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 we’re getting into Wishlist season, last week’s edition of The Friday Five covered five features that I’d like to see return in NBA Live. I’m continuing with that theme this week as I count down the top five gameplay improvements that I’d like to see, preferably beginning with NBA Live 17. While I really want to see the game modes get deeper and some more bells and whistles added, NBA Live’s gameplay still needs some polish and enhancement, as it’s obviously an important aspect of the core experience.
That’s not to say it needs a complete overhaul, or that the current tech isn’t capable of doing the job. I’ve seen some good things from the IGNITE engine, and there’s been a noticeable improvement over the past three years. However, there are definitely some much needed improvements and additions that need to be made to NBA Live’s gameplay, to get it to the level it really needs to be at. So, without any further ado, here are the top five gameplay improvements that I want to see in NBA Live, beginning with number five.
5. More Sliders
While NBA Live 16 did not have all of the customisation options that we were hoping for, it did bring back one very important feature: gameplay sliders. Even if the aim is to make the most fun and realistic basketball gaming experience out of the box, it’s impossible to cater to absolutely everyone’s tastes, playing style, and expectations. That’s where gameplay sliders come in, so their return in NBA Live 16 was most welcome. However, in NBA Live 17 and beyond, I’d like to see more sliders added, so that we can tweak gameplay even further. After all, just a few tweaks can often go a long way in delivering the gameplay experience we’re after.
One of the most needed sliders in my opinion is a game speed slider. NBA Live 16 feels a bit too up-tempo, so if you could just dial the speed back a little in the sliders, it would definitely improve the feel of the game. I also feel there should be as many frequency and success/failure/percentage sliders as possible, not only to tweak the AI but also to adjust the feel and difficulty for the user. NBA Live 16 does have quite a few sliders, which was very pleasing to see, but anything that can be tweaked, we probably will want to tweak at some point. Finally, while there is merit in adjusting sliders by increments of 10, I wouldn’t mind seeing a return to increments of one, or at least increments of five, just to give us a bit more control over our adjustments.
4. In-Game Injuries
It’s been a long time since NBA Live has featured in-game injuries, and as such, they’re long overdue to return. While injuries are an unfortunate aspect of sport, they are indeed a part of it, and therefore should be reflected in sports video games. Their absence is not only a tick in the “not sim enough” column of the checklist that all of the most hardcore of hardcore basketball gamers have in their heads; it also removes an element of risk. Without that risk/reward factor for physical play or reckless drives, the game is missing the incentive to think twice about your actions, and removing a challenge that all teams face at one point or another: missing a key player.
For those of us who enjoy modes like Dynasty and Rising Star, the lack of in-game injuries also removes a wildcard that can shake up the experience and keep it interesting. It’s nice to have injuries in simulation, and that definitely still needs to be a part of the game as well, but without the risk of having your players injured in-game, you can easily have a healthy roster for an entire season. While it was a tremendous blow, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had playing basketball games was when Ben Gordon missed 20 games in my NBA Live 06 Dynasty, and I had to try to make up for his absence with lineup changes and roster moves. Injuries may suck, but they’re a part of basketball, and basketball games need to have them.
3. Balance & Tuning
Admittedly, the presence of gameplay sliders helps out greatly when it comes to fine tuning the game. However, there are always going to be a few “under the hood” aspects of gameplay that we’re not going to be able to modify, so it’s important that future NBA Live games are properly balanced and tuned. There are times when it feels like the CPU can explode to the basket too easily; at the same time, quick players don’t always seem to be speedy enough, whether it’s the user or CPU controlling them. I’m a firm believer that everything the CPU can do, the user should be able to do too, and vice versa. Case in point: standing dunks under the rim, on a consistent basis. There’s also still a bit too much scoring in the paint in general.
As I mentioned in Episode #142 of the NLSC Podcast, the ratings in NBA Live 16 have greatly improved since the game’s launch. I’m planning on going into this in more detail in a future article, but by halving the amount of players rated 90+ overall and pulling back on some of the ratings for the top players in the league, I believe the game does play better. Whether the effectiveness of the ratings needs to be tuned, higher ratings assigned more conservatively, or a combination of both, I think it will greatly help with game balance and performance out of the box. Of course, with roster editing functionality, we could always fix those problems ourselves…
2. Better Animations & More Physics
Over the past three releases, the feel of NBA Live has improved. The stiffness of the controls that plagued NBA Live 14 and NBA Live 15 isn’t an issue in NBA Live 16, and new, better animations have been added at the same time. However, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in that regard. As I’ve mentioned on the NLSC Podcast, when something looks good in NBA Live 16, it looks really good. When something looks bad, though, it does look pretty awkward and ugly. In the continued efforts to find balance between great animations and great feeling controls, Live still needs to phase out the awkward animations and get some more realistic, less robotic ones in there instead.
While it’s important that the game continues to improve aesthetically, with more visually pleasing animations, there are elements of the game that still need to feel better as well. As mentioned above, it’s a bit too easy for the CPU and user alike to score in the paint, and while patches have improved that a little in NBA Live 16, there needs to be more physicality, more collisions. It seems like there’s a lot of potential with the IGNITE engine in that regard, so I’m hoping to see – or more accurately, feel – further improvements in NBA Live 17.
1. Controls from Previous Versions of NBA Live
I’m overlapping with last week’s Friday Five here, but I do feel that this is one of the key areas of NBA Live that needs to be straightened out. Generally speaking, NBA Live’s controls are intuitive, and the one-to-one responsiveness in NBA Live 16 was a big step forward. If there’s a shortcoming in Live’s controls, however, it’s that they’re not quite deep enough. I’d like to see the return of full control over offensive rebounding, as well as manual control over more advanced or elusive moves such as bank shots, bounce passes, and floaters. Contextually appropriate moves are nice, but there are times when we need to be able to attempt a specific move, on demand.
I’ll also once again mention the ability to switch control to a player without the ball, as we used to be able to do with the right stick button. More ball fakes, and the ability to fake passes would also be welcome additions. As long as future games avoid the approach to right stick controls of NBA Live 07 (a bit too clunky and contrived), or NBA Elite 11 (definitely not suitable for a basketball game), they’ll be in good shape. The consistency and general approach to controls in NBA Live has been one of the series’ best attributes; we just need a little more control for the games to feel even better and more fun on the sticks.
It’s always difficult to rank a list like this, as at any time, a certain issue can feel like the most important one to address. Right now though, those would be the top five gameplay improvements I’d like to see in NBA Live, roughly in that order. We’ll be opening our official Wishlist threads soon, so we’ll be talking a lot more about this in the Forum, but in the meantime, feel free to have your say in the comments below. 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.