It seems another week has gone by, so it’s time for another edition of The Friday Five! For those of you who are checking out The Friday Five for the first time and are wondering what it’s all about, 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.
We’re often talking about the things that we want to see added to basketball video games in terms of game modes and features. As with any gaming community, there are a lot of good ideas being thrown out there that developers would be wise to keep in mind. It should also be said that basketball game developers certainly come up with some fine ideas themselves. However, every so often a suggestion is made or a feature is introduced that just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of course, but these are five features that I just don’t believe are needed in basketball video games.
1. Fictional elements in the Season & Career Modes of NBA Sims
Just to clarify, I’m not talking about generated rookies, features like the fake Twitter introduced in NBA 2K13’s MyCAREER or the results that the user produces, which may (and probably will) see an unlikely team winning the championship. No, I’m talking about some of the suggestions that I sometimes see when we’re compiling Wishlists; suggestions like changing the Larry O’Brien trophy to a cup, awarding the NBA Champion additional salary cap space and other changes or additions that aren’t realistic depictions of the NBA.
With all due respect to the people making those suggestions, they’re not what an NBA sim needs. By definition, such games are aiming to simulate – that is, replicate as closely as possible – the National Basketball Association, providing gamers with an experience that represents what takes place in the real league. That’s why we want to see as much detail as possible in modes like Dynasty and Association, with as much accuracy as the NBA will allow. Intentionally deviating from reality with fictional salary cap rules or inaccurate trophy designs goes against the very concept those modes were founded upon and are best left for a basketball game based on a fictional league.
2. Full Blown Arcade Modes in Sim Titles
Before JaoSming comes after me, I’m definitely not advocating the removal of Blacktop, nor am I referring to the ability to adjust sliders and settings for a more casual experience. I’m talking about the Arcade Mode settings featured in a couple of sim titles like NBA Live 99 and NBA Live 2000, complete with high flying dunks, wacky sound effects, relaxed rules and a flaming basketball similar to NBA Jam.
While having an Arcade Mode shouldn’t actually detract from the sim game at all – if you don’t want that experience, don’t use the mode – and it could be handy for Jam-style mods, in general it’s a waste of time and resources. Aside from the fact that most gamers pick up sim titles for an experience that’s grounded in reality, Arcade Modes in sim games always feel a bit half-hearted. 5-on-5 basketball doesn’t lend itself well to the arcade style in my view, with the best arcade basketball games being 2-on-2 or 3-on-3. Without the ridiculous and entertainingly implausible dunks or the visual style of games like NBA Street and NBA Jam, the arcade experience falls flat. Developers are better off producing separate sim-oriented and arcade-oriented basketball games, rather than trying to fully implement both styles into one title.
Along with unsportsmanlike technical fouls, this is something that a lot of people continue to ask for in Wishlists. The bottom line is that the NBA won’t allow unsportsmanlike techs or fights in their licensed video games, as neither paint the sport in a positive light. A league as image conscious as the NBA simply isn’t about to let video game developers replicate moments that sully its reputation. We don’t include them in any of our Wishlists anymore because it’s something that the NBA just isn’t going to budge on and both EA and 2K are bound by their rules.
All that aside though, do we really need fights in the game? Unsportsmanlike techs are a different story as they’re more common, but we very rarely see full-on brawls in the NBA. Even incidents where there’s just a punch or two are few and far between; it’s not like hockey where it’s pretty much a part of the culture and thus represented in the NHL series. I just don’t get the appeal of having fights in a basketball game when it’s not a part of the sport and such an infrequent occurrence. If someone has a really good argument as to why fights should be in basketball games, I’d be interested to hear it. Otherwise, I’d suggest picking up a beat ’em up, tournament fighter, boxing or mixed martial arts sim, or even a professional wrestling game instead.
4. Fake Commentators & Television Networks
From time to time, it’s been suggested that basketball games should do away with real commentators and instead enlist actors to portray fictional announcers on an equally fictional television network (such as EA Sports TV or the 2K Sports Network). The idea behind this is that the developers could record more lines and better dialogue, while creating an immersive atmosphere with the fictional television network. I understand where people are coming from with this idea, but I completely disagree.
Even if developers were to bring in actors to portray fictional announcers, it won’t alleviate problems with technical limitations or errors in logic that result in repetitive commentary or lines being used at inappropriate times. There’s always going to be a finite amount of commentary that can be recorded for a game and as it stands, the talent they bring in can spend up to 60 hours in the booth, as revealed by Steve Kerr. Said talent are pretty good at playing sports commentators – that is their job, after all – and their presence brings a sense of authenticity that just isn’t there if everything is fictional. Getting rid of them would absolutely be the wrong approach in my view.
Once again, with all due respect to the gamers who are asking for this…really? Seriously? What for? Yes, I know it’s a feature that’s been in Madden before, but how does it benefit or enhance a game, exactly? Sure, you can put yourself in the stands to cheer on your favourite team, or perhaps you could add a celebrity to courtside for a very small touch of realism (Jack Nicholson watching the Los Angeles Lakers is an example that springs immediately to mind). But then what?
To be frank, I’m not sure that I could come up with a more useless feature that should be lower down on the list of priorities. It’s the kind of thing that developers could maybe consider adding to the game when everything else is top notch and they’re stuck for extra bells and whistles, but I don’t think basketball games are at that point yet. There’s so much more important stuff that could (and should) be done with basketball games before this idea is on the table. Apologies if you’re a fan of the concept, but if it’s a quality game we’re after, I don’t think Create-a-Fan should even crack a Top 50 list of things that NBA Live or NBA 2K needs.
That’s going to do it for this week. What are some of the things that you feel basketball video games just don’t need to do or have? Alternatively, would you care to defend any of the things that I’ve listed here? Let me know in the comments below and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.