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 ideas that future basketball games should consider borrowing from titles in other genres.
Basketball games, like all sports titles, differ from other genres of video games when it comes to their nuances and our expectations. In many video games, there are several breaks from reality that are not only acceptable, but desirable. The lack of realism in specific aspects of gameplay doesn’t break our sense of immersion the same way it will in a game that is attempting to accurately depict a sport. To that end, certain features, functions, and concepts that we find in other genres of video games aren’t necessarily a good fit in basketball titles.
At the same time, while Da_Czar’s famous catchphrase of “Don’t play video games; play basketball!” is a great philosophy for developers and basketball gamers alike, the fact remains that basketball games are still video games. There are aspects of real life, such as commercial breaks, that they don’t need to replicate. Similarly, there are good ideas for features, functions, and even content that can be utilised by a wide variety of genres. Even though the concepts aren’t basketball-centric in and of themselves, they could still greatly enhance future NBA Live and NBA 2K releases. Here are five such ideas that basketball games could stand to borrow and make their own.
1. Fast Travel (Fallout)
For the moment, this suggestion really only applies to NBA 2K, unless NBA Live ends up implementing an open world setting in future releases (which personally, I hope they don’t). Although NBA 2K19 has streamlined the Neighborhood somewhat, as a MyCAREER hub it’s still less convenient than the old approach of loading into MyCOURT and accessing features and connected modes through the menus. Look, if you enjoy running around the Neighborhood, that’s fine, but I find it quite boring and a waste of time. Not only does it take a lot longer to do what you need to do, but once you’ve seen everything, that’s it. It’s not like it’s an exciting game world to explore.
There are game worlds that I have really enjoyed exploring though, such as Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland, Fallout: New Vegas’ Mojave Wasteland, and the Commonwealth in Fallout 4. Even so, there are times when I don’t feel like trekking across the map to get to a location that I’ve already discovered, and that’s when the games’ Fast Travel mechanics come in handy. Ideally I’d prefer to have a menu that allows me to skip traversing NBA 2K’s Neighborhood altogether, but if 2K wanted to make a game out of it and require us to travel to all the locations at least once in order to immediately jump to them in the future (a la Fallout’s Fast Travel), I’d also be fine with that.
2. Showcase Mode (WWE 2K)
In all fairness, this is a concept that basketball games have helped pioneer, with modes such as NBA’s Greatest in NBA 2K12. However, it’s been missing for years, and with their increased historical content and production values, the WWE games have done a great job of providing campaign modes that allow us to relive some of the most memorable matches in the history of professional wrestling (or at least, WWF/E and WCW). For the uninitiated, the Showcase modes challenge us to play matches and recreate specific moments from them. Only through achieving the set goals can we clear the challenge and progress to the next match in the timeline.
We’ve obviously seen a similar concept utilised in the form of the Jordan Challenge and the aforementioned NBA’s Greatest modes, minus the theatrical and scripted nature of professional wrestling. Even though NBA 2K boasts an impressive amount of historical content at the moment, it’s been years since we’ve had a challenge mode in which to use those teams. I’d love to see NBA 2K introduce a mode in which we’d replay a timeline of famous games and match statistical feats, essentially combining the concepts of WWE 2K’s Showcase with the Jordan Challenge and NBA’s Greatest. It would also provide more incentive to play with the retro teams.
3. Deeper Rankings & Expanded Matchmaking Options (Rocket League)
I’ve mentioned Rocket League several times in articles that have touched upon the issue of online matchmaking in basketball games (especially NBA 2K), and for good reason. The game has an excellent approach in that regard, offering both casual and competitive online play. Competitive play is ranked, and intended for more serious and experienced players. The rankings themselves have several tiers, so you’re usually squaring off against gamers on your skill level, and they also reset with each season. Despite the name, casual online play does also provide some good competition, but is kind of the online equivalent of a social league and therefore ideal for newcomers.
The lack of proper matchmaking is starting to become an issue in basketball games, in particular NBA 2K since it has pay-to-win mechanics. From replicating the concept of Got Next in The Playground and throwing everyone in together regardless of Overall Rating or experience, to a very broad tier system in Pro-Am, the matchmaking system is very primitive and unwelcoming to new and low-ranked gamers. Considering how successful Rocket League has been in both the eSports arena and among gamers in general, NBA 2K should take some cues from its ranking and matchmaking system. As it expands its share of the market, NBA Live would be wise to do the same.
4. Branching Career Mode Storylines (Various Games)
You know how I feel about story-driven career modes in basketball games (and if you don’t, the short version is that I’m not a fan), but the fact of the matter is the approach doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. With that in mind, the best case scenario is that the concept continues to improve and evolve so that it’s as fresh and engaging as possible. Something that continues to hold career mode stories back is the lack of any story branching or meaningful choices. Everyone ends up essentially playing through the same tale aside from the choice of a few cosmetic differences and alternate scenes. As such, there’s not much room to role play or significantly influence the plot.
It’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be that way. Consider the different paths and quest resolutions that are available in RPGs like Fallout and the Elder Scrolls series. The story modes in various WWE games over the years have branched in different directions depending on character choices, and whether or not you won or lost a particular match. Sure, games like the Grand Theft Auto series are more linear in their storytelling, but the career modes in basketball games are marketed as sports RPGs. We don’t need ten endings, and at the end of the day it should be about the on-court gameplay anyway, but basketball games should look at the way other genres handle branching stories and character choices, and incorporate them in their career modes.
5. Faction Rewards (Mortal Kombat X)
Apart from starter pack items in the card collecting modes, default teams in the Play Now menu, and in the case of NBA Live 2004, menu artwork, the Favourite Team options in basketball games don’t have a huge (or at least, ongoing) impact on the experience. That could change if NBA Live and NBA 2K implemented something similar to the Faction system in Mortal Kombat X. In MKX, everything you do in-game earns points for your Faction in the ongoing Faction War, which in turn grants weekly bonuses to the winning Faction (such as in-game currency). It’s a way of rewarding everyone for playing the game, and promotes some healthy competition.
This concept could work extremely well in basketball games. If our favourite team has the most wins across online modes in a week, or is perhaps selected as the Team of the Week due to their play in real life, it could result in bonuses in the form of VC, MyPOINTS, and MT in NBA 2K, and SP and RP in NBA Live. In a similar vein, playing exhibition games with your favourite team or being on that team in the career modes could grant additional XP and in-game currency. The different positions and Archetypes/Play Styles could also be periodically rewarded. In short, our affiliations and chosen style of play would net us some kind of small bonuses from time to time.
What are some other ideas that you feel basketball games should borrow from other genres of video games? Do any of the ideas that I suggested appeal to you? Have your say in the comments section 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.