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The Friday Five: 5 Decisions for Retro Season Mods

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 breakdown of five decisions that have to be made when making retro season mods.

When I discovered the NLSC in August 1997 via an Altavista search – yes, before Googling was a thing! – I was enthralled by modding, or patching as it was called back then. As I’ve said before, the ability to give my created Michael Jordan actual bio data and edit the jersey numbers of original players was honestly mind-blowing. Like a lot of gamers, I’d tried to keep the rosters of my favourite game up to date, but the editors that our founders made opened up the possibility of creating detailed roster modifications and then sharing them with other people. I was hooked.

As the current roster update for NBA Live 96 also featured retro season rosters, I discovered that concept at the same time, and it likewise drew me in. I went on to create several current roster updates over the years, as well as a few retro season mods. With official updates handling the current rosters – quibbles with their quality aside – big retro projects are more in vogue these days. We’re seeing some fantastic retro rosters for recent NBA 2K titles, and I love it! Speaking from experience, there are a few decisions that you have to make when you’re preparing to make retro season mods, in order to have the best chance of success. Today, I’m outlining five of them.

1. Which Season To Create?

1996 is popular for Retro Season Mods

Obviously one of the first decisions one has to make when making retro season mods – basically right after “I’m going to make a retro season mod” – is which season you’re going to re-create. There are a few factors that come into play here. Personal nostalgia for a particular season usually plays a major role, as it’s a season that you’d like to play again using a more up to date game. The general appeal of a certain season is also a deciding factor. While most mod users will be appreciative of any well-made retro season roster, there are years in NBA history that stand out more than others, and their popularity is naturally going to sway our decisions one way or another.

Feasibility and workload are also important factors that drive our decisions when we plan retro season mods. Creating a retro mod involves a large overhaul of the roster, and usually requires many new players to be added. Of course, depending on the age of the game relative to the season you’re creating, and any historical content that it includes, you may not need as many new assets. If a game’s assets facilitate one year more than another, the season that requires the least new faces, courts, jerseys, etc, is going to offer the easier workload, and is more likely to be completed. So it goes for all roster projects. There are a lot of awesome ideas, but they’re not always feasible.

2. Opening Night or End of Season Roster?

1995 NBA Finals Re-Created in NBA 2K20

A current roster obviously has to be, well, current. Retro season mods offer much more flexibility as their results and rosters are static, requiring decisions to be made as to when they’re set. Technically this could be at any point in the season that they’re representing, though opening night and the end of the season are the most logical options. Setting a retro season mod on opening night is historically accurate for playing through a season, offering gamers the ability to write their own history on the virtual hardwood. On the other hand, it potentially misses out on trades and other lineup changes that shaped the outcome of the season, and the future of the NBA.

Conversely, setting retro season mods at the end of the year accounts for all the trades and other roster moves that occurred, but it’s historically inaccurate for teams to start a season with those lineups. For example, a 1995 season roster set on opening night won’t have Michael Jordan on the Bulls, whereas basing the roster on the end of the season will reflect his comeback. For that matter, do you give him #45 to distinguish it from other years, or #23 since he made the switch back by his final game? These are the decisions you have to make with retro season mods, and honestly, I’d say there’s no wrong choice. I myself used to opt for opening night, but now prefer final rosters.

3. Account for Down Years or Not?

David Robinson vs Shaquille O'Neal (NBA 2K20)

Current roster projects also demand that decisions be made about when to account for players having an off-year in their performance, but active player ratings are generally expected to fluctuate. Retro season mods are expected to have historical accuracy, but does that also mean nerfing ratings to account for a player having an unusually poor season, perhaps due to injury? On the surface, that would indeed seem necessary for historical accuracy and realism, but if it was a blip in a player’s career due to injury or other factors, it’s not a sign of a permanent decline in performance. It’s not as though their skills disappeared, especially if they’re back to their usual standard the next year.

Furthermore, if their poor overall performance that year was due to injury, gamers playing retro season mods should be allowed to make their own decisions on whether they want their experience to reflect that turn of events. Take a 1997 season roster, for example. David Robinson’s injury-plagued season produced stats that would suggest his ratings take a hit, but what if you want to rewrite history and play with a healthy ’97 Spurs team? If you’re using a retro roster for multi-season play, the nerfed ratings also don’t represent the subsequent bounce-back. Personally, I prefer not to drastically lower ratings based on a year that’s ultimately an anomaly, in current or retro rosters.

4. When To Make Allowances With Art Updates?

1999 is underrepresented in Retro Season Mods

I’m referring to a couple of related issues as it pertains to availability, and making allowances with any art updates required by a retro roster. The first issue concerns completion. Let’s say you’ve created a 1996 season mod, and about 90-95% of the players’ faces are accounted for. Would it matter if you didn’t have a proper face for Clint McDaniel, who appeared in just 12 games for the Sacramento Kings and didn’t ever play in the NBA after that season, forcing you to use a generic/placeholder face in the interim? The game, the number of faces required for lesser-known players, and the feasibility of them being created, all factor into your threshold for placeholders.

In addition to completion, there’s also accuracy. Most players tend to have different hairstyles (including facial hair) throughout their career, though many maintain a fairly similar look for a number of years. To that end, a specific face may be suitable for a number of retro season mods, if that player kept the same style for several years, or there were very minor differences. The same goes for small changes to jerseys. Say a team added numbers to their shorts or a slightly different trim to their jersey, but the design otherwise remained the same. For the purposes of Version 1 of a mod, “close enough” is good enough in my book. It can always be updated for better accuracy.

5. What To Do With Extra Teams?

Jason Williams dishes against Muggsy Bogues (NBA 2K20)

There are limitations to what we can do with retro season mods. We usually have to make do with inaccuracies such as missing or incorrect audio for teams and players, and league format. To that last point, as we go further back with retro season mods, we’ll eventually get to a time when there were fewer teams in the NBA. For example, anything earlier than the 2005 season will leave the 30th team spare. Through the 90s up until 1995, there were only 27 teams. On one hand, this means there are fewer players that need to be created. More importantly though, it’s going to mess up any season, franchise, and career modes that are coded for a set number of teams.

One of the decisions we have to make with those unused teams in retro season mods is how to deal with their presence, as removing them will usually cause those modes to crash. A common solution is to fill them with low-rated dummy players, and just advise gamers to simulate any games against them for what will usually be a free win. In games that allow the league to be customised to feature fewer teams, it’s possible to get more creative with them, since they won’t be a factor in season/franchise play. It still won’t look right when you’re scrolling through the rosters, but there are some things we just have to deal with when we’re making more ambitious roster projects.

Are you a creator or fan of retro season mods? Do these decisions factor into your process? Which is your favourite season to be re-created through modding? Let me know in the comments, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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