Wayback Wednesday: The Little Things That I Miss

Unlockable Developers in NBA Live 98

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 some of the little things in old basketball games that I miss.

In 2019, we have an interesting relationship with nostalgia. It’s popular to indulge in it, but in recent years, there’s also been a significant backlash against reminiscing about the past and holding it in high esteem. The argument is often distilled into “old heads that can’t get over their nostalgia filter” vs “clueless kids who don’t understand the concept of recency bias“. The conversation is further muddied when it comes to video games, because advances in technology have undeniably led to improvements over the years. Of course, there have also been undesirable changes and missteps.

These Wayback Wednesday features are obviously about celebrating nostalgia, but I also feel it’s important to appraise how well games and their mechanics hold up, as well as make comparisons to other titles from the same era. I have a lot of fun doing that, and it’s always interesting to revisit old favourites. It’s given me an appreciation of ideas that were ahead of their time, and how far basketball video games have come. There are things that are best left in the past, but I’ve also encountered a lot of little things that I miss, and that’s what I’m discussing today. Let’s take a look back…way back…

Exportable Box Scores

Saving Boxscores in NBA Live 06

One of the little things that I always liked about the PC versions of NBA Live was the ability to export stats as text files. This actually goes way back to NBA Live 96, but in our community, it was most frequently used around the time of NBA Live 2005-08, and the heyday of our Stories section. Although most of us mentioned key stats in our recaps, it was also common to export the box scores and link to the file. This provided extra detail in our “coverage” without having to type everything up, or piece together screenshots of the stats screens. Even if you weren’t maintaining a story topic, it was a handy feature since the box scores only went back three days in those games.

Given that the current games retain box scores for the entire season and it’s also easy to take screenshots on PC and console alike, this function may seem like one of those little things that have become outmoded. I actually feel that there’s still a place for them however, which is one of the reasons I miss them. Neither NBA Live 19 or NBA 2K19 display the full box scores without scrolling, so producing an external record of those stats once again comes down to piecing together a handful of screenshots. As with quite a few of these little things, it’s interesting to think that such a small feature that was common in older titles is no longer present in modern basketball games.

Team-Specific Backgrounds

Little Things: Team Backgrounds (NBA Live 96)

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but that nostalgic feeling you get when you fire up an old basketball game hits you long before you’re even on the virtual hardwood. When you hear the music and see those old menus, it immediately brings back all the fun times that you had with a beloved old favourite. When I went back and revamped a couple of mods for NBA Live 96 PC, I was reminded of how much I love the menus in that game. They have a lot of character, particularly the team roster screens. Each had a unique background that represented the team’s nickname or location, along with one of their current players. Other team-specific screens had similar unique branding.

We do see some examples of this kind of creativity and artistic flair in modern games, with NBA 2K19 featuring some attractive background imagery in the main menu and some of the submenus. It’s not quite the same though, and while there is merit in the uniform approach to menus, there’s a real charm to the team-specific backgrounds. I’m all for bringing that back with some elegant backgrounds that fade in and out while you cycle through all the teams in the roster menu. With all the retro teams in NBA 2K, it’s something that I believe would make gamers say “Hey, that’s pretty cool”, and at the end of the day, that’s what the little things in basketball games are meant to do.

Lengthy Introduction Videos

Little Things: Introduction Videos (NBA 2K17)

It remains to be seen whether these have become outmoded, but it’s worth noting that the last extended intro in a basketball game came in NBA 2K17. Both NBA 2K18 and NBA 2K19 featured no intros at all, while NBA Live hasn’t featured a long intro since NBA Live 09. Whether it’s the old school mixes using real NBA footage, or ones that feature gameplay, they were always very well-produced and got you hyped up to play. Even the somewhat unusual NBA 2K16 intro is still very memorable, and I appreciate what they were going for, even if I’m not a huge fan of it. As with other elements of the presentation, the intros stick in our minds, even if we often end up skipping them.

That’s probably why EA Sports and Visual Concepts no longer take the time to make them for modern NBA Live and NBA 2K games, but it’s not as though there aren’t any other repetitive aspects of the presentation we skip, or wish we could; the post-game cutscenes in NBA 2K’s MyCAREER come to mind here. It’s also something that they could outsource to the video makers in the community, as 2K did with Shady00018 for NBA 2K17. I think that would be a great promotional opportunity, something that the community could really get behind and enjoy. It does seem like long intros are becoming a thing of the past, but in any event, they are nostalgic.

Nicknames in Player Cards

Little Things: Player Nicknames

As far as little things are concerned, this is definitely one of the smallest. After all, we are literally talking about one line of text on the player card screens. It has no impact on gameplay whatsoever, and it’s not something that most gamers will spend a lot of time looking at. All the same, it’s a nice detail to have, and a throwback to the player card screens in older games. Little things like that invoke nostalgia with very minimal effort, and make use of data that’s generally still in the roster files but not actually displayed anywhere. A few old games did the same thing, including nickname data but not featuring it anywhere in-game, and that always seemed really wasteful to me.

There’s also some potential to educate gamers and be a resource here. Perhaps that isn’t as important now that we have sites like Basketball Reference, but it’d be great if we could bring back the appeal of viewing the player cards and other stats screens in the games, and treating them as something of an almanac in their own right. Since we’re on the subject of the player card screens and little things I miss, I’ll also mention Cool Facts, which were fun and interesting to listen to back in NBA Live 97. Modern basketball games portray the sport better thanks to superior technology, but I’d argue that old school games did a better job of celebrating it, thanks to all the little things.

Saving Copies of MyCAREER Games

Making the pass in NBA 2K13's MyCAREER

I may be pushing the boundaries of what counts as “little things” with this one, but given its niche usage, I feel it counts. The online components of MyCAREER on this generation – from Virtual Currency and clothing to the connected modes of 2K Pro-Am and The Playground – mean that you cannot save copies of a career in another slot. You can start MyCAREER over with a new player, but there’s no way to create a duplicate save as a backup or alternate. I suppose it’s possible to a certain extent using cloud backups on PlayStation 4, but you can’t have two saves with the one player running simultaneously, and the chances of messing up and losing data are high.

Aside from the peace of mind of having a backup in case the save file is corrupted, it means we’ve lost the ability to experiment or undo mistakes. We’re forced to play it safe or simply live with the consequences when we’re trying out different features such as requesting a trade, influencing team decisions, and so on. That’s needn’t be a drawback as it just means that we have to consider our decisions carefully, but it’s not really conducive to experiencing all the mode has to offer. It’s the downside of online components in a single player mode: unless you start an offline game – which isn’t really desirable – you can’t avoid the connected experiences or have a backup save.

Light-Hearted Content

Lead Programmer Rod Reddekopp in NBA Live 98 (Unlocking Developers)

Don’t get me wrong. I love that the sim games – NBA 2K in particular – have pushed for more and more realism through the years. It’s a goal that’s been taken seriously, resulting in the experiences that sim heads crave. The result is that we see a lot less light-hearted and wacky content, such as unlockable developer teams, or cheat codes for big head mode and the like. While that kind of content is generally better suited to arcade games, I do miss having them in the sim games as well. Little things like that were fun Easter eggs that were enjoyable to mess around with in local multiplayer, or when you felt like taking a break from your current season.

I’d also throw out the arcade modes that were featured in a few of the old NBA Live games as another example. There wasn’t much to them, and they didn’t completely replicate the NBA Jam experience, but they were a fun change of pace. Again, while I do think taking the sim approach seriously has been for the best, I also feel it’s a sign of how the games have lost a little of their heart and creativity. It’s great to have that realism for franchise modes and a focus on competitive online play, but the old school gamer in me still feels like there’s a place for traditional cheat codes to unlock wacky features and secret teams, in order to experience something a little bit different.

Old School Custom Teams

The four Custom Teams in NBA Live 95

We’ve lost the ability to create completely new teams with custom branding – at least outside of MyTEAM, Ultimate Team, and rebranding/relocation in MyLEAGUE and MyGM – and that’s a roster customisation function that I’d definitely love to see make a comeback. However, I also have a lot of nostalgia for the original custom teams we had in NBA Live. Yes, they were limited in that we only had four of them, and they couldn’t be rebranded (outside of being externally modded, at any rate). They also duplicated players, so you weren’t expanding the game’s rosters as such, just creating up to four custom teams to play with: the Jammers, Slammers, Stealers, and Blockers.

You know what, though? There was something really fun about that! I remember putting the custom teams in NBA Live 96 to great use before I discovered the NLSC, and the tools to modify the PC version. It’s how I put together the updated All-Star teams and played with them, before the NBA Live 96 Editor made it possible to update the original East and West All-Stars. Even the similar Quick Pick Play feature in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version of NBA Live 08 was a decent substitute, as it let us put together custom squads without having to make any changes to the roster. There probably isn’t a great demand for this feature, but it’d still be great to have.

Assorted Special Teams

Michael Jordan Dunk (Decade All-Stars, NBA Live 2004)

As much as I enjoy having the retro teams and All-Time squads, I do miss the old Decade All-Stars and other bonus teams we once had in NBA Live and NBA 2K. In many respects, the former have made the latter obsolete by making far greater use of the historical players that have been licensed, but I miss them all the same. I feel that the Decade All-Stars in particular are a missed opportunity, both in NBA 2K where they can field in-depth squads for intergenerational fantasy matchups, and in NBA Live, where historical players don’t appear outside of Ultimate Team. In lieu of providing custom teams, the other bonus teams are also fun for changing things up.

I have fond memories of scrolling through the rosters upon picking up a new game to see which historical players made the cut, and what kind of bonus teams had been added. In a way, that sense of wonder and discovery is another one of the little things that I miss in current games. It’s great that we get huge info dumps along with all the screenshots and gameplay footage during the preview season, and it’s something that both EA Sports and 2K Sports absolutely need to do. However, there was something special about firing up a game and discovering all the finer details, all the little things that had been crammed in to provide us with a fun year on the virtual hardwood.

There are probably more little things that I could mention, but those are the ones that spring immediately to mind. They’re not necessarily vital to having a great experience with basketball video games, but in their own way, they’ve each enhanced at least one title over the years. What are some of the little things that you miss in hoops games? Get nostalgic and reminisce in the comments below!

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May 2, 2019 1:17 pm

Great article!

May 3, 2019 2:44 pm

Andrew always entertaining with the articles… Would question whats your favorite NBA team and player?