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 a few thoughts on the future of historical teams in NBA 2K.
Beginning with the content added for the Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11, Visual Concepts’ roster of historical teams in NBA 2K has delivered an experience that we once never thought possible. While the game hasn’t featured a dedicated mode for historical teams since NBA’s Greatest in NBA 2K12, many retro squads are still available as of NBA 2K17. It’s clear that there’s a demand for them, as new teams and players have been added over the years. Community projects such as the Ultimate Base Roster, U R Basketball, and the Ultimate Classic Teams Roster, further demonstrate how we like to use basketball video games to look back on the past.
Looking ahead to future NBA 2K games, however, I have to wonder what’s in store for historical teams. A few prominent players have been removed since NBA 2K11, and others weren’t included in the first place when their teams were added. Some teams have been cut in their entirety, either due to redundancy, or a lack of real players as licensing deals have expired. It’s been a couple of years since any new historical teams were added – the pre-order bonus Dream Team in NBA 2K17 not withstanding – and even longer since they’ve been utilised in a dedicated mode. I have to wonder, what does the future look like for historical teams in NBA 2K?
First of all, I don’t think that all of the historical teams are going to be removed from the game. There’s obviously a demand for that content, both in terms of the teams being playable and the players being available to collect in MyTEAM. However, I’m not sure that we’ll see many (if any) new teams added in the near future. Outside of a couple of players, I’m also sceptical that we’ll see a lot of the missing players added to the squads currently featured in the game. Unfortunately, it’s possible that we may also see further content removed if new agreements can’t be reached, and I’m doubtful that we’ll see a dedicated challenge mode for the historical teams anytime soon.
As unfortunate as that possibility may be, it would also be understandable. The NBA 2K games are ultimately about representing the current National Basketball Association. They’re about today, and to some extent, tomorrow. While they have done an excellent job celebrating the past, and I certainly hope that they continue to do so, it makes sense that expanding their historical content hasn’t been the top priority. As much as I like having the historical teams in NBA 2K, I would have to agree that the main focus should be on replicating the current NBA, and the most popular modes already in the game. It’s the sensible approach.
However, since the historical teams are going to be in the game, it raises the question of how they should be handled moving forward. If teams are to remain in the game, what is the minimum number of real players they need to have in order to avoid being cut? Whether it’s cutting a team or adding a new one, should inclusion depend on the ability to at least feature the entire starting lineup? Should there be a cut-off date for retro squads, or should candidates include any team up to and including the previous year’s champions? Should all teams have an opponent from the same era, so that historical matchups can be re-created?
There are obviously pros and cons to instituting such rules and restrictions for keeping and adding historical teams, depending on how you look at the situation. If one or two of the most prominent players on the roster has to be left out of the game, then the team probably isn’t a prime candidate for inclusion. It’s somewhat disingenuous to hype up and advertise a retro squad that gamers are likely to want to play with, only to reveal that a significant player is missing. For example, the 2000 Portland Trail Blazers and 2004 Detroit Pistons were good additions to NBA 2K’s selection of historical teams, but the absence of Rasheed Wallace sticks out like a sore thumb.
Establishing rules and conditions for adding and removing historical teams could therefore be seen as a form of quality control. At the same time, such an approach could easily become too stringent. You could argue that it’s better to have a classic team that’s missing one major player than it is to forego including the team altogether. After all, there’s still fun to be had with the team as-is. From a modding perspective, it would also mean more assets and resources to work with in the form of the players who are included, as well as team branding, audio files, and so on. There’s merit in Visual Concepts doing the best they can with a team that gamers want to see included.
With that being said, I’d suggest that ideally, historical teams should at least have their accurate starting lineups, and preferably a couple of their key reserves as well. If it’s impossible to at least include a team’s entire starting five and the sixth man, it would be fair to reconsider whether their presence in the game is worthwhile. However, I’d also be in favour of granting more leeway to teams that are already in the game, so that the content we already have isn’t axed too readily. I’m also not against including some more recent teams; as long as a team is suitably significant, they’re a candidate. If it’s at all feasible, including era-specific opponents is always a nice touch.
I’d like to see the roster of historical teams expanded with a few worthy candidates and some of the more noteworthy missing players added, but as I said, I’m not too optimistic. It’s one of the reasons I’d like to see some sort of challenge mode for the retro teams back in the game. It would provide more of an incentive to add to the historical content, and ensure its accuracy as much as possible. I’d also like to see Visual Concepts take up Charles Barkley’s offer and make a donation to the retired players’ fund, so that he may have a larger presence in future NBA 2K games. At this stage, though, I’m not very confident we’ll be seeing any of that in NBA 2K18.
Deeper in-game creation and customisation tools would also be most welcome here. If we could use the same functionality that is currently utilised for rebranding and league expansion to create brand new teams for custom rosters, we could surely make use of existing assets to greatly expand upon the historical content ourselves. Depending on any limitations to the number of players and teams that could be created, we might even be able to return to creating full season mods, even without the comprehensive external editing tools that people have been able to create for previous games.
Moving forward, Visual Concepts may have to make some tough decisions regarding historical teams, depending on whether or not they can add or continue to include certain players. Hopefully, it won’t mean the loss of a drastic amount of the historical content, or too much disappointment in the form of teams that are really too incomplete to have been viable candidates for inclusion in the first place. At the very least, I hope that we have a fair amount to work with in terms of classic teams that are playable out of the box, and assets that can be put to use to add content that Visual Concepts themselves aren’t in a position to include.