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 examples of times we could jump right into gameplay in basketball games, before we’ve even brought up the main menu.
Given all the modes and options that are available in basketball games, as well as the need to select teams before entering a game, a main menu has generally always come between the title screen and gameplay. That isn’t unique to the genre, of course. Most games can’t be played until you’ve reached the main menu and made some selections. Even most of the very early video games and classic platformers of the 8-bit era didn’t go immediately into gameplay. If nothing else, we were presented with basic options such as the number of players, or asked to press Start to get the ball rolling.
There are exceptions, of course. In a way, they’re the video game version of a cold opening for a TV show. It hasn’t been especially common in basketball video games, but there are titles that drop us right into gameplay before we ever see the main menu. Many of these instances only occur the first time we boot up a game (or if we reinstall it with no user data present), but a selection of games have allowed us to participate in some form of gameplay before the main menu is displayed. It’s not something that we usually consider vital to the experience, but they have been fun ideas that give us something to do, while showing off new tech and features. These include things like…
1. 1991 Finals in NBA 2K11’s Jordan Challenge
I’ve covered the Jordan Challenge extensively in other articles, from a retrospective on the mode and recounting my efforts to go back and complete it, to reimagining it with alternative content. Something that I haven’t really mentioned is how it played into the first time boot up of NBA 2K11. Instead of loading directly to the main menu on that initial boot, you’re taken to the entrance tunnel in Chicago Stadium, flashing lights briefly illuminating five silhouettes. One by one they disappear, until only one remains. The lights come up and virtual Michael Jordan turns back to ask if you’re ready, before you follow him out onto the court for the pre-game introductions.
From there, you’re immediately placed into the 1991 NBA Finals challenge. You don’t need to play through it, of course; quitting the game will take you to the main menu with no ill effects, and you can return to the Jordan Challenge later. If you do play the game though, it will count towards your progress in the mode. When I first played NBA 2K11, I was still getting used to the controls and overall feel of 2K, so I’ll admit that I found it frustrating (though why I didn’t just quit, I can’t say). Looking back though, I think it’s a fantastic idea that spotlights the new content and makes the game stand out. It’s a one-time thing, though you can see it again by removing all user data.
2. Shootarounds in NBA Live & March Madness/NCAA Basketball
Honestly, NBA Live doesn’t get enough credit for some of the creative things it tried to do on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It’s understandable given the decline of the series during that generation, but there were some great ideas there. The concept of letting players immediately shoot around before the main menu even came up, as well as being able to keep shooting around while the game was loading, definitely stands out as one of those ideas. It began with The Temple in NBA Live 06 and NBA Live 07, continued with the practice court in NBA Live 08, and ended with The Hangar in NBA Live 10. NBA Live 09’s Academy also added the ability to run various drills.
Not surprisingly, we saw a similar concept introduced in EA Sports’ March Madness series, later renamed NCAA Basketball. Rather than an NBA practice court or facility like The Hangar, the shootarounds took place on outdoor courts, located on a college campus. Choosing your favourite team in your profile resulted in banners featuring their branding, and the team logo on the shootaround player’s shirt would also change accordingly. Unfortunately the background didn’t change to reflect all of the different campuses, but that probably would’ve been asking too much. It was a revolutionary idea, and the only one on this list that can be done every time the games boot up.
3. Tutorial in NBA Live 15
Forced tutorials are a contentious issue in all genres of video games. In the worst case scenario, replay value is hurt by needing to slog through arduous tutorial levels on a new playthrough, the game slowing to a halt to explain mechanics you already know quite well. On the other hand, when you’re new to a game and some of its controls do require some explanation and practice in order to master, a one-time tutorial on the first boot can actually be welcome. Such is the case with the tutorial in NBA Live 15, featuring cover player Damian Lillard. Dame helps us out by walking us through the controls, and presenting a few different scenarios to get the hang of them.
The presentation was rather slick, beginning with real footage of Damian Lillard hitting that big gamewinning shot against the Houston Rockets in the Playoffs, and then cutting to his in-game model celebrating. The onboarding is comprehensive, explaining the fatigue and shot quality meters in the player indicator, as well as demonstrating the controls and getting the user to complete drills. Experienced gamers might have found it annoying – as I said, forced tutorials aren’t universally liked and appreciated – but it was quite well done. Regardless of NBA Live 15’s shortcomings, introducing some gameplay before the main menu was a good idea.
4. NBA Finals Scenario in NBA Live 16
Lengthy and cinematic introductions are seemingly being phased out of modern basketball games, and that’s a shame. Even though we do end up skipping them once we’ve watched them a few times, they’ve always been great to see on that very first boot, and have been quite effective at hyping us up to play. NBA Live 16 actually took the idea one step further and featured an interactive intro the first time the game is loaded. The scenario we’re presented with is Game 7 of an NBA Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James has just dunked to give the Cavaliers a two point lead with only 2.2 seconds left in the game.
It’s down to cover player Russell Westbrook to win the game, and bring Oklahoma City its first NBA Championship. After the cutscene ends, you’ll be controlling Westbrook, looking to receive the inbounds from Serge Ibaka for a gamewinning three-pointer. I believe it is possible to mess up the scenario if you take a two or attempt the three from too far out, but the ratings and tendencies are juiced so that you’ll hit the gamewinning three 99% of the time. It’s something a bit different, and fun to play (or try to break, for that matter). It was also a 3-1 comeback by the Golden State Warriors away from correctly predicting the 2016 NBA Finals participants.
5. Demo Games in NBA 2K on PlayStation 4/Xbox One
Whether you’re playing the digital or disc versions of NBA 2K14 onwards on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, it takes a while for the game to finish installing and downloading updates. You won’t be able to bring up the main menu while that’s happening, but you are able to get a taste of the game while you’re waiting for the installation to finish. A demo game with limited presentation will begin, and you can mess around while the game continues to install in the background. You can also quit the game if you don’t want to keep playing it, but unless the installation is finished, your only options will be to re-enter the demo or idle on the pre-load screen.
Like jumping into the Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11, you’re able to get a feel for the 5v5 gameplay right away, and before you’ve even brought up the main menu. Unlike the Jordan Challenge, it’s a throwaway exhibition game, and generally not as exciting. This is particularly true in games where key players have left the defending champion or last year’s runner-up, as they’re usually the teams featured in the installation demo game. Nevertheless, it’s a nice idea to let us play an exhibition game and get some practice in while we wait for everything to finish being set up. It’s not something we need to have on every boot, but it makes installing (or reinstalling) games less tedious.
I believe that covers the most prominent examples of times that we could jump right into gameplay before bringing up the main menu, but are there any others? Did you enjoy the concept in these games, or did you find it annoying? 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.