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NLSC Podcast #285: A Decade of Dominance for NBA 2K

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Episode #285 of the NLSC Podcast is out now! This week, Arcane and I are discussing how NBA 2K has now enjoyed a decade of dominance in the basketball gaming genre.

Since overtaking NBA Live in sales beginning with the 2009 season releases, NBA 2K has secured its place as the dominant brand in basketball gaming for over a decade. We reflect on how NBA 2K’s journey has differed from that of NBA Live, and the way that journey has accounted for its continued quality, popularity, and financial success. At the same time, while NBA 2K’s success has ultimately been great for basketball gaming, there have been downsides to its dominance. We discuss where the game is headed, and name our favourite NBA 2K titles from the past decade.

Tune in below!

What are your thoughts on NBA 2K’s Decade of Dominance? Sound off in the comments section below, or join in the discussion here in the Forum! Additionally, feel free to hit us up with any feedback on the episode, as well as suggestions for topics that you’d like to hear us discuss in future episodes. For more information on the NLSC Podcast including episode guides, check out this page in our Wiki.

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The Friday Five: 5 Toxic Behaviours of Online Basketball Gamers

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 discusses five toxic behaviours that are all too frequently encountered in online basketball gaming.

If I’m being completely honest, I haven’t had a whole lot of fun playing NBA Live or NBA 2K online this year. I have taken part in some very enjoyable games, and that’s kept me from giving up on the online modes altogether, but it’s felt like the experience has taken another step backwards. The lack of deep matchmaking and proper balance, gatekeeping measures such as requiring five users per side in Pro-Am, and increased focus on meta-gaming, have made online play a lot less fun in NBA 2K. Meanwhile, input lag and other gameplay issues have afflicted NBA Live’s online experience.

It’s not just issues with modes and mechanics, however. We gamers also bear much of the responsibility here, as there is a lot of toxicity among those who like to play NBA 2K and NBA Live online. I’ve discussed toxic behaviour in the community before, and since writing that Monday Tip-Off article, the situation hasn’t improved. Various aspects of the games do cultivate a toxic atmosphere and attitudes, as evident by other online gaming communities that are friendlier or more sporting, but ultimately we’re responsible for our own actions. To that end, curbing these five toxic behaviours will require a combination of changes to the games, and improvements in our attitudes.

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Monday Tip-Off: The Unexpected on the Virtual Hardwood

Kawhi Leonard dunks in 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 how it’s difficult to implement the realism of unexpected moments in basketball games, without them coming across as contrived.

It’s been quite an eventful twenty-four hours. With its final episode airing next week, Game of Thrones fans (of which I’m one) have experienced a major development that isn’t entirely unexpected, but unquestionably impactful (to say nothing of divisive). At the same time, two Game 7s concluded the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets in a close contest, while the series between the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers was even more dramatic, ending on Kawhi Leonard’s incredible gamewinning shot.

While I’d normally advocate for letting the dust settle before we proclaim anyone or anything to be among the greatest ever, Leonard’s jumper that seemingly touched every part of the rim before dropping in has to be considered an instant classic. No matter what happens with the Raptors this year, that amazing shot that had everyone holding their breath has secured its place among the great gamewinning buckets in NBA Playoffs history. It’s the kind of excitement that we want to see in the real NBA and on the virtual hardwood alike, but it’s difficult to achieve the latter in a way that feels satisfactory. In video games, the reality of the unexpected often feels unrealistic.

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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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Wayback Wednesday: The Little Things That I Miss

Unlockable Developers in NBA Live 98

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 some of the little things in old basketball games that I miss.

In 2019, we have an interesting relationship with nostalgia. It’s popular to indulge in it, but in recent years, there’s also been a significant backlash against reminiscing about the past and holding it in high esteem. The argument is often distilled into “old heads that can’t get over their nostalgia filter” vs “clueless kids who don’t understand the concept of recency bias“. The conversation is further muddied when it comes to video games, because advances in technology have undeniably led to improvements over the years. Of course, there have also been undesirable changes and missteps.

These Wayback Wednesday features are obviously about celebrating nostalgia, but I also feel it’s important to appraise how well games and their mechanics hold up, as well as make comparisons to other titles from the same era. I have a lot of fun doing that, and it’s always interesting to revisit old favourites. It’s given me an appreciation of ideas that were ahead of their time, and how far basketball video games have come. There are things that are best left in the past, but I’ve also encountered a lot of little things that I miss, and that’s what I’m discussing today. Let’s take a look back…way back…

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The Friday Five: 5 Things That Ruin Presentation

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 things that ruin the presentation in basketball games.

Over the past decade or so, presentation in basketball games has gone from strength to strength. EA Sports’ licensing agreement with ESPN has brought in-depth recreations of the network’s NBA broadcasts to NBA Live, from the commentary team to all of the wipes and overlays. Although NBA 2K currently uses “NBA on 2K” branding, its presentation closely mimics that of the NBA on TNT. In the NBA’s Greatest mode in NBA 2K12, 2K achieved historically accurate presentation for each era represented in the challenges, via some very impressive audio and visual effects.

Unfortunately, for all of the great things that basketball games have done with their presentation, there are still a few nagging issues that can detract from the experience. These include annoying visual elements, distracting inaccuracies, moments that break the immersion, oversights, and persistent design flaws. It may sound melodramatic to say that these things completely ruin the presentation as they don’t render the games totally unenjoyable, but considering that some of them should be easy to address, they are nevertheless prominent annoyances. Call some of them nitpicks if you like, but I do believe that avoiding these pitfalls would improve the presentation in Live and 2K.

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Monday Tip-Off: Are Basketball Gamers Still Sim?

NBA 2K has been drifting from the sim style

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 whether or not basketball gamers are still in favour of sim gameplay and game modes.

For many years, we basketball gamers would talk about how we wanted to see the five-on-five games become more realistic. As technology improved, we saw a steady and pleasing increase in the level of simulation basketball, with NBA 2K in particular achieving some fantastic results in developing sim gameplay. Sim gameplay is what we always emphasised in our Wishlists, and the cause was likewise championed by Da_Czar, the President of Sim Nation who now puts his knowledge and enthusiasm for realistic virtual basketball to use as a developer on the NBA 2K team.

However, despite the influence of Da_Czar, as well as other sim-oriented developers such as Scott O’Gallagher and Gameplay Director Mike Wang, NBA 2K has been drifting towards a more casual style. The change is definitely not due to a lack of knowledge, dedication, talent, or resources, as we’ve seen what NBA 2K is capable of in terms of being an outstanding basketball sim. NBA Live, despite having its roots in a sim style, has also been focusing more on the streetball side of things in The One. These changes in style are obviously being done to appease the core demographic. As such, it’s not just about whether or not the games are sim, but if we gamers are, too.

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Monday Tip-Off: The Annual Return to Square One

Starting a new MyCAREER in 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 look at one of the biggest problems in basketball gaming: the annual return to square one.

Being that I’m a content creator within the basketball gaming community, I have an obligation to pick up the new games every year. Of course, the whole reason that I create content for basketball games is that I have a keen interest in the genre, so even if I wasn’t running the NLSC, I’m sure that I’d be buying them every year anyway; it’s not just content creators that are getting the games on an annual basis, after all. NBA 2K in particular continues to sell an impressive number of copies year in and year out, due to loyal gamers making an annual investment in the brand.

As a community, we do this because we generally get enjoyment out of the games. We want to be able to play in the current NBA season with up to date rosters, enjoy new content in the team building and career modes, and reap all the other benefits that the annual releases have to offer. However, there are drawbacks to the games coming out annually, with one issue in particular being guaranteed. Even if we put aside the possibility of a new game being inferior to its predecessor, even if we like the latest game just as much or better than the one that came before it, there’s no getting around the fact that we lose all of our progress when we go back to square one every year.

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Monday Tip-Off: Music in Basketball Video Games

NBA Live 19 Mixtape

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 role that music plays in the basketball gaming experience.

One of the most recent patches for NBA Live 19 added a new song featuring Jadakiss, further demonstrating that all kinds of new content can be added post-release these days. Reactions to the new song can basically be broken up into three main responses. If you dig the track, it’s cool to see and hear it in the game. If it’s not your sound, you might grumble about the lack of “real music” among the tracks. If you don’t have any strong feelings about the song, you’ll likely be largely indifferent, except perhaps for some frustration that it didn’t constitute a more significant addition or update.

For most basketball gamers, the soundtrack ultimately doesn’t make or break a title. The action on the virtual hardwood is of much greater importance; you can always mute the soundtrack and put on your own music, but you can’t always find a way to enjoy the experience when there are significant gameplay flaws, or the modes are lacking. Nevertheless, in its own way, music has been an important part of basketball gaming over the years. It’s easy to think of it as nothing but background noise, but it does subtly influence our opinions of games, and shapes our nostalgia for them. In some cases, it can even affect us beyond our view of the games themselves.

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Second Annual March Modness Is Underway

NLSC March Modness

March Modness is back for 2019! I liked the idea of last year’s event and was glad to see people in the community getting involved, so this is the next step in making it an annual event.

Basically, March Modness is both a celebration of modding, and a giveaway. In addition to our usual File Additions bulletins and spotlighting any big releases that come out during the month of March, contributors to our Downloads section will have a chance to win a copy of either NBA Live 20 or NBA 2K20 later this year, just by releasing their work.

To enter, all you need to do is release a mod and upload it to our Downloads section during the month of March 2019, with “March Modness” in the description. The mod may be for any PC version of NBA Live or NBA 2K, but it must be your own work and remain hosted in our Downloads section. Please see below for the full terms and conditions of entry, and good luck!

Once again, I’ll be getting into the spirit myself with a few releases. There are some projects that I’m working on that have been taking longer than anticipated, but I’ll be doing my best to get at least a couple of them out this month. Stay tuned for more details, and hopefully some great releases throughout our second annual March Modness!

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Monday Tip-Off: Online vs. Offline in Basketball Gaming

Playing online in LIVE Run (NBA Live 19)

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 divide between online and offline enthusiasts within the basketball gaming community, and how it’s affecting the development of hoops titles.

By definition, fanatics are not always logical, with measured, reasonable opinions. It’s a rare fanbase that doesn’t have some sort of schism, if not a multitude of factions that hold differing opinions. I touched on one such example in last week’s feature, noting that there’s often dissonance when it comes to younger gamers, and those who have been playing basketball games for a long time (in some cases, more than a couple of decades). There are a lot of things that most basketball gamers want and can agree on, but also some very different ideas about features, identity, and overall direction.

The most noticeable schism within the basketball gaming community would have to be between online and offline gamers. The rise of online gaming in general, and the expansion of multiplayer modes in basketball games specifically, has led to a faction of hoops gamers who play exclusively online, with little interest in the offline modes. At the same time, there are a lot of gamers who prefer the single player experience. In the middle of the Venn diagram are gamers who play both online and offline to some extent, sitting in the crossfire of two passionate factions who are not only taking shots at developers, but also each other. Unfortunately, it makes us a hard group to please.

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Wayback Wednesday: Cheat Codes in Basketball Video Games

Menu for Cheat Codes in NBA 2K13

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 some of the cheat codes that were featured in older basketball games.

When it comes to video game nostalgia, a feature that many of us old school gamers remember fondly is the cheat code. These days, accelerating progress in most games comes down to pay-to-win mechanics, but once upon a time, we used cheat codes in the form of passwords and button combinations. While cheat codes aren’t completely outmoded, they seem to be far less common than they once were. In basketball games, they’ve generally been phased out over the past generation or so.

It’s kind of a shame. While they aren’t necessary – especially in sim games – they were often fun ways of altering the gameplay experience, and hid some cool secrets. Some games used them to unlock new content with the codes being revealed at some point post-launch; something of a precursor to the content updates we now see. There have been quite a few memorable cheat codes in basketball video games over the years, so let’s take a look back…way back…

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Monday Tip-Off: NBA Live’s Identity & Longevity

Cherashore Tournament in The Streets World Tour (NBA Live 19)

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 my thoughts on how NBA Live needs to establish its identity, and deliver an experience with greater longevity.

There seems to be somewhat of a divide and a notable amount of unrest among NBA Live gamers at the moment. At a time when we should be consolidating out feedback – obligatory cheap plug for our NBA Live 20 Wishlist – there’s a lot of argument about the future of the series. Many gamers are expressing concerns and frustration, while others are arguing that we must all be supportive and, to borrow a slogan, trust the process. Both sides have a point and are coming from a good place, though I do find myself agreeing more with the former group.

That’s probably because the group that’s most frustrated tend to be gamers my age. We remember a time when NBA Live was the dominant brand in 5v5 sim-oriented NBA games, and all the things that made it successful. Needless to say, that’s led to a bit of sneering at us allegedly out of touch “old heads”; a term that’s quickly come to highlight the toxicity in today’s basketball gaming community. At the same time, it is certainly easy to get caught up in the past, and we do need to have some patience, but it’s getting tougher for a lot of NBA Live loyalists to remain patient. Ultimately, NBA Live needs to forge an appealing identity that results in longevity and a deeper game.

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The Friday Five: 5 Ideas NBA 2K Should Borrow from NBA Live

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 discusses five ideas that NBA 2K should borrow from NBA Live.

The time has come to compile and finalise our Wishlist for NBA 2K20, and send it off to the development team at Visual Concepts as soon as possible. While NBA 2K is currently a very deep and successful NBA sim, I would suggest that most basketball gamers would agree that there’s still room for improvement. This includes polishing up existing features and addressing some gameplay concerns, but as far as changing concepts and approaches, or implementing new features, I do believe that NBA Live has some ideas that NBA 2K could borrow.

A lot of people may scoff at that and dismiss the notion out of hand. After all, when you’re the premier product, you lead; you don’t follow. However, even though NBA 2K is undisputedly the brand leader and NBA Live continues to rebuild after many rough years, EA Sports’ long-running hoops title has featured some really good ideas, even as it’s struggled to make a dent in NBA 2K’s sales. Great as it is, there are some aspects of NBA 2K that feel dated or problematic, and some of the solutions may lie in NBA Live’s approach to those features. 2K has borrowed from NBA Live before – right stick dribbling being a prime example – and it could stand to do so again.

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Monday Tip-Off: What Actually Ruins Basketball Video Games?

Victor Oladipo in 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 the matter of what actually ruins basketball video games, and what are really more minor gripes.

Having been a part of the online basketball gaming community for over twenty years and admin of the NLSC for going on eighteen, I’ve both seen and taken part in some spirited discussions about the hobby. Our conversations about basketball video games have run the gamut from excitedly positive to furiously negative, depending on the issue and the quality of any given title. Given that we all have different tastes and expectations of basketball video games, our opinions will differ when it comes what will ruin our experience on the virtual hardwood. That’s fine, and to be encouraged!

Of course, it’s easy to exaggerate, especially when a pet peeve is involved. I recall one Forum member fuming over the use of the word “City” on the team statistics menu in NBA Live 2001. As they correctly pointed out, teams such as the Warriors, Jazz, and Pacers all take their names from their state rather than their city, making that label inaccurate. It’s a valid point, but a minor detail that was correct for most of the teams, and a criticism that paled in comparison with other issues in NBA Live 2001. Such issues are worth pointing out, but as we compile our Wishlists, it’s important that we prioritise problems that can ruin basketball video games, ahead of minor annoyances.

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