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 features in the NBA Live series that I feel are somewhat underrated.
As we compile our Wishlist for NBA Live 19, it’s important that we focus on the big features and the most pressing issues with the game. The most significant fixes and improvements to the experience will come through the development team focusing on the key aspects of controls, strategy, AI, authenticity, options, functionality, and the game modes. In other words, the most desirable changes and additions will be to the core elements of the gameplay, and the game’s biggest features. We don’t want EA to focus on inconsequential details. For example, fluid, realistic gameplay and a deep Franchise mode make a difference; the colour of the menus does not.
However, sometimes the little things go a long way in enhancing the experience, and making NBA Live more fun. When compiling a Wishlist, it’s crucial that we point out those features as well, and how they can get better. To that end, I’ve been thinking about some of the features in previous NBA Live games that kind of fly under the radar, and are perhaps somewhat underrated. They may not be the flashiest features, or absolutely essential to the core experience, but if nothing else, they’re good ideas that I’d like to see return or retained in future NBA Live titles. Here are five such underrated features that the NBA Live series has had at one time or another.
1. Right Stick Free Throw Shooting (NBA Elite 11)
There aren’t a lot of ideas I’d salvage from one of the games that has done the most damage to the NBA Live series over the years, but NBA Elite 11 did have a few good concepts here and there. One of the first examples that come to mind is its shooting mechanics, at least when it comes to free throws. While the right stick shooting was awkward for jumpshots, and facilitated undesirable results such as hitting hook shots from three-point range, it was much better suited to attempts from the charity stripe. The method allowed you to properly aim the shot by holding the stick up and straight, meaning if you missed, it was due to bad timing or being wide of the mark.
Not unlike the T-Meter method used from NBA Live 2004 through NBA Live 06, you could afford to be less precise with better free throw shooters, as they had a bigger zone to aim for. Indeed, free throw shooting in NBA Elite 11 had all the benefits of the T-Meter, without feeling as antiquated. NBA 2K17 actually adopted a similar free throw mechanic with its right stick aiming, which could be cheap when it came to jumpshots, but was perfect for the foul line. I do like NBA Live’s current free throw mechanics, but if they are looking to change things up, the right stick method that was to be used in NBA Elite 11 is a concept worth exploring once again.
2. Right Stick Instant Replay Button (NBA Live 14-Present)
It’s a very minor feature, but one of the nicest additions to the NBA Live series since the reboot in 2013 is the ability to trigger instant replays by pressing the right stick button. While there are certainly times you’ll want to pause and take another look at what just happened with full control over the replay, it’s handy having the ability to immediately watch a cinematic replay with additional commentary and camera cuts that you’d expect to see on a real NBA on ESPN broadcast. The feature is elegantly implemented, as it doesn’t utilise one of the primary buttons on the controller, and can be used after made baskets, or after the ball is swatted out of bounds on a big block.
We have seen similar features before, of course. Older NBA 2K games provided a “director’s cut” option in instant replay, which randomly generated a TV-style replay each time you selected it. It did require you to pause however, and in a few games it was quite buggy, showing clips from a few plays ago. NBA Live 06 also had replays that could be manually triggered after successfully performing Freestyle Superstars moves, but that was obviously no good for players who didn’t have FSS abilities. The automatic replays are good to have, but if there’s a play you enjoyed and would like to see again – especially if you want to capture footage of it – it’s a nifty feature.
3. Stats Exporting (Various Games in the NBA Live Series)
If you used to play the NBA Live series on PC, chances are you’re very familiar with the ability to export statistics to a text file. We had the ability as far back as NBA Live 96, but its usefulness was most apparent during the heyday of our Stories section. Whether it was exporting season statistics for your team, or the individual game box scores once that functionality was added, it was a quick and easy way to save and share stats from your season in progress. Although the ability to take screenshots does provide another method of doing that these days, the old approach wasn’t limited by a scroll bar. The stats were quickly saved in their entirety, in a single file.
Obviously this feature fell by the wayside once the NBA Live series was discontinued on PC, but I’m a little surprised that the idea hasn’t been picked by NBA 2K. Granted, story threads have fallen out of vogue, replaced by Let’s Plays and video recap series, but it would still be handy to be able to have those statistics on hand without having to fire up the game to get them. It certainly would’ve saved me jotting down numbers when I was maintaining my NBA 2K13 MyCAREER story! As it happens, I still have all my box scores from each season in my NBA Live 06 Dynasty. It’d be great to be able to do that with new NBA 2K games, or NBA Live if it ever returns to PC.
4. BIG Moments (NBA Live 14-16)
I was disappointed when I discovered that BIG Moments weren’t in NBA Live 18. BIG Moments were one of the best ideas in the current generation of NBA Live games, challenging gamers to play out scenarios from real NBA games; in some cases, ones that had finished only 24 hours earlier. Usually it meant achieving specific statistical goals over the same length of time it took a real player to do so, but there were also shorter challenges, such as hitting a gamewinning shot from the same spot on the floor that it came from in the real game. A retro challenge with Magic Johnson was even added once, though it placed him on the current Los Angeles Lakers squad.
BIG Moments were great for fleshing out NBA Live with additional experiences, as many of the challenges could be finished fairly quickly – the longest ones tended to be two quarters at most – and they allowed for fresh content to be pushed through on a regular basis. While I’d like EA Sports to prioritise improving NBA Live’s Franchise mode and continuing to build on The One, as well as exploring the possibility of bringing back the All-Star Weekend, BIG Moments were a fun and innovative idea, one that I’d like the NBA Live series to revisit. Perhaps they could be incorporated into Ultimate Team, similar to the quick challenges in NBA 2K’s MyTEAM.
5. Replay Editing (NBA Live 09-10)
I’ve written about NBA Live 09’s replay editing before in a Wayback Wednesday feature. Basically, back in NBA Live 09 and NBA Live 10, we had the ability to go into instant replay, set markers along the timeline, and then edit the speed and camera angle for each section of the clip, before saving a replay that we could watch over and over again (as well as upload to EA Sports World). The editing tools weren’t all that deep or sophisticated, but they got the job done, and could be used to make some entertaining and slick-looking highlight clips. If the feature ever comes back – and I hope that it does at some point – it could obviously be made even better.
As far as features from previous games in the NBA Live series are concerned, replay editing does seem to be a little overlooked. Admittedly, there are more important things that need to be added or improved first, but with YouTube being as big as it is now with basketball gamers, I imagine the functionality would be even more popular today. As it is, it’s another one of those features that stands as an example of how the NBA Live series was being very innovative at one point, before a few missteps led to it trying to play catch-up. With the game back on track, perhaps we’ll start seeing a few of these underrated features make their way into future releases.
What are some other features in the NBA Live series that you feel are underrated? If they’ve disappeared from recent releases, which would you most like to see return? 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.