And 1 Streetball Preview
Breaking ankles and finding twine, we take an updated look at the first And 1 street hoops game from Ubisoft.
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The And 1 Mixtape Tour recently stopped in Oakland, and we got a chance to see firsthand some of the insane hoops skills possessed by the players who make up the tour. Seeing guys like Spyda, Pharmacist, Sik Wit It, and, of course, the Professor play in person, you come away extremely impressed with their otherworldly ball-handling skills and shot-making ability. Those same skills were on display in the Ubisoft street basketball game, And 1 Streetball, which was also on display at the event. We checked out the game with the game's developers and talked about what makes this game different from other street hoops games on the market.
If you've ever seen a streetball game on television, you're used to seeing the sickest dunks and flashiest alley-oops on a regular basis. When you go to the actual game itself, however, you realize that a lot of what makes the experience exiting on the tube is careful editing. Luckily that doesn't seem to be the case in And 1 Streetball. What we mean is, practically every time you touch the ball, you'll be in a great position to make a play that will leave your opponent feeling silly and the crowd on its feet. After all, this is streetball--you may have the opportunity to take a simple shot for two, but where's the fun in that, especially when the game's control scheme looks to make tricks as approachable and easy to pull off as possible.
In our last preview of the game, we touched on the trick controls in And 1, which basically center around the two analog sticks on both the PS2 and Xbox controllers. Using the right stick will access the first level of tricks, which are basically setup dribbles. Mixing in the use of the left analog stick with the right stick will create more-complex level-two combinations, and by holding down a trigger button you enter level-three territory, where ankles get broken and hoops get scored. By stringing these increasingly complex tricks together, you'll be building up your respect points and draining an ankle-breaker meter tied to the opponent you're facing. If his ankle-breaker meter drops to zero--usually set off by the careful execution of a level-three trick move--your opponent will drop, and you'll have a clear path to the net to execute the kind of sick dunk or self alley-oop the crowd demands, all with a simple press of a button.
Though the And 1 tour doesn't put a huge premium on defense in real games (beyond some truly in-your-face blocks), you will have some defensive weapons in your arsenal in the game. First you'll have several steal options available--including poke steals, swipes, and grabs, where you literally grasp the ball and try to wrest it from your opponent. Furthermore, to prevent yourself from getting completely broke off in anything other than one-on-one games, you can refill your ankle-breaker meter by either backing off the guy with the ball or taking control of another player and bringing him in to assist. Finally, pulling off a successful reverse will transfer all your opponents' accumulated respect points to you.
One of the most compelling aspects of the And 1 Mixtape Tour is the organization's near open-door policy when it comes to accepting potential new talent into its ranks. All of the players on the tour earned their way in, and thanks to the open runs held at every And 1 event, practically any baller in any major city has at least a shot at making it onto the bus and playing with some of the best players in the world. This idea will translate directly to And 1 Streetball's story mode, which will find you creating a streetball player of your very own and trying to earn that coveted spot on the And 1 tour bus. The story mode will simulate three seasons of the And 1 tour and the ultimate goal of making it into the bus and onto the court. After creating your character using what the Black Ops development team says will be a very robust player-creation system, you'll be playing pickup games to perfect your skills. Soon enough you'll find your way to an open run where you can take on the best local talent in your area, all under the watchful eyes of the players, coaches, and officials of the And 1 virtual tour. Just as in the real open runs, those who make the most impact outside during the day will be invited into the arena that night to play against the And 1 tour pros.
It's here that you'll need to shine the brightest, because not only will you be taking on some of the best in the business, but you'll literally be fighting for a spot on the tour yourself. By making the best use of the skills you developed in the pickup games, you may have a chance to earn a spot on the And 1 tour, playing with the likes of Spinmaster, Helicopter, and Baby Shack. In seasons two and three of the story mode you'll find yourself traveling the country and then the world, showing off your skills to fans everywhere and taking on all wannabes in the process. It's unclear as yet whether the story mode will unfold via cutscenes, text, or a combination of both.
One of the interesting additions to the game since our last look is the create-a-move feature. As you progress through the game's story mode, playing game after game both against and with your fellow And 1 players, you'll be unlocking a plethora of moves. As you unlock these tricks, all based upon the real moves of the And 1 roster of talent, you'll be able to incorporate them into your individual style using the create-a-move feature.
To create a move you'll drop any of the unlocked moves into one of four "buckets" used by the tool. The first bucket is the setup dribble and can involve the typical "put-down" moves such as bouncing the ball off your opponent's head or wrapping it around his body. You'll next choose a move that will get the ball past your opponent and open up the floor for a shot, such as dribbling through his legs. The third part is the finisher, and this is where things really open up. Sure, you could sit there and take a nice polite 12-foot shot, but you'd probably get clowned by the crowd if you did so. Instead, you'll be able to choose from a variety of dunks, layups, or a self alley-oop. Finally--because simply bouncing a ball off a guy's dome, dribbling under his legs, and taking the ball to the hole yourself just isn't ego-fulfilling enough--you'll choose a celebration move designed to really drive the crowd crazy.
Find a Seat on the Bus
When will you be able to use this created move? Well, remember the respect points we mentioned earlier? As you pull off moves and earn respect, you'll be breaking ankles as well as filling up mic meters connected to your player. Earn one mic, and you'll be able to move quicker and hit better shots; you’ll basically be "on fire." In addition, with that mic in your respect bank, you'll also be able to unleash one of your created moves on an opponent. However, there's more to it than that, as there's more than one way to win a game in And 1 Streetball. Should you fill up three mics during a game, you'll win the game outright, regardless of the score.
Though it wasn't ready in the build we saw of the game, the Black Ops development team also told us about the shutdown play, which, when executed correctly, will also end the game immediately. We expect that this kind of move will be similar to one we saw at the Oakland And 1 game, where the Professor so completely and totally owned an opponent with his shifty side-to-side maneuvering that the crowd was on its feet screaming in appreciation (and ignoring the fact that the Prof actually missed the shot after putting this move on his foe). It's emblematic of the And 1 Streetball approach to the game that you'll have several ways of approaching (and winning) a game, some that have very little to do with what appears on the scoreboard.
In terms of the look of the game, the developers of And 1 Streetball are doing their best to convey the sort of urban sideline action that makes the Mixtape Tour such a hit. This is evident in the camera work, which seems relatively closer to the action on the court, thus giving proper view to the skillful sickness happening between players. You'll even see replay angles designed to appear as if shot by digital handicams on the sidelines, complete with shaky camera work. Lighting effects are used to denote big baskets such as dunks, and when your controlled player earns enough respect points, the ball will appear to be on fire.
From a sound standpoint, crowd interaction will be a big part of the action in And 1. Thanks to the noise around us, we couldn't make out the sound in the build we saw, but producers assured us that crowd noise will be more full sounding than a couple of yahoos yelling every time someone puts up a J. Instead, the development team has gone to the trouble of recording crowds at indoor And 1 events, which means that if the crowd noise in the game is anything like the rowdy environment at the Oakland Coliseum, you'll be in for a treat. Trash talk will abound, naturally, and you'll be right in the middle of the action in between plays, as the And 1 players have been in the recording studio putting their best smack to tape for use in the game.
It wouldn't be an And 1 game without (literally) running commentary from the courtside announcer during games, and though the announcer may not be present on the court in the And 1 Streetball game, you'll definitely hear his distinctive commentary throughout each game you play. In addition, the announcer may goad you if you slip up, boo you if you keep using the same stale tricks over and over, or even challenge you to pull off specific moves (and award you with extra respect points if you pull them off). Finally, music will be a constant presence in And 1 Streetball, as it is in the real game. Not only will there be plenty of original beats to go around, but the artists represented on the soundtrack will be location-specific; games on the West Coast will feature West Coast DJs, for instance.
Online play in And 1 will be available on both the PS2 and Xbox, and the good news is that in addition to being able to play one-on-one or up to five-on-five matches (though only two-console player-versus-player--the game won't support multiple-console games) in either full- or half-court setups online, you'll be able to bring your created player online to take on some of the best virtual streetball players in the world. There will also be a ranking system for online players, so you'll be able to see how you stack up against all other And 1 players. Tournaments will also play a role online, and though we don't have details yet, the producers said they are planning on having official ranked tournaments with prizes awarded to the winners.
With a focus on tricks, multiple methods of winning a game, and an interesting spin on basketball control mechanics, And 1 is certainly bringing its own flavor to the sports gaming world. As we approach the game's late-2005 release date, we're curious to get our hands on a more polished build to see just exactly how smooth that control mechanic translates to gameplay and if the transition animations that will be the bread and butter of the game really play as smoothly as the Black Ops development team is aiming for. Stay tuned for more coverage of this game in the coming months.