Street Hoops Q&A
Black Ops gives up all kinds of details on its upcoming streetball game.
Activision's upcoming basketball game Street Hoops aims to marry the style of street basketball with the playability and options fans have come to expect from traditional basketball games. We talked with Street Hoops' project director, Black Ops Entertainment's Jose Villeta, to learn what to expect from the game's various console versions.
GameSpot: How Long has the game been in development?
Jose Villeta: Street Hoops has been in product development since January 2001. Black Ops wrote and tuned a full basketball video game from scratch for Street Hoops in less than 18 months. The game will be coming out for all major game consoles--PS2, Xbox, and GameCube.
GS: How big is the team?
JV: The Black Ops Street Hoops team at its peak was around 30 team members, which included programmers, artists, animators, production personnel, and player/athlete relations. We also had a couple dozen contractors helping us out during casting calls, motion-capture shoots, photo shoots, and cyberscanning sessions, in addition to the talent used in the game.
GS: What have they worked on before?
JV: The core of the Black Ops Street Hoops team came from developing the EA Sports March Madness 2000 and March Madness 2001 PlayStation games. In addition, our Black Ops producer and lead designer, Tracy Johnson, came from the Sega NBA 2K franchise before joining us on the March Madness games.
GS: How did the team approach developing a street hoops game?
JV: Activision senior producer Adam Goldberg approached us to do Street Hoops in late 2000. As soon as we finished March Madness 2001, EA Sports decided to take the franchise internal for the PS2 game development, so we had the team and the opportunity to explore other venues. For Black Ops, Street Hoops was a perfect match, because we believe foremost in making basketball games that are fun, fast, and fresh. Not dealing with NCAA or NBA rules is also very pleasing, because we can try to be true to street and playground basketball. Our goal from day one was to try to go back to the roots of basketball, which is on the playgrounds where legends are born.
GS: Did any of the real-life players featured in the game have input in its development?
JV: Early on in the game design process, we had several players approach us with ideas for Street Hoops. Syrus Yarbrough, our Black Ops player relations consultant, helped me contact all the LA local talent to get a street flavor early on for the prototype. After the prototype was done, Activision contracted some of the most renowned playground legends in the country, including Half Man Half Amazing, Hot Sauce, Headache, Main Event, Speedy Williams, The Future, AO, and Booger Smith. They provided their basketball talent--signature moves and input--and likenesses for the game during motion-capture sessions. In addition, we used other street ballers for motion capture from the Harlem Globetrotters and Nike "Freestyle" commercials. All together, we had more than 1,500 unique basketball moves captured. Our player roster exceeds 100 different players from all over the United States.
GS: Are there going to be any differences in the content of the console versions?
JV: Street Hoops will be similar for all three consoles as far as the key game features, core gameplay mechanics, and AI. However, each console will have its unique features based on the console strengths. On the PS2, we will have DTS real-time audio support, six audio multistream channels with 3D audio, Multitap support for up to eight players, and high-res 512x448 frame buffer at 60Hz. On the Xbox, we will have HDTV support up to 720p at 60Hz, Dolby Digital with 3D Sound, user-customized soundtracks utilizing the Xbox soundtrack feature, fast hard-drive loading, and high-res true-color textures. On the GameCube, we will have Dolby Pro Logic audio support and high-res true-color textures at 640x480 frame buffer at 60Hz. Both the PS2 and Xbox versions will have the DVD fully loaded with goodies like secret movies, players, and teams. The GameCube version will have all the great gameplay of the other two versions, but it will have fewer goodies due to the limited size of a GameCube disc when compared with a DVD.
A Sure Slam Dunk
GS: What do you feel are the key elements a street hoops game should have in order to be good?
JV: For me, there are four key elements for a street hoops game to be good. They are:
1. Hip-hop culture and basketball. From day one, we knew that the hip-hop and basketball cultures are intertwined. We wanted to integrate the best music, clothing companies, and players to make sure that we were unique and true to the culture. The first technical task we got up and running was the capability of reconfiguring the players anyway you want, from tattoos to jewelry to clothes to shoes to hairstyles. Even betting on games was considered to be a key feature in the game early on. Moreover, we had access to a great music sound track that everyone is going to dig when Street Hoops ships.
2. Controls and animations. Controls need to be solid and well designed. Also they need to be very responsive. That's where the 60Hz animation playback and frame rate are super important. We got a great and vast animation set representative of all the moves you can see performed on the playgrounds. There really is no comparison when looking at Street Hoops playing at 60 frames per second versus other games that play at 20 to 30 frames per second.
3. Audio. A lot of game developers ignore the audio aspect of a game until the end, and this is one of the major flaws in our industry. From day one, we wanted the best audio production possible, not just for a sports title, but for any type of game. Tommy Tallarico, our audio director, helped us orchestrate the audio mixing of all game elements. The first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks about street hoops is the trash talking. The player wants to push people around, dunk over people, and talk about it. We had several audio layers: play-by-play commentators, stereo music tracks, ambience track, crowd ambience track, and crowd cheers track. All these components, plus spatial 3D sound, allow us to immerse the user into the action like he or she was right there.
4. Sim vs. arcade AI. There is a fine line between these two areas, and Street Hoops is staying right on top of that line. We didn't want it to be considered too much of a simulation game, but at the same time we wanted to be true to the sport of basketball. This meant using the basic rules and playing full-court five-on-five. Also, we wanted the game to be fun and over the top, with great moves and action. This is where we added some arcade flavor to enhance the experience so it doesn't feel like you're playing in an organized league. The fancy dribble moves, dunks, and pushing really help us add that attitude and style to Street Hoops. Of course, the user can change all the rules, including fouls and backcourt, to play according to his or her preferences.
GS: Can you talk more about the AI?
JV: In any sports game, the AI will make or break the game. There is nothing more frustrating than to watch your game playing by itself and yell at the TV, "Hey, you got an open shot--take it." We designed a very flexible AI script system meant for handling multiple players, either CPU- or user-controlled. In addition, we created an open playbook system that is geared more to playground basketball in order to take the player to the basket more often than our old NCAA playbooks, which required waiting for plays to finish before the AI shot the ball. Of course, users can also wait and watch plays develop to take advantage of mismatches, lapses in defense, and so forth. You can call for picks and even have the guys go for alley-oops. You can dive for the ball or put it back right away for a tap-in or follow-up dunk. One hard part of the AI development for Street Hoops was to make sure that the game continues to challenge the player. We wanted to create different skill levels that will challenge the beginning and hard-core players alike. It's nice to see testers getting beat by the CPU AI and getting right back to a rematch.
GS: Can you elaborate on the game's modes and how they will work?
JV: In Street Hoops we have four game modes. Two of them, world tournament and lord of the court, are single-player modes, with the ability to have human teammates in a cooperative setting. In world tournament, you go around the different cities in the United States and eventually go to the final game at the famous Rucker Park in NYC. In lord of the court, you select a city or court to defend and you play against other teams in order to become champion of that court. Lose and you're out. Along with the single-player modes, full- and half-court pickup games are the exhibition-style modes that allow the user to select from five-on-five all the way down to one-on-one. You can play timed or scored games. On all modes, you can bet with your game earnings to win cash that can be used to unlock secret courts. We have a total of 14 teams and a bunch of secret players.
GS: Can you give us some detail on customizing your baller in the world tournament mode?
JV: The baller customization is the cornerstone of our game. We have a create a baller feature that allows you to make your own baller or use one of our premade ballers. With the cash you earn from winning bets and game purses, you can buy new clothes, everything from shorts to jeans to sweatshirts to sunglasses to shoes. Moreover, you can change your player hairstyles from 'fros to cornrows to trim cuts. Also, you can add tattoos and jewelry for a nice finishing touch. The more you earn, the more goodies you can get. Be careful--you can bet away all your cash, and if you're unlucky, you might have to go to the pawnshop to sell off some of your precious bling bling.
GS: Duly noted. Thanks for your time, Jose.