Wayback Wednesday: Tweaked Roster Updates

Cover player Jason Kidd dribbles the basketball in NBA Live 2003

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 tweaked roster updates for NBA Live.

One of the key elements of roster updates, be they official updates or community-made rosters, is tweaking player ratings for more realistic performance. Whether it’s correcting the guesswork that’s originally needed when assigning ratings for a rookie player, or accounting for a drastic change in performance compared to the previous season, adjusting player attributes is an important part of creating a desirable gameplay experience. In some cases, gamers have ended up making major adjustments to all players, in order to counteract gameplay quirks and try to inject a little more realism into the game. These were known as tweaked roster updates.

It’s an outdated practice now, but many years ago, creating a tweaked version of a roster was considered a necessity if you wanted to try and enhance the experience for your fellow NBA Live gamers. Let’s take a look back…way back…

Tweaked roster updates were in vogue during the heyday of NBA Live 2001 and NBA Live 2003 modding. Those games came out during the first really rocky period for the NBA Live series, which had been revamped and rebuilt despite the success and positive reception of NBA Live 2000. As I mentioned in my retrospective of NBA Live 2001, one of its major gameplay issues was an imbalance in the rebounding, with far too many offensive boards. As noted in my retrospective of NBA Live 2003, it was too fast-paced and had exaggerated blocks, much to the chagrin of sim heads. The solution in both cases was to create tweaked roster updates.

Tweaked Roster for NBA Live 2003

As the name implies, these rosters featured significant global tweaks to player ratings. After much experimentation, various members of the community devised formulas to increase and decrease specific player ratings, with the intention of resolving gameplay issues. Global edits were made feasible through the community-made NBA Live Toolkits; Microsoft Access modules that simplified the process of editing the DBF files. The Toolkits included a function for making mass adjustments in a few easy steps. For example, if you wanted to halve the offensive rebounding ratings of all players, or reduce the speed of all power forwards, you could do so in a snap.

The question is: did tweaked roster updates actually solve troublesome gameplay issues? Looking back on it now, I’d have to say that it’s a mixed bag. Making significant tweaks to player ratings obviously had some impact on the gameplay, and definitely for the better in some cases, but there was only so much that could be done. Problems with the AI, animations, or the engine as a whole were difficult to combat, even with major tweaks. The placebo effect is also a factor to consider here. Tweaked rosters were advertised as such, so it’s possible that the amount of improvement was imagined or exaggerated – at least to some extent – because it was expected.

Of course, even though tweaked roster updates probably did have some degree of positive impact on the gameplay experience in NBA Live 2001 and NBA Live 2003, they also had their drawbacks. Some of the tweaks made gameplay clunky, especially when dribbling ratings were messed with. The approach could clash with the sim engine, yielding unusual results. Generated rookie ratings did not reflect the newly tweaked standard, thus they stood out even more from real players. Overall ratings, when recalculated, didn’t always reflect realistic player value. If nothing else, tweaked rosters were generally considered unsuitable for Franchise Mode.

With those issues in mind, it became standard practice for roster makers to include both a regular and tweaked version of their update, with the warning that the tweaked roster may not be suitable for Franchise Mode. This solution offered the best of both worlds, as users who wanted to avoid issues in Franchise Mode, or simply didn’t like the tweaks, had an unmodified version of the update to play with (or indeed, tweak as they saw fit). Thanks to the Toolkit’s global adjustment function, providing two versions of a roster update wasn’t particularly tedious or time-consuming, since the tweaks could be quickly and easily applied again before each new release.

Vince Carter dunks in NBA Live 2001

The need for tweaked roster updates came to a swift end with the release of NBA Live 2004, which was the first game in the series to include gameplay sliders. While player ratings obviously still played a major role in player performance – both in gameplay and simulation, with the removal of DSTATS – sliders had a much bigger effect on the core experience. Whether it was the speed of the game, shooting percentages, rebounding ratios, or the frequency of blocks and steals, sliders tailored the gameplay without having to change a single player rating. At last, we could alter the gameplay experience without making drastic changes to player attributes.

In short, it was a far preferable solution, and one of the reasons why gameplay sliders have become so important in basketball games, and sports games in general. There’s no need to deal with the side effects of makeshift solutions, such as drastically raising or lowering certain ratings across the board. In many cases, the same roster is compatible with a variety of gameplay styles, since ratings have an effect relative to the slider settings. Ratings are still tweaked for a more desirable performance, and certain slider settings may be optimised for specific rosters, but we no longer have to deal with the drawbacks tweaked rosters often presented.

However, with all that being said, we shouldn’t be too hard on the concept of tweaked roster updates. They still stand as an example of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our modding community, as well as a commitment to improve the games that we play. The results weren’t perfect, but some gamers certainly seemed to prefer the experience that they provided. It was an example of doing all that we could and making the best of the situation, given the problems in NBA Live 2001 and NBA Live 2003. Thankfully, sliders came along and provided a better solution, but for a couple of years, tweaked rosters represented an earnest effort to improve two troubled titles.

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