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.
As I’ve said many times before, when you go back and compare an old basketball video game to more recent releases, it’s obvious how far the genre has come. At the same time, you’ll often be surprised at some of the features and functionality that can be found in vintage basketball games, especially when they’re no longer present in newer titles. Advances in gaming technology have made a lot of our Wishlist items come true, but it’s impressive to see what developers were able to accomplish while working with more primitive tech.
On the other hand, it’s also interesting to see how some really good ideas fell by the wayside. In some cases, it took many years for those features to make it back into one of the basketball games, whereas other features are still absent in today’s releases. For this week’s Friday Five, I’m taking a look at five features that may not necessarily be the pinnacle of technology in basketball gaming, but they’re nevertheless ideas that were ahead of their time. Let’s tip things off with number five.
1. Shot Meter in NBA Inside Drive 2000
One of my favourite gameplay improvements in both NBA Live and NBA 2K over the past couple of years has been the addition of a visible Shot Meter, indicating the optimal release point on jumpshots. It’s taken the ambiguity out of shooting jumpshots, and given us far more control over the mechanics. However, it was pointed out to me a few weeks back that Microsoft’s NBA Inside Drive 2000 actually featured a Shot Meter all those years ago, and indeed it does. It’s very similar to NBA 2K17’s meter, filling up as you hold down Shoot, and reaching the “sweet spot” when it’s full. Early or late releases decrease the likelihood of making the shot accordingly.
There might have been a couple of other older basketball video games which featured similar meters that I just can’t recollect at this time, but thinking back, I don’t remember them being all that common. Fatigue and Sprint indicators have been around for a while, but Shot Meters and Perfect Release indicators are a fairly recent addition, at least in NBA Live and NBA 2K. It’s funny because in hindsight, it’s a very logical and useful feature, but for a long time, there were no Shot Meters and thus the success of jumpshots often felt quite random. The idea has been around for a while though, as you can see when you go back and play NBA Inside Drive 2000.
2. Face in the Game in NBA Live 2000 & NBA Live 2001 PC
Earlier this year, I wrote a Wayback Wednesday article about Face in the Game. Face in the Game was an element of Create-a-Player in NBA Live 2000 and NBA Live 2001, which allowed users to add a real face to a created player using a photograph. It essentially utilised similar principles to the ones modders use when creating a custom face texture, only without the need for external tools, and with the added benefit of helpful guidelines for all the facial features. Functionality to add faces to players has also been available in other EA Sports titles such as the FIFA series, but it’s only made its return to basketball games in the past couple of years.
These days, we put our faces into NBA Live and NBA 2K using an app on a mobile device, or in the case of NBA 2K15 and NBA 2K16, the PlayStation Camera or Microsoft Kinect. This allows for some 3D modelling – with further sculpting options also available in NBA 2K – so the method of creating custom faces from a single still photo seems somewhat antiquated now. The two methods are quite similar in the way they capture facial features however, and it’s incredible to think that the forerunner to today’s face scans was actually available in a basketball game seventeen years ago.
3. Saving & Editing Replays in Michael Jordan in Flight
If you caught my video retrospective of Michael Jordan in Flight, or you remember playing the game yourself back in the day, you might recall that the game features the ability to save instant replays. Not only was this a rarity at the time, it’s a feature that we haven’t seen in too many basketball video games over the past couple of decades, either. Of course, there’s arguably less call for a feature like this in modern basketball games, what with video and screenshot capture software on PC, and in-built capture functionality with the current generation of consoles.
However, the really cool thing about saving replays in Michael Jordan in Flight was that you could not only go back and watch them later, but edit them as well. After saving a replay during gameplay, you could load it up from the main menu and change the camera angle, video speed, and even the length of the clip. With that in mind, perhaps there is room for a feature like this in future basketball games, especially given the growing number of YouTubers who produce basketball gaming content. In any event, it was definitely more than you could expect of most basketball video games released in the early 90s.
4. Mid-Game Saves in World League Basketball/NCAA Basketball
Originally, I was going to talk about mid-game saves in NBA Live 98 PC. I had a whole introductory spiel about it being a first for the series, along with a bunch of other firsts that were present in NBA Live 98. Then I remembered that mid-game saving was actually a feature in the SNES game released as NCAA Basketball in North America, and World League Basketball in PAL regions. As I noted in my video retrospective of the game, the Japanese version – Super Dunk Shot – featured a password system that was still widely used at that time. Mid-game saves were a big deal for NBA Live 98 PC in 1997, but far more ahead of their time in 1992.
That’s what makes the mid-game saving in World League/NCAA Basketball even more impressive. Battery backup saves in cartridge games do predate the 16-bit era, but they usually had their limitations. Generally speaking, saving could only occur at certain checkpoints, or in the frontend. Saving and resuming play from an exact point in a level (or in this case, match) usually wasn’t an option. When you saved a game in World League/NCAA Basketball – whether it was part of a saved tournament or simply an exhibition game – you could resume it from that very second with scores and stats intact, a feature other basketball games wouldn’t offer until years later.
5. Video Exporting in NBA Live 2001 PC
From NBA Live 98 through NBA Live 2000 on PC, basketball gamers could not only save their games in progress, but also replays that they wanted to keep. The catch is that replays were essentially mini saved games, so similar to the saved replays in Michael Jordan in Flight, they could only be watched in-game. They could still be distributed to other basketball gamers for their viewing pleasure, but it was obviously less convenient than a portable video file. In NBA Live 2001 PC, we lost the ability to save games in progress, but gained the ability to export a video from Instant Replay. This made it a lot easier to save and share some of our favourite moments.
As you might expect, the function wasn’t very sophisticated. The maximum size of the video files was 320 pixels wide by 240 pixels high, a resolution that certainly looks rather unimpressive today. Additionally, exported videos don’t feature any sound. Still, it was a very nifty feature for the time, and something that we missed when it didn’t appear in future games. Once again, this is somewhat of an obsolete feature, now that we have much easier ways of capturing media on PCs and consoles alike. Mind you, given the enthusiasm for saving and sharing gaming videos these days, you could probably say that it was an omen of things to come.
It just goes to show that when it comes to the development of basketball video games, the vision and desire to implement creative and useful features has been there for a long time. Hopefully, basketball games will continue to innovate, and perhaps look to draw inspiration from some of their predecessors. What are some other features in old basketball games that seemed ahead of their time? Are there any you’d like to see in future games? Let me know in the comments section below, and 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.