Monday Tip-Off: Missing Former Modes & Features

Roster Editing is greatly missed in NBA Live

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 modes and features that are missing in recent games, and as such, tend to be sorely missed.

With their annual releases, sports video games are often criticised for being little more than a patch, roster update, or expansion pack sold at retail price. While it’s an understandable criticism, and those of us who buy the games every year certainly do want to get value for money, it is selling developers like EA Sports and Visual Concepts short. A lot of time and energy goes into the development of the games, and while the results aren’t always want we want, we generally see some pleasing improvements, and new content beyond updated rosters for the new season. Of course, it’s always frustrating when it seems like one step forward, two steps back.

As much as we hate to see new games make missteps in terms of the gameplay experience, it’s arguably even more frustrating when modes and other features that we really enjoyed in previous games are cut from future releases. Even though there may be perfectly valid reasons for their removal – technical or otherwise – it generally doesn’t lessen the sting of losing the experiences and functionality they provided. As I look ahead to NBA Live 18 and NBA 2K18, and think about the news I’d like to hear in the upcoming preview season, I can’t help but reflect on some of the modes and features that I miss in both games.

Before we get to some examples, let’s take a look at why modes and features are removed. Despite what a lot of gamers would like to believe, it has nothing to do with stupidity, or spite. In fact, it actually has a lot to do with us gamers. EA Sports and Visual Concepts have telemetry data on the popularity of the modes and features in their games. Direct feedback from gamers and market research also provides further insight into gaming trends and user activity. In some cases, certain features or modes simply aren’t as popular as the people who enjoy them would like to believe, and so the decision is made to cut them in order to allocate time and resources elsewhere.

Dynasty is one of NBA Live's Oldest Modes

There’s also design philosophy, and technical feasibility. In order to keep games fresh, new content is added, and modes are revamped. Inevitably, not everyone is going to like the results. Changes to other aspects of a game, such as the user interface or update system, can also force the removal of certain function; roster editing is a prime example. NBA Live and NBA 2K have short development cycles, so anything that needs to be overhauled to remain in the game, but isn’t absolutely essential to the core experience – even though some of us may feel like it is – is a candidate to be cut. Not everything can be copied across, or added to indefinitely, without code rewrites.

Of course, as I said before, the valid reasons ultimately aren’t that much of a comfort to us basketball gamers. Sure, we can be understanding when it comes to limitations, and accept the reasons behind certain modes and features falling by the wayside. However, it doesn’t mean that we’re not disappointed, and miss having that content in NBA Live and NBA 2K. Furthermore, if the reasons are technical and it’s more a matter of allocating time and resources to bring a mode or feature back in a future game, our frustration is only going to grow with every subsequent release in which it fails to return. “Next year” is a phrase that we soon grow weary of hearing.

When it comes to NBA Live, the first two examples that spring to mind are roster editing, and certain features and functions in Dynasty Mode. Roster customisation has been a staple of basketball video games for more than two decades now, and its absence in the past three NBA Live titles definitely stings. From the looks of things, there’s no guarantee it will be in NBA Live 18, thought it’s reportedly something the team is working very hard on. Dynasty has obviously been on the backburner while other modes like The One are developed, and given recent basketball gaming trends, that’s understandable. Still, it’s an area where NBA Live can and should improve.

Bringing back All-Star Weekend would obviously be huge for NBA Live as well. I imagine it’ll take some work in terms of animations and other assets, but as far as concepts and mechanics, I’d have no problem with EA Sports basically repeating what they did when the mode was first implemented in NBA Live 2005 all those years ago. I also miss the use of historical players outside of Ultimate Team. It’s impossible to compete with NBA 2K on this front, what with Michael Jordan being an exclusive (as far as I’m aware) and their impressive roster of historical teams, but it’s a shame there aren’t any Decade All-Star teams, or similar Legends squads in NBA Live.

Michael Jordan dribbles the basketball in NBA 2K17

Speaking of the historical teams in NBA 2K, I miss having a dedicated challenge mode for them. It may be expecting too much to have the same level of detail as the Jordan Challenge or NBA’s Greatest, but I believe there’s value in having some kind of mode that specifically utilises the historical teams. It not only offers us gamers an incentive to use the historical teams more often, but would also hopefully make them more of a priority, with new teams being added, and fewer teams and players being removed. I’m certainly glad that the historical teams have remained in NBA 2K, but they are out of focus, and feel like something of an afterthought now.

I’m sure that we can compile an extensive list of modes and features, big and small, that we miss. Creating a Legend, custom teams, exporting of boxscores, various stats screens, various controller configurations and other options…those are just some of the other examples that I can name off the top of my head. Some are admittedly outdated concepts that have been superseded by new functions, but others remain ideas that are worth salvaging. In many ways, basketball video games have never been as deep or advanced as they are right now. At the same time, features that were ahead of their time and could still be useful are no longer available in newer titles.

So, what’s the solution? As always, we need to make good use of the modes and features we find desirable, and speak out in support of them. We also need to stress our desire for modes and features we’d like to see brought back. Ideally, we could also make viable suggestions on how they could be incorporated into new games, with the current technology and approaches to design. In some cases, we would have to accept that certain ideas probably aren’t feasible, or at the very least, the demand for them doesn’t make them a priority, nor justify the attention and resources that they would require. It never hurts to ask, but not every wish can be granted.

It’s perhaps inevitable that when it comes to any long-running series, any product that’s been around for a long time and gone through many different iterations, we’re bound to focus on what something isn’t, as opposed to what it is; what it lacks, as opposed to what it does bring to the table. As such, it’s hard not to miss old modes and features in basketball video games, while fondly looking back at old favourites that featured them. It isn’t just a matter of nostalgia, though. A good idea is a good idea, after all. With a bit of luck, and vocal support from the basketball gaming community, hopefully some of those good ideas can make their way back into future games.

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