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Monday Tip-Off: Masking the Inner Workings of Gameplay

Clipping issues create canned moments that require better masking (NBA 2K19)

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with a few thoughts on a challenge that basketball titles are still facing: masking the inner workings of certain gameplay mechanics.

Game development isn’t easy. It’s something that is all too easy to forget when we’re grumbling and making snide remarks about a game we’re unhappy with. That’s not to say that we cannot and should not be critical, and then channel that into constructive feedback. After all, that’s how we can take an active role in the development of the games that we play. However, we do need to keep in mind that creating a realistic and enjoyable basketball game isn’t as simple as typing plain English into a file, and then saving it as a program. Unfortunately, coding just doesn’t work that way.

Indeed, there is a certain amount of trickery when it comes to designing video games. Like a magic act, various techniques are used to create illusions and cover up how it’s done. Of course, a magic trick is ruined if you spot wires, gimmicks, or the moves that make it happen. Similarly, the special effects in older movies can be very distracting, whether it’s the strings holding up puppets, or primitive CGI. The analogy here is that sometimes when we’re playing a basketball game such as NBA Live or NBA 2K, we can spot the strings, see through the sleight of hand, or notice the shortcomings in the special effects. Masking those tricks is an important challenge in future games.

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The Friday Five: 5 Ways the CPU Messes With You

The Friday Five

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five lists five ways that the CPU will mess with us in basketball video games.

As we all know, multiplayer gaming has its ups and downs. Whether it’s the pain of getting less than ideal teammates online, the frustration of encountering cheesers who spam exploits, or dealing with that one friend who takes things too far messing with you while you’re sitting on the same couch, there are times when you’d prefer to be enjoying single player gameplay. Of course, the single player/offline experience isn’t immune to such chicanery, as games will pull some dirty tricks in order to prevent you from beating them. CPU opponents in basketball games are no different.

To some extent, this is a necessary evil. As far as basketball games have come, they still have limitations. Gameplay is now more realistic with CPU opponents that are bolstered by AI that is smarter, but it still can’t match the creativity and cleverness of a human brain. Tilting a few aspects of the game in the CPU’s favour and including comeback mechanics allows it to be competitive and challenging, though can feel like artificial difficulty. There are also moments that are more benign and don’t necessarily stand in the way of winning, but nevertheless feel like the CPU is messing with us. Here are five examples of the CPU thumbing its nose at us on the virtual hardwood.

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The Friday Five: Top 5 Positives and Negatives in NBA 2K19

The Friday Five

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is another double countdown, this time featuring the Top 5 Positives and Top 5 Negatives in NBA 2K19.

My full reviews for NBA Live 19 and NBA 2K19 will be out shortly, but before then, I wanted to offer up some more of my initial impressions of this year’s games. This time I’m talking about the latest offering from Visual Concepts, NBA 2K19. After really enjoying NBA 2K17, I was quite disappointed with NBA 2K18. It wasn’t just the unapologetically greedy approach to microtransactions and the brutal grind, either. I just didn’t enjoy the gameplay experience, and thus shelved NBA 2K18 much earlier than previous games, firing it up only to get screenshots for articles.

In a nutshell, I felt that NBA 2K18 was a surprising regression for the NBA 2K series, uncharacteristically stumbling off course. Is NBA 2K19 heading back in the right direction? In some respects, yes, but there are some key areas of concern, and design choices that I’m disappointed in. The team at Visual Concepts clearly did learn a few lessons from last year’s game however, and took gamer feedback to heart. With that in mind, NBA 2K19 is – as quite a few people have put it – the game that we should’ve received last year. At the same time, it’s not entirely the game that I was hoping for this year. Let’s take a look at the Top 5 Positives and Negatives, at least as I see them.

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Wayback Wednesday: The Legend of Jackson Ellis

Jackson Ellis in NBA 2K19

This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at the virtual career of Jackson Ellis in NBA 2K, and the legend that it has spawned over six games.

Minor spoiler alert: in NBA 2K19’s MyCAREER mode, Jackson Ellis makes a return to the virtual hardwood. One of the most memorable characters in basketball video games, this year he enjoyed his most prominent role since NBA 2K14, when he was introduced as the rival of your MyPLAYER. Not only has Ellis resonated with NBA 2K gamers, he’s clearly a favourite of the development team as well. Even though he’s only stepped onto the court in a couple of titles, he’s appeared or been referenced in every MyCAREER mode on the current generation.

So what’s the story behind the infamously brash and outspoken Jackson Ellis? Well, the exact story differs for each of us, but in broad strokes, Visual Concepts has been weaving a subplot with Ellis over the past six years. To appreciate the Legend of Jackson Ellis, we need to return to where it all began in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version of NBA 2K14. To that end, let’s go back…way back…

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NBA 2K19 Gameplay Blog & MyCAREER Video

NBA 2K19 On The Fly Coaching

NBA 2K19 will be in our hands very soon, but there are still some things to learn before this year’s game drops. After what was seemingly an unintentional post yesterday, a gameplay blog by the one and only Da_Czar is now officially live.

The blog goes into great detail about enhancements to playcalling and AI in NBA 2K19. Key points on the user side of things include the new playcalling visuals, the revamped On The Fly Coaching menu, and dynamic plays for specific players. You may have already noticed some of these elements if you played through a 2KU game in The Prelude.

On the AI side of things, Da_Czar talks about improvements to play distribution/variation, recognition of mismatches, pick and roll switching, transition offense, double team logic, and freelance offense. He also includes several videos demonstrating the improvements to playcalling and AI on both sides of the ball. Be sure to give it a read for the full scoop!

Meanwhile, Chris Smoove has posted a video providing a comprehensive breakdown of MyCAREER in NBA 2K19. It offers up a wealth of information on MyPOINTS, player progression, contract negotiations, endorsements and VC earnings, career objectives, and more. Watch it below, or catch it here on YouTube.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, as well as join in the discussion here in the NBA 2K19 section of the NLSC Forum!

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The Friday Five: 5 Underrated Improvements in Basketball Games

The Friday Five

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a list of five often underrated improvements in basketball games.

The preview season is almost over, with NBA Live 19 and NBA 2K19 coming out next week (or the week after, in the case of NBA 2K19’s Standard Edition). For those of us who are picking up this year’s basketball games, we’re naturally hoping that they will provide us with a lot of fun and fulfilling experiences on the virtual hardwood over the course of the next twelve months. From returning features to new modes and content, hopefully we’ll see a satisfactory number of improvements that make all of the anticipation worthwhile.

Of course, when we’ve been buying the newest basketball games every year, many of the improvements can feel rather incremental. It’s not until we go back and play the previous game, or maybe a game from a few years back, that we really recognise and appreciate some of the improvements that have been made. Although there are older games that do still hold up, the further back we go, the more we can see just how far basketball games have come. Some of those improvements are certainly easy to take for granted, so for this week’s Friday Five, I’m taking a look at five improvements in basketball games that tend to be somewhat underrated.

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Latest NBA Live 19 Details & Cover Reveal Trailer

NBA Live 19: Joel Embiid in The Streets

GameStop’s pre-order listing for NBA Live 19 has revealed some new details about the game. There will be a new commentary team of Ed Cohen and Jay Williams, with new dialogue being added throughout the season. The story in The One will apparently begin in high school, and Big Moments return as part of The League.

There will also be a handful of in-game pre-order bonuses, based around cover player Joel Embiid. These include signature shoes, a jersey, a custom court, and more. See below for all the info that’s been revealed by GameStop’s store listing.

Speaking of Joel Embiid, a cover reveal trailer has also been released. ThaLiveKing posted several high resolution screenshots from the trailer in our Forum. You can watch the trailer below, as well as check out all of the screenshots.

Finally, Gaming Trend recently spoke with NBA Live 19 Creative Director Connor Dougan. Connor discussed some of the key improvements and new features in this year’s game, from Real Player Motion technology and dynamic AI to clothing and the player progression system in The One.

As always, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below, as well as join in the discussion in the NBA Live 19 section of the NLSC Forum!

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NBA Live 19 Info, Screenshots, & Preliminary Features List

NBA Live 19: Squad

With the trailer giving us our first glimpse of NBA Live 19 in action, we also have some initial details about the game. The official website has posted several informative articles, and media outlets such as SBNation and The Undefeated are also providing an insight into what’s new.

There’s a lot to digest from the articles, and I encourage you to read them in full, but I’ll summarise them as best I can. This year, we’ll be able to build a squad of current and former NBA players, while competing for rank and rewards. The One has been revamped with a new progression system, with Icon abilities based on real players past and present. This works independently of the Playstyles, Traits, and so forth, which are still in effect. A new story has also been implemented this year.

On top of that, The One has gone global in NBA Live 19, with The Streets World Tour. This involves playing on courts from around the world, and recruiting players for your squad. A new narrative system has been added to The League, for those who prefer the NBA side of things. There are also more hairstyles, tattoos, and other player creation elements.

Gameplay has also been a focus this year. Real Player Motion technology has been implemented to improve player movement and animations. This includes a lot of signature player animations compared to recent years. Right stick dribbling remains, but has been enhanced. There are new triple-threat moves, and one-on-one play has been improved at both ends, including playing off-ball. New AI also focuses on bringing more realism and dynamic play to NBA Live 19.

Finally, there will be a demo again this year. We’ll be able to download it on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on August 24th, ahead of the September 7th release.

The official NBA Live website has also provided us with a handful of screenshots, and a preliminary features list. Be sure to check them out below. What are your thoughts on what we’ve learned about NBA Live 19 so far? Have your say in the comments section below, and join in the discussion taking place in the newly opened NBA Live 19 section of the NLSC Forum!

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New NBA 2K18 Gameplay Blog by Da_Czar

NBA 2K18: Dynamic Play Menu

Our friends over at Operation Sports have posted another exclusive NBA 2K18 developer blog, this time from the one and only Da_Czar. Following on from Scott O’Gallagher’s blog, Da_Czar discusses offensive tendencies, AI execution, and player motion in this year’s game. Once again, it’s difficult to summarise such an in-depth blog and do it justice, but here are some of the key points:

  • Playcalling and substitutions have been moved from the right stick back to the buttons. Left on the D-Pad will bring up the Dynamic Play Menu, where you can toggle through different sets and make your selection by pressing the appropriate button. Right on the D-Pad will bring up gameplan items, which you can also cycle through and then select using the face buttons. Up on the D-Pad calls a Smart Play, while Down on the D-Pad brings up the on-the-fly substitution menu.
  • NBA 2K18 will feature situational tendencies, so that players make realistic decisions based on where they get the ball and the current situation, including the quality of defender that they’re facing. Elite scorers will break plays if they believe they have an opportunity to score against their current match-up.
  • Several improvements have been made to the way AI players execute offensively, such as spotting up or cutting to the basket in transition, as well as their awareness of mismatches, numbers advantages, and defender positioning.
  • The new motion engine improves player movement, allowing seamless changes in direction and avoiding a feeling of getting stuck in animations.
  • There will be a noticeable difference in tempo between teams, according to real life data.

Be sure to check out the blog over on OS for the full scoop, as well as several screenshots and video clips that demonstrate what Da_Czar is talking about. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, as well as join in the discussion in our NBA 2K18 Forum.

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NBA 2K18 AI Improvements Blog; MyNBA2K18 Cover Announced

NBA 2K18: System Proficiency

A new developer blog for NBA 2K18 has been posted exclusively over at Operation Sports. The latest insight is from Scott O’Gallagher, with OG breaking down the improvements to artificial intelligence in this year’s game. It’s a lengthy read with some great news and detailed information, and as such, it’s hard to do it justice with a quick summary. However, here are some of the key points that Scott touches upon:

  • The Adaptive Coaching Engine has received a lot of attention, in order to weed out flaws from previous games.
  • Positioning is improved, with players being more aware of the situation. Players will also recognise sets and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Elite defenders have much better awareness. However, if an AI player can’t see the ball (i.e. has their back to the play), they will make errors and be slower to react with help defense.
  • More team specific defensive schemes have been added, there are new animations for double teams, rotations and help angles are improved, and there are better mismatch adjustments.
  • Zone defense is feasible in 2K Pro-Am without taking a hit to your teammate grade.
  • Authenticity is optimised for Superstar and Hall of Fame difficulty levels.
  • There is a Defensive Communication setting that when enabled, instructs you on what you’re supposed to do defensively.
  • System Proficiency, which will affect all modes in NBA 2K18, emphasises the importance of matching the right players with the right coach and sets. This affects team building strategies in MyLEAGUE/MyGM and MyTEAM, as well as the on-court experience.

Scott has also included a bunch of brief gameplay clips that demonstrate exactly what he’s talking about. Be sure to check out the blog on OS for the full scoop!

2K have also revealed the cover player for MyNBA2K18, the companion app for NBA 2K18. This year’s cover player is Kristaps Porzingas of the New York Knicks; see below for the cover art. MyNBA2K18 is set for release on September 7th, just in time for this year’s Prelude on September 8th.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, as well as in the NBA 2K18 section of the NLSC Forum!

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Monday Tip-Off: The Mixed Bag of CPU Teammates in 2K Pro-Am

Tip-Off in NBA 2K17's 2K Pro-Am

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with a few thoughts on the quality of CPU-controlled teammates in NBA 2K17’s 2K Pro-Am.

As the artificial intelligence in basketball video games has become more sophisticated, CPU-controlled teammates have thankfully become much more reliable. That’s not to say that there aren’t any frustrating moments where they seemingly forget how to play basketball, but compared to early hoops titles, there’s less of a need to frantically switch control of players and take charge of everything yourself. Needless to say, if you’re locked to controlling a single player – as is the basis of modes such as MyCAREER and 2K Pro-Am – it’s even more important that CPU-controlled teammates are competent.

Barring a connection problem, you’ll never start a game of 2K Pro-Am with more than two AI players. If you consistently run with a full squad of five players, they’ll seldom be an issue at all unless someone fouls out, or is booted due to a low teammate grade. However, if you frequently jump online to play 2K Pro-Am, chances are you’ll deal with a CPU-controlled teammate at some point. It’s at that point you’ll discover that although AI in basketball games has come a long way, the quality of your CPU teammates is still very much a mixed bag.

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