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 a popular myth regarding a gameplay setting in NBA Live 2003.
As I noted in my retrospective of NBA Live 2003, while the game was a landmark title in terms of introducing right stick dribbling controls, it came up short as far as the level of realism was concerned. Needless to say, despite our disappointment with that aspect of the gameplay, we did our best as a community to find ways of enhancing the experience. The most common was making mass tweaks to the ratings in order to alter the gameplay, but this had undesirable side effects in Franchise mode, especially when it came time for the game to generate a new class of fictional rookies.
Not long after NBA Live 2003’s release, a claim was made that a bug in the game’s settings was responsible for the lack of realism in the gameplay. This naturally led to a lot of excitement, with gamers enthusiastically trying out the suggested workaround, hoping that it would lead to a more desirable sim-oriented experience. Although the suggestion was quickly proven to be a myth, that didn’t stop gamers from insisting otherwise. It’s an interesting situation to reflect upon after all these years, so let’s take a look back…way back…
The alleged bug concerned the Simulation and Arcade gameplay settings. By toggling between the two options, gamers could automatically change several other gameplay settings that determined the style of gameplay. Essentially this came down to whether or not all of the rules and the fatigue option were enabled, but some believed that it affected other aspects of the gameplay experience as well. To that end, the person who claimed to have discovered the bug asserted that the options had been switched, which meant that the Arcade setting was actually the Simulation setting, and vice versa. In other words, it was either an error with the flags, or the labels in the menu.
Solving this bug was supposedly as simple as switching to the Arcade setting, but then manually enabling fatigue and all of the rules. That way, it would be possible to play on the “correct” setting for a simulation style, only with the proper rules and player fatigue, accidentally disabled due to the aforementioned “error”. Eager for a solution, the community diligently gave it a try. While a few claimed to notice a difference, most of us didn’t see any change or improvement. It was quickly deduced that the person making the claim was mistaken or trying to spread a hoax, although debate persisted as some insisted that it did indeed work.
For their part, the developers confirmed that there was no bug in the settings, and that any differences perceived when playing Arcade mode with otherwise Simulation settings were purely coincidental. While gamers might be inclined to cynically write off the explanation as the developers covering for a mistake, it seems to be unlikely. NBA Live 2003 did receive a patch, and presumably an error like that – if indeed it existed – would be quite easy to fix, even if it just meant changing the text. Had the proposed solution actually been a viable workaround, they would’ve surely advocated its usage, at least until the official patch was released.
Of course, the real proof was in our own testing. As vehemently as some insisted that the bug was real and the solution yielded better results, a majority of gamers could see otherwise. In time, most of the people who put stock in the solution came to the same realisation. Any improvement in performance could be chalked up to anomalies and small sample sizes, or differing expectations and standards as to what constituted a realistic gameplay experience. It was essentially a placebo effect, with gamers really wanting a solution to the lack of realism in NBA Live 2003, and believing that one had been found when a feasible issue and viable fix were proposed.
With that in mind, I don’t think that the person who insisted it was merely a bug with NBA Live 2003’s gameplay settings was trying to fool the community. They weren’t like the person who tried to fool gamers into believing that the Triforce could be found in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, through an elaborate hoax. It’s far more likely that in wanting to find a solution, they tried some logical troubleshooting including messing around with those settings, and ended up seeing what they wanted to see. Once again, a small sample size and a few anomalies probably played a role there, and they ended up jumping the gun in declaring it a guaranteed solution.
It’s not the only time we’ve seen that happen in our community. Some years back, a user working on a roster update for NBA Live 08 claimed to have overhauled the experience by using ratings from the latest NBA 2K game. Given the different game engines, to say nothing of NBA Live 08 having far fewer player ratings compared to newer NBA 2K titles, this was a highly unlikely outcome. Indeed, other users who tested out the roster could not see the drastic improvements that the author insisted were present. While their efforts to improve an old game were commendable, it was clear that they were too invested in the experiment working, and assumed that it did.
While there are trolls and unscrupulous content creators who flat out make things up, a lot of video game myths spread simply because we want them to be true. Usually they’re cool secrets and hidden content we wish were real, but in some cases, like NBA Live 2003’s alleged settings bug, they may be workarounds for frustrating problems. It’s great that as a community, we strive to make the games better after their release, even attempting to fix problems that the developers will not. However, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves in declaring a solution will work. As NBA Live 2003’s phantom “bug” demonstrated, it’s all too easy to see what we want to see.