The Friday Five: 5 Unfortunate Barriers in Modding

The Friday Five

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 unfortunate barriers that challenge us when creating great modding projects.

Sometimes it seems as though we can do anything when it comes to modding the PC versions of NBA 2K, and back in the day, NBA Live. The fantastic projects that we’ve seen are the result of hard work, experimentation, and perseverance in the face of barriers that seemingly stood in the way. Either by developing new tools or nifty workarounds, we’ve been able to do things that once seemed impossible. This has only contributed to the feeling of being able to accomplish just about anything we can imagine with the mods that we make for basketball video games.

However, there are indeed limitations and barriers that make modding difficult, or in the worst case scenario, impossible. It’s been our goal in the modding community to find a way around these barriers, but in some cases, we’ve had to admit defeat. If nothing else, we’ve had to accept that certain ideas can’t come to fruition exactly how we envisioned them. It’s always frustrating when a game is so modder-friendly in some respects, but so limited in what we can do in another area. Once again, it obviously hasn’t prevented some amazing mods from being made, but nevertheless, here are five unfortunate barriers that we’ve encountered while modding.

1. Anti-Cheating Protection

Editing a player in-game (NBA 2K20)

As someone who has enjoyed online play in recent years, I do appreciate the presence of anti-cheating measures in NBA 2K. There are enough problems with online play when everyone is playing by the rules, let alone when hackers give themselves a boost. However, those same measures are also barriers when it comes to modding rosters this generation. The tools for editing data that isn’t accessible in-game can also be used for more nefarious purposes, so if you’re online while using them, you can ping the anti-cheating system. More than a couple of gamers have had their accounts banned, even though they weren’t hacking their MyPLAYER or MyTEAM squad.

Of course, the irony here is that quite often, those online hackers don’t get caught or banned by those anti-cheating measures. If you go on YouTube and search for hacks in NBA 2K PC online, you’ll find plenty of videos of people getting away with it, or encountering other gamers doing it without penalty. Instead, it seems to be the people who are using the tools to make great projects for offline play that get caught and punished. It won’t happen if you’re careful (i.e. remain offline when modding), but it’s still something you have to be mindful of. It’s one of those modding barriers that we didn’t have to worry about with the previous generation of NBA 2K games.

2. League Organisation & Format

Setting up MyLEAGUE (NBA 2K20)

I touched on this when I discussed the most satisfying mods to make. As fun as it is to make current and retro rosters alike, there are always some barriers that prevent us from making those modding projects as accurate as we’d like. A prime example is the way the league is set up, from the format of the Playoffs and other events, to the number of teams and the way they’re organised. Some of these barriers are minor and barely noticeable, but the number of teams in particular is a big hurdle. It’s usually better to have extra teams as opposed to having to leave any out, but as far as making a retro season roster as accurate as possible, it’s a pain to deal with either way.

In this way, certain games not only mark significant changes to the NBA through time, but also the kind of current and retro rosters that are the most compatible. For example, NBA Live 95 has 27 teams, so it lends itself to any season set between 1989-90 and 1994-1995. NBA Live 96-2004 will have at least two extra teams if you re-create earlier seasons with them, and NBA Live 2004 is the last game that supports a 29 team league in Dynasty. Any game set in the 2005 season or later will have 30 teams and six Divisions. These barriers don’t stop quality retro season mods from being made, but they do make inaccuracies (and a need for workarounds) inevitable.

3. Mode Compatibility Barriers

Modding Barriers: Incompatible Modes

So, you’ve created a fantastic, deep roster mod. You’ve changed everything that you possibly can change, used high quality art updates, and taken great care to be as accurate possible with all aspects of the roster. What you’ve done is admirable, and a lot of fun to play with. Just one problem: it isn’t compatible with all game modes. Worst case scenario, it’s only suitable for, or compatible with, exhibition play. Some mods are conceived that way conceptually, but for others, it’s a technical limitation. Note that it mightn’t even be your fault, as it isn’t always the result of how you’ve modded the game. Some modes don’t play nice – or at all – with custom rosters.

MyCAREER has been infamously temperamental, or completely incompatible, with current and custom roster mods. Some modifications work just fine in gameplay, but cause issues in any kind of season mode. I discovered that when I managed to change the location of the All-Star court in NBA Live 96, only to find out that it caused the players to have another game added to their regular stats in Season. Overcoming these barriers usually means accepting these limitations and possibly eschewing what looks best for what works best, though in some cases we simply have to accept that some mods just won’t work with certain game modes despite all of our best efforts.

4. Difficulty in Opening File Formats

Modding Barriers: Opening Files

If I were ranking this list as a Top 5, this one would likely be in first place. We can ignore or find workarounds for certain inaccuracies, but simply put, if we can’t open the files and successfully modify them, modding just isn’t possible. These are barriers that we’ve had to overcome many times throughout the years, and it’s thanks to the hard work of some clever people with programming knowhow that we’ve had the tools to work with files for NBA Live and NBA 2K PC. The developers have also helped us out here by making files easier to work with, and keeping the same formats year-to-year to maximise compatibility with existing tools, and between games.

With that being said, it hasn’t always been easy. Even when we’ve been able to open files, we haven’t always been able to do much (or indeed, anything) with them, or we’ve had to be very careful about what we change and how we change it. Specifics vary from file to file and game to game, but they are barriers we’ve had to overcome, and sometimes they’ve stopped us dead in our tracks. The problem here is that the NBA is understandably picky about what can be done with video games that use their license, so the chances of getting official modding tools or PC releases that are as modder-friendly as they once were aren’t that good. As such, we do what we can.

5. Aspects We Just Can’t Change

Game Settings in NBA 2K20

Files that are difficult, fiddly, or impossible to work with are obviously annoying barriers, but it’s even more frustrating when there’s an aspect we just can’t find and access to try to make changes. These are the core elements of the game, stuff that isn’t stored as saved roster data or in textures that we can export, manipulate, and replace. I’m talking about changing the length of the shot clock for college rosters, or perhaps implementing retro season rules. In some games, it might be the salary cap, and as above, other aspects of the league in season and franchise modes. Try as we might, we just keep hitting dead ends, assuming there’s even a glimmer of hope in the first place.

There’s some overlap here with the aforementioned difficult file formats. Audio is a common example, as there’s never really been much we can do with it. Even in the few games where we’ve been able to open and even modify audio files, it’s tough to get the desired result. We obviously don’t have the necessary samples to replace the default audio files with, despite more than a couple of people claiming they can do flawless impressions of Marv Albert, Kevin Harlan, and so on. Some things, we’re just stuck with. We can overcome those modding barriers by doing the best we can and working with what we’ve got, but clever as we are, we do run into brick walls.

What are some of the other unfortunate barriers we have to overcome in modding? Does it get in the way of you wanting to mod? Let me know 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.

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