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 history of the Ultimate Base Roster, through an interview with HAWK23 himself.
The Ultimate Base Roster, also known as UBR, began as a roster update for NBA 2K12 that also expanded upon the game’s historical content. Over time, it grew into a comprehensive modding project that not only kept NBA 2K12 up to date, but allowed basketball gamers to step back into the past with multiple complete season mods and other fun content. The project would later be adapted for NBA 2K14, a release that has received an update just today. Gamers have been enjoying UBR for years now, and it’s even encouraged long-time console users to pick up the PC versions.
Want to know more about the history of the mod, and what it’s been like to maintain it for all these years? Check out my interview with UBR creator HAWK23, as we take a look back…way back…
For those who don’t know, you’ve been a part of our community for a long time. How did you get into modding, or patching as we used to call it in the heyday of tinkering with NBA Live PC?
Before I begin writing my answers for this interview, I would like to thank you for always being a supportive and gracious administrator of the NLSC. You’ve done a tremendous job maintaining and revolutionizing the site into what it is today. You help to give exposure in the form of articles, podcasts, and posts to all the great mods the NBA 2K and NBA Live community develop. Thank you for that!
You’re right – I have been involved with the NLSC community for a long time (since 2001 after checking the date I registered with the forum). However, my interest in NBA Live, NBA2K, and modding in general started way before that with my love for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. I remember begging my parents to allow me to stay up to watch those West Coast final games against the Blazers and Suns in 1992 and 1993. My first basketball game I remember playing was for Super Nintendo (Tecmo Super Basketball). I remember the cover of the box had a bunch of Bulls players huddled around the basket going for a rebound. I remember playing the game with my dad often. I would always want to play as the Bulls or with the Eastern All-Stars (Barkley and Jordan on the same team on the East).
From there I started playing the NBA Live series for Super Nintendo. I had NBA Live 95, 96, and 97 for SNES. It always annoyed me to no end that Michael Jordan was never in any of the games. He was in the first game I ever played (Tecmo Super Basketball) how the heck couldn’t he be in any of these others? I remember always needing to create him and get rid of that stupid “Roster Player #99” on the Bulls.
I remember one of the games, I believe NBA Live 96, allowed you to type a player’s last name into the “Create-a-Player” screen and it would automatically fill in the rest of the bio and rating info for legends of the game (I always changed all of Jordan’s ratings to 99s). This is when I remember researching different legends using a Sports Almanac book. I’d type in “Jabbar”, “Bird”, “West”, “Chamberlain” in the create-a-player screen and they would all populate. I started going deeper into names like “Mikan” and learning about them. My love for the NBA only grew as we got deeper into the 90s with the Bulls making it look easy every year. Watching the Bulls then must be how Patriots fans feel in today’s era.
I got a lot of mileage out of the NBA Live games for SNES, but what really got me into modding was when I first received NBA Live 99 for the PC (the one with Antoine Walker on the cover). This was the game changer for me. I loved that you could create as many players as you wanted. There was always a limit of how many you could create for SNES, but on PC you could create, seemingly, any amount you wanted. I then discovered the famous, “NBA Live 99 Toolkit” which used Microsoft Access 97 databases. I was so excited and surprised to see everything that was possible with that tool. I remember, at this point, creating legend players, editing things in the game, and tinkering around with things. Of course I always downloaded any of Tim or Lutz’s mods. I’ll never forget “Lutz’s Champs Rosters” or “Legends Rosters”.
In fact, if you go to the NBA Live Downloads sections and go to the “Miscellaneous” section, you’ll see that the last upload was mine in which I zipped up all the old NBA Live 99 files that I had found. I uploaded that stuff on August 19, 2012. It’s amazing that the last time that file was downloaded was in December of 2018. That’s what makes this community amazing – there’s always somebody around the world viewing this stuff and checking it out.
I remember you making some nifty roster mods back in the day, including one that added the Decade All-Stars and Legends to NBA Live 99. What drew you to roster updates in particular? Do you remember your first release?
I remember being reached out to by a modder who was interested in my roster work. I believe his name was Ben and he had created a website called NBA LIVE STUFF. He asked if I wanted to join his “team” and make some NBA Live 99 patches with him. I remember creating mostly roster files. I think the reason for this was that I was young (a teenager) and all of the art and graphics required a more complex mind and steady hand – not to mention the tools and programs to use that I was unfamiliar with. The NBA Toolkit made things easy. A great roster can be done by anyone who cares enough to spend time and put precision into it. I’ve always been a perfectionist and I never felt like anyone cared enough about all players or teams to get them as accurate as possible – so I had to do it myself!
I’m not sure what my very first mod was, however I did go through my old NBA Live 99 files and I believe this was my crown jewel NBA Live 99 mod: “Ultimate Roster Ver 1“. This was the earliest iteration of the Ultimate Base Roster and the last time this zip file was edited was December 15, 2001. Within the main zip file there was a “Directions.txt” file along with 5 other zips: “Courts.zip”, “Jerseys.zip”, “Logos.zip”, “Legend Players.zip”, and “Rosters.zip”. Sound familiar? This is the main structure of the current Ultimate Base Roster (UBR) for NBA 2K14 with the various parts that make up the complete package of Decade Teams, Legend Teams, and Retro Teams. Anyone reading this article would get a kick out of reading the directions – I’ve uploaded them so you can take a peek. It’s fun to see how the Ultimate Base Roster for NBA 2K14 evolved and came to be from a NBA Live 99 project.
The first version of the Ultimate Base Roster was released for NBA 2K12 PC. Tell us about the history of the project, and how you came to return to the hobby.
NBA 2K12 was the first basketball video game I had owned since NBA Live 2004. The time in between was dedicated to college and all the good stuff that comes in your 20s. When I saw on a commercial 2K advertising that Michael Jordan and retro teams/players were going to be in the game it was like my dream came true and I had to try it. The graphics were unbelievable compared to the last time I played. The game would actually say, “Michael Jordan” and would have specific anecdotes about the legend players! I never thought I would see the day that would happen, so I was so grateful for the game and being able to live out my childhood NBA teams the way I should have been able to decades ago.
I came back to the forums around that time to see all the progress that had been made with retro cyberfaces, jerseys, and courts however no one was really putting in the work to bring back more completed retro teams and put everything together into one comprehensive package. I remember the first retro team I ever created was the 1993 Phoenix Suns (the best team the Jordan Bulls ever beat in the finals in my opinion). I had so much fun making them and releasing them to the community that there were requests for more and more. I had a really fun time doing it and noticed that people would contribute to those created retro teams with little additions here and there and I found it to be a great way to bond the community together to make as many retro teams as possible.
When did you realise just how big the Ultimate Base Roster could be? How has the vision changed from when you first started it, if at all?
When I had purchased the full version of the REDitor tool by Vlad and had a chance to push the file structure limit (specifically the number of teams in a roster) I knew some special things could be done. I remember successfully being able to add all the created retro teams I had previously made into one file along with all the original retro teams that came with the game. Next, I created the All Decade teams as I had made in NBA Live 99. I always loved the All-Time Legend Teams that Lutz used to make so I decided to add all of those to the same roster file. After a while I had created all the most notable teams, including all the Champions, into that same roster. From there I started creating full season mods with the help of guys like RayHoops and Reddwarf. Ray was great in perfecting the 90s and 00s rosters where Reddwarf was instrumental in getting the 60s, 70s, and 80s rosters done.
Somewhere along the line the community had figured out how to add an unlimited number of portrait files into the game so people volunteered to help in every way possible. For the NBA 2K12 version of the Ultimate Base Roster, Nuhmete was my right-hand man in helping to create jerseys, portraits, and art files. Suirad was my main man for the NBA 2K14 version of the Ultimate Base Roster. There were so many contributors offering their art files that it became overwhelming at times to keep up, but we were building something special so I wanted to keep it going.
I knew the mod had become huge when I saw how many times the Ultimate Base Roster had been downloaded. At one point, I know the numbers were north of half-a-million (not all unique users – but still!). From that 1993 Phoenix Suns created team all the way to where the mod ended up today can be largely attributed to the passion and help from many NLSC forum members along the way. The 2K12 Ultimate Base Roster forum thread and the 2K14 Ultimate Base Roster forum thread combine for over 3 million views, which still amazes me!
A little known fact is that I actually tried to push the limits of a roster file even further by trying to add ALL the teams from the season mods (1960-Present Day) into one roster file. There was a time where I thought there was an unlimited number of teams that could be added (I was one of the only ones manipulating the file in this way using Vlad’s REDitor tool so I was in uncharted territory). My goal was to have every team that ever existed to be playable/selectable in the same roster file. I started with the Bulls (naturally) and had every year for them 1967 Bulls (inception year), 1968 Bulls, 1969 Bulls, 1970 Bulls etc – all the way through the present day Bulls in the same roster. You could scroll to any Bulls team that ever existed in one roster that you might want to play with. I then tried to go back and do this with the other teams within the same roster, but figured out that would corrupt the file which put an end to that project.
Originally, the project was only going to be for NBA 2K12. How did you come to create the NBA 2K14 version, and were you able to streamline the process in converting the NBA 2K12 mod?
I did not want to do the project for 2K13 or 2K14 and there were multiple reasons for that. First, I didn’t want people to expect this project to be done every year, because it was a tremendous amount of work and those types of expectations were unreasonable. More importantly, I wanted to perfect and enjoy what we had. Some of the best work that ever went into the Ultimate Base Roster project was done during the year that 2K released NBA2K13. What we had built with 2K12 was great, but there were a lot of little details and imperfections we were able to improve upon during that year when a lot of other people were starting from scratch with the new 2K13 game.
We were able to tweak ratings, re-name arenas, make year-specific logos, jerseys, and cyberfaces for all teams and tons of players. I was able to go through each season mod to ensure that every player was on the right team and slated in the correct depth chart position and starting lineup. This year of work by myself and everyone involved is what made the Ultimate Base Roster project the best that had ever been created. It was the attention to detail and accuracy for such a large project that set it apart from anything else. Not only was it an amazing mod for NBA 2K12 but it was also serving as an accurate historical basketball database. An electronic NBA almanac of sorts that could come to life with a click of a button.
Two things helped to sway my decision to convert the 2K12 Ultimate Base Roster to 2K14. An unfortunate life circumstance paved the way for me to have an inordinate amount of downtime. This, coupled with the very persistent voice of another forum member, Suirad, persuaded me to try and make the conversion. The plan was hatched over a phone conversation where we traded numbers over NLSC private message. From here we were able to coordinate our efforts tactfully and efficiently.
Suirad was an awesome partner in the project because he was always extremely reliable and he had a bit of “mad scientist” in him like I do to try and push the limits of what’s possible. He’s an extremely creative and bright person with a great work ethic. Between my roster expertise and organizational skills and his graphic/art expertise we made the ultimate 2K modding tandem. We would talk on the phone and text each other updates on progress weekly and sometimes daily – It helped pass the time during a difficult period for myself. We were able to convert the project (along with some help from others) from 2K12 to 2K14 in just a few months. I was very proud of the teamwork we put into that conversion process.
What has been the most challenging part of maintaining the Ultimate Base Roster? What has been the most rewarding?
The most challenging part of maintaining the Ultimate Base Roster project during the glory days of the mod were the constant and continuous requests by fans of the mod. Having to answer all the questions about installation and bugs, as you know, can be an overwhelming and frustrating task (especially when this is a hobby). These days, being able to balance time between work and personal life, while still throwing an update out there is the most challenging. The website costs can be a bit annoying (and was the reason for there being a time where the files were not available). 2K19 is out so there isn’t the huge quantity of people clamoring for improvements or struggling to install the mod like there used to be.
However, the most rewarding is to be able to please the avid fans of the Ultimate Base Roster who still download and play the mod regularly. I still get great enjoyment out of throwing out an update and seeing the response on Twitter, Facebook, and the NLSC forums. I still get tons of feedback on my Patreon as well as through e-mails. I occasionally will look up the website traffic information and find it cool that people from all over the world visit the site to download the Ultimate Base Roster. Traffic comes from all continents, so it’s really rewarding being able to create something for such a wide audience. As I stated earlier, I’m also a perfectionist, so knowing that a season mod is missing gives me motivation to try and stay on top of things!
UBR currently includes over sixty complete season mods. Do you have an all-time favourite season? Mine would probably still be 1996, for reasons I’m sure that you can relate to!
Mine, like yours, is definitely 1996 for the same reasons. Gotta love the Jordan-Pippen-Rodman 72-10 team. I honestly love all of the 1990s season rosters. I think my second favorite season mod from the UBR project would have to be the 1992 Roster because that brings back childhood memories of playing with the aforementioned Tecmo Super Basketball SNES game. I also enjoy the 1987-1988 mod with the stars of the 80s along with an up and coming Bulls team featuring rookie Scottie Pippen, rookie Horace Grant, prime-athletic MJ, and Charles Oakley.
Do you get much time to game these days, or do you primarily create mods?
Great question. Back in the day when the Ultimate Base Roster project was being developed I was able to play a lot more. I wanted to test out the teams for reliability and playability (it was fun!). These days the amount I’m able to play is much less. Once in a while I’ll still be able to get a couple games in. I’m much more likely to start a retro association and try to keep the Bulls together during the entire decade of the 90s (including that pesky middle part).
Finally, what does the future hold for the Ultimate Base Roster?
As you know, I went into hiatus for a while until returning to update the mod for 2K14 this past summer. The reason for that come back, similarly to when I decided to convert the mod to 2K14, was another difficult personal event involving a loved one. It seems that whenever I need a pick-me-up or to get away and relieve stress I turn to modding and one of my first loves, basketball. It’s a way to occupy my mind while doing something fun and productive during times of struggle. Some people turn to different vices when they struggle – luckily for me, mine is modding NBA video games!
As for things to look forward to in the future of the Ultimate Base Roster (UBR)…I would like to continue to keep the project alive. I would like to go through and tweak the All-Time Legend teams for each franchise at some point. I would like to figure out a resolution to the game’s salary cap issue to be able to increase it. I’d like to be able to consistently make a monthly update if possible. However, you never know what life will throw at you. It would be amazing, some day, to think about converting it to a more recent 2K game with the next-gen graphics. I sometimes daydream about having the opportunity to work for 2K or EA in some capacity. Creative minds find a way to make the impossible a reality. It’s fun to push the limits. No one, including myself, knows what those limits are. The project has no limits. I don’t have any limits. It’s a good rule for everyone to go by. Whatever your hobby or job is…never limit your potential.
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