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 very first MyCAREER story, featured in NBA 2K14 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Although I’ve written many articles about MyCAREER stories, and spoken at length about the topic on the NLSC Podcast, I’ve yet to cover the very first MyCAREER story that appeared in the PlayStation 4/Xbox One version of NBA 2K14. There’s a reason for that: I didn’t play much of NBA 2K14 when it was new. As I explained when I revisited the game for a retrospective, there were a few factors that put me off NBA 2K14 before I even played it, and when I did get my hands on it, I wasn’t as impressed as other basketball gamers were.
That was then and this is now. While I do stand by many of my criticisms of NBA 2K14, I have come to appreciate it more during some retro gaming sessions. Indeed, if I’d given it more of a chance, there’s a strong possibility that I would’ve spent more time with it and played through a season in MyCAREER, which had become my mode of choice. At the same time, I have been critical of the story-driven approach, and NBA 2K14 is where it all began. How does that tale hold up after revisiting it all these years later? Let’s take a look back…way back…
During the prologue of that very first MyCAREER story, your player remarks “No one will tell my story but me”. It’s a line that I’ve made fun of on several occasions, because it implies far more control over the narrative than we arguably had. That’s not to say that our decisions and performance had absolutely no impact on the tale. There were choices that led to different cutscenes and scenarios. We also had influence on where we were drafted and free agency decisions to make, allowing us to weave an overarching story. However, there were unavoidable story beats that everyone would encounter at some point, which always made that line come across as ironic to me.
But let’s get to the story itself. The first MyCAREER story began with your character talking to a childhood friend who has become your agent. It should be noted that there wasn’t a distinctive character name for the MyPLAYER yet; no Frequency Vibrations, President of Basketball, or even Junior. Aside from dreams of making it to the NBA and the aforementioned friend/agent, there wasn’t a deep back story. Of course, as we’ve since discovered, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your friend and agent lined up an opportunity to participate in the Draft Showcase, explaining how you got there and adding a narrative to the introductory game and first challenge of MyCAREER.
It’s at this game that your player encountered Jackson Ellis, one of the most enduring characters in the MyCAREER canon. As a childhood rival to your MyPLAYER, Ellis’ position and stature depended on your choices. Opening up the NBA 2K14 rosters on PC provided an insight into how this worked. There were five copies of Jackson Ellis, with appropriate ratings and physical attributes to suit each position. This meant that you’d always be going head-to-head with Ellis from the very beginning of the story, and that you’d be fairly evenly matched in terms of height. His canon is therefore fluid, except for his age (23), the college he attended (UCLA), and his #99 jersey.
Your first interaction with Jackson Ellis provided an example of how story choices would work in the new MyCAREER. Upon being taunted by Ellis, you had the choice of responding with a cool head, or aggressively. It didn’t make much of a difference apart from the cutscenes, but either way, it did set up the goal of outperforming Ellis during the Draft Showcase. It also encapsulates how the story often felt as though it were on rails. As far as I’m aware, Ellis would always be picked ahead of you in the Draft, even if you played better in the Showcase. If it was possible to be selected higher than him, or indeed first overall, it was extraordinarily difficult to achieve.
During the pre-Draft interviews, there were more opportunities to influence your future, with dialogue choices that encouraged or discouraged GMs from selecting you. There were no guarantees however, and no matter where you ended up, upon reaching the NBA you’d be on the bench. This led to another unavoidable story beat, in which you didn’t play at all in the first two games, and then met with the assistant coach who urged you to be patient. In the third game, a teammate who plays the same position would go down with an injury in the fourth quarter of a blowout. This was your chance to finally make your debut, and you had the green light to put on a show.
To this day, I’m in two minds about this approach in the first MyCAREER story. On one hand, it established the idea of a homogenised experience where the narrative influenced the gameplay rather than the other way around. On the other hand, unlike later MyCAREER stories, it actually treated your player as a prospect that needed to prove themselves, rather than the Next Big Thing despite their pitiful starting ratings. Looking back, it was able to achieve this in large part due to the lack of connected experiences. The Park paved the way for the online team modes of future games, but in NBA 2K14, MyCAREER was still primarily focused on the NBA side of things.
As such, that first MyCAREER story could be more of a slow burn, and the tale of a promising prospect rather than a guaranteed superstar, which better suited the starting ratings. The trade-off was the lack of originality across everyone’s MyCAREER save files via some railroading and familiar cutscenes, though choices had consequences. It also meant some stretches without gameplay and some unskippable scenes, which would become a problem that MyCAREER stories didn’t really rectify until NBA 2K19. Again, I’m torn because such an approach can feel inorganic, yet at the same time it does set up interesting scenarios and avoids dissonance with your ratings.
Before I get back to the story as it unfolds, I should mention the production values. They were…OK. The quality of the writing and acting has greatly improved since the first MyCAREER story, but characters did at least display realistic movements and mannerisms during cutscenes. Notably, your NBA teammates didn’t say anything; not out loud, anyway. None of them were voiced, and although they spoke in text, their mouths didn’t actually move. It would be an understatement to say that this was distracting, yet hilarious. Mind you, given the acting of the mentors the following year, having your teammates only speak in text arguably wasn’t the worst idea!
Your conversations with teammates, the assistant coach, GM, and media, all affected your popularity and chemistry, similar to the dialogue options in previous iterations of MyCAREER. We still see these mechanics in MyCAREER to this day, though they have been simplified somewhat. Having teammates speak only in text did allow for more flexibility, such as cutscenes where a veteran insisted you carry their bags, or offered to help you work on your game, leading to training scenarios. These scenarios were introduced early on to demonstrate the role-playing elements, and consequences for your actions. They also served to change up the gameplay from time to time.
As that first MyCAREER story progressed, you were presented with more scenarios with choices that sometimes had unexpected or mixed results. For example, going out to party with your teammates after a win boosted chemistry, but your antics angered the GM. Standing up for a teammate after a hard foul resulted in a (very soft) ejection and a (completely unwarranted) one game suspension from the league that the GM hated, but your teammates loved. You had opportunities to ask for a trade during meetings with the GM, which were the only times you could make such a demand. There was even a scuffle during practice, which you could apologise for (or not).
Dynamic goals during gameplay were also tied into the narrative. Some of these goals were generic, such as being challenged to tie the game or take the lead after falling behind, with additional VC on the line if you succeeded. There were also specific scenarios, such as having your own “Flu Game”, and the aforementioned altercation. Dynamic goals were a great idea that has unfortunately been abandoned, perhaps because they were too generous in giving away VC. The role-playing scenarios were creative, but as with the other unavoidable story beats, they could feel contrived. A couple of other games have experimented with them, such as the injury in NBA 2K17.
Once again, I have mixed feelings here. The scenarios are interesting, especially when they have unexpected outcomes. In that respect, it’s fresher than just playing every game and putting up stats for the grind. However, there’s a sense of railroading amidst the surprise factor, and it’s harsh to be booted a minute into a game because you didn’t expect a rather tame protest by your player to result in an ejection and suspension. It does allow for a sense of a branching story despite the railroading though, and I like that it was so NBA-oriented in contrast to the lengthy pre-NBA journey of the recent MyCAREER stories. Suffice to say, it has its drawbacks, but there’s an appeal to it.
One noteworthy drawback to this approach is the amount of repetition that would be encountered. During meetings with the GM, responding that you were happy with the team resulted in repeated and unskippable cutscenes, the first of which involved your player making a meta joke about feeling like they’re in a video game. There was also a tendency to challenge your player to mount a comeback in the midst of a blowout, which was tough when your teammates didn’t carry their weight. Failing to win the game led to a cutscene where the coach criticised you for failing to capitalise on your opportunity. It feels unfair, though despite the threat, you don’t lose your minutes.
Indeed, if I have a criticism of the cutscenes beyond them being unskippable and their relatively primitive production values, it’s that there’s a certain air of harshness to many of them. I guess it was trying to emphasise that it’s not all fun and games in the NBA and that you need to earn your place, but many of the scripted story beats and scenarios involved people acting like jerks. There is positivity as well, but there are moments that feel rather unpleasant. On a couple of occasions, I wished that I could march into the GM’s office and demand a trade, just to get away from such a toxic atmosphere and exact some revenge on a team that didn’t seem to appreciate me!
The in-game social media provided further narratives and challenges in the form of opponents calling you out, thereby setting statistical goals for your upcoming game against them. This was another good idea that unfortunately has been dropped, which makes the social media component of recent MyCAREER modes far less interesting. Players began following you as you played against them, though as was the case in NBA 2K13, there’s an amusing oversight where some of your own teammates don’t follow you. This of course doesn’t stop them from taunting you in Tweets after they “encourage” you to wear a clown nose for the rest of the season (thanks, J-Rich!).
Needless to say, Jackson Ellis was a running subplot to your story of making it in the NBA. Games against his team included cutscenes where the two of you interacted before the game, setting up another challenge to outperform the other, and sometimes including a dialogue option. Besting him for Rookie of the Year resulted in a one-on-one showdown on the Blacktop court. Winning a championship before Ellis actually inspired him to genuinely compliment you, and suggest you join forces. You could reject his suggestion, agree to team up on your current squad, or join him elsewhere. The story you wove beyond that was either one of a great tandem, or an epic rivalry.
If it’s been some time since you’ve played MyCAREER in NBA 2K14, revisiting it may surprise you with how streamlined the experience was compared to what the mode has evolved into. The only practice sessions occurred randomly as part of the story, and there was far less of a grind. The game was quite playable even when you were still under 70 Overall. In the offline version that’s still accessible today, there are some 10+ attribute upgrades that cost less than 1000 VC! Animations were also much cheaper, and the Signature Skills – the precursor to Badges – were likewise far more affordable. As a result, even now that first MyCAREER story is still fun to play.
With that being said, the absence of online components in the wake of the servers being shut down foreshadowed the planned obsolescence that has become a staple of MyCAREER over the past generation. It’s no longer possible to assign accessories in NBA 2K14, because they were purchased in a store that’s now gone. Due to a network error forcing me to re-create my player while working on this retrospective, I lost my armband with no way to get it back. I’m also stuck with the default outfit in cutscenes. Future iterations of MyCAREER have only become more limited once their game’s servers are shut down, to the point where the mode is no longer even available offline.
It really emphasises how the shift in focus to the online scene and push for recurrent revenue has affected MyCAREER. The approach wasn’t as aggressive in NBA 2K14, but the signs were there, such as not being able to freely assign accessories (or access them offline). There were other issues, too. Depth seen in Current Gen had also been lost, from requesting a trade at any time to being able to freely practice. Information could be difficult to find in the clunky menus. Teammate AI and the grading system left much to be desired; particularly calling for passes. Your teammates didn’t make quick passes on cue, and you were often penalised for calling for the ball when open.
Revisiting MyCAREER in NBA 2K14 has actually given me a greater appreciation for the improvements to grading and teammate AI in subsequent games; it’s really noticeable when you go back to an older release! I do enjoy the heavier focus on the NBA, though. Yes, the production values are inferior to later games, and there’s some unintentional hilarity with teammates silently speaking through text without moving their mouths. I can appreciate the streamlined approach however, and though it did lack depth and had its contrived moments, the mode is better than I remembered it. My research for this retrospective has actually turned into a full-blown playthrough!
Honestly, it’s quite astonishing how accessible MyCAREER in NBA 2K14 still is. It notably still labels the in-game currency as VC, though obviously it can no longer be purchased. As mentioned above, upgrade prices are unusually fair. The amount of Skill Points (or SP) earned in the offline versions of future MyCAREER modes hasn’t been nearly as generous, compared to the cost of their upgrades. The story wasn’t too bad, and although I have mixed feelings about some of the scenarios, I believe there was merit in the approach. There’s a good balance between narrative and gameplay, and the amount of content still available speaks to how future-proof the mode was.
To that end though, I must note the issues that arose with the server shutdown, and the impact they had on 2K’s policies. Initially, 2K indicated that our MyCAREER saves would become offline files and still be playable, albeit with limitations. This didn’t happen, and the statement that 2K released about it being time to retire the save files and all good things coming to an end was tone deaf to say the least. The backlash saw them resume online support for NBA 2K14, and extend online support for all future titles to 27 months. Not everyone could get their save file working again, and even for those who did, 2K’s response was generally seen as one of their first major PR gaffes.
While I’ve poked fun at the first MyCAREER story for the line about no one telling your player’s tale but you, I have to admit that it had some enjoyable story branching options. Some of the scenarios are interesting in their consequences, and the way they can cause you to miss games or get ejected. There are issues with the approach, but it does work, in no small part because the mode feels less grindy; especially without the pressure to build up an OP avatar for the online experiences. The impact of the online scene is startlingly apparent upon revisiting that first MyCAREER story. Its focus on the NBA and less pushy approach to microtransactions seems almost quaint now.
Seeing as how I’d had such an enjoyable MyCAREER game in NBA 2K13, I do wish that I’d spent more time with it in NBA 2K14. It’s been fun to finally get into it all these years later, and develop a new appreciation for where the story-driven approach began. It’s taken the mode in some questionable directions at times, but it’s inspired some creative ideas as well. The stories have (mostly) gotten better since then, and the depth has returned. It could be argued that the NBA side of MyCAREER has lost its charm, but it was still there in NBA 2K14. For all its new wrinkles and issues alike, it was still a pure NBA career mode experience, with a creative vision for the future.