How much difference does a decade make in game development? We hit the court and shoot some hoops with NBA 2K10 producer Rob Jones to chat technology changes and dynamic player experiences and to find out what gamers can expect from this latest instalment in the venerable basketball series.
GameSpot AU: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of the NBA 2K series. How has the gameplay evolved over the past decade?
Rob Jones: I would like to think that over the years the game has come much closer to emulating the sport. I remember the original NBA 2K as being graphically realistic, but moving in a very robotic way, with moves and motions that really didn’t define the elegance of the sport and the interaction between players. I think that we are now closer to that, both visually and in terms of a simulation of both plays and player interaction as individuals and teams.
GS AU: A lot has changed in games hardware since the first game was released, how has the game adapted to take advantage of console features in newer hardware?
RJ: Another good question. The new hardware has allowed graphical and gameplay enhancements that were never possible before--from the introduction of cloth simulation, net and basket physics, and the use of stronger IK engines, to being able to draw all the characters in an NBA arena in a way that is immediately recognisable as being realistic. All of these advancements would not have been possible without strong enough hardware. NBA 2K as a series has been known to depict each player more realistically than others due to animation and tendencies, and just in terms of memory footprint, the same thing could not have been done on a Dreamcast, PS2, or original Xbox.
GS AU: How has the basketball game landscape changed since you started making NBA 2K?
RJ: I think that there have been two major changes over time. The first is that NBA Street opened up basketball as a more casual gamer and that the success of the NBA 2K series has helped open up the market for NBA video games as a whole. When I started on this series, there were five NBA simulation games out there. Now we’re really down to two, but the two that are competing are the ones that really embraced the sport the best way. Along the way there have been a couple of arcade-style NBA franchises, but those generally lack the staying power of a true sports simulation.
GS AU: NBA 2K10 offers a new VIP “Gold Room” for players who purchase the limited-edition version of the game. Will it be available across all regions of sale, and what extras can serious players expect?
RJ: The Collector’s Edition of the game is going to be available in both North America and Canada. Gamers who purchase this will get exclusive access to the VIP Gold Room (think of this as a private lobby), where the 2K development team and 2K Sports VIPs will be playing their online games. As our biggest fans will be purchasing the Collector’s Edition, this will be a great place to find someone to play online games with. You know you’ll be playing against someone who is familiar with the game and will put up a good fight. After release, we will be rewarding some of our top players with exclusive Gold Room access to ensure that the best players are playing their games in a single place. In short, if you want to play against the best competition, you need to be in the Gold Room.
GS AU: This year your competition looks to be putting focus on both on- and off-the-ball player control--off-the-ball play, no-look passing. What new features can NBA 2K players expect this time around?
RJ: The competition has had a good measuring stick to try to match, and they have come up with some good new features. We’ve enhanced our on-ball player control, making Isomotion simpler and more responsive, while adding a new defensive pressure control and all-new movement. We also had to refine what playing off-ball is all about, since we have introduced our My Player feature, which is all about role-playing and therefore needs all-new controls for playing without the ball. Additionally, we’ve created all-new defensive team AI with rotations and active double teams and a host of other new features that make the game exciting. Signature Play is also one of our biggest innovations, further advancing the idea of re-creating the individual NBA stars from their moves to their tendencies to pregame routines, facial animations, and reactions--pretty much everything that makes up their core. In that, this is a very exciting new version of the game for us.
GS AU: This is the first outing for the series on the PSP and Wii. How different are those versions of the game to their Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 counterparts?
RJ: The Wii is the same as the Xbox 360 and PS3 version except for controls and graphics. We wanted a game on the Wii that exemplified a basketball simulation, not some watered-down version for a different audience. Everything we offer on the next-gen systems is available on the Wii. The PSP version is graphically closer to its PS2 cousin, but with as much integration as possible from its big brothers.
GS AU: Tell us about NBA 2K10 Draft Combine--how does it work, and is it a feature we’ll see included in future releases of the game? Will players still be able to create custom characters without first purchasing Draft Combine?
RJ: NBA 2K10: Draft Combine was a great platform for us to unveil our all-new My Player career mode. On downloading the title, users are prompted to create their player using our all-new create-player feature. Once this is complete, the user is then sent to Attack Athletics Gym in Chicago, Illinois, where the NBA’s Draft Combine will commence. At the end of the Draft Combine, the user’s player is uploaded to our 2K Sports servers where they will have instant access to their player once they get their hands on NBA 2K10.
As for what the future holds for the Draft Combine, who knows? This was a great opportunity for us to basically release our gameplay over a month prior to the release of the full version of the game. As expected, our fans really embraced the idea.
For users who choose not to purchase NBA 2K10: Draft Combine, they will still be able to create their My Player career player in the full version of NBA 2K10, where they will be starting out in the Summer Circuit as an undrafted free agent. They will be at a disadvantage over those users who played through the Draft Combine, as those users will have already accrued valuable skill points that will help them get an invite to a team’s training camp and, thus, ultimately make it to the NBA.
GS AU: What can you tell us about the dynamic voice-overs you’re including in NBA 2K10, and how will they help to keep the game fresh?
RJ: NBA Today is an innovative feature that we think will change the landscape of video game commentary moving forward. In short, NBA Today is a feature that allows you to play today’s (think real NBA schedule) matchups from an easy-to-use interface. Supporting this interface is our all-new commentary system that uses actual data (updated nightly) from the real NBA season. During games, the commentators will talk about real-time NBA season stats for the players in your game, how the team is doing this year, how they are doing on their current home stand/road trip, how the game ended the last time these two teams played, how injuries have affected their lineup, scores from around the league, standings, playoff races, and so on. We left no stone unturned in delivering the ultimate presentation package that will engross you from the second you pop the disc into the drive. NBA Today is truly the most innovative feature in sports video gaming this year.
GS AU: Rob Jones, thanks for your time.