Monday Tip-Off: Arguing For & Against Green Releases

Monday Tip-Off: Arguing For & Against Green Releases

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. This week, I’m tipping things off with some thoughts on Green Releases, specifically the arguments for and against the mechanic.

Back in May 2017, I discussed the future of Green Releases in NBA 2K. Three years on, the mechanic still remains an issue. It’s funny to look back and see that Mike Wang was talking about weaning gamers off the concept of Green Releases, only for them to still be in the game, relatively unchanged. I say relatively because NBA 2K18 attempted to artificially nerf them with a “Good” release actually only having a 5% chance of going in – less than a Slightly Early or Slightly Late release – and other games have also seen Beluba and co tinker with the perfect release windows.

Apart from that, the basic idea remains the same. Green Releases result in a made shot every time, unless it’s blocked or you’re too far behind the backboard. If you can learn the precise timing of a jumpshot animation and pay attention to the rumble feedback cues, you’ll be greening attempts with ease and regularity. We’re still as reliant on the approach as ever, and it doesn’t look like it’s something that NBA 2K – or NBA Live, now that it’s adopted the same style of shot mechanics and feedback – will be able to move away from. The question is: should it? It feels like we’re at a stalemate on the issue, so let’s go over the pros and cons of Green Releases once again.

The Argument For

Making Green Releases in MyCOURT (NBA 2K20)

Perhaps the strongest argument for Green Releases to remain a part of future games is to point at old titles. I’ve double-dipped with some old games recently, to fill out my collection after a friend gifted me a PlayStation 3. It’s weird to go back to a game like NBA 2K7 and miss shot after shot in Practice, while the shot feedback tells me I had a perfect release. The same goes for NBA Live 09 and its meter while shooting around in the NBA Live Academy. We’re now accustomed to perfectly-timed releases going in every time. While one might suggest it’s become a crutch, conceptually it makes a lot more sense than doing everything right, and still failing because of a dice roll.

Jumpshots in older basketball games were a frustrating affair, and a big reason why a lot of gamers have traditionally ignored the midrange. Jumpshots weren’t worth the risk unless the additional point of a three-pointer was involved; it was much safer to go in for a dunk or layup. In a way, those primitive shooting mechanics in older hoops games predicted the analytics-driven style of the league post-2015. Of course, if you really needed a bucket, even threes with their additional point usually felt far too risky. It wasn’t worth seemingly timing the shot perfectly and with a great shooter, only for it to miss because of odds that always felt stacked in favour of the AI.

That feels like we’re being punished, or at least not adequately rewarded, for learning and mastering the timing of the shooting mechanics. With Green Releases and their guaranteed success, we’re rewarded for our skill and precision. If we’re good enough, we can create space and elude defenders to put up a shot that we know is going in, because we shot it properly. It could be said that this is a more realistic approach as well. After all, in real life, shots are made because players become adept at aiming them and thus are consistently on the mark. Sure, there are “lucky shots”, but in plain terms, professional basketball players are skilled at tossing the ball through the hoop.

Games need a way of representing proper aim, as well as a shot immediately feeling good the moment it leaves your hands, and that’s something that Green Releases (or the concept of a perfect release point) provides. Even if you disable or disregard the shot meter and turn off shot feedback, the underlying mechanics remain the same. NBA Elite 11 and NBA 2K17 both experimented with right stick aiming – the latter more successfully – but the most straightforward approach is to have a small window where releasing the shot is going in every time, unless of course it’s blocked or you’re trying to shoot from a bad angle behind the backboard. It just makes sense.

It would also be tremendously hard to move away from that approach, and I’d suggest that’s why Green Releases remain in the game despite Beluba’s previous pledge to wean us off them. The old methods of shooting felt imprecise and stacked against us. It’s still possible to make shots without greening them, according to a combination of ratings, Badges, and closeness to the perfect release window. Perfect releases in old games seem meaningless in hindsight though, especially when the dice roll mechanics felt biased. Eliminating the concept of Green Releases would be a step backwards, a return to the time when jumpshots were unreliable and thus better off being ignored.

The Argument Against

Shot Feedback in NBA 2K13

While Green Releases may realistically depict competence in shooting a basketball in some respects, they are very much a video game mechanic. If one is proficient on the sticks, masters timing on the animations, and has sufficient reflexes, it’s possible to shoot a very unrealistic percentage. As NBA Elite 11’s demo, and to a lesser extent NBA 2K17 proved, it’s possible to have too much control over shooting to the point where ratings become moot. Even over the past few NBA 2K games, several gamers have been able to shoot better online than their ratings and Archetypes would suggest, because of their mastery over the shooting mechanics and their chosen animations.

In theory that seems like a good idea, as it rewards stick skills. That’s certainly true, but when player abilities no longer seem to matter and gameplay is unbalanced, it becomes a problem. When a tactic becomes exploitable, skill gaps go out the window as it’s no longer about strategy or good play, but being competent enough to repeat a trick over and over again. If realism is the name of the game, then the percentages that are possible when someone has mastered the perfect release window aren’t in line with that goal. When ratings don’t matter, there’s no point in having different builds because there’s no risk and reward; no trade-off of advantages and disadvantages.

Green Releases also take the drama and excitement out of the game. This is especially noticeable in NBA 2K20, as we can now see when our teammates and opponents green their shots as well. We know it’s going in, so there’s no point boxing out or vying for the rebound. We’re not holding our breath as that buzzer beater sails towards the basket, because we can see it’s going in. That excitement is still there on our own shots to some extent, because it’s gratifying to hit that sweet spot and knock down the attempt. It does still act as a “spoiler” of sorts, and while it’s gratifying to have made the correct input, we’ve had the satisfaction before the ball has even touched the net.

On top of that, Badges continue to play a bigger role in shooting mechanics, in turn influencing our ability to get perfect releases. In NBA 2K20, the Green Machine Badge increases our chances of getting subsequent Green Releases after achieving one, reducing the need for precision. The Flexible Release Badge also reduces the need to be pin-point accurate in our timing, and boosts from other shooting Badges provide similar compensation. Yes, we still need to master the timing of shot releases, but there are all kinds of min-maxing and meta-gaming involved that can easily make shooting overpowered and unrealistic, both in offline and competitive online play.

Without proper balance, the Green Releases approach to shooting mechanics results in a situation where jumpshots may be difficult to master at first, but then become far too easy once you do. Conversely, shooting can become ridiculously difficult if making shots is too dependent on Green Releases to hit jumpshots consistently, but mechanics such as the length of the shot meter or impact of the defense render doing so virtually impossible. This has been a big problem in NBA Live 19 after the last two patches. AI defenders recover and close out on shooters too easily, taking away the ability to get Green Releases on a very long shot meter. Relying heavily on greens has its issues.

So, Green Releases: Yes or No?

Controller Settings in NBA 2K20

Ultimately, I do think we need to have Green Releases, or the concept of a perfect release point that results in a guaranteed make (unless of course it’s blocked). It’s important that there’s a reliable strategy and mechanic that doesn’t leave us feeling like we’ve been screwed over by RNG. Whether we’re playing against the CPU or other gamers, we need to be able to have success if we make the correct input at the appropriate time. Both the AI and other users are going to employ cheesy tactics from time to time, so it’s crucial that we can hit back with a reliable offensive weapon of our own. Bottom line, jumpshots need to be viable attempts, from mid and long range.

However, shooting must be properly balanced in order for this kind of mechanic to be effective in a fair and realistic manner. It shouldn’t be too hard to hit Green Releases with practice, but it shouldn’t be too easy, either. It can’t really be artificially nerfed as in NBA 2K18, or geared too much towards online play as in NBA Live 19 post-patch. The combination of the size of the Green window and the ease of hitting it, as well as the percentages of near-perfect releases, should even out to realistic percentages. We need to be able to take away Green Releases with effective defense, but also be able to overcome great defense with better offense, when in control of a sharpshooter.

Again, the old approach of a perfect release giving us the best odds, but still being very likely to miss if we’re unlucky with the RNG, is frustrating when you go back and play games that predate the current approach to shooting. You’re left wondering what you did wrong when the game is telling you that you did everything right, and with a player capable of making the shot you just attempted. Simply put, I don’t think we can go back to that after playing with guaranteed perfect releases. Furthermore, I don’t think games should go back to that. It doesn’t properly represent a skill gap or the concept of learning how to shoot, and it feels too rigged or even predetermined.

That’s not to say that Green Releases can’t feel predetermined in their own right, and that’s why it’s vital that they’re properly balanced as far as the difficulty of achieving them and defending against them. It’s also why I’d advocate removing the display of teammates and opponents’ shot meters and Green Releases, or adding an option to disable them, even if you choose to leave yours on. As I noted, it makes boxing out and shot contests feel pointless, and the game feel canned and scripted. Going back to the need for balance, ratings need to matter again, and Badges need to be tuned so that they don’t virtually automate achieving or preventing perfect releases.

I believe that Green Releases are here to stay, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I would suggest that if implemented properly, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether the goal is to present gameplay that’s balanced for online and offline play alike, as well as being as realistic as possible. The perfect release mechanic can lend itself to the entire spectrum of realistic sim and exaggerated arcade styles of gameplay, and it can be as balanced or cheesy as the developers design it to be. I’d suggest Green Releases are the way to go, but as with any element of gameplay, it’ll be a moot point if it isn’t implemented effectively.

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