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The Fall of NBALIVE

This is a previous OpEd from our first Forum:

Throughout my adolescent years, I craved NBA basketball video games. Everything from arcade, to simulation, to coaching sims found their way onto my gaming systems and computers. NBA Live and other old school NBA titles were easily the pinnacle of action simulation NBA video games in that they provided the most ‘realism’ of any title on the market. NBA Live featured some of the most intense battles with my friends the world had ever seen. Somewhere after the year 2000, that narrative changed.

Around the time of NBA Live 2000, competition by the name of Sega’s NBA2K stepped into the scene with better and more responsive gameplay despite not having the extra fluff (street ball modes or presentation polish) that EA’s franchise did. While I wasn’t able to play against my friends as much due to me no longer being a college student at the time, I still craved as realistic of an experience while recreating the NBA season as possible. With NBA Live’s constant roster updates and ability to get the use of stars and legends like Michael Jordan, Shaq, and other legends, NBA Live remained an annual purchase for myself on whatever console I had. Still, NBA 2K, found its way into my heart with its great controls.

A close friend of mine, who goes by the name of DirtyHelmet as a gamertag, is a dedicated NBA fan as well. Ever since the days of the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live network, we’ve had a healthy rivalry in sports games. As our friendship grew, our NBA 2K rivalry grew along with it. Interestingly enough, neither of us had quite given up on playing NBA Live yet so we tinkered with both titles depending on which gave the closest ‘simulation’ style feel.

Around 2006 or 2007, NBA Live made a clear decision to go the way of more arcade action with their Freestyle Control feature. Along with the skill roles they assigned to stars and superstars, NBA Live tipped the balance of their gameplay to offense. The Freestyle control did provide some amazing dunks, dribbles, and other animations that were ‘programmed’ or ‘randomly chosen’ in 2k, yet the ease of learning and perfecting defense as a counter to all of these easy to use moves was not the same. As a result, certain players in the game became unstoppable. This would allow people who didn’t know how to play basketball to ‘nerf the system’ and dominate EVERY game with their superstar. Even if the other player knew how to use each and every player on their bench, it wouldn’t matter because the less skilled player on the other side of the ball could dominate with their superstar.

Anytime the gameplay of a sports game is unbalanced, hardcore players are going to dislike it. Since these sports games are highly competitive between players (both online and in local battles), the controls and moves and features MUST allow both sides of the ball to have equal opportunity (or at least close to equal) to win the game. I remember playing NBA Live 2007 and watching DirtyHelmet overuse Dirk Nowitzki’s fadeaway shot anywhere on the court was painful. A seemingly indefensible move, it forced a type of defensive strategy that led to overuse of double teams. Against a good NBA Live player, this is an unwinnable situation. Even he admitted that NBA Live was NOT as good as NBA 2K.
From that point on and to this day, Dirtyhelmet and I shun the NBA Live franchise for ignoring that hardcore NBA players that like realistic simulation style gameplay are the fans that they need to listen to. Attempts to remake NBA Live in the past 4-5 years have been laughable as the animation, graphics, and controls of these games have been seemingly equivalent to older version of NBA 2K or even NBA Live games. Releasing games that feel like a step back are unacceptable.

With EA Sports rebuilding their NBA Live franchise, it is clear that their focus is on the popular create-a-player mode called The One. With 2K’s delivery of it’s MyPlayer mode, this strategy could be a good one. Clearly 2K’s AI allows for great realistic games that permeate through the different modes. Still, online heavy players repeatedly have complained about the way progression is made in the MyPlayer mode. With NBA Live hoping to make their The One mode more RPG like, they have used that mode as their focus to promote NBA Live 18.

With today’s gaming scene being highly focused on internet based competitive play, 2K’s MyPlayer and ProAm modes have seen great success on the online tournament scene. With the growth of eSports, it only makes sense that sports sim games should be mindful of catering their gameplay towards being competitive for both sides of the ball in their games. The 2K series, while still popular, has mistakenly made their MyPlayer mode too ‘pay-to-get-a-99-rated-player’ system. As a result, there is no reason for the masses to ‘grind’ unless they want the coveted badges (which can be game breaking maneuvers on both sides of the ball). NBA Live is wise to make the RPG heavy The One mode their new direction while developing and improving this year’s title and hopefully future ones as well.

As dedicated NBA fans that think competition leads to quality, DirtyHelmet and I hope that NBA Live can return to greatness. No sports game is perfect and the only way great innovation is reached is through someone else pushing them to try to stand apart from the other. 2K’s progression has now gone the way of being a bit stagnant. Here’s to hoping NBA Live can push towards retaking the throne!

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