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 dusting off NBA Live 95 and NBA Live 96 PC, and swapping some files around.
Let’s do something a little different for this week’s Wayback Wednesday; let’s tinker with the PC versions of NBA Live 95 and NBA Live 96! Specifically, we’re going to swap some art files between the games, just to see what works. The idea of swapping compatible files between games didn’t take off until much later, mostly because we generally didn’t create much in the way of custom art mods for the early games in the series. My complete update for NBA Live 96 featured updated logos and jerseys that another member contributed, but generally speaking, rosters didn’t include art updates.
With dial-up Internet connections, comprehensive updates simply weren’t the done thing. It’s a shame we didn’t look into it though, because there are assets that can be swapped between NBA Live 95 and NBA Live 96. There’s not a wide variety of mods that can benefit from this technique, but if nothing else, it could’ve enhanced roster updates with some season-specific artwork. Let’s take a look back…way back…
We’re going to begin with the team logos. Let’s assume we’re making a 1995 roster because we want to play that season with NBA Live 96’s enhancements, or that we simply prefer the branding and colour scheme certain teams sported the year before. As long as we’ve chosen a full installation for the games – not a problem with the big hard drives of today, but not always feasible back then – all the art files are at our disposal. We’ll begin by copying the medium logo for the Houston Rockets from the NBA Live 95 art folder, and overwriting the equivalent file in the NBA Live 96 art folder. Does it work?
It sure does! As with the face, court, and jersey files in later versions of NBA Live, simply copying and overwriting the logo files facilitates quick and easy replacement. This means we can go ahead and do the same thing with the logos for the Seattle SuperSonics and Atlanta Hawks, two other teams that introduced new branding for the 1996 season. We can also do the same for the New York Knicks, who made a very minor adjustment to their logo between seasons. While we’re at it, we can swap the large logo files as well. As you can see, this also works fine, effectively replacing the larger version of the logo used on the Schedule screen in Season mode.
A deeper browse through the menus does reveal a problem, however. Although the medium logos show up fine on the team selection and starting lineup screens, they aren’t placed in the correct location on the substitution and coaching menus. We’ve also hit a slight snag with the small logos, which are stored as individual textures within a couple of FSH files and use a global palette; this makes them appear oddly coloured when opening them in EA Graph. However, exporting them from NBA Live 95 as bitmaps and importing them into NBA Live 96’s files yields some success. The Playoffs logos are working fine, but the Teams screen uses an incorrect colour palette.
It might be possible to correct the colours by editing the palette file, but we won’t go to the trouble of doing that on this occasion. The 3D logos from NBA Live 95 are also incompatible, not only displaying incorrectly when pasted over the original NBA Live 96 files, but crashing the game when trying to exit or advance past a screen that uses them. Nevertheless, it is possible to directly replace several of NBA Live 96’s logo files with their NBA Live 95 equivalents, effectively changing them back to the 1995 branding. Incidentally, overwriting the small logo FSH files directly will work, but also cause crashes as the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies logos are missing.
Team uniforms are the next thing we can try to replace. Unlike later games that utilise a detailed texture file, the jerseys in NBA Live 95 and NBA Live 96 simply have their own palettes that are applied to a jersey template. There aren’t any details such as the logos, player names, or unique number typefaces; the jerseys are only distinguishable by their primary colour, and secondary colours on the trim. Remember, this is back in the early days of basketball gaming, with far more primitive graphics! By editing the palette files for a team, we’re able to recolour their jerseys accordingly. The idea here is to see if we can copy the palette data directly from NBA Live 95.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. The EA Graphics Editor won’t allow palettes to be overwritten through importing files, and copying and pasting from a bitmap only corrupts the file, leading to a crash. Copying the entire art file also crashes the game, most likely due to the absence of data for the Raptors and Grizzlies. I thought that I’d struck gold with the Load and Save Palette options, which seemingly allowed me to export and import to palette files, but the changes wouldn’t save. I couldn’t seem to import the NBA Live 95 palettes through the Palette Workbench tool, either. It seems the only way to change the jerseys is to edit the palettes colour by colour.
I couldn’t even make an attempt at swapping the court files from one game to another. As it turns out, the files are a completely different format: while NBA Live 96’s courts are in the familiar EA FSH format, the NBA Live 95 courts are all MAP files. To that end, there’s no way that they can be used to overwrite each other. Furthermore, the MAP files can’t be opened with the EA Graphics Editor, so there’s no possible way of extracting the textures and importing them into the other game. Even if the MAP files were compatible, chances are the textures would be quite different, requiring a lot of fiddly manipulation in order to make proper use of them after exporting.
For what it’s worth, the court files from NBA Live 96 do open properly in EA Graph, displaying all of the textures with their correct colours; at least that appears to be the case, glancing at a few of the teams at random. In theory, it should be possible to edit the courts and create some custom designs. It would be a long and tedious process however, as the floor textures are divided up into multiple parts that need to be fit together like a jigsaw. I’m certainly not going to waste any time messing around with that, as I’m simply trying to see which files are interchangeable. It seems that the only easy switches are the logos, though that still would’ve been nifty all those years ago.
Does it work going from NBA Live 96 to NBA Live 95?
No, sure doesn’t! As it turns out, while NBA Live 95’s logo files can safely overwrite NBA Live 96’s logo files – albeit with a few glitches on certain menu screens – the reverse isn’t true. NBA Live 96’s files are not backwards compatible with NBA Live 95, as the game will simply crash if you copy and paste them. It seems that NBA Live 95 isn’t too keen on imported textures either, as extracting the NBA Live 96 art to a bitmap file and attempting to import it ends up corrupting the file as well. I recall having some issues trying to import new portraits into NBA Live 95, so it seems the old tools can open the files and export from 95, but not successfully import new data.
Obviously, this means that we didn’t miss out on too many opportunities back in the days of NBA Live 95 modding. For all the wonderful things that Lutz did with the rosters, the only art files that could be utilised are the originals. On the other hand, NBA Live 96’s files clearly do offer more flexibility. We could’ve substituted a few logo files from NBA Live 95 for some ready-made authenticity in retro season rosters. There are other things that we were able to mess around with, though they weren’t as easy as dropping in files or importing exported textures from the previous game. We perhaps could’ve done a little more back then, but not a whole lot.
Although these discoveries don’t exactly benefit us – we are well beyond the modding heyday of NBA Live 95 and NBA Live 96, after all – I’m glad I gave this a shot. I’ve often wondered what kind of modding opportunities we may have missed out on back in the early days of our community, and whether ideas and techniques that have come along since could’ve been applied to those games. It’s satisfied my curiosity to know that we could’ve messed around a little more with those files, but we still basically pushed the limits of modding as far as they could go at the time. Fortunately, future releases allowed for deeper modding, which has led us to where we are today.