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.
2017 is upon us, which means it shouldn’t be too much longer before we start receiving news about NBA Live 17. It remains to be seen what EA Sports’ plans are for the NBA Live franchise; the next instalment is set to be released in the first quarter of this year, but what will it entail? Will it be a smaller, digital only release, with a fully-featured NBA Live 18 released later in the year? Or can we expect a full game? Only time will tell, but for now, I thought that I’d spend a few editions of The Friday Five discussing what I’d like to see in forthcoming NBA Live titles.
Late last year, I discussed my ideas for crafting NBA Live’s comeback in a Monday Tip-Off column. There’ll probably be a little bit of overlap with that feature, as I’m obviously still interested in seeing NBA Live make the improvements that I’ve already outlined. I’ll just be going into a few of the things that I previously discussed in more detail, since I’ll be spreading the discussion out over multiple columns. With that being said, let’s tip things off with what most of us would consider the most important aspect of any video game: the gameplay.
1. Improve Control Responsiveness & Depth
One of the most troubling issues NBA Live has had since is return in 2013 has been the feel of the controls. Contrary to releases in previous generations, the controls have felt much stiffer, and less responsive. Through NBA Live 15 and NBA Live 16, there’s definitely been some improvement in this regard, but there still isn’t quite as much fluidity as there should be. I’d like to see – or more appropriately, feel – NBA Live continue to get better and better on the sticks. It should be a joy to properly chain together some ankle-breaking crossover moves, setting up a drive for a spectacular play inside, or opening up some room for a jumper that scorches the net.
To pull off those nifty moves, the controls also need to get a little deeper. Now, I don’t want to see NBA Live’s controls become too complex or contrived, but we need a little more control over certain moves, so that we can attempt them on cue. Contextual animations are important, but all too often, they can screw us over. That’s why it’s important to have manual control over the types of passes we throw, floaters and bank shots, and other elusive or advanced moves. A deeper post game is also a must. For an example of how I think it could work without completely changing up the current control scheme, check out this post in the Forum.
2. Phase Out Awkward Animations, Add More Realistic Ones
Of course, the game has to look good as well as feel good. It’s not that there haven’t been any good animations in the last few NBA Live titles, but there have definitely been a lot of bad ones. Once again, stiffness is an issue here, with certain moves looking very awkward and robotic. On the other hand, there are some dribble, dunk, and layup animations that do look quite good, but they end up looking clunky because of some awkward transition animations. While I believe an enjoyable gameplay experience can make up for lacklustre aesthetics, NBA Live must get better in this area.
First impressions last, and a game’s graphics need to be enticing. When it comes to a sports video game, a glance at the screen should make us do a double-take because we’ve momentarily mistaken it for a real broadcast. The bar has certainly been raised in that respect, so it’s important that we start seeing more realistic and life-like animations in NBA Live, with the older, clunky animations being phased out as soon as possible. It’s also important that the quality of animations doesn’t compromise any improvements to the responsiveness. Again, the game has to look good and feel good, so a blend of smooth controls and great animations is the ultimate goal.
3. More Physicality & Explosiveness
If I had to identify an area where NBA Live still definitely isn’t “sim” enough, it would be play in the paint. In real life, there’s a lot of physicality in the paint, and players can’t just breeze to the rim for a dunk or layup at will. Even LeBron James has to pick his spots and use elusive moves to get to the basket when the paint is packed. It’s still too easy to score inside in NBA Live, as it feels like the defense doesn’t have enough of a presence or impact. Even if a shot isn’t blocked, a lot of layups should get altered, and poster dunks shouldn’t occur on every play. Also, and-ones shouldn’t be rare or anything, but hard fouls should prevent their fair share of dunks and layups.
While we’re talking about players having a presence on the virtual hardwood, explosive and freakishly athletic players need to be properly represented. Players like Russell Westbrook should be able to blow by defenders more frequently, though not automatically, and they should still run into a roadblock when the lane is clogged. Player weight, strength, speed, and other physical and athletic attributes should all play a role here. And while we’re talking about physicality and athleticism, in-game injuries are long overdue to return. Injuries are a part of the sport, and their presence adds a risk/reward factor to playing a physical brand of basketball.
4. Improve AI & Player Differentiation
When it comes to Xs and Os, NBA Live does have some good technology under the hood. Playcalling was solid in NBA Live 16, both in the user’s hands and on the part of the CPU, so there’s some good sim-oriented AI there. Likewise, shot distribution is quite realistic, with the correct players taking the most shots more often than not. The CPU will look for the open man, double team players that are lighting them up, and make other adjustments here or there. There are times when it completely forgets that it’s playing basketball, however, and on the whole, there’s still room for improvement in all of those aforementioned areas.
Another important gameplay wrinkle is player differentiation. Star players need to stand out from the pack, and specialist role players need to be effective in the areas where they excel. It’s something that NBA Live tried to do back in the day with Freestyle Superstars, but I think NBA 2K has done it more effectively with Badges. I’d like to see NBA Live develop its own system of player traits and abilities that go beyond the basic ratings and tendencies, separating superstars from the rest of the league, and letting players do the things that they do so well in real life. In short, I’m hoping to see further improvements to realism, player abilities, and AI.
5. Add More Signature Moves & Animations
Accurately representing player abilities is crucial, but getting back to the aesthetics for a moment, players also need to look the part out on the virtual hardwood. Ensuring that the generic player animations are looking fantastic is a good start, but NBA Live also needs to expand upon the amount of signature moves and animations. There are already signature jumpshot styles in the game, but there needs to be more of them, and not just for the star players. NBA Live shouldn’t stop at jumpshots, either. Free throw rituals, dribbling moves, dunk and layup packages, celebrations…the game needs to see a bigger complement of those signature animations, too.
Since NBA Live does feature retro players in Ultimate Team, I’d like to see them boast some signature animations as well. It’d be really cool to see retro players have their distinctive shooting forms and signature moves; think John Stockton’s jumper, or Tim Hardaway’s “UTEP Two-Step”. For older players like Bill Russell, some simpler, era-specific animations wouldn’t go astray either. Obviously, all these additional animations should be available for your Rising Star/LIVE Pro-Am player, as well as existing NBA players through expanded customisation functions…but that’s getting into a topic for another time.
Those are some of the key improvements to gameplay that I’d like to see in forthcoming NBA Live titles. What are the changes, additions, and fixes that you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments section below, 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.