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NBA Inside Drive 2004 Q&A

We talk to Microsoft about the latest entry in its Xbox sports franchise.


Inside Drive 2004 is the latest entry in Microsoft's first-party basketball franchise. In addition to offering the expected improvements in graphics and gameplay and updating the player roster, the game will also offer online play through Xbox Live. The online play will also feature support for Microsft's recently launched XSN Sports network, which will allow players a number of different options to track their rankings and set up tournaments. We talked to game design lead Mark Harrington and game designer Marc Boyer about what to expect from the upcoming game.

NBA Inside Drive 2004 will finally bring the series online via Xbox Live.
NBA Inside Drive 2004 will finally bring the series online via Xbox Live.

GameSpot: Where do you think last year's game went right? Why?

Marc Boyer: Last year's version of Inside Drive had great gameplay that was very well received by gamers and reviewers. From every position on the court, gamers enjoyed very realistic gameplay and the ability to perform lifelike moves. As many know, gameplay is the most difficult thing to achieve in a video game. It requires a lot (months and months) of tuning time and a magical blend of testing, coding, and design. And in the end, it has to be fun, playable, responsive, and realistic. We were blessed last year that we were able to deliver on all fronts.

GS: Where do you think there was room for improvement? Why?

MB: Online! Online! Online! With the feedback that Microsoft Game Studios got from NFL Fever 2003, and its online capability, we knew that it was what gamers were looking for. Sadly, we didn't have the time to implement it in 2003, but we made it a must-have for this year.

GS: How much did all that influence development on this year's game?

MB: Developing a game online is not a simple task; to keep a smooth game, it needs a lot of coding and hours and hours of testing. We didn't want to implement anything half-done--everything that would be included to the game had to be 100 percent finished and tuned. So we elaborated a plan to have this done. Part of the team was solely working on the networking engine, while the rest of the team concentrated on other parts of the game.

The game's visuals have seen a nice bump in quality over last year's game.
The game's visuals have seen a nice bump in quality over last year's game.

GS: What features did you feel this year's game had to have?

MB: Online capability, improved sound and graphics, and deeper gameplay were the three features we felt we had to focus on for NBA Inside Drive 2004. In terms of online, we wanted to deliver on the promise of XSN Sports. Even though this is the first year of online for Inside Drive, it has all the features that you can find in "online year 2" games--friendly and competitive games, tournaments, a friends list, voice capability, and XSN Sports roster and sports updates. Every year we gain more experience with the Xbox, and this year we wanted to push it harder to see what was possible. When you look at the graphics and textures that we are using for our player faces, you will be amazed by their quality. We are delivering at an unparalleled level of quality. Graphics like this were not possible before the Xbox. NBA Inside Drive 2004 also has deeper gameplay than its predecessor. To keep our advantage on this aspect of the game, we wanted to polish the gameplay and then add depth as well. One-touch passing and touch-sensitive steals will add a lot to users looking to use a higher level of skill. In addition, we made our deke system much more discoverable and user-friendly.

GS: Walk us through what's been improved this year?

Mark Harrington: The biggest improvements for Inside Drive 2004 are the complete overhaul of the graphics and the improvements we made to the gameplay. The player models, faces, and jerseys were all redone to give the game a huge face-lift. Add to that the improvements made to the arenas, the sidelines, and the huge improvements of how the crowd looks, and you have a very fresh-looking game. For gameplay we added touch passing, which allows users to move the ball around the perimeter better, but using it too much will result in more turnovers. We also improved rebounding, retuned the difficulty levels to provide a better gameplay experience, and a bunch of other gameplay elements that make for a better overall feel of the game.

GS: What's completely new? What's been refined and why?

MH: Online and XSN support are the big items for this year's game, aside from the improvements mentioned above. The gameplay is great in my opinion, and being able to take that online and compete 24/7 is a great opportunity for users to showcase their skills. Having a tiered leaderboard system allows users to succeed at different levels, while at the same time striving to be number one. Bring it all together with XSN Sports, and you have a very compelling story for creating tournaments and leagues with your friends or other Xbox Live users.

Gameplay was an area where the team heavily focused its attention.
Gameplay was an area where the team heavily focused its attention.

GS: What's the most challenging aspect of making a basketball game?

MH: The most challenging aspect is getting the gameplay right. Having the right balance between looking good and playing good is tough. You want the animations to represent what you would expect to see when watching a basketball game, while at the same time you want your player to respond to your input when you do something. Basketball is a fast-paced game, and emulating that excitement and feel of an actual NBA game is pretty tough, but I think we do a great job of it.

GS: What do you think Inside Drive brings to the basketball genre that is unique?

MH: I feel that the Inside Drive franchise does a great job of providing the pace and excitement of an NBA game that the other games just don't have. Each Inside Drive game plays out differently with hot and cold streaks interwoven throughout the game that makes it a roller coaster ride. With other games I feel like it's "last person who shoots wins"--i.e. it's a seesaw game back and forth. With Inside Drive you get on runs that cause you to call timeouts, rethink your strategy, and make key substitutions. Another unique item for Inside Drive 2004 is the XSN Sports experience. What better way to play online than in a league with your buddies where you can tout your bragging rights via the XSN Sports Web site?

GS: Now that development is wrapping up, how close do you think you came to having all the features you wanted?

Inside Drive's support for XSN Sports will add a new facet to online play, thanks to the ability to set up your own leagues and tournaments.
Inside Drive's support for XSN Sports will add a new facet to online play, thanks to the ability to set up your own leagues and tournaments.

MH: You never get all the features you want in; if you do, you aren't shooting high enough to start. But as the product prepares to hit the shelves, I can honestly say that the features we included are very solid and really improve the overall game for the user. I'm excited to get my own copy so I can go online and play with my buddies.

GS: What has development on this game inspired you to add to the sequel?

MH: We feel that NBA Inside Drive 2004 is an exciting basketball video game that brings home the thrill of NBA basketball. With in-depth gameplay and the brand-new Xbox Live abilities and XSN Sports, we feel NBA Inside Drive 2004 is the basketball game to own for Xbox. As far as sequels go, we'll talk about what to add to the next version after we've heard from gamers on what they think of NBA Inside Drive 2004.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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