Lutz post one of my releases as a file addition on the main page (at the time, I was still running the NBA Live Domain). No doubt it would have seemed like a strange thing to do, when mods for NBA Live 2000 and NBA Live 2001 were in much higher demand. As I said before though, I continued to maintain those updates because NBA Live 96 is one of my all-time favourite games, and it was still fun to patch.

That’s why I completely understand it when people express an interest in mods for NBA Live 2005 through NBA Live 08, or for that matter, NBA 2K11 through NBA 2K14. I also understand the desire people have to keep making updates for those older releases. Modding older games can be as fun as retro gaming itself, and if you do happen to prefer those old games to their modern counterparts for whatever reason, it’s a way to bring today’s NBA into an old school basketball gaming experience. And yes, referring to games like NBA Live 06 as “old school” definitely makes me feel a little old myself, and reminds me that I’ve been doing this for quite a while now.

Washington Wizards Roster in the Complete Update for NBA Live 96

If you’d like to dust off NBA Live 96 and fire up DOSBox, you can still find the Complete Update here in our Downloads section. Perhaps at some point, I’ll update the rosters as of the end of the 2001 season, and streamline the installation process a little. As it stands though, I’m still quite proud of the update. Thanks to the contributed art updates, I was able to present a more comprehensive roster than ever before, and spruce up an old favourite. Incidentally, if the person who created all those art updates is still lurking, thank you for your fantastic contributions. Please drop me a line so that I can give you some credit, all these years later!

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