E3 07: NBA Live 08

by: John -
When at the Barker Hanger, I got a nice demonstration on the NBA Live 08. From what I saw, the game has potential to win fans back. Check out my take after the jump.
Hibachi! The NBA Live series has taken a lot of criticism lately and I've lost a lot of love for the game over the years. Well, if the game I saw at E3 is any indication, this year might be the one that wins fans back.

EA Canada has heard all the criticisms so they went back and decided to focus on gameplay. They broke down the game of basketball into ten different fundamentals. They focused on improving each of those ten fundamentals to garner a better playing basketball game.

For starters, let's start with the ball. Now if you played last year's version you know that the trajectory of the ball was off a lot of times and the ball's weight seemed a little off. Well that's been corrected and the ball is now heavier. Shots from different locations will produce the right trajectory so you won't get any weird looking shots.

Rebounding looks to have vastly improved from the demo. I asked about the high level of offensive rebounds in my games and the developer said that was addressed. The fact that there were plenty of times where the ball just fell to the ground with players standing around has also been addressed. When a ball is shot, you'll see the AI do a box out correctly and the ball won't teleport into the players hands when they go up for the rebound. Also multiple players will now jump for the rebound. Some will try to reach over or to the side of a blocking player to grab the ball. Rebounding looks like it's finally been fixed with this version from the demonstration I saw.

In NBA Live 07, it wasn't uncommon for a player who's near the basket to jump up and phase through the backboard or shoot the ball from behind the backboard. In NBA Live 08, the player knows where they are in relation to the basket and the backboard so all of those weird plays have disappeared. The example shown to me was Bruce Bowen positioned from behind the basket. Instead of going straight up, Bowen utilized some body control to jump and lean back towards the front of the basket to try to throw it in. That's a big improvement already over last year's version.

Collisions are much improved in this version and EA Canada has gone and done motion capture with two people bumping into each other in various situations. All situations were modeled such as air to ground collisions and ground to ground as well. This alone should account for many of the short comings when two players went against each other in the air in past versions. You'll see players jostle each other and push off more realistically. We should see more realistic results when bodies collide in all situations now.

The AI also does a much better job now of running plays without waiting on the player to call them. EA Canada has devised a system where they would do certain things and you can react to the situation. One example had Robert Horry setting a pick for you without even calling it out. It's up to you if you want to try to utilize that pick to get around your defender. There was also a scene where the computer set a pick for another computer player. The pick freed up the teammate running around the pick giving you the option of passing him the ball for the shot. Now all this was done without any interaction by the player so there's a better flow through the game without having you micromanage the plays.

The AI has also been fixed so that I was told we won't have those situations where time's running out and the computer would just dribble at the top and launch a three as time expired. The computer will know who has the ball and based on that person will make the right decision. Whether it's getting it to Tim Duncan in the post to try to win the shot or if the ball handler's Steve Nash and he can get by his opponent for a solid look to the rim, the AI should be a lot better in making game defining decisions.

Now let's get to four new features available in NBA Live 08. First up is Hot Spot. With a push of a button you can see the floor broken up into 14 different colored zones. Depending on the color of the zone you are standing in, it will show how money you are in that area. These are based on real NBA data so players like Donyell Marshell and Bruce Bowen are better shooters of the three in the corners than they are at the top of the key. This should help make it so the players in the game mimic the way the players are in real life a lot better. Before if they wanted someone to be a good three point shooter in an area, they were limited to being an overall good three point shooter. The hot spots don't change as they are just a reference on where the players like to shoot and not how they are shooting in that area for that specific game. The new system makes it more realistic and gives way to players preferential spots in real life.

Quickstrike Ballhandling allows for a more natural looking dribble and a way to break down your opponent. Controlled by the right analog stick, the demonstration showed Tony Parker smoothly going crossing over between the legs and behind the back without having to wait for the animation to stop. You won't see the opponent stumble if you do break the angles but it's start.

NBA Live games were mostly a dunk fest or three point shots but one feature that should help cut that down is Own the Paint. A great number of new moves such as drop-steps, spins, and pump fakes makes for a better post experience. The post game's overhaul should  make for playing in the paint a lot more enjoyable and rewarding.

Finally, Go-To Move lets you use the players' specific go to move when the game's on the line. Forty players' go to moves are modeled so you'll recognize when one of your stars does something familiar in the game. We'll have to see if this feature will make the game unbalanced and how it's handled when the game's released though. I didn't have time to check this out as I had to catch the bus to head back to town.

As with all NBA Live games in each iteration, the graphics have improved a bit and this is no exception. EA has always done a good job at modeling the players and the courts and I have to say the game looks pretty great at this stage. All the players were easily recognizable and moved like their real life counterpart.

Due out October 2, I hope what the developer at the show told me comes to fruition as I want a good solid basketball game that simulates a real game and not some street ball arcade action. There are games that are out that that's suppose to be that way but NBA Live should be a complete simulation of the real deal and from what I saw it looks like EA Canada has it down pat. We'll see in a few months if the final product is as good as what I saw at the show though.
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