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 concepts and little details that basketball games have captured extremely well.
It bears repeating that it’s alright to criticise basketball games. As I’ve previously discussed, and will no doubt touch upon again in the future, it’s something that gaming communities can easily forget. Any gaming community that censors and discourages criticism is doing a disservice to the games that they’re interested in, and ultimately, themselves as consumers. Constructive criticism should always be encouraged over nastiness and abuse, but we must remember that it’s OK to point out the things that we dislike, while also discussing the elements that we enjoy.
By the same token, of course, it’s also fine to take a break from criticising the aspects of basketball games that we don’t like, to marvel at the things we do enjoy about them. In that regard, it’s quite often the little things that really make the experience. Basketball games have come a long way, and while improvements to graphics, AI, controls, and so forth are often more readily apparent, there are a lot of concepts and smaller details that are very impressive in their own right. They may be subtle, but often contribute that extra bit of authenticity to the overall experience. Here are five examples of little details that basketball games have really nailed in recent years.
1. Social Media Posts of NBA Fans & Players of Basketball Games
When I first got into MyCAREER back in NBA 2K13, I found myself oddly drawn to the fake in-game Twitter. I know, it seems like a ridiculous thing to take an interest in, but I liked the way that it added a measure of world building to the mode. Love it or hate it, social media is a big part of the world today, not only being a primary means of communication and self-expression, but also how a lot of people consume news. As such, it was fun to read the fake Tweets praising your performance on the virtual hardwood, and see banter from other NBA players. Getting NBA Legends to follow you also provided added incentive to try for some big performances.
Of course, the fans often had weird ideas about what constituted having a “terrible” performance. As a starting point guard, I could have thirty points and fifteen assists in a win, yet fans would be scolding me for only getting two rebounds. It bugged me at first, but it ultimately dawned on me that it was the perfect representation of some of the stupid and ignorant Tweets that we see. This has been expanded upon in recent games, with all manner of trolling comments and ill-informed opinions showing up in the feed. 2K has held a mirror up to what basketball fans are like on social media, and it’s not a pretty picture. They’ve truly nailed the Tweets of the more toxic fanatics.
2. Skin Blemishes & Other Marks
Putting aside issues with lighting and some of the models, the graphics in recent basketball games are among the best we’ve seen. The reason for that is the willingness of EA Sports and Visual Concepts to scan in everything they can. Not only do their multi-camera setups allow them to capture faces in greater detail than ever before, but everything from the players’ arms, legs, and torsos, to the uniforms and even the basketball itself, are scanned into the game. This has led to more accurate textures across the board. While there are some still inaccuracies – sometimes for legal reasons when it comes to tattoos – there’s an incredible amount of detail these days.
It’s come to the point where we’re actually seeing minute details showing up on player faces and bodies. Skin blemishes, moles, and even stretch marks are visible when you zoom in on players in recent basketball games. Admittedly, none of this really adds anything to the gameplay experience itself, and I’m not usually one to get too hyped about graphics, but the amount of trouble that EA and 2K now go to in order to accurately represent details that we won’t notice unless we zoom in close on a player in instant replay is definitely impressive. The approach of scanning anything and everything has undoubtedly taken the visuals in basketball games to the next level.
3. Muscle Movement
Speaking of zooming in on players, if you take a closer look at the action in recent NBA Live games, you’ll notice something rather impressive. The IGNITE engine hasn’t necessarily produced the best results in terms of gameplay, and I know that a lot of gamers are hoping that NBA Live switches over to Frostbite as FIFA has done. There is some nifty tech at work with IGNITE, though. If you zoom in on a player and watch them as they go up for a dunk or layup, or even just run up and down the court, you’ll notice that their muscles flex accordingly. Not only that, but you’ll even see their skin stretching and moving over their skeleton quite realistically.
Again, this isn’t something that really affects the gameplay experience, because it’s impossible to notice in real time and from a regular, zoomed out camera angle. As with the aforementioned skin blemishes, however, that’s part of what makes this attention to detail so impressive and commendable. It’s subtle and can easily go unnoticed, yet it’s done in the name of authenticity, ultimately demonstrating what the tech is capable of. There are still issues with animations as of NBA Live 18, but credit where it’s due. IGNITE is capable of doing some impressive things, and we’ve been seeing them at work in the past couple of NBA Live games.
4. Player Reactions & Interactions
Something you’ll notice in older basketball games is that the game environment doesn’t really feel alive as it does today. This is particularly noticeable in dead ball situations, where there are a lot of shortcuts such as the ball warping into players’ hands, and passes from invisible referees. During free throws, the other players lined up around the lane basically turn into props during the first attempt. If the shot misses and the ball goes near them, they just act as a wall, and the ball bounces back to the shooter without anyone touching it. Even in later games where those players move, stretch, and are less like cardboard cut-outs, they tend not to interact with the ball.
In contrast, players are now much more interactive, and react to what’s happening on the court. If you a brick a free throw and it bounces towards a player standing at the lane, they’ll reach up and catch it, as they would in real life. NBA Live 18 has taken things a step further, with players reacting to errant passes hitting them in the head, and even to being hit in the groin on collisions with other players. It’s obviously not as important as player AI reacting to the play or having players perform like their real life counterparts, but it’s still a cool element of realism nevertheless. It makes the players feel less like robots, and the game environment more alive and interactive.
5. Trading Card Collecting
I used to collect basketball cards back in the 90s, which I believe is a big reason why I’ve been able to take an interest in Ultimate Team and MyTEAM in recent years. The experience is very similar to the hobby of collecting trading cards; the anticipation of opening a pack, the joy and excitement of getting a card you’ve sought after, and the disappointment of getting doubles or nothing of value or interest, all feels very familiar. Of course, the modes go a step further in providing a practical use for the cards you collect, but other than that, it’s the same basic concept. As I discovered, even the pack odds are very similar to real trading cards, at least in NBA 2K17.
Right now, there’s a lot of controversy regarding microtransactions, and in particular loot crates, in AAA games. It’s been suggested that they’re a form of gambling, and it’s a very fair point. The question of whether team building modes could also be considered gambling has been raised, and that’s trickier. I think they can be given a pass as trading cards are considered a kid-friendly hobby, and the in-game currency to buy packs can be earned without spending real money. Cards can also essentially be traded, and earned through challenges. All in all, those modes have really nailed card collecting, with the added bonus of actually being able to do something with them.
What are some of the concepts and little details that you feel basketball games have really captured? Is there something in particular you believe they’ve nailed perfectly? 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.