Wayback Wednesday: Hidden Content in NBA Live 2004

Pau Gasol playing for Spain in NBA Live 2004

This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at some hidden content in NBA Live 2004.

Dummied out content and unused assets are hardly uncommon in all genres of video games. It usually takes the form of levels, animations, gameplay functions, and other features that were scrapped due to time constraints, dissatisfaction, or a myriad of other reasons. While such content can often be restored or otherwise put to use by modders, it’s not unusual for it to be in a mostly unfinished state. I’ve covered an example of this in a previous Wayback Wednesday article, specifically the hidden historical teams in NBA Live 08. Only the player data remained in players.dbf, and even then it was clear that it was a rough draft of a feature that was axed early on.

While I was working on an update for my 1996 season mod for NBA Live 2004, I was reminded that it was game that had a fair amount of usable hidden content. There are some interesting Easter eggs among that data, so let’s take a look back…way back…

Let’s begin with something I rediscovered while updating the arena names in location.dbf for the ’96 mod. I’d completely forgotten about the hidden locations: the Great Western Forum, Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, Market Square Arena, and The Spectrum. Each of the locations can be assigned, and while they don’t have their own era specific arena art – they instead simply use the default court files for the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Pacers, and 76ers respectively – they do have audio files. As such, when assigned to a team, Marv Albert will mention their names during pre-game introductions, instead of United Center, Staples Center, and so on.

NBA Live 2004's Location.dbf File

Their presence in NBA Live 2004’s files is certainly quite interesting. Unless they were placed in the game strictly for modding purposes – EA Sports were quite supportive of the modding community at the time, going out of their way to make the PC version modder-friendly – it would appear that a handful of historical teams were intended to be included at one point. Judging by the arena names, it can be surmised that those squads would have likely been the Lakers, Celtics, and 76ers of the 80s, Bulls of the early 90s, and Pacers of the mid to late 90s. Much like the historical teams left over in NBA Live 08’s files, the idea was obviously scrapped.

No doubt likeness rights were ultimately an insurmountable obstacle in getting historical teams into NBA Live 2004, as was the case in NBA Live 08, and basketball video games in general until 2K Sports finally achieved it in NBA 2K11. Licensing the likenesses of current players tended to be less of an issue, at least following Michael Jordan’s second retirement. However, the roster cut-off dates still caused a few problems here and there. Before official roster updates became commonplace, missing players were an issue, especially rookies who hadn’t signed with their teams immediately after the Draft, as well as the occasional veteran journeyman.

There were some notable players missing from NBA Live 2004, and since it was released at a time when official roster updates were rare, it was something we had to fix ourselves. We were able to take a few shortcuts though, thanks to some hidden players unlockable via a code on the consoles, and DBF editing on PC. A total of seventeen rookies were hidden in the rosters, including Kyle Korver, Matt Bonner, Sasha Pavlovic, and Carlos Delfino. Mario Austin, Malick Badiane, and several other players who ended up never playing in the NBA are also present, making them further examples of a phenomenon I discussed in last week’s Friday Five.

Interestingly, all of the hidden and unlockable players in NBA Live 2004 are assigned to team 38 by default, which is the Referee Pool. This means that in addition to the three officials in the game – all named Ref Referee in players.dbf – those hidden players, as well as anyone else that you assign to team 38, will randomly appear as a referee on the sideline. Jermaine Dupri, whose song “Live Like Me” is included in the soundtrack, is also unlockable. He’s the only recording artist who is unlockable in NBA Live 2004, following the contingent of rappers who could be found in NBA Live 2003.

Kyle Korver in NBA Live 2004

If you open up the xcheads.viv file, you’ll find the face and headshape files for all the coaches in the game. That includes the 29 coaches from the beginning of the 2004 season, the generic coaches for the Charlotte Bobcats and Decade All-Star teams, and the unnamed coach that appears during the training cutscenes in Dynasty Mode. You’ll also find six additional custom coach faces, with the filenames customA, customB, customC, customD, customE, and customF. The files aren’t used by default, but since they’re complete and functional, they can be assigned in coaches.dbf.

The custom coach faces more or less confirm that a Create-a-Team function was originally intended to be included in NBA Live 2004. Presumably, we would have been able to select one of the faces and create a coach for our custom teams, and likely assign them a name as well. Sadly, Create-a-Team didn’t make the cut in NBA Live 2004, nor any NBA Live game since. The faces wouldn’t go to waste however, as we were able to use them as a placeholders when replacing coaches in both the current roster updates and historical mods.

Finally, NBA Live 2004 includes the Spanish National Team, circa 2003. It was bonus content that was available by default in the Spanish version of the game, but in the English version, the team was hidden. As far as I’m aware, there’s no code to unlock them in-game, but since all the necessary assets are present, they can easily be activated by changing their TEAMCODE value in teams.dbf. As a result of the team’s inclusion, NBA Live 2004 features Jorge Garbajosa, Juan Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderon, years before all three players made their NBA debut. Both Navarro and Calderon had entered the Draft at that point however, in 2002 and 2003 respectively.

In terms of unlockable and bonus content, as well as unused and leftover data and assets, NBA Live 2004 arguably boasts the largest variety of hidden content of any basketball video game. From tantalising glimpses at scrapped features to unlockable players, there’s quite a bit to find if you go poking through the game’s files. Certain features may have been left on the cutting room floor, but in the PC version at least, we were able to put their remnants to good use, enhancing what was already an enjoyable basketball gaming experience, in one of the NBA Live series’ classic releases.

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