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 things that ruin the presentation in basketball games.
Over the past decade or so, presentation in basketball games has gone from strength to strength. EA Sports’ licensing agreement with ESPN has brought in-depth recreations of the network’s NBA broadcasts to NBA Live, from the commentary team to all of the wipes and overlays. Although NBA 2K currently uses “NBA on 2K” branding, its presentation closely mimics that of the NBA on TNT. In the NBA’s Greatest mode in NBA 2K12, 2K achieved historically accurate presentation for each era represented in the challenges, via some very impressive audio and visual effects.
Unfortunately, for all of the great things that basketball games have done with their presentation, there are still a few nagging issues that can detract from the experience. These include annoying visual elements, distracting inaccuracies, moments that break the immersion, oversights, and persistent design flaws. It may sound melodramatic to say that these things completely ruin the presentation as they don’t render the games totally unenjoyable, but considering that some of them should be easy to address, they are nevertheless prominent annoyances. Call some of them nitpicks if you like, but I do believe that avoiding these pitfalls would improve the presentation in Live and 2K.
1. Update Required in NBA 2K
I know I’m not alone in my annoyance here. Whenever a new in-game content update comes through in recent NBA 2K games, a prominent “Update Required” message appears in the lower left of the screen, prompting us to return to the main menu. This isn’t a problem if we’re idling in the menus or The Neighborhood, but it’s annoying when we’re in the middle of a game. The notification doesn’t go away until we return to the main menu, ruining the aesthetics of any screenshots or videos we capture, not to mention covering up stats overlays and even menu options. While it’s important that we heed the notice sooner rather than later, it absolutely ruins the presentation.
The “Update Required” message wouldn’t be so bad if we could snooze or dismiss it, but even after a few years of complaining about the issue, we still can’t. Having that ability would be extremely handy, but if it isn’t feasible, another viable solution would be for the notifications to only pop up outside of gameplay. After all, you’re not going to quit in the middle of an online game for an update, and even in modes that allow games in progress to be saved, you’re going to want to finish what you’re doing first. There are bigger problems, but as far as the presentation is concerned, it remains a persistent and annoying issue that has a couple of very straightforward solutions.
2. Metric Measurements in PAL Regions
This isn’t a problem for gamers in North America – which I’m guessing accounts for a majority of the userbase when it comes to basketball games – but an issue that those of us in PAL regions are still dealing with is the use of metric measurements rather than imperial units. This is an issue that I’ve mentioned a few times before as it cropped up towards the end of the seventh generation, and unfortunately remains in the eighth. Although I’m very familiar with the metric system, given that it’s what we use here in Australia, when it comes to the NBA I think in terms of imperial measurements. It’s an American league after all, so those are the measurements it uses.
To that end, it doesn’t look quite right when stats overlays and roster listings are using metric measurements. I can understand wanting to make player measurements more familiar to those of us in PAL regions by using the metric system, but it detracts from the realism in the presentation. I’d also argue that it doesn’t make things easier when we’re creating players and we need to convert from centimetres to feet and inches, or kilograms to pounds. Currently, NBA 2K is the only game that defaults to imperial and offers metric, while NBA Live and both NBA Playgrounds titles only offer metric in PAL regions. Imperial should be the default, with metric optional if preferred.
3. Fourth Wall-Breaking Commentary
Commentary that breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges that we’re playing a video game isn’t a recent development. In the mid 2000s, a couple of lines in NBA Live’s commentary would mock you for unnecessarily launching a shot from the backcourt, or an inability to pull off moves in the Dunk Contest. At first, they seemed like a fun Easter egg, but I’ve come to find them immersion-breaking, at least in the sim games. When the rest of the presentation is trying its best to realistically mimic a real NBA broadcast, it’s distracting to hear the commentators making snarky comments about how you need to read the manual, or that the controller must be faulty.
Stuff like that isn’t too prevalent these days, but there are some lines in recent NBA 2K games that make me cringe. Brent Barry, Kevin Garnett, and Bill Simmons all have lines that allude to them providing commentary for NBA 2K, namely the game that you’re currently playing. As if breaking the fourth wall wasn’t bad enough, KG also gushes about 2K, which feels extremely smug and self-congratulatory. In games like NBA Jam or NBA Playgrounds, commentary that breaks the fourth wall is fun and amusing, but it’s really out of place in the sim titles. As I said, when the rest of the presentation is trying to be authentic, it undermines that goal.
4. Bad Camera Angles & Cuts on Replays
As I mentioned, implementing full ESPN presentation has upped production values in NBA Live, while NBA 2K’s presentation is extremely authentic despite lacking any real network branding. There’s so much attention to detail, and while the commentary in NBA Live can be a bit dry at times, both games do a fine job of replicating an NBA broadcast for the most part. There are times when the instant replays leave something to be desired, though. The choice of camera angles on automatic replays isn’t always the best, and NBA Live 19 also introduced a strange pan that occurs after dunks. I’m not sure what they were going for there, but it doesn’t look natural or realistic.
NBA 2K, meanwhile, has a strange issue with targeting during highlights showcasing assists and alley-oops, both in the Under Armour replays and State Farm Assist of the Game. The camera has a tendency to drop lower or pan back to the passer, meaning that you don’t see the scorer finishing with the basket. I’ve wondered if it has anything to do with NBA 2K’s use of rigid preset camera angles, as anyone who has tried to get the perfect screenshot using free cam in instant replay will be all too familiar with. That in itself is an issue worth mentioning, but as far as the automatic replays are concerned, it doesn’t do much for the presentation when we can’t see the entire play.
We have to make certain allowances when it comes to repetition in the commentary of sports video games. Even if new commentary is being pushed through in updates, as EA Sports has done with NBA Live 19, there is only a finite amount of lines that can be included. Eventually we’ll hear them all, and the longer anecdotes in particular are prone to getting very old after the first few times. It’s a shame because they do expand the commentary and make it more realistic, but that feeling of depth and immersion is gone once you’ve heard it all before. Once you’re a couple of years into a franchise or career mode game, a lot of those anecdotes can also become inaccurate and outdated.
I’d also like to note the post-game interviews in MyCAREER here. There’s a distinct lack of variety, at least in regards to specific performances. Having racked up a total of 52 triple-doubles through 52 games in my second season, I’ve had to listen to Shaq compliment my “Russell Westbrook Impression” nearly as many times. His dialogue is the same, my two possible answers are the same, and while sometimes the post-game interview can be skipped, other times it can’t be. It’s one of those strange things: the same elements that enhance the presentation and make it so immersive can also ruin it and take you right out of the experience.
What are some of the things that ruin presentation in basketball video games for 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.