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 takes a look at five basketball game features that were ahead of their time.
I guess I’m in the mood for sequels at the moment. After following up an older Friday Five with another list of random basketball game facts a couple of weeks ago, I’ve got another Part 2 column for you today. Back in October of last year, I talked about five basketball game features that were ahead of their time. Since the list is obviously much longer than just those five, and we’re in the midst of learning about the new additions and innovations in this year’s games, I thought I’d take the opportunity to discuss five more basketball game features that were ahead of their time when they made their debut.
Like I said in my previous column, it can be surprising to see how long ago it was that certain features made their basketball game debut. Conversely, it’s also somewhat disheartening when you remember that some of them can’t be found in more recent titles. On a more positive note, some features and gameplay mechanics have definitely been enhanced since they were first implemented, or paved the way for similar and ultimately superior concepts. With that in mind, here are five basketball game features that demonstrated great foresight and technological achievement.
1. Roster Exporting in NBA Live 96
Let’s say that you’re playing through the season or franchise mode of a basketball game, and the league has seen some interesting changes, either through your own intervention or by the CPU’s hand. Wouldn’t it be great to quickly and easily export those rosters so that they could be used for exhibition play or a new season, or shared with your fellow gamers? It’s something that many of us have been interested in doing at one time or another, and to that end, we’ve found ways of accomplishing it. The easiest workaround we’ve had to date is copying the roster database files from a Dynasty save to a roster save in the PC version of NBA Live.
In NBA Live 96 PC, however, it could be done with the click of a button. The roster management screen in Season mode provided this feature, allowing gamers to quickly export their season roster to the game’s custom roster.dat file. The drawback here is that NBA Live 96 didn’t support multiple roster saves, but you could always keep backups of files to be swapped in later. A feature like this would likely be tougher to implement now with more sophisticated game modes and a lot more save data, but it’d be awesome to see roster exporting return in a new basketball game. Imagine the MyLEAGUE scenarios that we could create for one another!
2. Play-by-Play Commentary in NBA Full Court Press
I’m not sure if Microsoft’s NBA Full Court Press was the first basketball game to feature play-by-play commentary, but it was one of the earliest to have it, as far as I can recall. NBA Jam had Tim Kitzrow’s legendary calls, of course, but it wasn’t exactly running commentary. In NBA Full Court Press, Kevin Calabro’s distinctive voice could be heard calling every part of the action while interjecting his signature phrases, such as describing a defender as being “on (their man) like a bad suit”. The depth and quality of the commentary, as well as securing one of the NBA’s big name announcers, made NBA Full Court Press something of a pioneer in that regard.
This reflected a common trend of that era. EA Sports had the best overall basketball game in NBA Live, but other developers were making hoops titles that had a feature or two that NBA Live lacked. NBA Live 97 was superior to NBA Full Court Press across the board, but when I played the latter at a friend’s house, I was really impressed by the commentary. Back then, most games either had voice clips at specific moments (NBA Jam, World League Basketball), or only had speech in the menus and a bit of PA Announcer audio in-game (NBA Live). It’s nothing like today’s presentation, but with full play-by-play, Full Court Press was ahead of its time.
3. Three Team Trades in NBA Live 2001
You may recall that I covered three team trades in-depth in a Wayback Wednesday feature. Incidentally, it was a feature that I posted while we were in the midst of our server move last year, so if you missed it the first time around, be sure to check it out! Anyway, as I noted in that feature, big multi-team trades were becoming quite common towards the end of the 90s and in the early 2000s, so there was a significant demand to have a three team trade interface in NBA Live. That wish was granted in NBA Live 2001, and while it did seem a little clunky at first, it was functional, whether wheeling and dealing in Franchise Mode, or customising the rosters.
It’s a feature that can still be found in MyLEAGUE and MyGM in NBA 2K, but it hasn’t been featured in EA Sports’ basketball game since NBA Live 2001. As such, it stands as another unfortunate example of a great feature that sadly disappeared the very next year, and is now long overdue to make a return. It’s also an example of how EA used to be quite innovative with NBA Live, whereas these days they’re playing catch-up, or leaving out necessary staples (such as roster editing). In any case, despite NBA Live 2001’s shortcomings in other areas, in three team trades, it had a feature that many of its rivals lacked, to say nothing of its successors.
4. Sprint Meter in Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside
Strictly speaking, Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside wasn’t the first basketball game to feature a sprint or turbo meter. NBA Jam used one quite effectively to balance its arcade gameplay, with its trademark “On Fire” powerup notably granting gamers unlimited turbo usage. NBA Courtside was one of the earliest sim-oriented games to make extended use of a sprint meter though, in a manner that is very similar to how it’s implemented in more recent releases. As you would expect, the meter forced gamers to be more conservative with their use of the sprint control. This meant that players couldn’t run indefinitely, just as in real life.
Not only that, but attempting a steal or performing a dribbling move also drained the sprint meter. This is another concept that we’ve seen utilised very recently in sim and arcade basketball games alike, such as the dribble fatigue in NBA 2K17, and the need for a full sprint meter to perform crossovers, steals, and shoves in NBA Playgrounds. Contemporary usage of the sprint meter tends to be more balanced however, as the meter drained too quickly and refilled too slowly in NBA Courtside, making the mechanic more overpowering than it should have been. These concepts have to start somewhere, though, so credit where it’s due.
5. Online Team Play in NBA Live 08
Talk about a feature that’s come a long way! As I noted in my Wayback Wednesday feature about Online Team Play, it’s a concept that’s become very important to the basketball gaming experience. Back in the days of NBA Live 08, it was still something of a novelty. With LIVE Pro-Am, 2K Pro-Am, The One, and 2K’s new eLeague that will be tipping off soon, online cooperative gameplay has become a big deal. Granted, it’s not something that absolutely everyone is interested in, but it’s an online experience that a lot of gamers do expect to see in a five-on-five, sim-oriented basketball game.
Online basketball gaming was hardly new in 2007, but the concept of having up to ten players on ten different consoles, each controlling one of the players on the court, was revolutionary. NBA Live was beginning to lose its grip on the market at the time, but they were clearly still trying to innovate, and Online Team Play is a great example of that. Again, the concept has become very important to both NBA Live and NBA 2K, being both a major hook in The One, and a platform for 2K’s expanding brand with the forthcoming eLeague. It’s funny to think that we first saw the concept in a basketball game ten years ago, and as a post-release update no less.
As I said in my introduction, the list of features that seem to be ahead of their time is longer than five items, and indeed, they still number more than the ten that I’ve discussed so far. What are some other basketball game features that were ahead of their time, in your opinion? 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.