Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
If you’re relatively new to basketball video games, or at least the basketball gaming community, you may not have much of an idea of how things used to be when it came to previews and interactions with the developers. With all the tidbits on social media, developer blogs, in-depth interviews here at the NLSC and around the web, live streams, and so on these days, we get to learn a lot about the upcoming editions of NBA Live and NBA 2K before they come out. This allows us to be well-informed, and in turn, savvy consumers.
Of course, the downside of such in-depth coverage is that some of the mystery is taken out of basketball gaming. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – with games coming out every year, we want to know whether the latest iteration is worth spending money on – but it also means that we don’t often get to be surprised by something really cool in basketball video games. Every so often though, EA Sports or 2K Sports will announce something that catches us off guard, and that’s what I’m talking about today: five times that I was surprised by basketball video games. Let’s get to the Five!
1. Freestyle Control in NBA Live 2003
Right stick dribbling is something that we take for granted in NBA Live these days, as it’s the control method they’ve been using (under one name or another) for over a decade now. When it made its debut in NBA Live 2003 however, I remember being quite surprised by the innovation. As I said, back in those days, the preview season wasn’t anything like it is today: no social media, and less interaction with the development team. All the same, there were some whispers about right stick dribbling controls. In retrospect, it was an obvious development, but to me the rumours seemingly came out of left field.
How come? Well, reflecting on it now, at the time I wasn’t really thinking of how basketball video games could innovate. Perhaps I was still too young to really think outside the box, beyond the tweaks and improvements I wanted to see made to the existing features. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in the problems of NBA Live 2002, or the desire to see NBA Live return to the PC. Or perhaps I just hadn’t really considered the possibilities of dual analog controllers, not having a dual analog PC gamepad until NBA Live 2003 came out. Whatever the case, I quickly came to love right stick dribbling. Whatever missteps the NBA Live series may have made over the years (and there have been a few), that aspect of its controls has always been solid.
2. The Charlotte Bobcats appearing in NBA Live 2004
Early on in the preview season of NBA Live 2004, it was heavily rumoured that the Charlotte Bobcats would appear in the game. In more recent years, that obviously wouldn’t be a fact worth mentioning, but the Bobcats weren’t due to debut until the 2005 season; the year after NBA Live 2004 came out. This one came as a surprise to me personally, because I thought there was no way it was going to happen. Honestly, I figured there’d be no point in doing it. Why add an expansion team one year early, when it didn’t even have any players yet? Needless to say, I was way off the mark there.
The Charlotte Bobcats were in NBA Live 2004, with a roster comprised of fictional placeholder players, though it was possible to add real players to the team. They weren’t playable in the newly revamped Dynasty Mode, unfortunately, as it only supported 29 teams; no more, no less. Looking back, I’m not sure why I was in denial about the rumours. I believe one of the Madden titles had included an expansion team the year before they made their NFL debut (I’m guessing the Houston Texans and Madden 2002, based on my recollections of the debates and a Wikipedia search), and all of the Bobcats’ designs had been unveiled. Again, I’m not sure why I was so stubborn about it, but hey, it’s given me something to reflect on years later.
3. NBA 2K9 Coming Out On PC
You’d think that I’d have learned to never say never after what happened with the Bobcats in NBA Live 2004, but in all fairness, history was on my side here. Following the announcement that NBA Live 09 would not be released on PC, rumours began to swirl that NBA 2K9 would become the first game in the 2K series to make the leap to PC. Now, in my defense, I don’t believe that I ruled out the possibility entirely, but I do recall being very, very sceptical, and taking the rumours with a huge grain of salt. As it turned out, my scepticism resulted in a nice surprise when it was confirmed that yes, NBA 2K9 would be available on PC.
As I said though, history was on my side in terms of my ill-fated prediction. NBA 2K had been a console exclusive up until that point, and we’d heard from a reliable source that when the possibility of a PC release had been brought up to the 2K development team a couple of years prior, they’d just laughed. Not very encouraging. I always think of that when gamers talk about how EA “screwed” PC gamers. As disappointing as it was to lose Live on PC, it was a business decision, not something done to deliberately spite PC gamers. Furthermore, 2K seemed to have no interest in the PC until EA dipped out. In any event, it was a welcome surprise, I was glad to be wrong, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have 2K on PC to this very day.
4. Michael Jordan being named cover player for NBA 2K11
I remember the day that Michael Jordan was announced as the cover player for NBA 2K11. I’d gone out with my friends the night before for a few drinks, which quickly turned into a bigger evening than we’d anticipated. Bleary-eyed and running on a little less sleep than I would’ve liked, I made my way home that morning to discover the news, and quickly punched up a bulletin for the front page. As Barney Stinson would say, “True story”…though there were no pineapples in sight. Anyway, let it not be said that I’m not dedicated to my craft here at the NLSC!
Of course, by the time the official announcement was made on June 2nd 2010, it wasn’t a huge surprise. That’s because Jon Robinson had reported that an announcement was forthcoming in an article over on ESPN.com, a week prior on May 26th. When that story broke, however, it definitely was a surprise. Michael Jordan had been retired (for the third and final time) for almost a decade at that point, and it was highly unusual for a basketball game focused on the current NBA to feature an inactive player. Of course, MJ is not your average former NBA player, and being a huge fan of His Airness, his appearance on the cover and the inclusion of the Jordan Challenge definitely had me hyped for NBA 2K11.
5. Sim Intervention in NBA Live 15
Even in the social media age, where there’s a consistent stream of information coming out about our favourite basketball video games – especially as we get nearer and nearer to the release date – there’s still an opportunity to be surprised. And even though we receive some tremendous opportunities in terms of securing interviews with developers, they’re not going to spill all the beans right away. Therefore, it’s great when we do get a pleasant surprise, especially amidst the scepticism (and indeed, cynicism) that permeates every preview season of NBA Live and NBA 2K.
That’s exactly what happened with the revelation that sim intervention would be returning in NBA Live 15’s Dynasty Mode. Because the depth modes were not the primary focus in last year’s development cycle, and only minor upgrades had been hinted at, I wasn’t expecting anything that significant to make its way into the game. After Sean O’Brien mentioned that Dynasty would be receiving some attention in our first interview with him, we joked about how he caught us off guard in our second interview. As he said though, you’ve got to leave some surprises, and I can only hope that NBA Live 16’s Dynasty Mode will similarly surprise me with some great new additions…or returning features, as the case may be.
Honourable Mentions: The return of NBA Jam in 2010 (now developed by EA Sports), and on the less positive side of things, the announcement of no PC versions of NBA Live 2002 and NBA Live 09. I’d also throw NBA’s Greatest in NBA 2K12 out there as I was a little surprised by the scope of the mode, but after the Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11, it wasn’t altogether surprising that 2K would continue to add historical content to the game.
What are some of the features, content, or announcements that have surprised you (for better or worse) when it comes to basketball video games? Let me know in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in this week, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.