Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! Every Friday I cover a topic related to basketball gaming, either as a list of five items, or a Top 5 countdown. The topics for these lists and countdowns include everything from fun facts and recollections to commentary and critique. This week’s Five is a list of five suggestions for retro modding projects.
As the stigma fades and retro basketball gaming increases in popularity, inevitably we start thinking about modding as well. After all, classic games are a blast to revisit as-is, but mods can breathe new life into them, too. Many of the modding tools are still available for retro basketball games, along with resources and archived mods to learn techniques from (or indeed, build upon). Even with the limitations of older titles, we’re capable of creating some outstanding mods that will facilitate new experiences on the virtual hardwood.
Needless to say, there are some challenges to overcome here. The audience is smaller, so anyone engaging in retro modding will be toiling on projects that are seen and used by fewer people. To that end, there are also fewer active modders for retro games, so some of the more ambitious projects may not have the level of detail we’d like, or be truly viable. Major roster mods in particular may need to use placeholder artwork, or whatever assets are available. That shouldn’t stop us from looking into retro modding, however. There’s always lingering interest in seeing new updates for old favourites, and there are plenty of retro modding ideas that we can and should at least consider.
1. Definitive Updates
This is an idea that I’ve dabbled with myself, having created “definitive updates” for NBA Live 95 and NBA Live 96. What I mean by a definitive update is going back to an old game and updating the rosters accurate as of the end of the season, with all of the necessary details and utilising all of the experience that you’ve gained as a modder over the years. It’s a comprehensive update for a game, still set in the original season. You could look at it as an unofficial final patch for a title that never received official updates, or fixing issues in an official roster as the case may be. It’s modding a game to be the best possible version of itself, for an enhanced retro gaming experience.
Of course, this also means adding missing content. For example, Legends made their debut in NBA Live 2000, but a few notable names were missing, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Clyde Drexler. A definitive update for the game would not only feature final 2000 season rosters with all of the necessary faces and due care taken with player ratings, but also add Legends that couldn’t be licensed. A definitive update for NBA 2K11 could enhance the final official roster by completing the classic teams added for the Jordan Challenge. New retro content could also be added. The size of these projects would vary, but all could put finishing touches on amazing games.
2. Enhanced Versions of Existing Mods
There have been a couple of times when Dee4Three and I have been playing an old game over Parsec using one of my mods, and I’ve noticed some mistake or oversight. After cringing at discovering such an error so many years later, I’ve felt an urge to go back and correct it. And you know what? Why not? It’s a shame that simple human error or burnout resulted in a mistake when I was actively maintaining a mod, but for my own enjoyment and anyone else who wants to use it in their retro gaming sessions, better late than never! Furthermore, out of all the retro modding ideas I’m suggesting here, fixes and enhanced versions of existing mods is undoubtedly the most feasible.
After all, the hard work is basically done. Players have been created, the art files are in place, and the mod is in a finished state, errors aside. It’s a far less daunting task than beginning a brand new project from scratch, especially when there are fewer modders to help out with elements that you can’t personally create. It may take more than half an hour to fix ratings, attributes, and other bio data to enhance an old mod, but it won’t take nearly as long as completing the project in the first place. Even if you’re working on some additional or improved art updates, it’s a smaller workload. In short, we can go back and make definitive updates to our own modding projects, too.
3. Fixes for Technical & Gameplay Issues
A majority of the work we’ve done in our modding community over the years has revolved around updating or creating new content for the games. This has been valuable work, of course. From adding Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and David Robinson to NBA Live 95 PC, to comprehensive retro season roster packs for NBA 2K, the community has produced mods that inject even more fun into basketball gaming. Something that we haven’t produced as much of – at least compared to other modding communities – are unofficial fixes to technical problems, or modifications to the gameplay. We’ve done some work there, but there’s also some untapped potential.
In our defense, our ability to produce such fixes and modifications comes down to the tools we have at our disposal, and the games that we’re working with. Some things are simply unfeasible, or we don’t have the means of distributing those fixes without the possibility of running afoul of the publishers. However, while we’re considering our options with retro modding, we could try our hand at doing more with old favourites than just updating art and rosters. Whether it’s the sim engine logic, generated rookie ratings, animation assignments, or a workaround for some annoying issue, there are files that are worth a second look. Compatibility fixes would also be most welcome.
4. Multi-Season Projects for Popular Old Favourites
Let’s say we get enough people feeling nostalgic for particular games; NBA Live 06 or NBA 2K11, for example. With the help of a few enthusiastic modders, and some of the resources already at our disposal, we could replicate some of the larger projects that have been made for NBA 2K games over the past decade or so. These include projects such as the Ultimate Base Roster and U R Basketball, which feature multiple retro season mods as well as a current roster update. Needless to say, these are huge mods that can’t be made overnight, but if the passion for retro gaming and modding is there, it’s possible that as a community, we can work towards making them a reality.
When this possibility has been broached in the past, there have been some suggestions that could really help here. As far as retro season mods, the key would be to focus on some noteworthy seasons to begin with, and branch out in both directions once a few full mods provide us with viable bases. Another idea is to work on rosters containing an assortment of retro teams, building a repository of art updates and player data that can then be plugged into a full retro season roster mod. Finally, selecting a game that already has assets that can be reused – giving credit whenever possible, of course – is obviously a much wiser choice than a game where we don’t have much to work with.
5. Resurrected Modding Scenes for Retro Titles
Look, there are limitations to retro modding. Simply put, we’re not going to see the modding scene for every single PC release of NBA Live or NBA 2K spring back to life. The interest and passion just isn’t there. However, for games that were popular, still hold up respectably well, and are quite moddable, it’s not unthinkable that a niche group of retro modders could resurrect the scene. It won’t be immediate, as a game will need to gain some traction and popularity as a retro alternative to the latest title, and a handful of dedicated modders will need to jump on board and stick around. If that does come to fruition, then sure, we could see some active retro modding scenes.
However, this will take cooperation and a willingness to share resources, and maybe even a fully open source approach. The community would also have to adjust their expectations for mods, while modders would have to re-evaluate what a viable release looks like. For example, if a 2006 season roster mod uses placeholder faces for some benchwarmers, and a team is using a 2007 season jersey that is identical but for a few barely noticeable minor changes, that’s absolutely fine for a Version 1.0. I’d suggest this should be standard for modding in general, but it’d be essential when working with older games. It’s a long shot, but if the passion is there, we shouldn’t rule it out.
Do you have any interest in these retro modding ideas? If you’re a modder, would you consider lending a hand? 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.