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.
It’s just about time for us to start compiling Wishlists for NBA Live 16 and NBA 2K16. While both developments teams obviously have their own roadmaps, it’s important for us to make our voices heard, and let the developers know just how closely their vision gels with our desires and expectations. To that end, it’s important that our feedback be both detailed and constructive.
Of course, every so often, someone throws out a suggestion or makes a complaint about a basketball video game that’s…kind of out there. Having compiled a lot of Wishlists and taken part in many discussions in the Forum over the years, I recall some very strange criticisms being posted every now and again. I thought I’d reflect upon some of them in this week’s Five, starting with…
1. Use of the Word “City” on the Team Stats Screen
We’re going way back to NBA Live 2002 for this one. NBA Live 2002 was a controversial release: it had its fair share of problems, and it was the first NBA Live game not to be released on the PC platform. As you can imagine, we were pretty disappointed by that. However, I distinctly remember one person was really upset by the fact that the word “City” was used on the Team Stats screen, because as they pointed out, “City” was not the right word to use for teams whose location is actually a state. This was also the case in NBA Live 2001.
That is an accurate statement, of course; Indiana, Golden State, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Utah are not cities. However, it’s a pretty pedantic point to make, when the label of “City” suited 24 of the 29 NBA teams in Live 2002. While technically correct – the best kind of correct, some would say – it was a very minor thing to make a major fuss about, especially compared to the game’s other issues such as an inability to break out of animations, an occasional lack of responsiveness on the shoot button, and an inaccurate offensive to defensive rebound ratio, to name but a few.
2. “Steve Kerr doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”
This one does actually have an underlying legitimate complaint about the commentary in basketball video games, and indeed sports video games in general. There are two main problems with commentary in sports games: first, developers can only record a finite amount of dialogue, so there will be repetition at some point. Second, in an effort to avoid running into the first problem too much, different lines will be selected to mix things up, but they won’t necessarily be appropriate or logical for that particular point of the game. In other words, there are lapses in the commentary AI.
Again, that’s a legitimate complaint, but one particular gamer really seemed to take issue with Steve Kerr specifically, suggesting that he should be replaced because he didn’t know what he was talking about, and made observations that were illogical or contradictory. It was almost like they were suggesting that Steve Kerr’s commentary track was somehow sentient, or that he was actually in the room with them providing subpar commentary. Like I said, the underlying complaint was valid, but blaming Kerr himself for a programming/AI error was misguided at best.
3. “The trophy isn’t a cup”
Some time ago, one particular user posted a laundry list of things they wanted to see fixed, changed, or added to the game. Most of them were fairly straightforward, and issues that a lot of us would probably agree with, but this person went on to say that they didn’t like the design of the Larry O’Brien trophy, suggesting that it should be changed to a cup instead. Now, regardless of your opinion of the Larry O’Brien trophy’s design, that’s what the NBA has handed out since 1977, and the games should certainly reflect that.
That person also made some other unusual suggestions, such as awarding a higher salary cap to the team that won the championship, and unrealistic changes to the trading and salary cap rules. As such, I’m guessing that they didn’t follow the NBA that closely, or just weren’t too concerned with realism. And to be fair, everyone’s entitled to their point of view in that regard. Still, given that the goal of the developers is to create games that emulate the NBA as realistically as possible, and most of our complaints and feedback revolve around achieving that goal, criticisms and suggestions to the contrary do stand out as being fairly unorthodox.
4. Less than optimal keyboard controls
I don’t want to step on too many toes here, as I do know that some people still want to use the keyboard when they play basketball video games, but…I’m sorry, I just don’t get that. There are some games that work a lot better with the keyboard, such as first person shooters, but gamepads have been a fairly common peripheral for a long time now, and basketball video games have utilised dual analog controls for over a decade. With all due respect, if you haven’t already, it’s time to make the switch.
As I’ve said before, the adoption of dual analog controls is one of the ways that the controls in basketball video games have really improved over the years. The pressure-sensitive buttons, triggers, and analog sticks facilitate greater control and a wider range of movement than keys. The games are being designed with gamepads in mind, and they are highly recommended for an optimal gaming experience. There’s still keyboard support, but it’s not the most suitable input device for basketball games. As soon as right stick controls were announced for NBA Live 2003, I picked up a dual analog gamepad; if you’re still trying to get by without one, it’s time to pick one up.
5. The games don’t account for everything
By that, I mean the games don’t account for all of the different ways that we may want to play them. The fact of the matter is, they can’t. For example, the commentary is recorded with a focus on the current NBA rosters; if you modify NBA 2K to place Michael Jordan on this year’s Bulls, the game won’t recognise and refer to him as the star of the team. That’s because the commentary is based around the core experience and design plan, which isn’t fantasy rosters incorporating the historic players, but rather emulating the current NBA as realistically as possible.
That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be more customisation options or sandbox-type features, but it’s impossible to account for everyone’s specific tastes and approach to playing the games. It’s an unrealistic expectation, especially when we start modding and tinkering to create experiences that were never originally intended. It’s fair to complain that the current rosters aren’t producing desirable results, but when you start changing things up and sprinkling Legends throughout the current rosters…well, all bets are off. The games aren’t sentient, and not every option can be programmed in. An unorthodox approach likely won’t work as well as the intended core experience.
What are some of the strangest or most off-base complaints about basketball video games that you’ve come across? What’s the wackiest idea you’ve had for a basketball video game? Have your say in the comments below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.