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 unused retro files in NBA 2K11.
For as long as we’ve been tinkering with basketball video games and poking around in their files, we’ve been discovering unused assets and leftover data from cut content. It’s always fun to discover such content, speculate on what might have been, and in some cases put those assets to use in mods. Examples include custom coach faces in NBA Live 2004, which would appear to be remnants of a scrapped custom team feature, and the leftover retro team player data in the PC version of NBA Live 08, which hints at the original plans for the game’s bonus content.
The latter example is particularly interesting because of the history of retro content in basketball video games. NBA Live and NBA 2K had both featured Legends and All-Decade teams in some capacity, but it wasn’t until NBA 2K11 that we saw full retro teams as part of The Jordan Challenge. However, digging through the game’s files reveals that even more content may have been planned. Let’s take a look back…way back…
Let’s begin with player faces. There are several faces that aren’t utilised by the game, but were nevertheless included. Hokupguy diligently combed through all the files, and created a list of players whose faces were among the unused assets on the disc. There are a few players who were only a couple of years removed from the league, such as Rasheed Wallace, Steve Francis, Bruce Bowen, and Antoine Walker. That isn’t too surprising, as you can also find players such as Stephon Marbury hidden in the roster. Presumably, players like Marbury were left in just in case they returned to the NBA. The unused faces may have also been in case those players needed to be re-added.
More surprising is the presence of players from the 60s and 70s, such as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy, and Rick Barry. There are two faces for Julius Erving: a young one with a big afro, representing his look in the 70s, and an older one from the 80s. Players from the 90s who retired in the early 2000s, such as Tim Hardaway and Larry Johnson, can also be found. There are even a couple of players that are notably missing from the rosters for The Jordan Challenge, such as Kevin Duckworth (92 Blazers) and Bill Walton (86 Celtics). You can even find younger versions of Shaquille O’Neal and Jason Kidd, and an alternate older Clyde Drexler face.
Most of these unused files have a portrait in addition to a face texture. Unfortunately, a vast majority of them can’t be used as-is, because they lack proper arm textures. Most of the players have very dark-skinned arm textures, which is appropriate for some faces but is generally mismatched. Other players do have correct arm textures, in some cases complete with their tattoos. A handful of players, including Wes Unseld and Drazen Petrovic, have portraits but no face or arm textures. Of course, even in this incomplete state, the unused files gave modders a starting point to work from, and a CF ID to ensure compatibility with different rosters. That made them quite useful.
While we never want to look a gift horse in the mouth when it comes to unused retro files that are handy for modding, their presence still raises the question of why they were included. Players like Walton and Duckworth can be explained as being cut when they couldn’t be licensed for The Jordan Challenge, but that doesn’t account for most of the unused faces. For that, we have to look back to NBA 2K10, and the All-Decade teams. Most of the unused retro faces in NBA 2K11 – including the different versions of Shaq, Kidd, Drexler, and Dr J – were players on those squads. The All-Decade teams were subsequently removed in favour of the Jordan Challenge content.
Mystery solved, right? Well, sort of. There’s still cause for speculation here, because it appears as though plans for NBA 2K11 did change at some point. The players from the 50s/60s and 70s squads in NBA 2K10, as well as Larry Bird and Dennis Rodman on the 80s East and 90s East teams, don’t have portraits. Their unused files in NBA 2K11 do have proper portraits, however. This suggests that at one point, the All-Decade teams were meant to remain in the game alongside the new Jordan Challenge teams, as the assets were updated with portraits. Clearly the decision was made not to include those teams after all, and those unused retro files ended up being left behind.
However, I can’t help wondering if those unused retro files are also remnants of other plans that were abandoned. For example, Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, and Dan Majerle were all on the All-Decade teams in NBA 2K10. They’re also members of the 1993 Phoenix Suns, which would’ve been a no-brainer for the Jordan Challenge if Charles Barkley could’ve been licensed. Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway (1995/96 Magic), Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway (1997 Heat), and Mourning and Larry Johnson (1993 Hornets) could’ve also been retained in case their squads could be licensed. Notably, all three of those teams are in the game as of NBA 2K20.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, as the subsequently removed All-Decade teams do account for a majority of those players. The updated assets do suggest they were originally going to be included, however. To that end, it’s interesting that the faces have updated portraits, but are missing arm textures. The incomplete players such as Unseld and Petrovic, as well as the few that are intact such as Earl Monroe, are also interesting. Clearly some ideas for further retro content were scrapped during NBA 2K11’s development, which means we’re likely seeing work-in-progress updates to NBA 2K10’s assets that were ultimately abandoned when plans changed.
Faces aren’t the only unused retro files, either. Among the jerseys, you’ll find some throwbacks that aren’t accessible in-game. Examples include retro home uniforms for the Bulls and Pacers, matching the throwback road jerseys that are selectable. It’s odd that they aren’t utilised as they are complete and accurate for the most part, though the numbers on the front of the unused Pacers retro are slightly off. I’ve checked the jersey data in the rosters, and they’re not included as unlockable or hidden uniforms. It’s possible they were meant to be added to the rosters at some point and were simply forgotten. Whatever the case may be, it’s strange that they ultimately weren’t utilised.
As I noted though, these unused retro files didn’t necessarily go to waste. Even if they needed some more work to be usable, the fact that there was some leftover content to work with made them quite useful. As for the hidden players in the roster that do have complete art files, they’re also handy for roster projects. Obviously they can be added back into the active rosters as themselves in various retro mods, but because they lack career stats, they’re ideal candidates to be overwritten with new players. Given there’s a limited number of created players, they provide a viable workaround. It’s something that I’m taking advantage of in my forthcoming 2020 season update for NBA 2K11.
Considering what’s been done with the historical content in subsequent titles, it’s quite interesting to think that 2K might have been intending to do a lot more much sooner. If nothing else, it seems that the All-Decade teams, a couple of missing players on the Jordan Challenge teams, and a few more retro jerseys, were originally planned to be included. These unused retro files and leftover data leave us to wonder what might have been, but as with the content we’ve discovered in other games, we’ve been able to find a use for them. It’s the reason why to this day when a new title is released, we start combing through its files. You never know what useful content we’ll find!