Next Gen producer and former NLSC webmaster Tim Tschirner was kind enough to answer some of our questions about NBA Live 07. Please note that all questions in this interview relate to the Next Gen version of the game (XBox 360).
What were your main goals in designing NBA LIVE 07 on Next Gen?
We created NBA LIVE 06 from scratch which allowed us to deliver a truly Next Gen experience with a true Next Gen look and feel. However, that didn’t leave us enough the time to implement all the Feature depth that we wanted to, so for NBA LIVE 07 we focused on Gameplay innovation and Feature depth. We completely re-wrote the entire AI and Animation systems and aimed to create an all-new Gameplay experience centered on Athletic Performance. We added a full-featured Dynasty Mode, a new Next Gen All-Star Weekend and we will introduce an ESPN integration package that will have everything like the Ticker, ESPN.com articles, PodCasts, and ESPN Motion (Video).
Which feature are you most proud of, or excited about this year?
To me, the two features that stand out the most are the AI rewrite and Athletic Performance. I believe this is where most of the Gameplay improvements can be seen and they allow for a more diverse subset of Gameplay features in the years to come for NBA Live. Our players now think and move like real life athletes and this is a huge achievement for the evolution of sports video games. We can’t wait to build NBA LIVE 08 on top of the foundation that we have created for this year.
In addition, I’m also excited about the ESPN Integration, especially with ESPN Motion which is a first in sports video games.
Can you outline some of the differences between Current and Next Gen when it comes to Total Freestyle Control?
There are a few major differences between the two systems, but on the whole we have kept them pretty much aligned. One difference is the fact that we have been able to add in another Level of Superstars so that we have a total of 3. CG has Star and Superstar, and NG has Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. With the addition of another level comes more moves and more animations. Secondly, we do not have defensive superstars this year. We decided that we want to take a different approach to defense next year, so implementing it in this year didn’t make sense for us. There are a few other differences, such as package switching on NG is done by tapping the Right Bumper, while on CG it’s done by clicking down R3. All in all though, Superstars will be very similar. We both have Right Analog control, we both have a tiered system and we both allow for players to have multiple Superstar types and switch packages on the fly.
How will “In the Zone” work compared to Current Gen’s X-Factor players?
We wanted to offer up something a little bit different on Next Gen so we decided on putting in the ‘In the Zone’ feature. Basically, we will be tracking Momentum internally by recording made and missed baskets, rebounds, turnovers, successful Freestyle Superstar moves, etc. and when we deem the team has reached a certain level we will say they are ‘In the Zone’. When a team is In the Zone their Level 3 Superstars will have access to a few new moves to really put on a show for the crowd – it’s a chance for the stars to shine. When a team begins to lose momentum they will end up losing their In the Zone classification.
Are you able to outline some of the new ratings that are used in the Next Gen version?
While rewriting the AI we realized now was the perfect time to retool our ratings system from around 25 to 75 in order to serve us many years into the future. Our goal was to add more detail to properly differentiate players and have the control mechanisms in place for creating player tendencies. A couple quick examples of new ratings for 07 relate to shooting. We now have a rating called “Shooting touch”. This rating affects a player’s ability to hit specific types of tough shots, like Fadeaways and Leaners. Another new rating is “Scoring with contact”. This reflects how well a player can take contact and still finish around the rim. There are more ratings relating to shooting, particularly tendencies.
At the Community Day and in subsequent previews, much has been said about players in Next Gen NBA LIVE 07 having a “brain”, being aware of their surroundings and the what’s going on. Will players also have distinct, true to life personalities and/or tendencies on the court (pass first, shoot first, driving or pulling up for a jumpshot) and do you feel that players with multiple levels of logic is the future of this technology?
We certainly use our new ratings system to further differentiate player behavior. The likelihood to drive, pull up for a jumper, find the open man, etc. are all influenced by attributes. Player differentiation tendency-wise is definitely an area that is key from a strategic Gameplay standpoint and also from a believability standpoint. It’s one thing to see an amazing player likeness down to the tattoos, accessories, shoes, etc, but to see that carried through to animation and tendencies really gives you the feeling that the players on the screen are real. It’s also good for the player to have some predictability when playing the game by having player tendencies to be true to life.
Are there any differences big or small between Dynasty Mode on Next Gen compared to Current Gen? Can we expect all the Current Gen features such as editing jersey numbers, shoes and accessories for our players to be available on Next Gen?
All the major features for LIVE 07 are in both Current Gen and Next Gen – Team Chemistry, the Assistant Head Coach, Player Rotation, the ability to start the Dynasty Mode with a Fantasy Draft or relive the 2006 NBA Draft, the Dynasty Mode Help screens, and much more. And yes, we have as much detail as Current Gen with respect to being able to edit jersey numbers, shoes, accessories, etc. for all players in Dynasty Mode on Next Gen as well.
There are some differences between Dynasty Mode on Next Gen compared to Current Gen though. While the “under the hood” logic is the same (so Next Gen Dynasty benefits from all the years of hard work and fine tuning the Current Gen team put into this mode), the visual presentation is quite different though. The visuals are absolutely stunning on Next Gen, from the Practice Gym transformation to the very intuitive and slick looking navigation within each screen.
Also, the ESPN integration on Next Gen allows you to continue listening to an ESPN Radio or an ESPN Motion article while playing Dynasty Mode. That comes in very handy if you like to keep up with what is going on in the world of sports while playing through any of the game modes in other areas of the game.
Do you anticipate releasing any official updates?
Yes – like with NBA LIVE 06, we are planning to release Roster Updates throughout the year. Aside from that we currently don’t have any plans for other updates.
Will a demo be available on XBOX Live?
We haven’t decided yet if a demo will be released.
Aside from the cool features ESPN Integration will bring to the table, have any other changes been made to online play? Will there be any measures to prevent some of the more common cheating tactics?
In terms of Online features, we do have an exciting addition this year; the Multiplayer Co-Op game mode. This allows up to 4 users on a console to play online against another team of up to 4 users on a distant machine. This feature is supported by a system of Leaderboards for our most competitive groups.
With regards to Online cheating, we continue to work hard to prevent these tactics. In case you run into someone that is trying to cheat, you can provide feedback for a user who just played against you at the end of a game on the Xbox 360 version.
Moreover, our game tracks the DNF (Did Not Finish) percentage for every user, so if you want to find an opponent who always finishes his games, you can do so through our Custom Game feature.
Finally, we have set some pausing limitations in game to prevent abusers from exploiting it. All these items have added up to make the online community a better and fairer place to play.
With the vast array of signature shooting styles in the game, will we be able to assign a specific style to created players or will they be automatically assigned a generic or random form?
Unfortunately you won’t be able to do this. It’s something we planned on doing early on, but due to the nature of the project with the AI re-write, Dynasty Mode, All-Star Weekend and ESPN integration some things had to get scaled back. We will look at including this in next year’s version of Create Player.
For this year, when you create a player we will randomly assign shots based on positions, so if you are a Point Guard you’ll end up with a Point Guard’s shot – Nash, Marbury, Arenas, Bibby, etc. If you’re a Shooting Guard you might end up shooting like Ray Allen, AI, Kobe or Pierce. Big guys will shoot like Pau, Jermaine O’Neal, Camby, Brand, etc. The one shot we didn’t include as a random choice though is Shawn Marion’s since it is too unique to give to someone else.
Can you speculate on the possibility of the PC version going Next Gen once the Current Gen consoles have been phased out?
I can’t really speculate on that at this point in time, sorry.
Is there anything else about NBA LIVE 07 Next Gen that you can tell us at this time?
We can tell you that a lot of work went into this version of NBA LIVE and a lot of it was based on feedback that we have received from our fans over the years. We are excited to hear and read people’s reactions once it is out there.
Also, we have now a new and robust engine and foundation which will allow us to continue to innovate and release exciting new versions of NBA LIVE with a lot of new features.
A big thanks to Tim for taking the time to answer those questions.