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 takes a look at five features in basketball video games that have become outmoded.
Something I’ve really enjoyed doing with my Wayback Wednesday articles this year is to look at specific features in old basketball games. I do want to get back to doing some full retrospectives on older titles, but I feel that it’s interesting to look back on older features, options, and gameplay mechanics that hoops games used to have. As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, there are certain aspects of those older games that I’d love to see implemented once again in future titles. In some cases of course, the basic concept would have to be updated and reworked a little.
On the other hand, there are certain features and functions that can definitely stay in the past. They aren’t necessarily bad or beyond being reworked into a newer concept, but they’ve become outmoded. There simply isn’t the need for them that there used to be; either another feature or function does the job better, or advances in technology and game design have rendered them largely useless. They are nevertheless important parts of basketball gaming history though, and it’s interesting to see how some of them have evolved or been replaced over time. To that end, let’s take a look at five outmoded features that no longer need to be staples of basketball games.
1. Walk Button
Direct Passing/Icon Passing has become a standard (and necessary) part of the control schemes in basketball games. It was clearly a great idea when it started to become a common feature some twenty years ago, which is why it remains in the current games with very few changes being made to it over the years. However, in earlier NBA Live titles, Direct Pass had a secondary function. If you held down Direct Pass while your player was stationary and then moved in any direction, they would walk rather than jog or sprint. This provided greater control over game tempo and player movement. If nothing else, you could walk the ball up court, as players will do in real life.
It’s an outmoded concept now though, and there’s no reason for a Walk button to be included among the controls in current basketball video games. The widespread use of console controllers and PC gamepads with analog sticks rendered the feature obsolete a long time ago. If you want to walk the ball up the court, or have a player take just a few steps to get into position, slight stick movement will see them move at a slower pace than pushing the stick to the extent of its axis. It’s a simpler approach that only requires one input to execute, freeing up the user to focus on other tasks, as well as the Direct/Icon Pass button for other secondary functions.
The PC version of NBA Live 96 remains one of my all-time favourite games. It’s been far surpassed at this point (though its gameplay holds up about as well as NBA Live 95), but it has a great aesthetic and soundtrack that I’m very nostalgic for. One of the features that doesn’t get talked about all that much – and isn’t really deep enough for a full Wayback Wednesday article – is the screensaver. As with any screensaver, it fired up after a set period of inactivity in the menus, ensuring that images didn’t get burned into a CRT monitor. NBA Live 96’s screensaver featured a single image moving on a black screen, specifically a randomly cycling team logo that changed with each move.
As with a Windows screensaver, the duration of inactivity before it started could be changed, or it could be turned off completely. It was an effective solution during a time when there was a risk of phosphor burn-in, but as LCD TVs and monitors are not susceptible to that issue, it’s now outmoded. As far as having something that’s visually interesting while the game is idling, pre-recorded attract mode videos, random demo mode games, or some kind of movement in the background or foreground (such your One Player or MyPLAYER performing tricks with a basketball) have become far more popular solutions than a screensaver. I do still like it in NBA Live 96, though.
3. Standalone Single Season Mode
Now, this concept isn’t completely outmoded. Indeed, NBA 2K still offers a single season option under the MyGM/MyLEAGUE menu, providing a MyLEAGUE experience that simply lasts for one season instead of going on for 80 years. The old approach of retaining a separate, barebones style of old school single season mode definitely is outmoded, however. It was an outmoded idea when NBA Live was doing it during the PlayStation 2 era, retaining the old Season mode alongside Franchise, and later Dynasty. While I can’t say that there wasn’t anybody playing Season mode back then, a majority of gamers had definitely moved on to the franchise experience.
There is still merit in having single season play in the game as an option, which is why NBA 2K does include it as a sub mode of MyLEAGUE. A couple of NBA Live games on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 also offered a single Season option for Dynasty mode, simplifying the experience and obviously ending after the first year. Both are much better solutions than having a completely separate mode without any of the depth or options. NBA Live kept the original Season mode in the game for anyone who wanted an old school experience, but that approach would feel like overkill now. It lives on as an option, rather than a separate and outmoded feature.
4. Bonus Video Features
In the 90s, and even through to recent console generations, there was a certain novelty in having videos in basketball games. From the random NBA clips included in the PC version of NBA Jam Tournament Edition to the tutorials and basketball video game equivalents of DVD bonus features during the PlayStation 2 era, developers would find ways of using the extra space afforded by CD-ROMS, and later DVD-ROMs. When it was a tutorial for the controls and gameplay mechanics, they could be rather useful, especially for inexperienced gamers. When it was just a bonus highlight reel or a promotional video, they were fairly useless, and we tended not to bother with them.
No doubt that’s why they’ve disappeared over the past generation or so, despite today’s storage media being able to accommodate high quality video files being distributed with video games. With the exception of the handy demonstration videos in 2KU, there’s just no need for them. Lengthier tutorials and real NBA highlight videos can easily be found online. Disc space is much better utilised by the inclusion of higher resolution textures, additional audio content, and anything else that enhances the quality of the presentation or gameplay. The novelty of bonus video features has long worn off; it’s a charming idea when you look back, but undoubtedly an outmoded one.
5. Wacky Codes in Sim Games
Even though the early sim basketball games did their best to be realistic given the tech that was available at the time, they had their moments where they definitely weren’t taking themselves too seriously. Whether it was unlockable developer teams, cheats for big heads and disco courts, or anything that was a little wacky, it was thrown into the game as a fun little extra. We still see developer cameos and Easter Eggs, but for the most part, the wackiness has been phased out over the years, the humour confined to in-game social media. Features like historical teams have replaced goofy hidden squads, and over the top silliness is generally avoided, especially during gameplay.
This isn’t a bad thing, of course. While we do take basketball games too seriously at times – and I realise the irony of me saying that, having run a basketball gaming site for over seventeen years – the approach of focusing on making the games as realistic as possible, with more substantial bonus content and features, is far preferable. Also, as Locker Codes have demonstrated, gamers would prefer more tangible rewards for punching in codes, rather than just enabling some wacky setting. There’s nostalgia in those wacky old codes, no doubt, but they’d feel out of place in modern basketball games. Fun definitely isn’t outmoded, but that particular brand of silliness is.
What are some other features from older games that you feel are outmoded? Are there any outmoded features that you’d like to see in future games anyway? 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.