Since 1997 we’ve been submitting annual Wishlists to the NBA Live production team with suggestions on what we’d like to see added to the game and what we’d like to see improved upon in future versions of the game. While some fans remain sceptical about the impact and importance of the Wishlist, I believe one need only look back through the lists that have been compiled throughout the years and note the number of ideas that have made their way into the game or the issues that have been addressed.
It could be argued that some of our fondest wishes were implemented as part of the natural progression of sports video games and that is no doubt true in some instances, but we shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of compiling the annual Wishlist. There is no means of guaranteeing a particular wish will be granted but the fact remains that submitting these ideas to the production team provides them with feedback from their most rabid and enthusiastic customers, giving each item on the list a chance of being implemented in NBA Live. Conversely, underestimating our voice and remaining silent guarantees our wishes will go unnoticed.
However, in recent years I’ve become aware of a couple of failings with the Wishlist concept. First of all, we always manage to compile a long list – the NBA Live 08 Wishlist consisted of at least 240 items – which means important feedback can get lost in the shuffle, even though certain points are prioritised in the Top Wishes section. Second, a list of 200+ bullet points doesn’t always allow for detailed elaboration on some of the finer points leaving brief explanations of our wishes and any existing issues we’d like addressed.
Therefore, the last couple of years I have written a supplementary article as a follow-up to the Wishlist in the hope it will provide the detailed feedback the production team can use in conjunction with the bullet point Wishlist to make the next instalment of NBA Live the game we’re craving. My aim is to clear up any ambiguity in certain points on the Wishlist as well as stress the importance of our major concerns and most wanted additions. I can’t pretend to speak for everyone in the NBA Live online community but I feel most of us are of one mind when it comes to what we want out of NBA Live.
As usual, I’ve separated this year’s Wishlist Supplement into separate categories.
Missing, Replaced & Afflicted Features
This is a growing concern amongst longtime NBA Live fans with one of the biggest gripes in recent years being the phasing out or replacement of popular features or new features creating problems for existing elements of the game.
A problem with some of the new features of NBA Live 07 was the adverse effect they had on basic functions. The Assistant Head Coach and Rotation features are very good examples of this issue as they completely replaced the traditional roster management function in Dynasty Mode. Changing starting lineups and the bench order has become extremely cumbersome and despite the depth these new features add to the game, these undesirable changes to reordering rosters have proven to be extremely unpopular.
The way the CPU teams’ rotations are handled has also been changed for the worse. The ability to set the starting percentage in the player rotation is an excellent idea but often results in CPU teams starting bench players over a regular starter for no reason whatsoever, with the regular starter seeing limited minutes off the bench. This often leads to some extremely odd and unrealistic lineups and rotations in Dynasty Mode. For many players, these problems ruin the Dynasty experience.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this issue is that many of these features that have undergone undesirable changes were working as intended while other elements of the game – such as Dynasty Mode’s stats engine – remain problematic. The fact is most people are keen on the new features and the extra depth they add to the game, particularly in Dynasty Mode, but there’s a feeling that some of the new additions are coming at the expense of existing features and functions. The extras – big and small – go a long way in enhancing the NBA Live experience. The ability to save a game in progress is extremely useful for players who do not always have time to finish a game, particularly if they are playing 12 minute quarters. Saving replays as videos was a popular feature of the PC version a lot of people would like to see return. Features such as animated playbooks, the ability to save the data from any stats screen as a text file and Create-a-Team generally top most fans’ wishlists.
Dynasty Mode: Depth, Realism & Accuracy
The stats engine in Dynasty Mode has been a weakness since Dstats were abandoned in NBA Live 2004. While this move eliminated the problem of star players continuing to average All-NBA numbers while their ratings were in decline, it has also resulted in several problems with players averaging unrealistic numbers. Athletic swingmen often averaged too many rebounds and blocked shots while in the last couple of years, scoring has been too low and too evenly distributed with players such as Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant producing scoring averages much lower than in real life.
Primacy recalculations continue to cause havoc with scoring averages. While the adjusted ratings allow teams to compensate for players missing due to injury or a new lineup after a blockbuster deal, it does no favours for simulated stats as stars who generally pile up the points barely average over 10 ppg while role players suddenly get the lion’s share of the scoring load. The scoring distribution remains the most glaring issue with the current stats engine though players also tend to average too few assists per game as well with the simulated leaders tending to max out at around eight per contest. Bench players also tend to make minimal contributions with the Sixth Man of the Year generally producing very mediocre stats in simulation.
The good thing about the Dstats of course was that for at least a few years, a majority of the players in the league would average true to life numbers which hasn’t been the case since simulated stats became dependant on player ratings. Ideally there should be a happy medium with players performing like their real life counterparts while their production declines as they age.
Similarly, the selection of award winners (both annual and monthly) often yields strange results. All-Star selections also tend to snub players who deserve to be there, mainly because the game selects players of specific positions whereas in real life selections are based on the criteria of two guards and two forwards regardless of their specific position, along with a centre. As with improved simulated stats, better selection of awards and All-Star participants would go a long way in enhancing the NBA experience Dynasty Mode emulates.
Adding surname recognition and better name selection for generated rookies was a huge improvement in NBA Live 07 and one that was very well received. However, one nagging issue remains: player heights, particularly guards and small forwards. A lot of generated rookies still tend to be undersized at those three positions though the problem seems to be less common with big men.
Deeper roster management functions are definitely a popular wish. As I mentioned before the Assistant Head Coach tends to be more of a nuisance than a helpful addition when it comes to roster management, particularly when reordering lineups and deciding on player rotations. It would be better to take these duties away from the Assistant Head Coach or at least give players the option to handle all roster management tasks manually without any interference. A return of the traditional Reorder Rosters screen in Dynasty Mode would definitely be a huge improvement. The CPU’s tendency to randomly bench players who should be starting should also be fixed.
Completing transactions through the PDA poses a few problems as trade negotiations cannot occur in real time. Proposing a trade then being forced to wait a couple of days for a team to respond is not only time consuming but also unrealistic as it doesn’t simulate interaction between GMs as they attempt to hammer out a deal. Taking trade negotiations out of the PDA or at least allow them to take place without advancing to the next day would be a huge improvement. Players would of course be required to advance to the next day to make the deal official and complete the transaction. The same goes for free agent negotiations.
Negotiations should also involve more feedback from the other party. At the moment very little information is given as to why a team isn’t interested in making a deal. It would be much more informative if trades were rejected for a reason such as a player being off limits, a deal leaving a team too weak at a certain position or one of the players being offered having an undesirable contract. With the stock messages that are currently returned with a rejected trade offer, combined with the fact it takes a couple of days to work out a trade through the PDA, it’s very difficult to make a counter offer. The ability to confirm and complete or back out of a trade (as in NBA Live 2000) would be great as well. Trading could also be helped immensely by the ability to make trades that leave a team with more than 15 players, forcing them to cut superfluous players after making a deal. Multi-team trades with the ability to deal more than three players at a time would also greatly improve Dynasty trades.
Displaying more information about the players involved in a proposed trade would be extremely useful as well. In previous NBA Lives, the total salaries for the players involved in the deal, contract lengths and free roster slots were displayed in the trade interface eliminating the need for a lot of back and forth with toggling and manual calculation.
A less linear offseason (with the ability to save an offseason in progress) remains a fond wish of many Dynasty enthusiasts. Rather than progressing through the offseason in stages, users would be able to perform daily tasks such as re-signing players, bidding on players testing the free agent waters and making trades without adhering to a strict order. This way, teams could continue to sign free agents up until the start of the season while still wheeling and dealing.
Other popular wishes for Dynasty Mode include the ability to hire and fire head coaches, shop players on a trading block as well as see who else is available, play 29 or 58 game schedules and take on friends in a multiplayer Dynasty. The structure of Dynasty Mode is solid and the concept remains as popular as ever. Some fixes and enhancements of current features would go a long way in making it even better.
Gameplay: Tendencies & True to Life Behaviour
As with simulated stats in Dynasty Mode, the problem of realistic shot distribution also exists during regular gameplay. Point guards usually end up taking the most field goal attempts for the CPU and look to penetrate too often where they make shots at an alarming rate no matter whom the player is. Ideally a player’s behaviour should mimic their real life counterpart but that isn’t always the case. Implementing shoot/pass tendencies would help players react realistically to the action on the court and would greatly benefit players such as Steve Nash who rack up assists but are also capable of making a big impact with their scoring; quite often in the same game.
The method in which a player scores most of his points could also be controlled by player tendencies. A player like Shaq should very rarely attempt a shot from outside five feet unless the shot clock is winding down and good defense has denied him post position. AI would score more often on penetrations than Ben Gordon and players such as Kobe would display a more diverse range of offensive weapons, stroking the jumper, slashing to the basket and posting up depending on the situation.
NBA Live 07 featured some improvements in strategy and the toned down comeback logic was certainly for the best, however the CPU still has a tendency to gain superhuman abilities in the clutch and abandon strategy for high percentage Freestyle Superstar moves. The CPU also converts on a lot of fadeaway and leaning jumpshots, more than they should even when open. At times there’s still an element of the game being tilted in the CPU’s favour rather than the challenge coming from good, realistic strategy and crisp execution.
Reactions to Freestyle Superstars remain a mixed bag. A lot of people dislike the concept and would prefer to see it scrapped or at least have the option to disable it while others like the concept but would like to see it toned down further. I believe that FSS offers the complete player control many of us have been asking for but still contains some moves that are too powerful which can give the game an arcadeish feel. Another complaint is that some of the FSS moves – such as up and under layups and various ball fakes – are moves that most players employ at some point but cannot execute without Star or Superstar level FSS abilities.
A possible solution to both problems would be to allow all (or most) players to at least attempt a few more advanced moves, with Star and Superstar players possessing a wider range of special moves and converting on tough plays more often. Advanced and FSS moves should not be unstoppable particularly in traffic, and moves such as High Flyer dunks should not be possible to execute from a standing start. Freestyle Superstars is very effective in setting the good players and the great players from the rest of the pack but can still be too overpowering at times.
A lot of people found the change in the pro-hop/drop step controls cumbersome with jump stops proving to be difficult to execute as desired most of the time. Most players would prefer the option of assigning it to a button instead. The same goes for backdown/box out, which was much easier to use as a shoulder button than a right analog move.
Opinions remain divided on the new free throw shooting system. A recent poll indicated there’s still a lot of support for the old T-Meter system though the right analog method is very popular. Further diagrams and assistance, as well as a practice mode for free throw shooting, would help a lot of people make the transition to the new method if it’s here to stay. Most of the problems people have had with the right analog method lie in the down-up motion which seems to leave a very small margin of error, even with players who are skilled free throw shooters.
The new on-ball scenarios have improved gameplay ensuring that when players meet there will be interaction but at times that interaction can feel pre-determined. This is particularly true of the morphing steal animations which occur rather than simply knocking the ball loose, since once the animation is triggered a successful steal is bound to follow with very little chance of a loose ball being recovered by the player that has been stripped.
I have to admit when news broke that NBA Live 07 would feature both a dunk and layup button I was sceptical as to whether it would be a worthwhile change but the greater control over shot attempts in the paint has definitely been for the better with a distinct risk/reward factor. However, one problem with the new system is that players who are unable to dunk will throw up an extremely awkward layup on a failed attempt. Similarly, if the dunk button is pressed a little too far out a player will attempt the same awkward layup. It would be preferable if both situations resulted in a tear drop attempt similar to past NBA Lives, or in the case of players who are unable to dunk a regular layup could be attempted if they are close enough to the basket.
Another move that has seemingly disappeared is the ability to dive for loose balls. The CPU players are able to do it with ease but it’s been virtually impossible for the human player to pull off in the last couple of games. Previous games have also allowed players to automatically attempt to save a loose ball from going out of bounds by chasing it down; a handy feature that I’m sure would be welcomed back quite enthusiastically. There would be a risk/reward factor here as well since a ball that is kept alive could end up in the hands of the opposition resulting in a fast break.
The Direct Pass feature in NBA Live 07 brought back the system used in NBA Live 2003 where the user only needed to hit Direct Pass once to activate direct passing controls, or hit it again to resume the regular controls. On the whole, the method of holding down the Direct Pass button to activate the controls and deactivating it simply by releasing the button without making a pass has proven to be the more popular method over the course of the series.
NBA Live 07 also saw the removal of a couple of sliders (namely CPU Substitution Frequency and Fatigue Effect). While the official patch did resolve some of the issues with substitutions it would be preferable to have complete control over these aspects via the gameplay sliders as in years past.
Finally, when it comes to gameplay most fans want is an emulation of NBA basketball that is as true to life as possible, from the way players behave and play the game to their statistical performance to the moves they can perform on the court. The balance between fun and realism is important but the fact is a lot of hardcore NBA Live fans find a lot of fun in realism.
PC Specific User Interface
Since NBA Live 2003 PC users have been craving a user interface that takes advantage of higher resolutions as well as the presence of a mouse. This remains a fond wish as the use of slider bars and drop down and pop up menus would greatly aid in navigation, cutting down on the back and forth as well as processes such as creating players. A higher resolution would also cut down on the scrolling in various menu screens.
Speaking of presentation, a lot of fans are keen to see the return of a player’s career stats in table format (similar to the presentation on NBA.com and the backs of basketball trading cards) as opposed to the current method of scrolling through year by year stats when viewing a player’s profile. This would also allow the user to view a player’s complete career totals and averages.
I’m sure not everyone will agree with me on this one but from what I’ve read in the Forum the last couple of years a lot of fans (myself included) would be in favour of a later release, closer to the beginning of the NBA regular season. With the release date getting earlier and earlier each year, the rosters out of the box tend to be very outdated and in the case of NBA Live 07 there were quite a few issues that slipped by as well. Speaking of releases, it’s been four years since an NBA Live demo has been made available for the PC. A sneak peek at the upcoming instalment would surely build anticipation and let us get our fix leading up to the release of the full version.
Odds and Ends
The following is simply a list of bugs and other issues with NBA Live 07, mostly concerning settings and glitches.
- Inability to correctly assign new shoes in Edit Player.
- Inability to assign teams black socks.
- Player headshapes “lost” in Edit Player, defaulting back to a generic headshape. Currently this can be resolved by entering Practice Mode with the afflicted player.
- Inability to change detail and resolution settings in Dynasty Mode.
- When ending a game by clicking on “Quit Game”, the game exists to the desktop rather than returning to the main menu.
- The “focus square” remains present after hiding the menu in Instant Replay, thus showing up in saved screenshots.
- Inability to access the PDA when there are no new messages.
- Using Direct Pass sometimes triggers player lock/off ball control at undesirable times.
- Deflected passes and blocked shots erroneously count as turnovers if the ball goes out of bounds.
- Shots that are blocked register as two missed field goal attempts instead of one.
- Inability to save camera zoom settings as well as other preferences.
- CPU players are able to pick up and resume their dribble without a violation being called.
- Three pointers are occasionally only counted as regular field goals while some attempts from within the three point arc are counted as threes.
- Dribbling sound effects don’t always accompany dribbling animations.
- When sorting stats, stats are sometimes ordered incorrectly.
More than a couple of people felt that NBA Live 07 was an enjoyable game once the official patch had been released and the improvements in collision detection and the significance of a player’s weight, the addition of chemistry in Dynasty Mode and further development of the total player control concept were seen by many as welcome changes. Unfortunately there were also some changes we weren’t so enthusiastic about.
What do NBA Live fans want out of the NBA Live series? In a nutshell, a game that simulates the NBA experience with true to life player performance. In some ways NBA Live already delivers this while in other ways it falls short. As I mentioned before the basic structure and concepts in NBA Live are solid and are capable of giving players the kind of gaming experience we’re looking for. The problem lies in the execution of certain elements of the game, notably player behaviour and performance during gameplay and in simulated statistics. The balance between realism and fun is a delicate one but for a majority of NBA Live fans, a lot of fun lies in the realism and simulation aspects of the game, thus the term “simulation” needn’t mean “boring” or carry any other negative connotations.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I can’t and won’t pretend to speak for everyone who plays NBA Live. Certainly there is a percentage of the demographic to whom realism is not that important, instead choosing to take control of their favourite player and score 50 points per game. However, I do feel the areas of concern I’ve highlighted represent the feelings towards the series held by a majority of players and improvements in these areas would effectively build upon the positives of NBA Live 07 and other recent games in the series, making NBA Live 08 a truly spectacular game.