Welcome to Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! This is a feature where we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in 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.
For as long as the NLSC has been around, so has the NBA Live patching community. In 2008, patching – or modding, as it’s more frequently called these days – finally came to NBA 2K, when NBA 2K9 became the first game in the series to be released on PC. As a community, we’ve been able to do some amazing things for both NBA Live and NBA 2K: comprehensive multi-season roster mods, enhanced textures for team and player art, and even changes to the animation files, to name but a few. We’ve hit some roadblocks along the way – as NBA 2K15 and NBA 2K16 modders can attest – but it was pretty difficult back in the days of NBA Live 95, too.
Thanks to the efforts of our founders, Tim, Lutz, and Brien, it was possible to create custom rosters for NBA Live 95, and eventually, custom art files as well. Compared to what they were able to achieve with the editing tools for NBA Live 96 onwards, creating rosters for NBA Live 95 was much trickier, and a lot more finicky. Through going back and creating the Definitive roster patch for NBA Live 95 as part of our 20th Anniversary of NBA Live content, as well as putting Stephen Curry into the game for last week’s feature, I was reminded of both the fun and the frustration of patching NBA Live 95.
With patching/modding being such a big part of what we do here at the NLSC, I thought it’d be interesting to look back at what the community had to work with in the early days. So let’s indeed take a look back…way back…
As I touched upon in last week’s video, editing player names in NBA Live 95 was a delicate process. Individual names couldn’t simply be replaced and overwritten player-by-player, as the game utilised common text strings. For example, Tyrone Hill and Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues shared the same string for their first name; if you changed “Tyrone” to something else, both players would end up using it. Patchers therefore had to take great care not to overwrite any names they needed to keep, when adding names for players they wanted to put into the game. New names also had to either be the same length or shorter than the existing text that was being overwritten.
Fortunately, there were a couple of workarounds and shortcuts. Obviously, a bunch of first names and surnames were already in the game, and those could easily be assigned in the editor. When adding Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and David Robinson to the game, there was no need to add their first names, as they were already available. It was also possible to use the names of cities and teams as player names, as well as the credits text. In fact, using the credits text was a handy means of getting new names into the game – especially nicknames – without losing existing player data.
There was less room to work with when it came to the list of colleges in the game. As the years went by, players came into the league after attending colleges that weren’t represented in NBA Live 95, since no alumni were included in its default rosters. Unlike player names and nicknames, only the specific text strings for all the different schools could be assigned as a player’s college. As such, you’d need to overwrite an existing school, and that would mess up the bio data for another player. Roster updates for NBA Live 95 only continued for a few years so it wasn’t a huge issue, but if you wanted to make a current roster today, you’d have to be very careful.
Apart from that, editing player data in NBA Live 95 was quite easy for the most part. Once Tim, Lutz, and Brien had mapped out the values, their editors easily allowed gamers to change jersey numbers, years pro, statistics, ratings, and even player appearances. It was even possible to change portrait assignments, though it resulted in errors with player statistics in Season mode. The guys did release Pic-Ed, which can open the game’s portrait files to import and export textures, though I’ve never been able to get it to import properly for NBA Live 95. In my experience, Pic-Ed does work as intended with NBA Live 96 and NBA Live 97.
Up until NBA Live 97, the games did not allow us to save multiple roster files. NBA Live 95 and NBA Live 96 instead used a single file called roster.dat, which was created whenever the roster was customised. When we made roster patches, we worked around this limitation by copying and modifying the executable to utilise roster save files with different extensions: for example, a roster for the 1996 season might use a modified executable called 95-96.exe, and a roster file called roster.s96. Things got a little complicated if you re-ordered the roster via one of the editors, however. If you did, the presence of a roster.dat file would mess everything up.
The editors allowed us to change team names and even pointers to the art files, though not as easily and elegantly as we could once NBA Live began utilising DBF files. The EA Graphics Editor came along a little after patching NBA Live 95 had gone out of vogue, but it did allow patchers to import custom textures into the game, and even edit the palettes of the jersey files to change the colours. Some of the textures were interchangeable with files from NBA Live 96 as well, which opened up a few possibilities for 1996 rosters in NBA Live 95, and 1995 rosters in NBA Live 96. Fortunately, customising art files became a lot easier in subsequent years.
At the end of the day, we were able to patch NBA Live 95 to our satisfaction…well, for the most part. As basketball games became more sophisticated, there were more graphical elements to tinker with, and it became a little easier to mess around with the game’s files in general. Patching NBA Live 95 did take some trial and error, as well as extra care with idiosyncrasies such as conflicts with roster.dat, and text strings that shouldn’t be overwritten. A couple of missteps could ruin hours of hard work in an instant, though that certainly taught patchers to think twice, and keep backups. Still, Lutz’s rosters were great, and we all loved them.
Going back and patching NBA Live 95 to make the Definitive roster, or to put together last week’s feature, is definitely a nostalgic experience for me. However, like playing an old basketball video game, it doesn’t take long before I remember the elements that made it a bit tedious. It makes me appreciate the advances we made as a community, and the changes that occurred in the games themselves. It also gives me hope for future versions of NBA 2K on PC. In-game tools and modder-friendly files will certainly help, but there’s a lot to be said about the ingenuity and perseverance of the modding community. One only has to look at where it all began.