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 the times we were able to unlock the developers and their hidden teams in NBA Live.
These days, there is a lot more awareness of who the people behind our favourite basketball video games are. Many of them are visible and active on Twitter, which affords us an opportunity to ask them questions and provide feedback for future releases. That level of interaction wasn’t possible in the early days of basketball gaming, but we did have some awareness of the developers behind the games we were playing. Not only were their names prominently displayed on the credits screens, but in some cases, we could actually play with them.
It’s something of an antiquated feature these days, with more focus on bonus content such as historical squads and the like. All things considered, that has been the right direction for basketball video games to take, but there is a certain charm in those old cheat codes that allowed us to play with a game’s developers. It was a feature in more than one NBA Live title, so let’s take a look back…way back…
When it comes to playing with developers in basketball video games, NBA Live is far from the first series to offer up such an Easter egg. Perhaps the most famous example is NBA Jam creator Mark Turmell, who appears as a special opponent and playable character in several versions of the classic arcade hoops game. A more subtle example can be found in the game known as NCAA Basketball in North America, and World League Basketball in PAL regions, with the developers lending their names to many of the fictional players that appeared in each version. Over the years, a lot of games have included cheats that unlock secret squads featuring their development teams.
The first time that the team at EA Sports put themselves into their own game was NBA Live 96. Being the first game in the series to feature Create-a-Player, there was a ready-made mechanic for unlocking bonus content. It was simply a matter of going to the Create Player screen (or Edit Player in the console versions), and entering the names of many of the developers. Their pre-set appearance settings, attributes, and ratings would then immediately be applied, allowing you to add them to the roster. They didn’t have a team of their own however, and adding them did take up valuable created player slots, but it was an amusing secret nevertheless.
NBA Live 97 took the same approach, allowing various members of the development team to be unlocked through Create-a-Player. You can actually get a complete list of unlockable developers by opening the NBA Live 96 and NBA Live 97 PC executable files with a hex editor. Their data can be found towards the end of the file, after all of the NBA players. Many of them also have nicknames, even in NBA Live 96 which didn’t display any player nicknames anywhere in the game. This data notably can’t be accessed with the NBA Live 96 Editor, unless the developer is created first. Some of their ratings are rather generous and OP, though others are slightly more realistic.
With the introduction of Create-a-Team in NBA Live 98, EA Sports began taking a different approach to their development team Easter eggs. It was now possible to unlock several teams filled with developers, as well as members of the QA team. Entering the names of those squads in the Custom Team screen unlocked them for use in Exhibition mode. Each team used one of the available custom team logos, and had pre-set colour choices for the jerseys, both of which could be changed once the team had been unlocked and added to the roster. Many of the developers had proper faces and portraits, and in some cases, Verne Lundquist would call their name as well.
Interestingly, the data for the developer teams and players doesn’t appear in the DBF files by default. It does appear in the database if you unlock the teams and then save a custom roster however, meaning that the game loads the necessary data from another source when the codes are entered. The face and portrait files are readily accessible using the EAGE though, and could feasibly be modified and replaced. Their ratings tended to be fairly strong, with lead programmer Rod Reddekopp having 99s across the board. He also has one of the funnier nicknames: “Leerless Feeder”, an obvious pun on the phrase “Fearless Leader”, and a reference to his role on the team.
A few of the unlockable developer teams returned in NBA Live 99, but they were phased out in NBA Live 2000. Perhaps with the addition of Legends and Franchise mode, developer teams felt like too silly of an Easter egg. Alternatively, perhaps there wasn’t room for their assets with all of the new content that had been added. Whatever the reason, although NBA Live did feature other bonus content that could be unlocked via codes in the years that followed, developer teams were never among them. Some members of the development team have made cameos as faces in the press row, or as the nameless coaches of the Decade All-Stars, but they haven’t been playable.
As I noted, other developers were including similar Easter eggs in their games. Left Field Productions included three such teams in Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside, and even as recently as the last generation, NBA 2K included teams of developers from Visual Concepts, 2K China, and so on. In recent years, these teams have been phased out, much the same way that EA Sports abandoned the concept in the late 90s. While developers make cameos via the in-game Twitter in MyCAREER, their squads have been dropped to make way for the historical teams and other assets. At the end of the day, that kind of content simply holds more appeal to basketball gamers.
Ultimately, they’re another feature of old basketball video games that are very much a relic of their era. There’s far more interesting content that can be added these days, and it would arguably be a bit too silly given how far the games have come in terms of realism. At the time though, they were fun. It was interesting to go back and see just how much detail went into those playable developers as far as their humorous nicknames, proper face textures, and the ratings that they gave themselves. Indeed, if a few developers were to cameo in NBA Live 19’s LIVE Events, it’d be a fun nod to those old hidden teams. Apart from that, the idea is best left as a nostalgic memory.