My initial impression of NBA Live 2000 was “Oh no, this looks like we will have to convert all these patches”. Now, after a few weeks time and quite a few games of Live 2000 being played, I am thinking “oh no, and now I have to write a review”. Not a very rewarding task considering NBA Live X is usually just a slightly improved version of NBA Live X-1. But this one should be special, after all it is the millenium edition, and the absence of the word “millenium” on the Live 2000 box is promising enough to take a closer look at all aspects of the game.
Graphically, NBA Live 2000 looks a lot like its predecessor, only slower. It also looks better, but it’s getting harder every year to notice the improvements.
The court surroundings were changed the most, and the cardboard cutouts that substituted for bench players and coaches were replaced with 3D models. Now, for future versions of the game, it would be really cool to see the right players with their respective cyberfaces on the bench and maybe coaches and assistants with correct cyberfaces as well.
The crowd does not look as artificial and flat as last year either. However, a close look reveals that it consists exclusively of lunatics happily clapping and waving and not reacting to the actual gameplay. It’s also a bit too repetetive, each moron sitting only about 20 feet away from himself.
The players look as great as they did in Live 99 with some improved animations. The only complaint concerning player animations is that some players seem to jump way too high even in simulation mode.
In-game presentation was improved, a (yes, only one) real 3D referee is now running around the court, collecting balls that went out of bounds and passing the ball to free throw shooters. This is a lot more convincing than the ball flying into players’ hands from nowhere (like in previous versions of the game), but can get a bit lengthy at times.
Player animations while the clock is stopped, especially pre-game player presentations, are very impressive and can even be turned off by impatient people like me.
The bad news concerning graphics are the sudden hardware demands. Last year, the game ran smoothly on a Pentium 200 with a Voodoo 1, this year it may get choppy with a faster processor and video card at the same resolution. But isn’t it fun buying new hardware every other year? OK, it isn’t, but the guys in the silly overalls at Intel think it’s fun.
I personally find hiphop boring and dull, but I’d guess it’s what most basketball fans like to hear. And frankly, I didn’t notice that song actually used the English word for “Mutterficker” until I read it in the review by Dave Dial of our host GA Sports. I must have missed it while wondering about the origins of some suspicious moaning sounds somewhere in my room as I was navigating through the Live 2000 menus. Since I couldn’t find any sensible explanation for these sounds, I suppose I should see a doctor soon. Early symptoms of schizophrenia, no doubt.
In-game sounds are plausible although the crowd actually makes some noise throughout the entire game, which is hardly typical for NBA arenas. Players can now talk which is a pretty nice addition that can be further improved in Live 200x. Play-by-play commentary is kind of useless, but unlike in previous Live versions you can combine it with the arena announcer. Second commentator Reggie Theus apparently had a plane to catch when he was in Vancouver to have his voice recorded. At least he doesn’t say “motherf*****”.
Game controls are not much changed, and against human opponents Live 2000 is not very much different from Live 99. If you don’t have a gamepad with around 3000 different buttons, you still need the computer to guess who you wanted to pass to, and the computer is really good at guessing this and then deliberately passing to someone else, or so it seems. And when the shot clock winds down, players seem to prefer to just fake when you want to shoot. Other than that, playing NBA Live 2000 is great fun, maybe not quite as exciting as NHL Hockey or FIFA Soccer, but after all it’s a basketball game. Haha.
The AI kind of sucked until Live 98, and computer opponents in NBA Live 99 finally seemed to play some real basketball. This year, it’s even better. The computer’s offense reacts to your defense, so if you double team the computer’s go-to guy before he has the ball, the computer will react and try something else. (Unfortunately, the referee will not react by whistling illegal D.) The computer runs plays, sets screens and everything and always finds a way to score. If he doesn’t, he may still occasionally just shoot over your defender on superstar mode and hit every shot. The only area the AI has major problems with is running fast breaks. The computer recognizes 1 on 0 situations, but not 2 on 1 or 3 on 1 opportunities and stops to run halfcourt set plays.
The main difference in NBA Live 2000 is that it is a lot harder than before to drive past your defender. Defenders have no reaction time at all and follow every step you take. This may not be very realistic, but for the sake of people who always complain that the game is too easy, I suppose that’s OK. In allstar mode, you can still sometimes drive past your defender.
While the opponents play well, computer controlled teammates are not as smart. They don’t always jump for rebounds, and when setting screens, they run away a bit too early so that you can’t actually use their screens.
NBA Live 2000 uses a primacy rating that influences the players’ shot selection. That way, the right players will take the right amount of shots. AI behaviour like Hornacek outshooting Malone or Pippen hogging the ball instead of Jordan was probably the single characteristic of previous NBA Live games that annoyed me the most. In NBA Live 2000, Malone is now the Jazz’ go-to guy and I-verson and Me-bury fire away like a Deer Hunter player with a nervous breakdown. The game apparently checks the stats and looks who is supposed to take more shots and runs a play for that player. A cheap way to control shot selection, but also the best and most sensible way to do so. That way, the AI can handle customized rosters best. Teams also set up the right kind of play for every player, for example Shaq will get the ball down low while Glen Rice will wait at the three point line.
Overall, after matching up the computer against itself a few times, the statistics looked good to me. Good rebounders will really get most of the boards, point guards will not end up with 25 assists any longer and three point shootouts at the end of games are less of a problem. However, there seem to be too many offensive rebounds. Defenders get pushed away, miss the ball while jumping or forget to jump at all. Shooting fouls and resulting free throws are more common now, but still not quite as much as in real life.
For automatic substitutions, the computer now uses a player’s second position as well as his first position, so maybe Juwan Howard can play SF and PF. Sounds good, but isn’t, because a player’s first position is not necessarily preferred. For example, when your starting PF and C get tired and are pulled from the game at the same time, the game will check the bench for a center, find Othella Harrington, a PF who has C listed as his second position, and after that it will look for a PF and find Cherokee Parks, a C who has PF listed as his second position. Of course, it’s OK for Parks to play PF next to Reeves or for Harrington to play C with no other big man around, but in this case the positions seems to be messed up.
One of the best new features of the game is that the greatest player ever is finally in the game. And this time not just in our roster patches, but officially endorsed by EA; not with some standard face, but with a cyberface that looks as imposing as the real man – headband and all. It’s sad he didn’t live to see it.
Michael Jordan is in the game as well, and I hope his name and pictures that are all over the Live 2000 box sell enough copies of the game to make up for his salary. The five all-decade teams in NBA Live 2000 include many other great players from the past. Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Bob Cousy, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are all waiting to help you kick today’s players’ spotty butts. Most of these people look a lot younger than expected and play and look just like we’d remember them if we were a bit older ourselves.
The most noteable absentee among NBA greats is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who was reportedly too full of Coors Light to play any virtual basketball. If you are missing other heroes like George Mikan, Bob McAdoo or Clyde Drexler, you can (begin commercial break) still download my own Legends or Champs Rosters which feature many more great players and teams from the past (end commercial break), or other future roster patches that may feature these players.
One on One
In my NBA Live 99 review, I suspected the practice court would eventually get more crowded, and EA in fact added one additional player for a match of 1 on 1, just like in the old “Erving vs. Bird” and “Jordan vs. Bird” days. (Of course, you can still practice with one player alone.) The developers also added a second outdoor court for some welcome variety.
1 on 1 gameplay works surprisingly well, and little details like having to press the pass button to check the ball add to the fun. Naturally, the whole thing gets old after a while, especially against the computer.
1 on 1 mode is named after Michael Jordan, but this does not mean you have to play with or against Jordan (although it is funny to see how Jordan slams the ball on the floor in frustration after you beat him). Instead, we learn that when you spend a lot of money for the rights to use a certain name, you apparently have to use this name a lot. Let’s hope that after a few years and target group studies, this will not become “Kobe Bryant 1 on 1”. Instead, I am waiting for “Stockalone 2 on 2”, the “Vince Carter Slam Dunk Contest” or the “Shaquille O’Neal Free Throw Practice”.
Franchise Mode single season issues
Franchise mode is the part of the game that was improved most dramatically. Most improvements concern long-term franchise development, but they would be pointless if a single season was not simulated properly, and NBA Live 99 did have some weaknesses there.
Simulated results look better than last year, but are still not very convincing. Scores are too close, and the home court advantage is so small that I frequently wonder if there is any at all. Player stats look OK, similar to those in Live 99. For rookies,the game calculates season stats from player ratings, and the results are fine enough.
During a season, the computer initiates trades on its own, both with other computer controlled teams and with the user’s team(s). In the latter case, the user can choose to accept or reject the trade. Unfortunately he can’t access any statistics or player comparison screens while having to decide (maybe this explains some of the Mavs’ or Sixers’ roster moves in the past decade). Anyway, the trades the computer suggests are usually sensible, and – unlike its predecessor – NBA Live 2000 avoids ending up with seven centers on a single team’s roster. Still, the computer only initiates single player trades, and too many altogether. Of course, a user can offer a trade to other teams (inlcuding deals involving up to three players per team), and the computer is not stupid enough to trade Tim Duncan for Herb Williams.
After a trade, the lineups are adjusted accordingly, some suspicious starting lineups (Rodney Buford in his rookie year ahead of John Starks?) resulting from inaccurate overall ratings – the game apparently still thinks that a center with a field goal rating of 75 and a three point rating of 75 is better than a center with a field goal rating of 99 and a three point rating of 50.
Computer teams also waive some players during a season, but while there are too many trades, there is not nearly as much movement at the Jack Haley end of the benches as in reality. The missing implementation of 10-day contracts also makes it hard for user-controlled teams to test players, as you have to sign players to guaranteed one year contracts.
All transactions show up in the highly entertaining new “at a glance” screen, along with detailed player and rookie of the week/month awards (very nice), team streaks and injuries. For each event, one of two or three standard phrases is randomly selected and filled with player names, team names, dates or different injuries. The latter usually produce syntax that is grammatically even more awkward than my own babble (“out with a broken bone in wrist injury”?).
The game includes a database of 228 different injuries, each with a different likelihood of occurance, recovery times and skills (ratings) they affect. But since EA not only employs painstaking developers, but also talented physicians, none of these injuries last longer than 60 days. Season- or even career-threatening injuries, let alone suspensions for drug abuse, would make franchise mode even more interesting, but might be a bit of an annoyance if they hit the key player on your supposed championship team.
Finally, after a season, the game awards the MVP, DPOY, ROTY, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man Of The Year and selects All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie teams using various tendex formulae – with realistic results. After the championship is decided, the game forgets to name a Finals MVP, but makes up for this oversight with some nice animations of the champions celebrating.
Franchise mode multiple season issues
Once you’ve finally played or cowardly simulated your first season of franchise mode, NBA Live 2000 thwarts your vacation plans by keeping you busy in the offseason.
First, it displays a list of players who have retired from the NBA. The game selects these players based on age, skill and chance, and the results look very realistic. Charles Barkley retired after the 99/00 season every time I tried it.
If players retire, the league needs fresh blood to prevent the rosters from thinning. After every simulated year, NBA Live 2000 generates a class of rookies to be selected in the draft. The accurately implemented draft lottery precedes this best new feature of the NBA Live series. The rookies all have randomly generated names apparently created from a huge database of first and last names, even including a few non-English sounding ones. Thanks to the much improved Create Player option, no two rookies look the same, yet they all look like real persons. Player sizes and positions are statistically convincing, and are matched well by computer generated player ratings. The best part, however, is the hilarious scouting report for each player listing a prospect’s strengths and weaknesses. The draft alone is worth checking out the franchise mode, and it is fascinating to see the rosters change over the years with old players being replaced by the generated rookies.
The other major offseason activity is the free agent hunt. Every team has the opportunity to re-sign their free agents before other teams have the chance to arrange a deal. This is not as easy as it sounds, because NBA Live 2000 introduces a point system that works similar to real life salaries, and a point cap that follows considerably fewer rules than the NBA’s salary cap, e.g. you can re-sign ANY free agent despite the cap. Like most people I would have preferred real salaries instead of a fictional point system, but I assume the NBA wouldn’t have that (these guys are taking themselves too seriously). This aside, free agency and the point/salary system have very realistic feel. The free agent deals the computer makes look plausible. However, for some reason, computer teams always have the chance to sign free agents before the user teams, and there are seldom any all-star-calibre players left for the user. Some free agents may also refuse to sign with your team, and you can’t bargain with them. The only option is to change the length of the contract – in case the player wants to sign at all.
Once a new season starts, you’ll notice that the older players’ ratings may have decreased while some of the younger players have improved their game. The game handles this really well, the results are very realistic, old players will eventually be benched, talented rookies become superstars etc.
Overall, the point cap adds a whole new strategic element to the game. Of course there is not as much to do as in your average football manager game, but the combination with the action part of the game can keep you playing for many weeks – if only I had the time to do so. Since franchise mode in NBA Live 2000 is a much simplified simulation of the real world, it also leaves a lot of details to be added in future versions of the game like 10-day contracts, the Bird exception, trading for draft picks, negotiating player contracts in detail etc. I’m really looking forward to NBA Live 2001 to see what it has to offer in this respect. No wait, I’ll likely have to convert patches again when Live 2001 is released, and I’m not looking forward to that.
Menus and videos
I really like the effect of players morphing and exploding and in the background. I’d like it even more if the menus were less of a nuisance. In Live 2000, they are as annoyingly slow as they were in Live 99, 98, 97 and as far as I remember 96 and 95. And in most arcade games. Like all the websites that use frames and Java.
And while I am slightly annoyed anyway, it seems that I still have to press ESC at tipoff and then turn on the “box out” option every time I play a game. The stats screens after a game still suck because of the small number of data that fits on the screen at once. But they do make me appreciate the box scores on CNN.com or ESPNet where I can view everything at once.
The game starts with a video that actually looks very decent. Shots of Kevin Garnett on a playground that turns into an NBA court. Only I wish the game wouldn’t start with that video every time I load it. While entertaining to watch once, it just makes my ESC key wear down faster than Oliver Miller’s seat on the Phoenix Suns’ team jet. There should be an option in the game not to load the video at the beginning.
One of the game’s funniest features in the lack of error messages, which leads to debugging, patchmaker style:
STEP 1: Create a patch and check if it works
STEP 2: Watch the game exit to Windoze (the only thing that can happen fast with these menus)
STEP 3: Bang head on keyboard repeatedly
STEP 4: Take a wild guess why the game crashed and fix a possible cause of the problem
STEP 5: Wait a minute until the game has re-loaded while pressing various buttons to skip various loading screens and videos.
STEP 6: See Step 2
(HINT: Experienced patchmakers combine steps 3 and 5 to save time)
I almost forgot to mention the new face-in-the-game feature that allows you to import photos into the game to make cyberfaces. Seems to work well, but you really need a good frontal photograph with a high resolution. It’s not a trivial task to make such a face, but not very hard to learn either. When done, you can combine your face with the new set of hairstyles, beards and accessoires that the game offers. The amount of different styles of facial hair has doubled, but the number of glasses, headwear and hairstyles has remained about the same. Sometimes it’s hard to find a hairstyle that fits the player you have in mind, especially for white players. But who cares when the game now features the huge Supa Afro to go with the Legends. Combine this with a handlebar for a beard and high socks, and the only thing you’ll miss is that red, white and blue ball.
Amazingly, I did not notice any serious bugs, which is kind of worrying because I can’t believe there aren’t any. Even the chances of all players except Danny Schayes suddenly being less than zero years old on New Year’s Day seem rather slim. Various people have reported problems with their respective graphic cards and joypads, but things work fine on my machine.
NBA Live 2000 is the best game of the NBA Live series so far and very impressive overall. The most important improvements are the addition of a point system and rookie draft in franchise mode, and the improved AI, especially the shot selection. The game has no serious weaknesses except maybe the hardware demands, but there is something to improve for next year’s game, like a more detailed implementation of franchise issues or further tweaking of the AI.