When the subject of the best NBA Live is raised, a lot of people still feel that NBA Live 2000 was the peak of the series. The last two instalments in the series have changed a lot of minds, with NBA Live 2005 in particular proving to be popular amongst long time fans and new players alike. I enjoyed NBA Live 2000 back in the day, but only after reviewing it in retrospect did I notice flaws that often go unmentioned. No matter where you stand on which NBA Live is the best, I’m sure we can agree on one thing. NBA Live 06 will have the opportunity to take the crown when it’s released later this year.
So what do we know about NBA Live 06 so far? Second year sensation from the Miami Heat Dwyane Wade will represent EA Sports as a spokesman and the cover player for the upcoming game. It will be released on PC CD-ROM, Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and also the new PlayStation Portable. It will feature 2005/2006 NBA season rosters and should see the return of most (if not all) of the flagship features of NBA Live 2005, such as Dynasty Mode and Freestyle Control. With the announcement of Wade as the cover player, we also got our first glimpse at NBA Live 06 in the form of three screenshots featuring the All-Star guard. No doubt we’ll learn more after E3.
Back in January we submitted our annual Wishlist to the NBA Live production team. It would be impossible to add everything we’ve asked for and in all fairness a truly perfect video game will probably never exist, but it’s feasible for the NBA Live series to make even more progress this year, giving us an awesome NBA simulation come October.
Since it’s been some 10 years since the release of the first NBA Live, I’ve chosen to list what I feel are the ten ways NBA Live 06 can not only establish itself as the best game in the series, but perhaps the best basketball game period. The “perfect” NBA Live 06, if you will.
Make the gameplay as realistic as possible
What do we realism freaks always say? Gameplay before graphics, substance before glitz and glamour. If the response to NBA Live 2003 a few years ago is anything to go by, most of us find a realistic portrayal of the NBA game a lot more fun than a sensationalised one. The last two Lives have obviously been made with this philosophy in mind, but NBA Live 06 can continue to improve in this area.
Some of the key issues include:
- Fine tuning the “comeback code” so the CPU can mount a comeback based on smart play, capitalising on the mistakes and/or laziness of the user, rather than simply hitting a lot of shots they shouldn’t.
- Improving the fast break AI so that the user’s CPU-controlled teammates react more intelligently to fast break opportunities ie. not stopping at the three point line, catching passes in stride, cutting to the basket etc.
- More realistic player behaviour. NBA Live 2005 featured a little too much one-on-one play and thus too few assists. Although it resolved the issue of point guards always racking up too many assists, a problem present in NBA Live 2003 and NBA Live 2004, it also meant guys like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash would not get enough assists during gameplay. Having Player Tendencies/Behaviour attributes would result in players acting like their real life counterparts.
- Variables that affect player performance. Even with Player Tendencies/Behaviour attributes as described above, talented players should be able to change their strategy based on the game situation (eg Jason Kidd is a playmaker, but may score more points if given the opportunity and his teammates are struggling). In Dynasty Mode, there should also be variables that determine how well a player is playing too. That way, players could slump and each game could be a unique experience.
- Players should move fluidly around the court, with animations blending right into the action. In particular, it should be possible to interrupt dunks or layups to pass to a teammate. Freestyle and the concept of complete player control has made the game so much better, but there’s more than can be done. If real players can do it, then their virtual equivalents should be able to as well. Dribbling out of double teams should be possible, and a method of either protecting the ball and trying to draw a foul or knocking the ball loose once you’ve double teamed a player should be implemented. Freestyle moves as well as post moves should also be fluid with realistic collision detection.
- Reduce the number of blocks – even lowering the blocking sliders to 0 in NBA Live 2005 allows for too many blocks, particularly on jumpshots. In a similar vein, players sometimes jump too high to block shots.
Keep expanding on Dynasty Mode
Dynasty Mode made some nice advancements last year, moving to a calendar based system complete with interaction with player agents and other teams as well as the team owner and other personnel. Dynasty Mode has been rebuilt upon a solid foundation, allowing for continued development and expansion.
One of the first things that can be done is to take the calendar based offseason and make it less linear. It’s great be able to negotiate with free agents by making a few offers and progress through the offseason day-by-day, but the concept is still too similar to the old Franchise/Dynasty Mode. The offseason calendar should be like the real NBA – every day of the offseason, teams can make all kinds of transactions. Every day would present the user with various actions: Trade Players, Sign Players and Re-Sign Players. Certain dates would be set aside for events such as the NBA Draft Lottery and then the NBA Rookie Draft itself.
- If you really want to get fancy, trades could be added to draft night and players could retire at various points during the offseason (speaking of which, prior warning from players likely to retire would be awesome). But these are steps that could come later if they were troublesome to implement properly. Reshuffling the offseason calendar so the user doesn’t have to progress through it in stages would be a huge improvement. The ability to save during the offseason would also be cool.
- The simulation engine also needs some work. Abandoning “Dstats” was a good move, as player production now declines with age. But athletic swingmen are prone to grabbing too many rebounds, point guards usually won’t average more than 8 assists per game and big men sometimes average too many steals. Perhaps Dstats should return in some form, while still allowing the player to achieve lower numbers as their ratings decline further.One suitable method might be to allow simulated performance to be judged by the previous season’s statistics. Depending on the player’s age and destiny attribute, they will post similar numbers that show improvement or decline. Simulated stats would continue to be affected by surrounding players, as well as player ratings and the attributes mentioned in the first section should they be implemented.
- Still on simulation, team chemistry and morale are two variables that would make results realistic and provide an interesting challenge, but would require individual player attributes to work properly. These are two aspects of the game that shouldn’t be implemented unless they’re done correctly. Getting away from simulated performance for a moment, simulation intervention could be expanded to allow users to simulate to the end of the game or quarter once they’ve entered gameplay.
- Further developments to roster management are a must. The ability to negotiate extensions with players as well as buyouts would be handy; and if that’s going to be added, players could ask for them through their agents, as well as demand trades. A trading block feature would surely lead to more trade offers from the CPU and trades between the CPU teams. Players should also be smarter about signing with teams when their preferred contract amount is too high for anyone to afford. Think Glenn Robinson signing with the Spurs late in the 2004/2005 regular season. 10 day contracts and the mid-level exception are two more elements that should be present in roster management.
- The option of completing or cancelling a trade you’re negotiating would be extremely helpful, as would more information from the team you’re trying to deal with. It would also be better if you didn’t have to jump ahead a day or two while working out a trade. Advancing to the next day should make the trade official and swap the players involved. And on the subject of trades, trading future draft picks further down the road should be an option, though obviously there would be limits as to how far ahead you can trade picks.Hiring and firing coaches, even if it’s a superficial element, would be great. Ideally, the coach you sign should have an impact on the team, but that’s an aspect that could come into play down the road. Having some former head coaches who might return or some generic looking ones that could be edited would work fine.Getting back to the offseason, allowing teams to have more than 15 players on the roster would help a lot in trades and free agent signings. You would of course have to cut your roster to 15 by opening night. Holding draft rights rather than signing a player immediately after drafting him is also one of the next steps in the development of Dynasty Mode.
I know that not everyone will agree, but I liked what I saw when EA released the three NBA Live 06 screenshots featuring Dwyane Wade. The lighting effects look much better than last year, the headshapes and faces of Wade and Joe Johnson look superb, the player models look fine and even the 3D crowd looks a little better than it did last year.
One of the reasons I put graphics at number three is because I’m part of the “gameplay and Dynasty Mode are much more important” camp. Even though realistic, life-like graphics are a staple of video games today, a great game that is fun to play generally compensates for gripes with the graphics. A fantastic looking game seldom covers up critical gameplay flaws when it comes to long term enjoyment.
It’s already been suggested that NBA Live’s graphics are not up to the same standard as other EA Sports titles. The three early screens posted at IGN Sports are very promising though. Each year the game gets better graphically. I for one am expecting NBA Live 06 to be a visually impressive game, the best we’ve seen so far.
Utilise the higher resolution of PCs
While most of us have grown accustomed to the console-style frontend used in the last few NBA Lives (especially those of us who played NBA Live 2002), a return to a PC-friendly user interface is overdue. NBA Live 2005’s menus aren’t too bad, but there’s still too much back and forth compared to the menus used in the PC versions of NBA Live 2000 and NBA Live 2001.
Drop-down and pop-up menus would make navigation a lot easier, especially in Create-a-Player. Drop-down menus or slider selections would be preferable when selecting a college for a created player, as well as other attributes with a lot of values to choose from. Pop-up menus allow the user to quickly jump from one screen to the next; from Create-a-Player to Re-Order Rosters to Edit Player to the Statistics screens. Or from any screen straight back to the main menu.
On the subject of Create-a-Player, I’d also seperate Ratings from Bio. One of the most frequently asked questions I received was where the Ratings were in Create-a-Player. A couple of times I actually forgot to assign ratings when working on the roster update for the PC version. I anticipate a return to the old PC-orientated style of menus would alleviate such confusion and make navigation so much quicker. I know I’m not the only PC user in favour of the old style of UI. It would also be extremely cool to be able to use scroll mice and keyboard shortcuts in the PC version’s menus but as far as I’m concerned, the UI used in older Lives would be enough of an improvement for me.
Let us make NBA Live the game we want
In other words, make the game completely customisable. Adding Gameplay Sliders just might have saved the series, though it would be nice if the default sliders were geared a little more for realism (mainly the fatigue, foul, dunking and steals/interceptions sliders). But just having the ability to tweak the game as we can with sliders is tremendously helpful in achieving the type of gameplay we all want, tailored to our individual playing styles.
Everything should be optional – the level of involvement in Dynasty Mode, whether we can trade for other teams (for those who like to do that in Season Mode but want to use the other features of Dynasty Mode), all Dynasty/Season settings and anything else than can possibly be toggled. Most of us would prefer to keep these settings as realistic as possible but making everything optional allows each user to make the game what they want it to be. A choice to play greater or fewer than 25 years in Dynasty Mode would appeal to some players as well.
Make a decision about the Legends
With legal issues preventing the inclusion of several past greats, it’s time to make a choice: cut the All-Decade teams (perhaps leaving the Legends Pool) or include lookalikes with generic names and allow them to be edited from within the game a la some of the legends in the FIFA series. If doing that is pushing the envelope too far in the eyes of the law, it might be best to just leave out the legends entirely.
I know that’s a drastic decision and I’m sure it wouldn’t be any more popular than featuring legendary players despite several omissions, but the roster of legends seems to be getting thinner all the time, to the point where Tom Chambers and Spud Webb are included as 90s All-Stars. The way FIFA has avoided legal problems would be a perfect solution, so long as EA’s hands aren’t tied by different restrictions imposed by the NBA. If that’s the case, thumbs down to the NBA and goodbye to the legends.
Enhance roster management and creation modes
This is one for the console users, though PC users would benefit from it as well. Custom teams are long overdue for a return, but there’s a couple of other features that would be nice additions, namely the ability to edit the All-Star teams or create a new Legend (assuming they’re still included in the game – see the above point). Editing the All-Star teams would be a similar premise to the custom team option, allowing the user to add and remove players from the default All-Star rosters. These changes could be saved along with the rosters or they could simply be temporary changes for an exhibition All-Star game. The same goes for the Rookie and Sophomore teams as well. Adding a legend would basically involve the attribute being made available in Create-a-Player.
While it’s possible to make these changes through editing the DBF files for the PC version, making these in-game options would not only help out console users but save PC users a lot of time and trouble. The ability to import and export roster data to and from Season and Dynasty Mode would also be helpful for gaming and patching alike.
Still on the subject of customisation and creation, adding even more hairstyles and colours to choose from in Create-a-Player would be a welcome improvement as well, though NBA Live 2005 already made great strides in this area. A custom team feature similar to the ones present in NBA Live 98-2000 would be fine, though there should be a wide array of generic basketball-orientated logos available. A basic jersey editor (colour, placement of number and logos) and maybe a simple court editor – just the position of logos and the text, no stadium building just yet – would be more than sufficient for NBA Live 06.
Multi-team trades and the ability to trade more than 3 players or picks in a single deal are other features that warrant consideration. The ability to trade for an empty space would make transactions a lot easier when creating roster patches, while accomodating player-for-cash swaps in Dynasty Mode. Making draft picks and players seperate assets when trading would also greatly improve the trading system.
Take into account all the little things
Most of these are self explanatory, so I’ll simply list them in point form. These are the little details that aren’t essential but make up the atmosphere or contribute to the realism of the game’s features. They’re also some of the useful or appealing features that have been lost with the game’s evolution.
- Year-by-Year Career Stats (as they appear on trading cards and at NBA.com)
- Expand the records to include all sorts of game and season highs for players and teams.
- Include as many statistics as possible, including double-doubles and triple doubles and averages on the Team Stats screens.
- Individual player career highs and bio data such as career transactions
- A listing of all the winners for each trophy, including the All-Star awards
- Allow less than 12 players on the active roster
- Bring back the option to disable automatic roster reordering or the ability to lock the current lineup for the user’s team
- Save screenshots in a format other than .TGA. The old method of saving screenshots without having to hide the remote control was much better too.
- Bring back the handcheck button so it’s possible (and easy!) to commit a hard, intentional foul. The ability to fake a pass would also be cool.
- Add Practice to Dynasty Mode, allowing the user to practice with generated rookies and players who have developed or declined.
- Check everything. Let’s face it, mistakes are inevitable and the production team does a pretty good making sure information and statistics are accurate and the game functions as intended. But a few players had missing or incorrect career stats in NBA Live 2005, the “Save Stats” button was missing and unlocking items in the NBA Store didn’t work as well as it did in NBA Live 2004.The main problem with the NBA Store was that items unlocked in the main menu would not also be unlocked in a Dynasty in progress. However, if the user saved their settings after unlocking items in the main menu, the NBA Store in their saved Dynasty would also recognise those items as being unlocked but they could not be selected in the Edit Player or Select Jerseys menus.Little things are almost always going to slip through the cracks and I hate to sound so petty. But a couple of these oversights do interfere with the enjoyment of the game and the others could be resolved in the polishing up stages.
The NBA Live 06 Wishlist covers even more of these little things. These are just some that immediately come to mind when I think of the small adjustments and additions that could be made in NBA Live 06.
Keep the PC version patcher-friendly
CustomArt has really helped out the last couple of years, but NBA Live 2005 provided a few problems for cyberface makers, particularly when it came to headshapes. An official editor or even some templates would surely help out here. It might also help in the development of installation routines if custom art patches could be placed in the Documents folder rather than the game folder.
Release a demo
The last couple of years there hasn’t been a demo for NBA Live. While I’m sure it hasn’t greatly affected sales and NBA Live 2004 and NBA Live 2005 have been two of the best games of the series (and certainly the most well-received in recent years), releasing a demo could help iron out some of the issues mentioned above. And as far as our anticipation for the new title is concerned, I’m sure it would feed rather than extinguish it.
So there you have it. Ten ways to make NBA Live 06 “perfect”. While it’s unlikely that any sophisticated video game will ever be truly perfect, I feel these are improvements that would make NBA Live 06 a very difficult game to top, improvements that would make NBA Live 06 an outstanding game especially given the time EA Sports will have had to develop it.
I’m looking forward to NBA Live 06 and have a really positive feeling about it given how much I enjoyed NBA Live 2005. While I anticipate NBA Live 06 will build upon the positives of NBA Live 2005 and eliminate some of the negatives, it’s difficult to imagine all of the above suggestions could be implemented in just one year.
If most of the wishes outlined above can be granted this year, it will be extremely hard to find much fault with NBA Live 06. But if there was some way to squeeze it all in, NBA Live 06 truly would seem to be the “perfect” basketball game…and there would still be room for improvement with Madden-like owner duties in Dynasty Mode and extras such as a Streetball mode, 2 on 2/3 on 3 games and other All-Star Weekend activities.
I can’t see the series fulfilling its potential within a year, but I do think it’s possible to see the “perfect” NBA Live 06. Surely, closer to perfection than any of its predecessors.