Welcome to Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! This is a feature where we look back on yesteryear, dig into the archives, indulge in some nostalgia, and in some cases, wonder just what we were thinking. Check in every Wednesday for features and retrospectives on old basketball video games, old NLSC editorials published as-is with added commentary, and other flashback content.
Beyond bugs and glitches in the programming itself, a common cause of video game crashes is the absence of required files, or the presence of damaged or corrupted ones. Delete a file, or try to modify it in a way that renders it unusable (or unstable), and you’re bound to see a crash. If you’ve ever tried some more advanced modding for NBA Live or NBA 2K, then chances are you’re very familiar with how trial and error, missing a step in the procedure, or simply tinkering with a sensitive game file can swiftly send you back to the desktop.
However, not all errors will cause lock-ups and crashes. When certain textures or model files are missing, some games will simply load a placeholder instead. In NBA Live, this has usually taken the form of pink, white, multi-coloured, and even basketball textures being loaded in place of missing faces and shoes, as well as a generic headshape if one can’t be found. In NBA 2K, it’s tended to be a blank, white texture. Way back in NBA Live 2001 though, EA Sports had a rather novel take on a stand-in texture: a clown face.
It’s one of the more amusing Easter Eggs that has been included in NBA Live, so let’s take a look back…way back…
Before we get to NBA Live 2001 though, let’s stop off and take a look back at NBA Live 2003 for a moment. That’s when patching the NBA Live series on PC really became a lot easier. Not only were the rosters in the form of DBF databases, but we also had CustomArt folders. CustomArt allowed us to place modified versions of textures and shape files in subfolders, and the game would load them instead of the default files in EA’s .viv archives. Before that, in the days of NBA Live 2001 patching, art updates would need to be imported to the archives. It was a lot easier to mess things up that way, not to mention more difficult to restore the original files.
When it comes to patching, anything that can go wrong probably will go wrong at some point, so mistakes were inevitably made, and files were misplaced. Therefore, it wasn’t too long before we stumbled across the placeholder face that EA had decided to use in NBA Live 2001, which was that of a clown. As you can see in the screenshot above, it wasn’t just a matter of a painted face, either. The placeholder headshape was made to match, with a puffy bulge for the clown’s hairstyle.
It was a pretty fun way of handling a missing texture, and it certainly brought us some amusement back in the day. As you might expect, some gamers found him amusing enough to actually want to play with him, and so he became a part of a few Franchise Mode games. The clown needed to be created before he could be used, since he wasn’t a hidden character as such; just a placeholder texture that could be used whenever necessary. Ironically, we were going out of our way to use a texture that we technically weren’t supposed to see!
To make it a little easier to get the clown into the game, a face patch was eventually made by a user called jc. So yes, as a community, we were making it easier to assign a face that was only meant to be seen when no valid face texture was assigned. If you happen to have NBA Live 2001 and feel like firing it up to see the clown, you can actually still download the patch here. Note that if you’re running 64 bit Windows, and you don’t have an old gaming PC lying around, you’ll need a virtual machine and an older version of Windows to run NBA Live 2001.
As far as Easter Eggs in basketball video games are concerned, it has to be one of my favourites. Not only is it amusing in its own right, but it’s also quite nostalgic; it reminds me of the earlier days of the basketball gaming community, and some of the patching discoveries we were making at the time. It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to find in NBA Live or NBA 2K today, and some might argue that it’s for the best that missing textures are now represented with more straightforward and “professional” placeholders. Back then, though? Well, as much as we wanted a sim game, we were also happy to have some fun with NBA Live 2001, and clown around.