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 artistic choices in basketball video games that proved to be divisive.
It’s likely that at some point, you’ve heard the fable of “The miller, his son, and the donkey.” It’s the go-to fable whenever you want to illustrate that you can’t please everyone; or, to use the wording of the moral that’s appended to certain versions of the fable, “if you try to please all, you please none.” The fable is talking about actions, but the message holds true for art and entertainment as well. Whether it’s a video game, tabletop game, film, TV series (or an individual episode thereof), album, song, poem, drawing, painting, or whatever…nothing receives universal acclaim.
After all, it’s impossible for a single work to cater to everyone’s individual taste with its artistic choices. Of course, some artistic choices tend to evoke more extreme responses and opinions than others. They’re the proverbial “love it or hate it” artistic choices, with very little in between. It’s also interesting that some of the most divisive aspects of basketball games are generally inconsequential artistic choices that don’t inhibit the core gameplay experience. Atmosphere is still important though, and a gaudy art style can be off-putting. With that in mind, here are five of the most divisive artistic choices that we’ve seen in various aspects of basketball video games.
1. NBA Live 2003’s Courtside Comedy Cutscenes
You know, NBA Live 2003 is a divisive game in general. For those of us who had been playing the NBA Live series for a while, despite the innovation of Freestyle Control, it generally wasn’t the realistic sim game that we were hoping for. On the other hand, for people whose first game was NBA Live 2003 – as well as those who didn’t mind the more arcade-like direction – their memories of it tend to be far more positive. It’s not just the style of gameplay that is divisive though, but also the artistic choices as far as its tone. Yes, I’m talking about the “Courtside Comedy Cutscenes” that were part of the game’s uncharacteristically light-hearted presentation.
Named for an old NBA home video that spotlighted some of the lighter moments in the league from bloopers to other antics, the Courtside Comedy Cutscenes involved players pulling pranks on the coach, messing around with the camera man, stealing the ball from the referee before tip-off, and so on. Harmless fun, but not necessarily the right tone for a sim game. As such, simheads tended not to be fans of them, and were not sorry to see them removed in NBA Live 2004. Some gamers thought they were one of the best parts of NBA Live 2003 though, and recall them fondly. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that they’re memorable…and hilariously inaccurate.
2. NBA 2K13’s Menus by Jay-Z
I’ve covered some of Jay-Z’s contributions to basketball gaming in a couple of my Wayback Wednesday articles. Not many people remember that he was unlockable in NBA Live 07 on Xbox 360, if you bought a pair of S. Carter Basketball IV shoes and then punched in the code that came with them. That stands to reason, seeing as how it was a promotion for a game that was poorly received, involving shoes that didn’t sell well. Conversely, far more gamers remember that Jay-Z was an executive producer on NBA 2K13. Needless to say, he wasn’t given complete control over the gameplay or modes, but his role did allow him to make several artistic choices for the game.
Specifically, Jay-Z curated the soundtrack for NBA 2K13, and was given creative control over several visual elements of the game, including the menus. The choices he made here were…well, once again, divisive. Jay-Z is obviously very popular, so many of the songs he chose – which naturally included a few of his own tracks – were liked by several gamers. Many others definitely weren’t fans, though. Most gamers could agree that the style he chose for the menus was rather gaudy, but opinion was still split between gamers who liked it – well, tolerated it at least – and those who thought it was one of the worst frontends a basketball game ever had, and a huge detriment.
3. NBA Live 2005’s Lighting Effects
Most gamers who grew up with NBA Live tend to agree that NBA Live 2005 is one of the best games in the series. While I disagree that it’s the last great NBA Live game – I’d say that honour belongs to NBA Live 06 PC – I still hold NBA Live 2005 in very high regard as one of the absolute best titles in EA Sports’ long-running series. It’s not perfect, but it did include several improvements over its predecessor. It continued to build upon Dynasty mode and 10-Man Freestyle, added new animations and the All-Star Weekend, and featured some of the best rim sound effects to that point. It also made a significant leap in graphics, with better faces, models, jerseys, and courts.
However, if we’re going to talk about NBA Live 2005’s aesthetic, we can’t skip over its unique lighting effects. NBA Live 2005 was much darker than previous games, with players having a slight glow around them. It was much more noticeable in the lighting during pre-game introductions as well as the new Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point Shootout, but it’s still present in regular gameplay as well. The general opinion is that it didn’t look quite right, leading to lighting mods for the game, and a change of direction in NBA Live 06. Some people did seem to like it though, perhaps because it was so unique. The overall quality of NBA Live 2005 probably helped, too.
4. NBA Live 07’s Player Introductions (Xbox 360)
There were a lot of problems with the Xbox 360 versions of NBA Live 06 and NBA Live 07, but most gamers at the time agreed that they looked pretty good. The sweat effects were definitely “Next Gen” – which is probably one of the reasons why sweat has become such a point of emphasis every time a new generation launches – and there was a noticeable jump in aesthetics across the board. The developers clearly wanted to get creative with the game’s concepts and artistic choices, which led to features such as The Temple. It also led to a new approach to player introductions that was very different to the cutscenes that we saw on PC and the previous generation.
For the most part, the player introductions in NBA Live 07 aped what we’d see during a real game: the starters getting up off the bench as their name was called, high-fiving their teammates as they ran out onto the court. However, there was a freeze-frame effect as their name and the icon for their Freestyle Superstars type (when applicable) was displayed. It didn’t look bad, and I know that there were gamers that thought it looked cool, but others – and I include myself here – felt that it was a bit unrealistic; too video game-like when we would’ve preferred more authentic presentation. By NBA Live 09, that effect had been dropped. Personally, I’d say that was for the best.
5. NBA 2K18’s MyCAREER Story
Alright, so it’s one thing to make a divisive choice with the menu art, lighting effects, and certain cutscenes. How about the tone of an entire MyCAREER story? Many gamers consider the story in NBA 2K18’s MyCAREER to be one of the weirdest and worst that we’ve seen, but I have seen people speak up in its defense. Even though I’m in the camp that rates it as one of the worst stories because of its implausibility and annoying characters, there are people who enjoy it for those reasons, and I can see where they’re coming from. It’s unquestionably very different to the usual tale that’s told in MyCAREER, and it’s safe to say they were aiming for humour over drama.
In fact, let’s be really honest here: the truly divisive artistic choice here, the real “love it or hate it” element of NBA 2K18’s MyCAREER story, is B-Fresh. It’s probably safe to say that a majority of gamers didn’t like her – a developer blog for NBA 2K19 went out of its way to mention that she wouldn’t be appearing in your MyCOURT – but it wouldn’t be accurate to say that absolutely no one found her amusing or entertaining. To that end, she makes a cameo in the G League path in NBA 2K21’s MyCAREER story, “The Long Shadow”. With that being said, few are clamouring for another story about a player who decides to return to basketball after quitting hoops to be a DJ.
What’s your opinion on these divisive artistic choices? What are some other “love it or hate it” styles or concepts that spring to mind for you? Have your say in the comments below, 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.