For those unfamiliar with the Wishlist Supplement, for the past few years we have been submitting a supplementary article along with the annual Wishlist to further emphasise points of concern and outline what we want to see in NBA Live and attempt to explain the kind of experience we are looking to get out of it. Although the Wishlist usually provides an extensive list of these items, its length and format do not always allow it to be comprehensive or accurately emphasise the most pressing issues in great detail. The mission of the Wishlist Supplement is to fill in the gaps so to speak, providing a more in-depth look at our feelings about what would improve the game and which elements we like and dislike.
Welcome to the Supplement for the NBA Live 09 Wishlist! With the community’s continued interest in the PC version as well as the continued growth of the game on the current generation of gaming consoles, we have a fair bit to cover this year. As always, I will not pretend to speak for everyone in the community but being a long-time NBA Live player and having read the feedback of my fellow NBA Live enthusiasts, I feel I’ve got a pretty scope of what we as a group want out of the NBA Live series. Just as we’ve changed the format of the Wishlist slightly this year, I’ve decided to make a few changes to the Supplement this year and cover a few issues we haven’t really covered before. So, without any further ado, here is the NBA Live 09 Wishlist Supplement.
WHAT WE’RE LOOKING TO GET OUT OF NBA LIVE
As I said before, I won’t pretend to speak for every single person who plays NBA Live but the overall expectation of NBA Live is, in a nutshell, a simulation of the National Basketball Association in which the individual players play like their real life counterparts (in terms of skill and performance), achieving true to life statistics in both games played by a human user and those simulated by the CPU and through Dynasty Mode, providing players with a kind of fantasy situation where they can take control of the team (or teams) of their choice and manage it through multiple NBA seasons (while playing the games if desired). Obviously, the level of realism in the game depends on the human user but if the user intends on playing realistically, the game should ideally feature these elements:
- Players’ skill, performance and style of play (shoot first, pass first, post up on offense, etc) reflecting their real life counterparts.
- Players’ statistics reflecting real life performance when controlled by the CPU. Obviously, the user’s style of play will affect this to some extent.
- True to life statistics when playing through a season, ie. The correct players leading the league in each statistical category with realistic numbers (no 40 ppg averages)
- A Dynasty Mode that lets the user fulfil their GM fantasies. Rookie Drafts, trades, free agency, hiring staff etc…NBA Live 08’s Dynasty Mode on the 360/PS3 was a big improvement.
- TV-style presentation during gameplay (again, NBA Live 08 on the 360/PS3 was a step forward here)
- Fluid player animations with lifelike movement.
There are other items within those areas that I’ll be getting to a little later on but in very broad terms, those are the key points of interest for offline players. For online play, a couple of the major problems in addition to those also affecting offline/Dynasty players include moves that are too easily abused, a lack of customisation in the available game options and problems with players being assigned losses when a sore loser intentionally breaks the connection.
WHY WE CARE ABOUT THE PC VERSION (AND WOULD PREFER A 360/PS3 PORT)
Even though the console versions have risen in popularity with the current generation of hardware, many people within the NBA Live community remain more interested in the PC version. There are several different reasons for this such as a preference towards PC gaming, the expense of consoles or a dislike of console gaming in general. The main reason the community feels this way is that we have a large modding culture, similar to (though not quite as big as) FPS communities.
Ever since unofficial tools have been developed, tinkering with the game to get the experience we want or developing our own add-ons has been a big part of playing the game year-in and year-out. As such, the PC version remains very popular with a loyal following, especially with older players who have always played the game on that platform.
That’s why we’d like to express our enthusiasm for the Xbox 360/Playstation 3 version to be ported to the PC version. In today’s marketplace consoles are king but we’d love to have the same benefits as 360/PS3 gamers when it comes to the gameplay, animations, Dynasty Mode, online play, ESPN Integration and so on. The current PC version is, with all due respect, on its last legs and the amount of bugs in NBA Live 08 PC made it near impossible for many players, Dynasty enthusiasts in particular, to enjoy the game.
Porting the game from the current generation of consoles would go a long way in improving the game for those who prefer to play it on the PC.
BRINGING THE MODDING CULTURE TO THE CONSOLES
Having said that, the consoles shouldn’t have to miss out on all the fun. If downloadable utilities were made available for the console versions of the game that gave users access to hidden player data and perhaps elements of the game engine, independent, unofficial roster updates could be made and distributed for other users to enjoy. Obviously the in-game Create-a-Player allows us to do that already to a certain extent but let’s face it, we NBA Live fans get pretty geeky about the detail of our updates so it would be nice to be able to put in draft and other bio info that is currently inaccessible to try and make console based updates as realistic as possible.
Tools to work with the graphics (eg importing custom jerseys or faces) would also be fantastic but some official toolkits to work on the rosters would greatly enhance the appeal to fans who like to update and mod. The EA Locker introduced in NBA Live 08 would be a great way to distribute fan-made updates along with custom scenarios and Dynasty games.
One of the key Wishes year in, year out, is realistic gameplay. This is, to a certain extent, largely up to the individual user in terms of choosing to run plays, mimic the shot distribution of the real NBA teams and employing a wider variety of tactics than dump the ball into the low post and score everything in the paint. However, the CPU team’s play greatly affects the ability we geekier users have of achieving that realism since the user isn’t always rewarded for playing good defense, moving the ball around or varying the attack at the offensive end, meaning that victory sometimes involves a bit of cheesy play rather than strategy, padding the stats and in particular, resulting in the wrong players being the go to guys for the CPU opponents.
This has usually manifested itself in issues such as point guard domination, where players such as Steve Nash are consistently leading their team in scoring while handing out very few assists. Obviously, players like Nash and Chris Paul do score a lot of points for their teams but balance it out by making a lot of assists as well and in Nash’s case, are not the leading scorer for their team. Domination at other positions has also been a problem in the series from time to time.
Go-To Moves and signature shots are a great example of specific players, particularly stars, standing out as individuals and mimicking their real life counterparts in a much better way than Freestyle Superstars. A lot of users would like to see this concept further expanded to include player specific logic that would allow the league’s best distributors like Nash, Paul and Jason Kidd to be looking for their teammates first without completely ignoring their own opportunities (particularly when there’s a defensive breakdown). Likewise, a player like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant will still find teammates but definitely be looking for their own shot more often.
The same logic could apply to role players as well. Journeyman point guards might not rack up a lot of assists but they would still be looking to move the ball around before shooting it while a player like J.R. Smith wouldn’t be his team’s Go-To Player but would be looking for his shot when he gets in the game. Essentially, every player would have logic attributes that determine how he plays the game – how frequently he shoots, how unselfish or selfish he may be, how frequently he drives or whereabouts he shoots from on the floor (perhaps tied in with Hot Spots) – with a player’s ratings determining how effective he is with his particular approach to the game. These attributes could also cover defensive aspects such as rebounding, playing the passing lanes and gambling on steals.
In this way, the players would not only appear to be more lifelike but also produce statistics that you’d expect to see in a real game. Obviously the results will vary according to a player being effectively or ineffectively defended but it would mean that a pass-first point guard is unlikely to drop 40 points every time you face him.
As I alluded to before, one of the other current problems with gameplay is defense with the user not being rewarded for putting in the effort on D either because the CPU ends up hitting tough shot after tough shot with the shot clock running down or gets into the lane too easily where they avoid contact and the block. The latter is definitely a problem with the Xbox 360/Playstation 3 version of the game; the CPU is adapt at blocking shots or putting a body on the player with the ball but it’s very difficult for the user to return the favour at the other end, particularly once the CPU player elevates. The Defensive Assist works well but is ineffective once a CPU player does get into the paint. Adjusting the “jostle” system so that the defense isn’t at such a disadvantage would help out here, though it should play the same for both the CPU and human user.
There were a couple of issues with substitutions in NBA Live 08. Players didn’t always fatigue quickly enough and the CPU would often neglect to substitute the guards for long stretches of the game. Greater emphasis on secondary positions would also help as players are often left on the bench rather than the CPU employing lineups that utilise two players with the same primary position and sliding a player currently in the lineup to another position (eg the Spurs bringing on Robert Horry at power forward and moving Tim Duncan over to centre).
Perhaps the biggest holdover wish is the ability to save a game in progress. Players who prefer twelve minute quarters and longer seasons with little or no games simulated don’t always have the time to finish a game once they’ve sat down to play it. At such times, in-game saves are very handy.
A final point I’d like to stress is that a lot of long time NBA Live enthusiasts don’t make a distinction between “fun” and “realism”; for most of us, the fun of the game comes from being able to simulate the NBA experience in a realistic manner, so we do tend to get a bit picky about who’s scoring the most points and the final scoreline. To that end, the sliders do come in handy so the more aspects of gameplay we can tweak, the better it us for us NBA Live nerds.
I was thoroughly impressed with Dynasty Mode on the Xbox 360 which is one of the reasons I’d love to see it ported to the PC. The removal of the PDA was a significant improvement as dealing with free agent negotiations and working out trades was very cumbersome. Going back to a “real time” scenario with trades and free agent signings is much better and actually gives the user a sense of negotiating with teams and players, especially with the free agent mini-game. That approach is definitely preferable to the wait-and-see approach of the PDA.
An area where Dynasty mode still falls short however is in the simulated statistics. The sim engine on the 360/PS3 was much better than the PC version but there’s still an issue of the wrong players leading the league in scoring (eg Steve Nash and Elton Brand averaging around 30 ppg) and the assist numbers being a bit low. Bench players are also problematic as they tend not to get as many minutes as they should and as such, players who put up big numbers off the bench aren’t accurately represented in NBA Live. As with the stats during gameplay, we are pretty geeky about this kind of thing so accurate simulated stats do remain a fairly prominent concern with a lot of Dynasty enthusiasts.
There are also still a couple of issues with generated rookies being too short, in particular a glut of undersized guards and centres. Similarly, some rookies have weights that are out of proportion or ratings that aren’t appropriate for their positions (eg point guards with exceptionally poor speed, quickness, dribbling and passing ratings). This becomes more of an issue the further the user progresses into Dynasty Mode.
Trades also need to be toned down a little. There’s still a few too many stars changing teams in the first year of Dynasty Mode and while there were a few blockbuster deals during the 2007/2008 NBA season, they are still more of an exception than a rule. A lot of the CPU initiated trades in Dynasty Mode feel a bit redundant and more like trades for the sake of CPU teams making deals. It should be the role players changing address more often than the superstars.
Another common concern relates to the menus. The “push” aspect in NBA Live 08 was a big improvement here but a couple of minor features could further enhance the navigation and team management functions in Dynasty Mode. The first is the traditional Reorder Roster screen that is accessible in the main menu but not in Dynasty Mode. Most users like to change their bench order and starting lineups and this menu allows us to do that more easily. The ability to toggle between a team’s interest in a player and the player’s salary and contract information (ie years remaining) would also be very useful and save a lot of back and forth. The indicator that displays whether a trade works under the salary cap is an excellent idea and should definitely be retained.
Most of the other wishes regarding Dynasty Mode involve additions or expansions of current features, such as a trading block function to make players available to trade proposals or get an idea of which teams are looking to move players. A much desired feature is the ability to customise the season length. A lot of players prefer playing shorter seasons so the ability to select a 29, 58 or regular 82 game schedule would be most welcome. Additional functions such as multi-team trades, the ability to select multiple teams, hiring and firing head coaches and a less linear offseason would also enhance the Dynasty experience.
Obviously the points made under the Gameplay section also apply to online play but a couple of popular ideas regarding online play include the ability to modify all sliders for online play and various measures to discourage cheaters and allow users to kick a player who is abusing the gameplay or otherwise trying to spoil everyone’s fun in Online Team Play. A lot of sore losers cause intentional network disconnections when they fall behind resulting in the other player being assigned a loss. To be fairer on legitimate players who are good sports, they should receive a win or no result should be recorded.
CUSTOM TEAMS & ROSTER MANAGEMENT
Getting back to customising the game for a moment, Custom Teams are probably one of the top five most common wishes year-to-year. Ideally, players would be able to create brand new teams and select from a database of existing basketball-themed logo and jersey designs and then fill their teams with players of their choice. On a similar note, it would be extremely handy to have the ability to add and remove players from the All-Star, Rookie, Sophomore and FIBA teams. It would also be handy, especially on the consoles, to be able to edit all aspects of player bio data including their draft information and nicknames as well as all player accessories.
ODDS & ENDS
The following is a short list of popular wishes, mostly involving features, options, functions and modes that we’d like to see returned, retained or are staples of the Wishlist:
- Player Lock
- Scenario Mode
- Single player career mode
- Display player career stats in table format (like on NBA.com and on the backs of trading cards)
- The ability to practice free throws in Practice Mode
- Edit Dunk Packages in Edit Player
- Legendary Players
- Skills Challenge & Shooting Stars in All-Star Weekend
- PC-friendly User Interface
Not every item in the NBA Live 09 Wishlist has been covered in this supplement but I feel I’ve touched on the most important issues and expanded on a few of the points that perhaps lacked detail or were somewhat ambiguous when listed in point form. Hopefully, it will be a constructive and useful follow up to our traditional Wishlist.