Let's face it, style counts in the NBA. Of course, now that David Stern has initiated his dress code for players, you're far more likely to see something truly stylish on the court than off, but you get our point. There's simply no other professional American sport that relies so much on the individual player's abilities or celebrates each athlete's flashy independence. While basketball video game developers have included stylized moves in their games for a long while now--with tons of snazzy layups and devastating dunks--the increased processing power and memory capacity of next-generation consoles such as the Xbox 360 and the upcoming PlayStation 3 mean that player styles can get more individualized than ever before. With the release of NBA 2K7, the team at 2K Sports has taken advantage of that increased capacity by including a feature called signature styles. Last week, we posted an updated hands-on with the game in which we talked a bit about the signature styles in the game. Recently, we had a chance to chat with 2K Sports' Mike Wang about signature styles in 2K7, how the team went about creating them, and what effect these new animations will have on the virtual hardwood.
GameSpot: Let's start with the basics. What is signature style, and how does it work in NBA 2K7?
Mike Wang: At 2K Sports, our goal is to create the best-playing and most authentic NBA sim on the market. We felt that the best way to achieve that was to make sure each and every player, from the superstars of the team down to the last guys off the bench, were all represented as accurately as possible. This is what signature style is all about. It encompasses jump shots, dunks, layups, passes, dribble moves, celebrations, free throws, tendencies, and everything else that goes into making sure each guy looks, plays, and feels like his real-life counterpart.
GS: How are signature-style moves controlled in the game?
MW: Early on, we talked about having dedicated controls for signature moves but felt that it would be too convoluted for the average user to have a button or set of buttons that does one thing for one player but then something else for another. So, we decided to roll up our signature moves into our existing control scheme. This allows us to keep our controls intuitive, while at the same time showing off some very cool player-specific animations. For example, pulling away from the basket on the shot stick while posting up will cause most players to do a fadeaway post shot...but for guys like [Zydrunas Ilgauskas], Yao [Ming], and [Dikembe] Mutombo, it will shoot a skyhook. While driving to the basket, pressing the lead pass button will yield a more basic set of passes for most guys, while a handful of elite passers will get a set of very cool Magic Johnson-type dish-offs (which are some of the most amazing passes I've ever seen in a basketball game, by the way).
GS: Does every player in the game have a signature move or is it only for a select few NBA stars? Does every NBA team feature at least one player with a signature style?
MW: Every NBA team will feature at least one player with a signature style, and most teams will have between five and eight guys on the roster with a unique signature shot or move of some kind. We wanted to make sure that each team was well represented, but obviously, stars get more attention than some of the lower-tiered players. So, while you might see a handful of bench guys sharing one generic jump-shot animation, a guy like Shawn Marion will have four or five unique jump shots that are only assigned to him. Overall, I'm happy with the number of signature-style moves we got into NBA 2K7. You'll be well into your second or third season before you've uncovered all the new animations we've added to this game.
GS: Give us a few examples of the signature-style moves we'll see in the game.
MW: It's hard to give just a few examples because there are so many moves I want to highlight. But here are some of my favorites:
- Vince Carter's reverse windmill and elbow-hang dunks
- T-Mac's lull-you-to-sleep hesitation crossover
- Kobe's double-pump-reverse dunk
- Steve Francis' New York-style step-back move
GS: How did the development team go about creating the signature-style moves for each player?
MW: It started with a LOT of research...going to games, watching games on TV, studying NBA videos, creating lots of reference clips, and taking tons of notes. From there, I created our motion-capture shot lists, and we brought in a lot of talented athletes to try and mimic the shots and moves of the various NBA players. There are a lot of hardcore NBA fans on the project, and I'd keep getting comments like "Do we have so and so's shot?" or "We should put this guy's crossover in the game." After a lot of feedback and four or five dedicated mo-cap shoots, we were ready to implement the content. And that was another beast in itself.
GS: Were the signature-style moves created from motion capture, watching tons of game film, or some hybrid of the two?
MW: All of the signature animations came directly from motion capture. It's very difficult to hand-animate human movement realistically, so we wanted to stay as true to the actual mo-cap data as possible. Still, every athlete has muscle memory that's very difficult to overcome, so trying to mimic hundreds of NBA athletes with varying quirks in their shots and moves was a very difficult task. This is where we turned to our very talented animation team, who did an outstanding job postprocessing the data to match up closer to our reference videos.
GS: Will folks playing the Xbox 360 or PS3 version of the game notice a difference in signature styles, as compared to the Xbox and PlayStation 2 games?
MW: We did make an effort to integrate some of the new signature-style animations into our Xbox and PS2 versions, but our memory footprint was pretty tight. That's the beauty of developing on the 360 and PS3. We were really able to take creative freedom to add every animation that we wanted to without worrying about memory or performance. So yes, Xbox 360 and PS3 owners will definitely get a huge upgrade in terms of signature-style content.
GS: Obviously, fans of certain players will be able to recognize how accurate their favorite player's shot is in the game. But what are some of the more subtle player animations that are part of this system that people need to be aware of?
MW: You'll see a lot of subtle animations in the area of ambient idles, free-throw routines, and celebrations. LeBron bites his nails during dead-ball situations, Nash licks his fingers as he dribbles up court, Kobe does his fist pump after a big basket, Rip adjusts his mask, and Duncan always attempts a bank shot when he shoots his little midrange jumper. We even tried to match our virtual coaches to their real-life selves in terms of intensity and mannerisms. These are the types of details that bring NBA 2K7 to life and make you feel like you're watching the real thing.
GS: From a gameplay standpoint, what does signature style bring to the table? Does it give the player an advantage when playing against the computer or another opponent?
MW: I think signature style brings an interesting dynamic into gameplay. While much of the impact is purely visual, there are some inherent advantages and disadvantages that go along with some of the animations. For example, it's nearly impossible to block Michael Redd or Shawn Marion's jump shots in 2K7, just like it is in real life because of how fast they can get them off. On the other hand, it's really difficult to sink a free throw with Shaq because of his unorthodox free-throw technique. What I like about our implementation is that novice users can pick up the game and see cool stuff after learning the basics, but advanced users can really gain an advantage by knowing their team and using their players' strengths.
GS: How do the signature-style animations fit in with some of the other enhancements with the gameplay in 2K7, such as the shot stick, isomotion, and so on.
MW: Signature style is heavily woven into all aspects of gameplay, so all of the enhancements we've made to the shot stick and isomotion also incorporate the new signature shots and moves. One of the things I'd like to call out is the addition of the size-up move to the isomotion system. When you tap the size-up button, the ball handler plays a short dribble animation that's useful for getting the defender a little off balance or to set up a more aggressive move. We've made this more interesting by giving certain guys pet signature size-up moves. Basically, everything we do now, we do with signature style in mind. In the past, if we were adding a new spin move to the game, we'd pick out our favorite animation and give it to everybody, maybe with a couple of variations. Now, we say, "We need to capture this guy's spin move, that guy's spin move, etc." We're still not at the point where every guy's motions are spot on, but that's the direction we're heading with the 2K series and the next-gen hardware.
GS: Was there someone whose shot or style you couldn't get in the game that you hope to add next time?
MW: I would've liked to have spent more time "sigging up" the legends in our game, as only a handful of them now have accurate sig shots. I also have a mental log of players whose shot I want to recapture or have tweaked for future versions...some of the rookies come to mind. Overall, though, I think we did a pretty good job with the time we had, and I think fans of our game will appreciate the variety it brings to the gameplay. Also, we made all of the jump shots and post packages editable in the roster in case people want to reassign their favorite players.
GS: Which signature-style player is your favorite and why?
MW: As far as jump shots go, I'm a huge Bulls fan, so I'm going to have to go with my favorite player, Kirk Hinrich...although I'm still not completely happy with the follow-through on his shooting arm. Around the office, a lot of people think Kobe is the guy we nailed the best, but in terms of the entire signature-style package, I'd probably go with Bron Bron. His shots, isomotion moves, passes, and dunks are just so fitting for him that it makes you feel like you're in King James's shoes.
It's really tough to pick my favorite because there are several players and teams that I think we captured really well. But for fans of our game, no matter who their favorite teams are, I think they'll have a lot of fun exploring all of the different nuances between the various players and uncovering all of the new animations we've added to NBA 2K7. We're finally at the point where gamers will get the sense that they're playing with and against actual NBA athletes with different strengths and styles, rather than a bunch of cloned bots with cool-looking sweaty textures.
GS: Thanks for your time, Mike.