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NBA Live 08 Community Day: Dynasty Mode Report

The wait is over; I can finally share my impressions of Dynasty Mode! As I mentioned in my Gameplay Report and a few times in the Forum since the Community Day, I was very pleased with what I saw in Dynasty Mode this year. I will start off by saying that there are still features that could be added to further enhance Dynasty but there’s been some great updates and additions made this year.

Before I go on, I’d like to remind everyone that only the Xbox 360 version of the game was on display so I can’t yet comment on whether some of these features will be included in the PC and PS2 version’s Dynasty Mode. Needless to say, I hope as much is included as possible. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at what Dynasty Mode in NBA Live 08 has to offer.

I’ll start with one of my favourite changes: the PDA is gone. I realise that this will unpopular with some fans but personally, I’m glad to see the back of it. It’s not that I dislike the concept but as I’ve mentioned in the Wishlist supplements the past couple of years I’ve often felt it makes trades and signings too cumbersome, slowing down the process and making it more lengthy than it needs to be. With the removal of the PDA, trades and negotiations with free agents take place and can be completed in real time, which in some respects isn’t necessarily realistic as it doesn’t represent an ongoing negotiation process but I find it far preferable to sending a trade or contract offer and then waiting a couple of days to hear anything back with no “discussion” going on in between. Hammering out deals at the deadline should be a more enjoyable experience since we won’t have to re-load the game to have another shot at making a deal.

Even though trade talks can be condensed into a day’s worth of wheeling and dealing should the CPU agree to a deal, there’s still a feeling of negotiation taking place as the CPU will present counter offers to your trade proposals rather than flat out rejecting an offer that includes a player they’re interested in. Of course, if they have no interest in making a deal then it will still be a matter of thanks, but no thanks. Another improvement in the trading logic involves multiplayer deals. CPU teams will send you trade proposals that include multiple players as well as counter offer with their own multiplayer deals (and sometimes draft picks). One issue we noticed during the demonstration was the frequency of trades which seemed a little high but we were told that the frequency had been increased for the purpose of testing in the current build. All the same, our feedback was noted as an issue that needed to be addressed before the game ships.

The updated trade interface is much more user friendly this year. In recent games, blockbuster trades have usually required the player to do some quick mental addition (or if you’re lazy like me, reach for the calculator) to ensure that a deal works under the salary cap before sending off a trade proposal which was somewhat of an inconvenience. This is no longer the case in NBA Live 08 as the interface includes a display which indicates whether or not the current proposal will work under the salary cap. If the deal works, a green tick will be displayed. If you still need to work on matching salaries, a red cross will be shown. It’s a small addition to the interface but one that is very effective all the same.

Free agent signings have also been enhanced by a mini-game of sorts as the negotiation process may involve more than just throwing money at a player, depending on a player’s interest in signing with your team. Free agents have an interest bar that gives you an indication of how keen they are to sign with your team or even talk to you. If their interest is high enough, the mini-game is skipped and you immediately start talking dollars and contract length. If their interest isn’t quite high enough, you’ll have to convince them that joining your team would be a good idea before their virtual agent will even start listening to contract offers.

The mini-game itself involves emphasising certain benefits of signing with your team. These include things such as the opportunity to win a championship, the ability to pay a player a lot of money, an opportunity for a lot of minutes and a starting role with the team. Should you be successful in the mini-game, the player will say that you have his attention and contract negotiations begin. Just how interested a player has become in signing with your team determines how much back and forth takes place when you’re putting a contract on the table. Players will walk away much earlier if they’re on the fence to begin with while players who are keen to join you will be more willing to work out a deal.

The cool thing about the negotiation mini-game is that you’ll have to recognise a player’s interests and emphasise certain areas of interest accordingly, so it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a matter of one combination being all-powerful and working all the time. For example, if you’re negotiating with a younger player who is a rising star, a combination of money, minutes and a starting job is likely to grab his interest. Talk of a team’s chances of success and likelihood of winning a championship tends to appeal to older players who are nearing retirement and may be comfortable accepting a lesser role at lower pay. You can also choose to emphasise your team’s market size if a player has strong feelings about the size of the market they’re playing in. Depending on a player’s interest, if you hit two of the three areas that are of most concern to him, he’ll usually be interested in talking about a contract. The mid-level exception is included in the game and the same mini-games are put to use during the offseason (which remains linear).

One of the things that the producers are stressing this year is that Dynasty Mode will involve a “push” system rather than a “pull” system. In other words, the user will be presented with information such as news from around the league, scouting reports and injury updates in the Dynasty Central screen, eliminating the need to dig through a series of menus. The game also prompts the user on certain tasks such as scouting and training, which the user can choose to handle or automate as desired. These settings can later be changed if you decide you’d like to handle a certain task that you’ve previously chosen to automate. I can see this option being very popular with players who don’t care for things like scouting, training or planning off-day events.

At the beginning of a new Dynasty, the team owner will also advise you on the team’s direction, such as making a run at the Playoffs and/or the title, or rebuilding based on the shape of your roster. This advice is presented as a guideline to the logical course of action given a team’s personnel but you don’t necessarily need to adhere to it. In fact, if you don’t want to hear from the team owner at all you can disable his advice in the same way you can choose not to deal with other tasks in the frontend.

The team direction concept applies to CPU teams as well, which is important to note because it makes a difference when you’re trying to trade with them. Rebuilding teams will look to hold onto young players and draft picks, so prying Andre Iguodala away from the Sixers is going to take a bit of work. Similarly, a team that is in serious contention for the championship is less likely to break up a successful unit but may be interested in smaller swaps that bolster their roster and fill a need. In between you’ve got teams who are willing to roll the dice if your offer is good enough.

One of my least favourite changes last year was the integration of the Assistant Head Coach with rotations and starting percentages since it often led to odd lineups out on the floor with star players coming off the bench for no apparent reason. This seems to have been rectified this year with the removal of starting percentages completely and although the rotations menu remains, it’s easier to reorder the roster as you see fit. Following on from the previous note about automating tasks, you’ll be able to choose whether you want the rotations to be handled automatically when there’s an injury or roster move, or whether you’d prefer full control over the lineups.

Simulation intervention has been added and it’s been expanded into a full play-by-play display that lets you jump in at any time. There’s three speed options (normal, fast and super fast) so the simulation doesn’t need to plod along if you’d like to get it over and done with. Another noteworthy addition to simulation intervention is an aspect that EA Sports are calling Simulation Special Events which give the user a last chance to intervene in certain situations, such as being down by seven points with under two minutes left in the game. These events also include statistical marks such as triple doubles, giving you the opportunity to take control and complete the achievement if you wish.

Given that it’s been one of our gripes in recent games, I was sure to check out the simulated statistics to see if any progress has been made and I’d say that there is some improvement there. Admittedly I didn’t get the opportunity to simulate multiple seasons so I didn’t get a wide range of results that I could compare but at a glance it seems that progress has been made though there’s still some tweaking to be done before they’re ideal. I did speak with the producers about this and they indicated that there was further database work to be done before the game was finished so it remains to be seen how the stats will turn out in the finished product. It would certainly seem they’re aware of our concerns and complaints in this area though.

An interesting addition I noticed in Dynasty Mode was the ability to edit player ratings in addition to player positions and jersey numbers. This could obviously open the game up to cheating unless some limits are enforced but as long as the user is striving for a challenge and realism and possesses enough self-control, it probably won’t be an issue for most people. Another feature you may have seen advertised in the video posted over at IGN recently is Scenario Mode, which as the name implies allows you to create your own scenarios and play them out. I didn’t get a chance to really try anything out with it but it looked really good. Aside from recreating certain situations and adding further replay value to the game, I expect it could come in handy as an additional practice mode of sorts.

There are some noteworthy Wishlist items that have not been added this year which may leave some fans disappointed. There are no multi-team trades, we cannot hire and fire head coaches along with the rest of the staff, we can’t negotiate extensions with players before their contract is up and there are no 10 day contracts to name a few popular wishes that will have to wait for a future release. Obviously I’d like to see that level of depth added to Dynasty Mode and I hope that aspects like that are in the cards for future NBA Live games. However, I think I’m going to really enjoy Dynasty Mode this year despite their absence as I’m very pleased with what has been done. I just hope as much of it as possible is implemented on the other platforms.

There is still room for growth in NBA Live’s Dynasty Mode and as I said before it remains to be seen just how much improvement has been made with the stats engine but of all the things I saw at the Community Day, I think the improvements to Dynasty Mode excited me the most. I was impressed by the gameplay, the inclusion of international teams is great and I have no complaints about the graphics (though admittedly I’ve never been one to dislike an NBA Live title for its graphics) but since Dynasty is my gameplay mode of choice I was pleased with the attention that has been paid to it. It’s the little things; the back and forth of the counter offers and free agent negotiations, the informative interface that lets you know when a trade works under the cap and the whole “Push Dynasty” approach to task management, as well as issues from last year (like the player rotation oddities) that appeared to have been addressed. I won’t pretend to speak for everyone but I think a lot of people will enjoy the subtle updates, the things that won’t make the back of the box but really make the Dynasty experience.

I guess that just about wraps things up for Dynasty. Now that I’m free to talk about it I’ll try to answer any questions as best I can. Please note that I’m still waiting on information for the PC/PS2 version, which I will post as soon as it becomes available to me.