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 reading this article, it’s probably because you love basketball video games. If you don’t, then the NLSC probably isn’t the website for you, because that’s pretty much what we’re all about. However, no matter how much you love getting into some virtual hoops, there will be times when you find yourself getting really frustrated with basketball video games.
These are the moments where you have to fight the urge to toss the controller across the room. These are the moments where you shut down the game and don’t touch it again until the next day. These are the moments where you switch to a first person shooter or a button mashing beat ’em up to blow off some steam. These are the Top 5 Frustrating Moments in Basketball Video Games.
5. Those things we know shouldn’t be happening
Having a good knowledge of the NBA and the sport of basketball is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to playing basketball video games. On one hand, you know who the players are, you’re familiar with the rules of the game, and you probably have some idea about basketball strategy. With basketball games constantly aiming to become more and more realistic, a good knowledge of the sport definitely provides you with a certain advantage.
Unfortunately, it also means that you know what shouldn’t be happening. Is a player scoring way too many points? Ugh. Is a 40% free throw shooter suddenly money from the charity stripe? Oh, come on! And while we’re on the subject, is that team trading their best player – who they just landed in free agency this past offseason – a mere two weeks into the new season? Uh, no. Just…no.
Sometimes, I envy gamers who can take a more casual approach to basketball games. I’m not about to change my stance, or my expectations of what I want out of them, but it must be pretty liberating not to care whether a certain player’s stats are completely realistic, or a trade between CPU controlled teams is absolutely ridiculous. For the rest of us, there are few things more frustrating than losing a game because a benchwarmer played like a star, encountering CPU strategies that aren’t “sim”, or seeing completely ludicrous trades go down. Well, four more things do come to mind.
4. Disconnections during online play online due to server/Internet issues
I’m not much of an online gamer. Single player modes hold a lot more appeal for me; I like the depth of the season/management modes, and the novelty of single player career modes. However, I do like to dip my toe into the water every now and again, and there’s no question that the online experience is an important part of sports games. To that end, server reliability is crucial.
If you’re lucky, any connection issues you experience during online play will happen early on in the game. That’s frustrating enough, as you’re obviously eager to play, and you’re all ready to battle it out on the virtual hardwood. Still, it could be worse. You could be in the final minute of a fun, close, competitive game, only to have everything come crashing down as a server hiccup causes a disconnection. Lame, right?
On the other hand, let’s say that the servers are behaving themselves, but you just happen to have a lousy Internet connection. If you’re unfortunate enough to live in an area with poor network coverage, chances are you’ll be giving up on online gaming fairly quickly. Having worked in the industry, I’m well aware of the frustration of not being able to get good coverage, while someone just a few houses down the street is getting great speed and reliability. Still, if it’s any consolation, you may want to skip the online experience anyway, what with…
3. Disconnections during online play due to sore losers
This is one of the main reasons that I’m still an offline gamer. Granted, I also prefer to play at my own pace, and I’d rather not hold up everyone else because I’m either unavailable or unmotivated. However, that means most of my forays into online basketball gaming have either been casual games against friends or random match-ups, the latter exposing me to some sore losers who will ragequit in the fourth quarter if they’re down by double digits.
Frankly, that’s left a bad taste in my mouth as far as playing online is concerned. It’s frustrating enough for me as someone who gives online play a shot every now and again, so I can only imagine how frustrating it is for gamers who spend most of their time in online modes. Look, I get that it’s also frustrating and not a whole lot of fun to be on the wrong end of a lopsided game, but come on. Be a good sport, and play to the final buzzer.
It would probably be less frustrating if both NBA Live and NBA 2K handled the situation a little better, essentially calling the game at that point, and counting the win and the loss for each player. Better yet, I’d be all for the addition of a “Concede” option that’s only available in the fourth quarter, allowing the losing player to end the game early and accept the loss with good sportsmanship. I think that’d take a lot of frustration out of online play, both for the people who are still honing their skills online and suffering some bad losses, and those who encounter sore losers.
2. When the CPU doesn’t play fair
Comeback Logic and Rubberband AI are controversial elements of basketball video games. On one hand, they’re a necessary evil. Even as the AI in basketball games continues to get more sophisticated, it faces a tough challenge in a sentient human being who can think creatively and laterally. To that end, the CPU sometimes needs a bit of a leg up to remain challenging and competitive.
Unfortunately, this part of the AI can be a little aggressive, to the point of being unfair. Suddenly, your players will seemingly forget how to make a shot or a defensive stop. Meanwhile, the CPU’s players will nail shot after shot, while blocking your attempts and picking off your passes left and right. Force a CPU player into a turnaround three from 35 feet out, while being double-teamed? Watch it swish.
The thing is, this isn’t completely unrealistic. We do see teams blow big leads due to complacency or overconfidence, going ice cold from the field and slipping up defensively while their opponent mounts a spirited comeback. We also certainly do see some miraculous shots and plays. The problem is, it feels very artificial when the AI seemingly takes control out of your hands, unbalances the game, and manufactures a comeback for the ages. As I said, it’s a necessary evil, but it’s extremely frustrating when it’s implemented in a way that feels cheap and cheesy.
What could possibly be more frustrating than this? Well…
1. Your save file gets deleted, overwritten, or otherwise lost
We’ve probably all lost a game to the CPU when the comeback logic has gotten a little cheesy, but like I said, comebacks happen. If you run into a sore loser online, you can do your best to avoid them in the future, or look to join a league that encourages (or indeed, enforces) good sportsmanship. With any luck, servers will be upgraded and issues will be patched within the first few weeks of a game’s release; of course, if it’s the quality of your connection, you may be out of luck. And no game is perfect, so you can probably accept that there’s still room for improvement.
Losing a save file, though…man, that has to top the list. Whether it’s a bug in the game that’s corrupted a save, an autosave that’s taken place at the worst possible time, or simply the result of your own carelessness, it’s a kick in the guts. It represents a lot of games, a lot of time and effort down the drain, and unless you happen to have a backup, there’s nothing you can do to get it back.
I’m not sure which is worse: when it’s the fault of a bug in the game, or when it’s your own mistake. Whether you’re raging at the developers, or slapping your forehead and cursing your stupidity, the bottom line is, that file is gone. Do you just start over? Well, you likely will – with a backup save, this time – because you do love basketball games. But probably not just yet. Hey, about that first person shooter…
That’s it for this week. What do you feel are some of the most frustrating moments in basketball video games? 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.