Monday Tip-Off: An Ode to Disappointing Screenshots

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games.

Today’s column has nothing to do with being disappointed in the screenshots that we see during the preview season. That does happen, of course, but it’s an entirely different issue. No, I’m talking about the times when we’re playing NBA Live or NBA 2K, something really exciting happens, and we immediately have to fire up Instant Replay to enjoy it again. Unfortunately, when we do, we discover that certain aspects of the play don’t look quite as good as they did the first time around. That’s when we end up with screenshots that can be pretty funny, but also disappointing when we’re after a cool shot.

The technology that’s used in basketball video games specifically (and gaming in general) has come a long way, and you can easily spotlight the improvements with side-by-side comparisons of screenshots and videos. There are still limitations of course, and while they aren’t always noticeable during gameplay, they can be painfully obvious when we watch the action again from a closer angle, and in slow motion. Today’s games look much more realistic than their predecessors, but you can still expect a few glitches to jump out and spoil your screenshots and videos now and again.

This week’s Monday Tip-Off is all about memorable basketball gaming moments that don’t end up looking so good. This is an ode to disappointing screenshots.

We’ve all been there. In the midst of playing NBA Live or NBA 2K, something exciting happens. Maybe it’s a huge facial dunk, or a fancy up-and-under layup. Maybe it’s a gamewinning shot, or a great block that gets you fired up. Whatever the play, you really liked what you saw, and you want to see it again. Furthermore, you’d like to keep a record of the moment, for proof and posterity. So, into Instant Replay you go to find an angle you like, watch the play unfold again, and either take some screenshots or capture video.

Shaquille O'Neal Rim Glitch in NBA Live 2003

And that’s when you see the little imperfections that spoil screenshots. You know the kind of things I’m talking about: clipping issues where players pass through each other, the backboard, or other parts of the environment; players’ hands not connecting with the ball on defensive stops or gripping the rim properly on dunks, while other times grasping onto thin air; players (or just a limb) disappearing; players looking the wrong way, clearly not paying attention to the action; and in older sim games especially, leaps that are far too high, especially on block animations. They can ruin videos too, but these quirks are usually far more noticeable in screenshots.

It should be noted that these issues are understandable. First, the technology had to continue to develop and improve, and even with all the progress that’s been made, it’s unrealistic to expect perfection. Imperfections with clipping, physics, and so forth affect games of all genres, and avoiding them completely is virtually an impossible task. As I noted above, in the best case scenario, those issues aren’t prominent during the course of gameplay, and may only be noticeable when you go hunting for them.

Still, it’s a bit of a shame when those issues prevent us from taking really good, life-like screenshots in basketball games. As you might expect, it’s an issue that I’ve run into quite a few times when creating content for the NLSC. Between Monday Tip-Off, Wayback Wednesday, and The Friday Five, I’m often adding to our library of screenshots, firing up games to get snapshots that are relevant to the topics that I’m writing about. Sometimes, a few “takes” will be required to get a good-looking screenshot, because something just doesn’t look right.

Dwyane Wade Clipping Glitch in NBA 2K13

Just to be clear, these aren’t attempts to gloss over any glitches in the games and present them as being perfect. In fact, there are definitely times when I want to capture a glitch in action, such as when I present feedback to developers, or intend to spotlight issues in an article such as this one. Most of the time however, I just want to jazz up my articles with good-looking screenshots, so I’ll try to get the best ones possible for our media library. There are times when you want to show what a game looks like, warts and all, and other times when you just want to show off something that looks good.

It should also be noted that it’s not always glitches or technical limitations that lead to disappointing screenshots. Some animations aren’t so great – NBA Live’s issues in that department are well documented – and there are some that look fine at normal speed, but appear awkward in slow motion, or when paused halfway through for the purpose of a screenshot. I’ve found that often happens with passing animations, as well as situations where you intend to feature two players – such as a ballhandler sizing up a defender – but one of the players has gone into a weird animation, is oddly out of position, or not paying attention to the opponent right in front of them.

Fortunately, disappointing screenshots are less common than they used to be. As a long-time basketball gamer, I have to marvel at how far the games have come in so many areas. Because I do pull out the old games to talk about them in various features here at the NLSC, I’m often reminded of how much progress has been made over the years. Like I said before, this particular problem is one that you run into a lot more often the further back you go, because developers were still figuring things out, and technology had to get to where it is today.

LeBron James missing a leg in an NBA Live 2004 glitch

I also want to keep this in proper perspective. While screenshots being ruined by glitches, technical limitations, or bad animations is annoying – especially when I don’t notice it at the time, as was the case with LeBron James missing his leg in the above screen – it’s not the most pressing issue with any basketball game. It’s not as big a problem as glitches and visual anomalies during gameplay, not to mention any major issues that might exist with AI, controls, or a lack of depth and features in game modes. It’s unavoidable to some extent, and not at the top of the list of priorities.

All the same, I do hope that we continue to see improvements in the technology of basketball games, and that future releases will wow us with further enhancements in their visuals and physics. Hopefully, when we take screenshots and capture video of those games, we’ll be able to show off some very realistic looking situations. In the meantime, odd looking screenshots are just one of those pet peeves we’ll have to put up with. And hey, at least they can also be good for a laugh.

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Timothy Daley
Timothy Daley
April 26, 2016 10:36 am

“There are still limitations of course, and while they aren’t always noticeable during gameplay, they can be painfully obvious when we watch the action again from a closer angle, and in slow motion.” I never understood the gamer that felt the need to slow down the action for the sake of checking to see if they can negatively critique the animations in a sports game. I think we have become obsessed with perfection instead of just enjoying what is presented before us. Having been a gamer for over 40 years and having played on every form of video gaming since its inception back in the pong days, It astonishes me how gamers have little regard for history and where gaming has come from in such a short order of time.