Q&A: NBA Live's online five-on-five

EA Canada producer Julien Carron tells GameSpot about EA Sports' virtual b-baller and its brand-new support of 10-player online games.

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This has been a strong year for EA Sports. In addition to raking in piles of cash with entries in its juggernaut Madden NFL and NCAA Football franchises, games such as NHL 08 and the recently released NBA Live 08 have met with both commercial success as well as critical acclaim, which is something the NBA Live franchise has been struggling with for some time.

On top of that, after suffering criticism for its subpar online sports efforts for years, EA Sports finally seems to be jumping into the online pool with both feet. Both NHL 08 and NBA Live 08 support online leagues for the first time in both franchises' history. Today, the publisher is announcing a free patch to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation versions of Live 08 that will allow online team play for up to 10 players on different consoles. That's something that basketball fans have been hoping for since the advent of online play in console hoops games.

The new feature will allow online team play for up to 10 players, with artificial intelligence players filling in open positions. Naturally, voice chat will be available and isolated from the opposing team. Final details on the size of the patch and release information are still in the works, but EA representatives have said the patch should be available in mid-to-late November. To get more details on the new online team-play feature, we spoke with Julien Carron, online producer with EA Canada.

GameSpot: Before we get into the news, let's talk a bit about NBA Live 08. First, how did you feel about the final product and how has fan response been for the game so far?

Julien Carron: We are really proud of the work we did to get NBA Live 08 to where it is today. We went back to the drawing board and started with the fundamentals of five-on-five gameplay to get a solid foundation set for the franchise. We then layered on some new features that added complexity and authenticity to the game, and some additional innovations at dynasty and online for depth. Most importantly, we made a game that is fun to play. We are getting a great response from our fans and are turning heads of those not loyal to our franchise as well.

GS: The series has obviously made a leap in quality this year. In your opinion, what's the biggest improvement to this year's game?

JC: The biggest improvement to our game has to be the solid fundamentals. Our game plays great--and that's really the key.

GS: What facet or feature did you want in Live 08 that didn't make it in?

JC: Online team play is the only major feature [that] did not make it in time in the final game. We were very close but felt like it was not quite ready, and we did not want to disappoint our fans. So we made the decision to wait until it was ready.

GS: Tell us about the online team-play patch. Will players be able to lock in their positions in the menu before a game begins?

JC: Yes, in the online team-play flow, one of the screens is dedicated to player lock for every player. Focusing on one player with or without the ball is in line with our vision of what online gaming will be in the near future.

GS: For games that feature fewer than 10 players, will there be player switching, or will you be locked into position? Also, have you had to do any AI tweaks to help AI opponents deal with human players?

JC: For player locking, the user will have the choice. If he decides to lock on a player, he'll be locked regardless of the number of users on the team. If he decides not to lock to a position, he'll be able to swap between nonlocked players as long as there are not five users per team. Obviously, if there are five users on a team, each user will be locked to a player. We did not do many AI tweaks for year one, but we're definitely focusing on this for NBA Live 09.

GS: From your point of view, how does having 10 "real" players on the court change the dynamics of the game?

JC: From our point of view, it's a revolutionary change. You are replacing artificial intelligence with human intelligence. This adds an element of unpredictability that creates emotion and excitement. This is why user-versus-user games are so addictive. And by multiplying this by 10, we are giving you a whole new experience.

GS: Will you be able to play five-on-five games in online leagues?

JC: Unfortunately, this [is] unavailable for NBA Live 08, but this is something we are looking at going after in the future.

GS: Was this always planned as an add-on after the game was in stores?

JC: No, as I explained earlier, it was in our plans to ship with the disc, but we felt it was not quite ready for our fans. We are, therefore, happy with our decision to take a bit more time and do it right.

GS: It seems like EA Sports is finally making the big push in online play for sports, with the inclusion of online leagues and now the five-on-five patch. What's next for Live's online suite? We know you can't give away the farm, but perhaps you can give us a hint of where things are heading?

JC: I am sure you can see from above what our goals are. It is our goal to create a dedicated online sports-gaming community, and right now, we're really at the tip of the iceberg. Playing full games using all human intelligence completely changes how you play. We now have teamwork, communication, and community at the forefront. We look forward to continuing down this path.

GS: Thanks for your time, Julien.

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