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 aspects of NBA 2K’s early career modes that look odd in retrospect.
TV Tropes enthusiasts will no doubt be familiar with the term “Early Installment Weirdness“. To quote the laconic definition, it refers the phenomenon of “first releases of franchises that include very surprising differences in specific tropes or even the absence of a trope that later became predominant in that work”. To put it another way, the first season of a TV show or the early titles in a video game series may have elements that were changed or phased out, retroactively making them look very strange and out of place compared to what came afterwards.
Being a genre that has evolved over a number of years and generations of hardware, basketball games are no exception. Certain controls and gameplay mechanics, and even features of the staple game modes, have drastically changed as concepts have evolved and technology has improved. Of course, less pleasing developments such as the introduction of microtransactions have also fuelled changes that leave us wishing we could go back to the old days, and the old ways. The single player career mode in NBA 2K – originally called My Player, now branded MyCAREER – features some prime examples of aspects that now seem quite odd. Let’s take a look at five of them!
1. You Could Be an Older Rookie
The adoption of the story-driven approach beginning with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version of NBA 2K14 has changed several fundamental aspects of how NBA 2K’s career experience plays out, but one that doesn’t get talked about all that often is that you can no longer set your player’s age. Because we begin MyCAREER as a raw rookie, and the story generally presents us as entering the league out of college (and after only one year in many cases), our MyPLAYER’s age is usually around 19-21. In the earliest career modes, however, it was actually possible to set your year of birth, and thus be a much older rookie in the vein of Arvdyas Sabonis and Luis Scola.
This facilitated some role-playing scenarios that are no longer feasible with all the cinematic cutscenes and back story our MyPLAYERs now have. You could be an international player finally making the jump to the NBA, like the aforementioned Sabonis and Scola, or simply an older rookie similar to Taj Gibson when he entered the league at 24. While it’s not vital to the MyCAREER experience, the mode has lost a certain charm by putting our character on rails. In NBA 2K20, we can’t even pick a college, let alone set our age; we’re all from the fictional Bay City University (Go Flames!). Having such an option may seem quite odd now, but I for one miss it.
2. No Virtual Currency
Oh, those were the days, weren’t they? Before microtransactions had burrowed their way into Triple-A titles, the only way to improve your player in career modes was to play the game and earn XP. Well, you could hack the save as well, I suppose, but as far as legitimate ways to gain upgrades, there were no other options. Now we have VC, which translates into recurrent user spending and expensive special editions with bundled amounts of said currency. If you happen to be into the connected online modes as well, it means a hard grind or gritting your teeth and buying VC in order to upgrade a player that you won’t even be able to use in a couple of years’ time.
With that being said, even if you don’t spend a single cent on VC, it’s actually easier to upgrade your player with the current approach than it was in NBA 2K’s early career modes. The Skill Points grind was much longer; in the second season of my NBA 2K13 MyCAREER, I’m still an 82 Overall. I maxed out my first build in NBA 2K20 within the first season, and have a second one at 84 Overall, with no money spent. Of course, those early career modes were strictly offline and built to be revisited again years later if so desired. For all the issues and valid complaints about VC – and there are plenty of them – we can actually make quicker progress now, even without paying.
3. Signature Skills Were Purchased
Speaking of buying things, while player clothing was introduced in NBA 2K13, it wasn’t until NBA 2K14’s story and The Park that outfitting our players – like it was some sort of Barbie dress-up game – gained popularity. If you were playing on PC, you weren’t able to buy any clothes anyway, but you still had to save up and ration your Skill Points. In addition to upgrading your ratings, they were also used to purchase Signature Skills, which were the forerunner to Badges. In a way, it was similar to the approach to player builds in NBA 2K20 where we can pick our own Badges, only we didn’t have to grind for them by earning a separate form of XP.
Both approaches have their merits, but once again I do have to give credit to the contemporary concept of MyPOINTS and restricting a few skills based on build and position. With so many other things costing VC, it’s nice to not have to account for Badges in the budget. It also means that you have to play the game to level up your player’s special skills; you can’t just farm VC and buy Badges. NBA 2K17 took an interesting approach by allowing us to earn build-based Badges and pay to upgrade them to Gold (then grind them up to Hall of Fame), but I do like the current approach best. The lack of balance in Badges, on the other hand, is an issue for another time.
4. There’s a Game Over in NBA 2K15
Because NBA 2K’s career modes are so on rails these days, it’s virtually impossible to fail at them. There’s some story branching and alternate cutscenes based on choices and performance, but at the end of the day you’re going to make it to the NBA and be treated like a star in the making, even if you’re still close to 60 Overall and played poorly throughout The Prelude. That’s what makes NBA 2K15’s MyCAREER story so unique. If you fail to impress any of the NBA teams in your tryouts, you’ll receive a game over message and the opportunity to try again. If you decline, you’ll be booted out to the main menu, having essentially failed MyCAREER before it’s even begun.
I actually really enjoy this aspect of NBA 2K15’s MyCAREER, because it’s such a unique situation in the history of the series’ career modes. Also, you really have to go out of your way to sabotage your tryouts to not get signed by anyone, so even the greenest novice is unlikely to encounter this game over scenario unless they mess around or intentionally fail. I wish that more career modes and stories in NBA 2K had this possibility, though I suppose it does run counter to getting people to experience the detailed story cutscenes, and start building their player for online play as soon as possible. It does leave NBA 2K15 with an odd but interesting trivia note, however.
5. Hall of Fame Requirements Were Much Higher
In NBA 2K19’s MyCAREER, my player qualified for the Hall of Fame after playing two full seasons on 12 minute quarters. I achieved nine out of the ten requirements in my rookie season, and if I’d been able to lead the league in rebounds as well that year, I’d have been bound for Springfield even sooner. This isn’t meant to be me bragging, because yes, offline play is easier than online play, and I’m also sure that many other people have been able to hit all of the Hall of Fame requirements just as quickly. My point is that if you aim for it, you don’t need to play too many seasons to have a Hall of Fame career these days. That cutscene won’t be out of reach, if you strive for it.
That’s why it may feel odd and indeed jarring to go back to one of the earlier career modes and see Hall of Fame requirements that are impossible to meet without playing several seasons. They’re more along the lines of what a real Hall of Fame resume looks like, which underscores how the mode has changed. Back then, career mode gamers were just playing NBA games. These days, a lot of MyCAREER gamers are spending more time in Pro-Am or The Playground, or dividing it between online and offline. As I said, the mode is no longer built to be revisited, and it’s less fashionable to do so anyway. To that end, those old requirements aren’t that odd in context.
Looking back, what are some other odd aspects of NBA 2K’s early career modes that you recall? Do you want to see any of them return, or is it best that the experiences keep evolving into something new? 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.