Monday Tip-Off: How Modding Projects Fall Apart

Abandoned 1998 Season Modding Project (NBA Live 2003)

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 look at how modding projects fall apart, while discussing a recent personal example.

Although I’m not as involved with modding as I once was, I won’t deny the lure of working on roster updates. I’ve previously discussed some of the mods that I’d like to make, should I be able to put aside the free time and get sufficiently motivated. That certainly still holds true, and as previously mentioned, I do have a list of modding ideas, similar to my lists of topics for the Monday Tip-Off, Wayback Wednesday, and Friday Five features. Every so often, I might do a little bit of preliminary work on one of those ideas, but aside from one or two beta releases, a majority of them haven’t progressed any further than that.

I’ve really enjoyed producing my Wayback Wednesday content since I introduced the feature a couple of years ago, as it’s been a way to reminisce about old favourites, and talk about some interesting modes, community history, and basketball gaming trivia. It’s also provided an opportunity to indulge in some retro gaming, which I enjoy doing across a variety of genres. Of course, I sometimes find myself becoming drawn towards an old release, especially if it’s one that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time modding. Such was the case with NBA Live 2003, where I recently toyed with the idea of a mod, only to be reminded of how easily projects can fall apart.

NBA Live 2003 is a game that I have mixed feelings about. It’s significant as the first game in the series to feature right stick dribbling controls, but it was also lacking in realism. The need for tweaked rosters makes it one of my least favourite games that I’ve modded, yet I wouldn’t say that I hated the experience either. I cringe at the infamous Courtside Comedy cutscenes, but the game’s overall presentation and aesthetic has a certain charm, too. At the end of the day, while I feel that NBA Live 2003 took some steps in the wrong direction, and there are other older games I’d go back and play before it, I do have a sense of nostalgia for it.

Michael Jordan vs. John Stockton in 1998 (NBA Live 2003)

While playing the game to get a few screenshots for articles, I felt a strange desire to create a mod for NBA Live 2003. If nothing else, I thought that messing around and doing some preliminary work might inspire me to spend a little more time modding other games, and reignite my passion for the hobby. Mulling my options, I wondered if a mid-90s roster would be feasible. Seeing as though 1996 was one of my favourite seasons – for obvious reasons, given that I’m a fan of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan – it was my first choice. Indeed, it’s usually always been my first choice when I’ve considered making retro season mods.

Seeing as how a lot of players from the mid-90s were still around in 2003, I figured that such a mod might not be too time-consuming to create. However, I overestimated those numbers a little. Several players from 1996 are included in NBA Live 2003 – a couple of them as Legends – but many more are not. There are quite a few players from the 1997 and 1998 seasons still in the game, and when you eliminate them to take the rosters all the way back to 1996, some teams don’t even have at least five of their players from that year. In other words, it would’ve been a lot of time and effort modding them all into the game; much more than I wanted to spend.

With that in mind, I decided to explore the idea of moving the rosters forward a year or two. After all, a 1996 season mod was something that I’d done a couple of times before, so choosing another one of my favourite seasons from that era would be somewhat refreshing. With the Classes of 1996 and 1997 added into the mix, 28 of the 29 teams could at least field a starting lineup of players from the 1998 season (though not necessarily an accurate one). The Seattle Supersonics had the fewest players with four, the Portland Trail Blazers had the most with twelve, and the other 27 teams ranged from five to eleven, with several having seven or eight players.

Of course, this was obviously still going to mean a lot of work. Considering that not many people are still playing NBA Live 2003, and there are other modding projects that I’d be better off considering if I wanted to get back into the hobby, it would have definitely been a case of scratching a creative itch, rather than producing a popular new mod. It had been fun doing the preliminary work though, so I took a look at what assets were available in terms of retro faces and team artwork. It was at this point that I discovered that the excellent Decade of Rosters project for NBA Live 2003 already went back to the 1998 season. There was no reason to create an identical roster mod.

1998 Chicago Bulls Roster (NBA Live 2003 Modding)

Needless to say, that basically put an abrupt end to my interest in creating such a project. Mind you, even if there hadn’t already been a 1998 roster available, chances are I wouldn’t have followed through on creating the mod. It was a fun idea to tinker with on a whim, but once again, it’s a lot of time and effort to spend on a game that’s well past its day. The existence of a similar (or indeed, identical) mod is always going to put a damper on your enthusiasm, but nothing derails a modding project quicker than realising just how much work is going to be required, and not being able to justify the hours and energy needed to make it happen.

I always keep that in mind when I consider whether I would ever return to making a few roster updates for NBA Live 2005 through NBA Live 08, or indeed, whenever someone in the community asks me about the possibility. As I’ve said in previous articles, I don’t like to say never, but knowing what it takes, how long it takes, and how much is left to do after the easy and generally more enjoyable preliminary work is done, I’m not about to make any promises, or rush back into a modding project like that. It’s all fun and exciting while you’re working with existing assets, but after that, you’re reminded of all the tedious steps, and your interest and enthusiasm wanes.

On a similar note, technical issues and setbacks are also a factor in wanting to pull the plug on a modding project. For example, I had to throw out a lot of work I’d done on the Ultimate Jordan Roster, as I discovered that using Ayiep’s editor had altered the DBF files in a way that was going to make it very difficult to convert them for use with NBA Live 2005-07, or even make some further changes in NBA Live 08. Having to revert to the latest public beta and lose that progress did make me a little less enthusiastic about working on the mod. With all the work that’s gone into it, I would like to finish the mod at some point, but it has become a lower priority for me.

Aside from the Ultimate Jordan Roster, I’ve tinkered with the idea of a fictional league mod, which also saw a beta/demo release. I have done some preliminary work on roster updates for NBA Live and even NBA 2K11, but they haven’t progressed any further than that. Again, it’s a matter of having the free time, finding the enthusiasm to push through the tedious moments, and weighing up whether I can truly justify all the time and effort they’ll take. After all, I do also want to create other types of content, and naturally keep a significant amount of focus on the most recent games, since that’s what most people are interested in, and what will drive traffic to the NLSC.

Shawn Kemp vs. Charles Oakley in 1998 (NBA Live 2003 Modding)

With all that being said, do I feel that messing around with some preliminary work was a waste of time? No, I definitely wouldn’t say that. In some cases, what I’ve done is a decent starting point if I feel that I can ever commit to making the project. If nothing else, there was fun and nostalgia in firing up an old game and tinkering with it like I used to. I’m sure that I will indulge in modding here and there moving forward, and doing what I did with NBA Live 2003 reminded me of how enjoyable the hobby can be. Even if I don’t do anything with that particular project, or some of the other projects that I’ve dabbled with, I can feel inspired to try my hand at something else.

As long as I’m a part of this community and have the time and willingness to create content, I expect that modding is something that I’ll always consider. Once again, I don’t want to make any promises, because they can easily be broken when entire projects fall through. All the same, it’s hard to put ideas for modding projects completely out of my mind. Whether it’s small releases here and there, big and comprehensive mods, something for an old favourite, or a project for a more recent title, you’ll likely see some kind of updates with my name on them. When it comes to that 1998 roster though, I’d say that I’d best leave it at the screenshots I’ve shared here.

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December 6, 2017 1:21 am

At one time I often used your rosters 05-08, but the time went away and goes on. I want to mention a Roster from (I don’t know the name) for Live 05 too with recalculated ratings based on a new approach. It was quite a fun! 🙂

December 6, 2017 2:03 am
Reply to  Andrew

Just dug into Downloads section. There would be Eric Feldman’s PC 2004/2005 Roster or not, I don’t recall. I only remember that there was only one roster issue and there were recounted all players ratings (incl. my Pistons) to dare more fun and be aware by whom to knock down 3s. ^^ Anyway, thanks to the author.