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 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.
Since NBA Live 16 and NBA 2K16 have been out for about a couple of months now, there’s been plenty of talk about the good and bad in each game, and what each series should look to do in the next release. While that’s a subject we can (and no doubt will) continue to discuss in great detail with lengthy Wishlists, there are some common themes in our feedback which can be summarised in a short list of must-haves. That’s what this week’s Five is all about: an overview of the things an NBA game must have, to be a great release. In my opinion, at any rate.
Before I begin, I should mention that I’m focusing more on core features than core mechanics, or presentation. Things such as life-like animations and player models, realistic performance and strategy, appealing presentation, good controls and so on…I’m taking that as read, because those are fundamental elements of a basketball video game’s foundation. These are the things that I believe NBA games must have on top of all that; I hope that explains where I’m coming from with my list. With that said, let’s tip things off with item number one…
1. A Deep Multiseason/GM Mode
NBA games have come a long way since I started playing them, and the more straightforward season/GM modes aren’t necessarily what everyone is playing these days. They do remain popular however, and an important part of the NBA sim experience. While I’ve also branched out to other modes in recent years, I’m still a big fan of these modes, and I’m hoping that in the future, I’ll have another experience that I’d rank up there with the fun times I had with my NBA Live 06 and NBA Live 2004 Dynasty games.
That requires a mode that’s deep and customisable, incorporating a multitude of minute details about the NBA, from training to transactions, from injuries to the salary cap. In that respect, NBA 2K has us covered with MyLEAGUE and MyGM; I personally prefer the more customisable experience offered by MyLEAGUE. Whichever one you opt for, though, it’s the kind of depth an NBA game needs to have when it comes to its multiseason/GM mode. Those modes may not seem as revolutionary or fresh as the fantasy driven career and card collecting modes, but they’re a staple of the genre, and a great NBA game does really needs to “bring it” in this area.
2. Roster Editing
Obviously, there is a larger emphasis on official roster updates in the current NBA games; of course, that’s something that NBA Live 16 has struggled with since its release. All the same, even if an NBA game is receiving constant official roster updates that are accurate and comprehensive, it’s important that we can make our own modifications to the game’s rosters. If there’s a delay or an issue with an official update, it’s handy to have the ability to make changes ourselves, and share our edits with our fellow basketball gamers.
Needless to say, there’s a lot more that we’re inclined to do with roster editing. Want to create yourself and all of your friends, or members of the community, to create a custom league? Roster editing will let you do that. Want to create fantasy rosters based on “What If?” scenarios, or historical rosters? Roster editing will let you do that, too. Roster editing not only allows us to correct mistakes or make changes while we wait for the next official update, it also allows us to create brand new experiences that keep us hooked. It’s an essential feature in any sports game, and NBA games are no exception.
3. An Engaging Single Player Career Mode
Even though I’m traditionally a season/GM mode gamer, I’ve grown more interested in single player career modes in recent years. As I’ve mentioned in a few previous Fives, my NBA 2K13 MyCAREER remains one of my favourite experiences that I’ve had with an NBA video game. One of the reasons that I’ve been critical of the storyline elements in the new incarnations of MyCAREER in NBA 2K14, NBA 2K15, and NBA 2K16 is that I feel they’ve detracted from a mode that finally succeeded in drawing me in. To that end, I would suggest that a scripted, cutscene heavy, story-driven career mode isn’t a necessity.
However, it is important that a single player career mode be engaging, allowing you to role play as your player while offering an in-depth experience. All the stuff that you see after you play through the story in NBA 2K16’s MyCAREER? That’s what makes a deep, enjoyable career mode. Again, I’d personally prefer not to have to play through a heavily scripted story to get there, but it’s great to see those features in the game nevertheless. These days, it’s just as important to have a quality single player career mode as it is a quality season/GM mode, if you want to have a well rounded NBA game.
4. Gameplay Sliders
It seems that when it comes to gameplay, most of us want a realistic, sim-oriented NBA game (or at least one that’s skewed towards reality) that mimics what we see in the real NBA, is visually appealing with life-like animations, and at a glance, could be mistaken for a real game. As I said in the introduction for this week’s Five, those are elements that I’d consider to be a part of the foundation of a good basketball game, which is why I’m not listing them as their own items. What the gameplay needs to have on top of those building blocks is customisation. In other words, gameplay sliders.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a great experience with NBA Live or NBA 2K out of the box. However, sometimes you’ll need to play around with the slider settings (or use ones that other gamers suggest) to get the most satisfaction out of a release. Sometimes, only a couple of slider tweaks are all that stands in the way of loving or hating how the game plays, so it’s absolutely worthwhile having them in any sim-oriented game. Whether you want to make the game more realistic, less realistic, easier, or harder, gameplay sliders are a must in any NBA release.
5. At least one really addictive online mode
I’ve mentioned it many times before, but for those who are unaware, I’m not a big online gamer, whether we’re talking NBA games, or video games in general. I’m simply partial to the offline, single player experiences. However, I don’t mind getting involved in some online hoops gaming from time to time, and I’m well aware that a lot of other gamers really value the online experience. That’s why it’s important that any NBA game have at least one really good (and thus highly addictive) online mode on offer. Not just head to head random match-ups or playing with friends, but some sort of ongoing mode.
Basically, an NBA game needs some form of online league play; something with standings and leaderboards that a whole lot of people can get involved in. Ideally, you want to have a few different online modes that are robust, engaging, and dependable, but at the bare minimum, you need to have at least one that gamers can sink hours into. You know what kind of online mode I’d like to see? Some sort of challenge mode like NBA Jam: On Fire Edition’s Road Trip, which can be played single player and multiplayer, both locally and online. LIVE Pro-Am is kind of like that, of course, though you can’t just jump straight into a single player game as in OFE. At any rate, that’s the kind of online mode that I’d find most appealing. Just putting it out there.
On top of the fundamentals – realistic animations, strategy, and performance, top notch visuals, etc – I believe those are five key features that every NBA game must have. What are your must-haves for an NBA game to be complete and well-rounded? Let me know in the comments 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.