Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! Every Friday I cover a topic related to basketball gaming, either as a list of five items, or a Top 5 countdown. The topics for these lists and countdowns include everything from fun facts and recollections to commentary and critique. This week’s Five is a list of five 90s classics that needed the official updates that today’s basketball games receive.
Official updates for basketball video games are something we’re both wary of, and take for granted. After all, they can break aspects of a game while trying to fix others, and leave a title in a worse state than it was before. On the bright side, over the years we’ve seen official updates make fixes that would’ve once had to wait until the next game came out. For all the controversy that comes with day one patches, they have had their benefits. This wasn’t possible before consoles had hard drives, and even PC patches were rare and small back in the day. Many 90s classics stand as proof of this.
The fact that I’m referring to these basketball games as 90s classics should indicate that I still think very highly of them. Even without official updates, these were some of the best hoops titles of the decade, and still have replay value today. However, whether it’s a quality-of-life fix, a gameplay tweak, or updated rosters, these games definitely would’ve benefited from the official updates that are now commonplace. Obviously, the modding community was able to step up in some cases, but there are some fixes that only the developers can make. Again, it’s not my intention to dump on these 90s classics, but as far as receiving useful fixes, they sadly came along too early.
1. NBA Live 99 on Consoles
I’m specifying the console versions of NBA Live 99 here, because the PC version did actually receive official updates (two, in fact). The first PC patch addressed some technical and gameplay issues while updating the rosters, with the second patch being a further roster update. Although the technical and gameplay fixes were welcome, the first roster update was a huge deal. The lockout that had delayed the start of the 1999 season and ultimately reduced it to 50 games also caused NBA Live 99 (and other video games that year) to launch with final 1998 rosters. That meant no Class of 1998 rookies, which included Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, and Mike Bibby, among others.
Those official roster updates took care of that on PC, even adding audio files for the new rookie crop. Unfortunately, the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 versions of NBA Live 99 couldn’t be patched, leaving them with outdated rosters (and in the case of the PS1 release, a few bugs that were fixed on PC). It highlights two drawbacks, one particular to 90s classics, and one that’s arguably still an issue today. Until consoles had online connectivity and better storage solutions, they couldn’t accommodate official updates. That has changed, but early releases – even without a lockout like the one that affected NBA Live 99 – can be a hurdle as far as quality and accuracy goes.
2. NBA Jam & Its Midway Sequels
Considering that NBA Jam defined a genre of basketball games and is still a blast to play today, it may sound absurd – blasphemous even – to suggest that it needed to be updated like a modern title. Of course, NBA Jam did actually receive a few updates, but like other 90s classics, the technology and distribution methods of the era made them far less efficient than the official updates we see today. The arcade version of NBA Jam was revised a couple of times, tweaking gameplay and updating rosters. As I’ve discussed, the fourth revision of NBA Jam Tournament Edition Arcade included the cancelled Robert Horry-Sean Elliott trade, with incorrect jerseys and portraits.
Needless to say, if it was released today, a hotfix for that issue could easily be pushed through. Roster updates and other adjustments wouldn’t require the replacement of the entire ROM board. I’ll include the home ports here as well, since that was long before consoles could accommodate official updates. Even when it comes to the PC ports, the infancy of the World Wide Web made patches a rarity. Beyond updating rosters and possibly a few ratings, bugs such as Kevin Edwards using Blue Edwards’ portrait in NBA Jam TE for PC, and incorrect jersey colours in NBA Hangtime, are issues that would be resolved by the official updates that games commonly now receive.
3. NBA Live 96
It’s easy to forget about the NBA lockout of 1995, in part because the 1996 season turned out to be such a memorable campaign, but also because no games were lost before a resolution was reached. There were still disagreements that would lead to the lockout of 1998 – which as I noted, affected NBA Live 99 – but the 1995 lockout didn’t end up casting a shadow over the real 1996 season. It was a different matter on the virtual hardwood, as the 16-bit versions of NBA Live 96 had to launch with final 1995 season rosters, and no new rookies. The developers found a workaround via the shortcuts in the new Create-a-Player, as well as the inclusion of the Expansion Draft.
This did give us a couple of tools to update the rosters, though there were limitations. Had an official roster update with all the rookies, Dennis Rodman wearing #91, and retirees removed been viable, it would’ve been most welcome. Unfortunately, such an update was a long way off, especially on consoles. The PC version came out later, and did have updated rosters. It was missing some veteran players though, not to mention a few portraits, both of which were added in the PS1 release. NBA Live 96 also had a bug in which the Grizzlies’ court was used for the Clippers’ and Bullets’ alternate venues. It’s still a classic game, but a modern patch could clean up all of those issues.
4. NBA Fastbreak ’98/NBA Action 98
As I explained in my retrospective of NBA 2K’s forerunner, this is the same game with two names. On PC and Sega Saturn, it was known as NBA Action 98. On PS1, it was NBA Fastbreak ’98 (and originally going to be titled Hardwood Heroes). It’s a solid game that holds its own against other 1998 season titles, notably NBA Live 98. However, the PC version does have a couple of issues. Instant replays are unusually short, and manual replays don’t allow you to rewind far enough. Interestingly, this wasn’t a problem in the PS1 release. Additionally, manual substitutions can’t be made if automatic substitutions are on, which was an uncommon and clunky design choice.
Both versions could’ve used official roster updates, though obviously Michael Jordan would’ve remained a Roster Player either way. Speaking of Roster Players though, they are an issue in Fastbreak, which did account for some player movement that didn’t make it into Action. Because the game had 12-man rosters however, a couple of trades and retirements forced the inclusion of Roster Players in their place. Even with the restricted roster sizes, a modern roster update would presumably replace those players with real ones, and accurate lineups. It’s a fine game and it tipped off the NBA 2K series, but like other 90s classics, a lack of updates left it with errors and quirks.
5. NBA Live 2000
Like NBA Jam, it may sound blasphemous to suggest that NBA Live 2000 was in need of an official update. It may also sound like it doesn’t belong on a list of 90s classics, but remember: it came out in 1999! As far as needing an official update though, NBA Live 2000’s main issue was its outdated rosters, particularly on PC. A number of teams don’t even have twelve players on their roster! Although they’re not afflicted by the inaccuracy of Roster Players, their lineups are still thin. Some veteran players such as Ron Harper were free agents when the rosters were finalised, and thus are missing. An official roster update could’ve made NBA Live 2000 PC even better.
Apart from that, there are a couple of minor fixes that would’ve been welcome, and are the kinds of things you’d see addressed in a modern official update. This includes salaries being automatically recalculated while editing original players, and a player’s Years Pro always increasing in Franchise mode, even if they sit out an entire season. Small details, but still worthy of a fix via official updates. Those updates could also add the East and West All-Stars for exhibition play, and the delay before shooting a free throw could’ve been reduced. None of these problems prevented NBA Live 2000 from being an all-time classic, but those are issues that would be fixed nowadays.
Do you agree that these 90s classics needed similar official updates to the ones that we see today? What are some other 90s classics that could’ve used official updates? Let me know in the comments, 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.
Oh yes, updated 1999/2000 roster for NBA Live 2000 would be absolutely an awesome thing. So sad that we never had it either in official or unofficial version.
I’ll have to check the archives to see if any of Lutz’s 2000 season updates are still around. The last one that’s uploaded is a 2001 season update, I believe. Of course, with some of the old assets that are lying around, I might be able to put something together for March Modness this year. An official roster update would’ve been awesome though, even if that was the extent of it. Just to get a couple of missing rookies and veterans in there with all their artwork and audio at the ready.
It would be truly awesome if Lutz’s roster is found somewhere in the archives.
Did a little digging, and it seems like Lutz’s original update is long gone. The last update for 2000 was being handled by benji, but the Wayback Machine hasn’t archived the file. I might have to see if I can put something together with the assets we’ve still got lying around!