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.
Whenever a basketball video game makes the leap to a new generation of gaming hardware, there’s usually some sort of feature or gimmick that underlines the fact that it’s a new era. The jump to the Xbox 360 marked the start of a difficult time for the NBA Live series, with the 360 version of NBA Live 06 being something of a disappointment. I’ll go into more details about the game in my forthcoming retrospective for our 20th Anniversary of NBA Live content, but one very cool feature that the game did boast was its practice gym: The Temple.
The Temple – which also appeared in NBA Live 07 – wasn’t just eye-catching in design, but also a somewhat revolutionary take on the existing practice mode. Let’s take a look back…way back…
When we fire up a basketball video game, we’re generally presented with some sort of intro video and title screen, and then we’re taken to the main menu. When EA Sports brought NBA Live 06 to the Xbox 360, they tried to do something a little different. Once you proceeded past the title screen, you’d find yourself in a darkened, futuristic, industrial-style practice gym. The lights switched on, revealing banners of various star players, and the court was constructed before your eyes, the lines lighting up and the backboards rising up out of the floor. A net materialised on the rim, and finally cover player Dwyane Wade appeared, surveying his surroundings.
From here, you were immediately able to pick up a basketball and starting shooting around, before a menu had even appeared. Several other basketballs could be found lying around, so if more than one controller was connected, up to three other players could hit the A button to join in the shootaround. Although the game automatically selected players – Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are the default selections for Players 1 and 2 respectively – any other player can be chosen by bringing up the menu. Without any additional loading time, you could be practising with your favourite player.
It wasn’t just about shooting around, though. Holographic scoreboards could be seen projected along the baseline and sidelines, tallying up baskets as they were made. Four scores were displayed, making it possible to play impromptu one-on-one games, or stage shooting contests. Scores could be reset to zero through the menu, though there was no way to set a winning condition and automatically end the game. Along with the fact that players would automatically pick up any nearby loose basketballs while engaged in a one-on-one game, it wasn’t quite as good as having a dedicated mode, but it was more than functional.
Needless to say, at the time, NBA Live 06’s Temple felt very “next gen”. The futuristic aesthetic certainly helped, and being able to quickly go back and forth between the menus and shooting around was a novel concept. Another impressive aspect of The Temple was the ability to keep shooting around while the game loaded, which was considerably more enjoyable than simply watching a progress meter. During this time, an “Arena Construction in Progress” message was displayed on The Temple’s big screen. Once the game had finished loading, the camera zoomed into the screen, and you found yourself in the arena ahead of the pre-game introductions.
As I mentioned before, The Temple also appeared in NBA Live 07. Its design and introduction scene were fairly similar, though the colour scheme was slightly different, and the scoreboard now appeared at the bottom of the big screen behind the basket. Tracy McGrady was also the default selection for Player 1, owing to the fact that he was NBA Live 07’s cover player. The ability to switch players and play one-on-one games was retained from NBA Live 06, and users could still shoot around while waiting for games to load.
While the Xbox 360 versions of NBA Live 06 and NBA Live 07 were problematic releases in many respects, The Temple definitely seemed to resonate positively with basketball gamers. Former NLSC Team member Andreas Dahl even created a practice court patch for the PC version of NBA Live 06, which very accurately captured the look of The Temple, though features like the functioning scoreboard and multiplayer capabilities obviously couldn’t be replicated. EA Sports has also explored similar concepts with The Hangar in NBA Live 10, and to some extent, the branded practice courts in NBA Live 15 and NBA Live 16.
I’m guessing that the design wasn’t universally liked – nothing ever is – but personally, I thought it was very cool. Once again, it underscored the “next gen” theme quite effectively, and it’s fair to say that the concept was fairly popular, even if reactions to the rest of the games weren’t as positive. Beyond the aesthetics, the new approach of immediately placing users into some form of gameplay, and giving them something to do while waiting for the game to load, were innovative ideas. The latter idea is something that Visual Concepts adopted for 2K Pro-Am in NBA 2K17, and honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing EA Sports finding a way to incorporate it again, too.
When it comes down to it, The Temple stands as an example of both creative design and technological innovation in NBA Live 06 and NBA Live 07. It arguably proves that gimmicks and proverbial bells and whistles in basketball video games aren’t necessarily bad things, or worthless ideas. Of course, there needs to be a lot more to a hoops game than a flashy practice gym and gameplay in the loading screens, but The Temple was definitely an inspired concept in more ways than one.