Monday Tip-Off: When Awesome Presentation Isn’t So Great

Shot Chart with ESPN Presentation in NBA Live 16

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.

There are a lot of ways that you can see just how much basketball video games have improved over the years. You can compare screenshots, and gameplay footage. You can read retrospectives and reviews, comparing and contrasting their critique. Best of all, you can get some firsthand impressions by playing an old favourite from many years ago; it won’t be long before you notice some outdated tech that’s come a long way since then. Not every basketball video game is better in every single way than all of the titles that came before it, but the further back you look, the more progress you will see.

Another method of seeing just how far basketball video games have come is to glance back at our old Wishlists. We have Wishlists dating back to 1997, when the community was awaiting the release of NBA Live 98. Take a look back at those articles in our content portals, and you’ll see that a lot of the things that we were asking for have since become a reality. Multi-season franchise modes, online leagues, historical teams, single player career modes, full TV-style presentation…a lot of our wishes have made their way into NBA Live and NBA 2K over the years.

When it comes to in-depth broadcast presentation, however, you may have to be careful what you wish for. Sometimes, awesome presentation isn’t so great.

By that, I’m not referring to any shortcomings in the presentation itself. Technical limitations, time constraints, personal preference, and other such factors will always mean that there’ll be some repetitive or ill-fitting commentary, the occasional lacklustre performance or delivery, or even just unpopular choices of colours and styling in menus and overlays. There are valid criticisms to be made in all of those areas, but that’s not what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about having genuinely impressive presentation that makes a basketball game feel like a television broadcast, but not always being happy about it, usually because you want to skip through it.

Shaq, EJ and Kenny in NBA 2K16

How is that possible? How can you not love something that you once wished was a part of the game? Now that the technology finally allows for it to be done, and done very well, how can you not be excited about the pre-game, halftime, and post-game shows? Between NBA Live and NBA 2K, we have ESPN branding, real on-air talent from ESPN and TNT, and plenty of realism as games mimic the camera cuts, overlays, and other presentation elements of an NBA broadcast. Is it just a matter of moving the goalposts, finding a way to still be dissatisfied so that you can complain?

Whenever I’ve found myself irritated with the depth of the presentation in modern basketball video games, I’ve in turn asked myself those questions, wondering “What is it that I actually want out of the presentation?” I can imagine having a conversation with my fourteen year old self, trying to explain how all this really cool stuff that he wants to see in basketball video games isn’t always so great now that we’ve got it. In some ways, in writing this article, I feel like I’m addressing that young man, who’s no doubt scoffing at what he’s hearing from this obviously jaded and out of touch thirty-one year old.

Here’s the deal, though: all of those things that I mentioned before – the camera cuts, the overlays, the studio shows, the network branding, and so on – they’re all important, and they absolutely should be a part of the games. I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t be there, or that I don’t think that they’re wonderful touches that can really enhance the basketball gaming experience. Nor am I saying that I never enjoy them myself, that I have no use for them, or that I believe wanting them in the first place is in any way a childish wish. That definitely isn’t the case, or my belief.

Quarter End with ESPN Presentation in NBA Live 16

The problem is that you’re not always in the mood for them, especially if you’re an older gamer. Generally speaking, video gaming as an adult is a little different to when you’re a kid or a teenager. There are times when you’ll have to really ration the amount of free time you set aside for gaming, and you may prefer not to have it taken up by cutscenes and other bells and whistles that can’t be quickly skipped (or indeed, disabled). Even if you do have the time to spare, you may just want to get on with the game, rather than sitting around waiting for something in the presentation to finish, rapidly tapping a button to skip ahead as soon as the game will allow it.

There are times when I feel like sitting and watching the halftime show, and I definitely have an appreciation for the little touches that make the games feel more immersive, such as overlays mentioning season statistics and standings, as well as notable numbers from the current game. However, there are other times when I would prefer to be able to immediately skip back to gameplay after a break in the action, or even have the ability to switch off certain presentation elements entirely. Sometimes, I’d prefer to have a more streamlined basketball gaming experience, without some of the waiting around that is a side effect of realistic TV-style presentation.

To my younger self, it might seem strange that I’d grow weary of such fantastic, realistic presentation. When we’re young, we don’t always understand moderation, or the notion that we can have too much of a good thing. In explaining my point of view, I’d point to the halftime shows in NBA Live 98, NBA Live 99, and NBA Live 2000, which I wouldn’t watch each and every time, even back then. While the studio shows in today’s basketball games are more dynamic than a small selection of highlight reels that obviously can’t change, they can still become just as repetitive. As for wanting to get on with it…well, my younger self certainly understood impatience.

Stephen Curry Interview in NBA 2K16

I’m sure that a lot of basketball gamers around my age can relate to what I’m saying about the presentation. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the bells and whistles, but for one reason or another – changing responsibilities and priorities, a lack of time or patience – they can sometimes be more of an annoyance. It’s funny to think about, though. There was a time that many of us, myself included, really wanted to see these presentation elements in the game. Now that we do have them, at least some of us would prefer to skip them, or switch them off completely. In a way, it’s also kind of sad to reflect upon how something we once really wanted can cause us frustration.

At the same time, I for one am glad that presentation has come as far as it has, along with other elements of basketball video games. It’s great that in-depth TV-style presentation is there to be enjoyed by younger gamers, as well as us older gamers who do appreciate the finer details, and will partake of the halftime shows every now and again. As I said, I don’t want to see any of those presentation elements removed. I’d just prefer to be able to bypass some of them more swiftly when I want to. After all, we ancient thirty-something gamers have much to do…like learning and perfecting the art of yelling at the kids on the lawn, for instance.

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May 16, 2016 10:31 pm

As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. I usually don’t take the time to comment on them. However, being a gamer in my thirties, I must say you are dead on! I remember dreaming of these current presentation enhancements that exists in today’s games, wanting them to be present in past installments of our basketball video games in the late nineties going into the early 2000’s. Now that these items of presentation exists, I too fine myself growing increasingly exasperated with how long it takes to transition back to gameplay, especially if you are involved in an intense match up and you are the one facing the deficit at the half! On the other hand, the appreciation of these features in presentation is a necessity because it gives us the option to dive into the simulation of a TV broadcast if or when we choose to immerse ourselves into that realm of imaginative gaming. However, as you have stated in your post, our enchantment is conquered by our impatience, and as we play, we simply just want to move along with things. To be honest, this is how we approach everything in our thirties. We have little to no patience for anything that is unnecessarily drawn out. Great post!