The MLB is winding down, the NFL is dealing with chaos amidst replacement officials, and the NHL is embroiled (once again) in a lockout. I guess that means that the only professional sport that my household has to look forward to right now is the NBA. The new NBA season kicks off on October 30 but for gamers, the action is going to start a few weeks earlier. The biggest and best NBA franchise in the gaming industry is returning yet again with NBA 2k13 next week, on October 2, 2012.
Over the past couple of years, the NBA 2K series has made incredible strides to establish itself as the best sport series in gaming. Each of the entries in the past 2 years has been heralded as being amongst the best sport-video games ever created, and rightfully so. The development team behind the game isn’t content with being given that title and they are dead set on earning similar accolades this year with 2K13.
Last week, I had a chance to listen in on a conference call with a couple of members of Visual Concepts’ NBA 2K13 development team who fielded a variety of questions regarding the changes fans can expect with this year’s installment. The team members participating in the call were Erick Boenisch, Producer of the game and Mike Wang, Senior Gameplay Designer. We only had an hour to cover an endless list of topics, so the information that we will touch on here will be all over the place; we’ll go from AI and gameplay changes to what to expect in the new online modes and an explanation of how much Jay Z has actually meant to this project. In the end however, one thing is clear: NBA 2K13 is shaping up to be the best entry in the series to date.
You got a little dribble on your right stick there...
Players of basketball games in general have always wanted one thing above all else: better ball control. That is exactly what is coming to NBA 2K13 in the form of dribble moves now being mapped to the right stick. You will now be able to dictate the progression of your player’s dribble maneuvers using the right analog stick; transitions and crossovers will be easier to trigger and execute. Then again, it is all based on realism and physics, so with the improved control options comes an increase in risk.
Fans of the shot stick do not have to worry though, the inclusion of the dribble stick doesn’t replace the shot stick. You will still have access to the beloved shot controls via a modifier button. With a simple press of a button, you can alter the purpose of the stick from dribbling to shooting. Of course, if the new control scheme isn’t to you liking at all, you can customize things to your liking in the options screen(s) and reconfigure things to the classic controls schemes of the game’s past.
This year’s biggest improvement: AI
There are a lot of noticeable changes in the new game. Some control alterations (the dribble stick for example), and a revamping of the presentation style, but there is one area in particular that the developer’s are particularly proud of. Throughout the entire conference call, Erick and Mike emphasized that the one thing that has been improved more than anything else in the new game is the artificial intelligence. This applies to the AI across the game, both with your computer controlled opponents and your teammates. While the series has always had pride in its ability to read the you as a player and adapt to you, both for your benefit and to oppose you on the court, they feel that it has made the biggest strides in adjusting to you in this year’s edition.
On the offensive side of the ball, you teammates are going to play with more of a “brain” than it has in the past. In addition to having computer controlled players “play” more like their real life counterparts, they will also learn from you as the game goes on. If you develop a “hot spot” on the court, they will look to automatically feed you to ball if you are their and they will learn to set picks and run plays around your routines. The computer is also going to do a lot better at adapting to game-situations as well, such as utilizing the various signature skills of players such as Lebron James and Kevin Durant.
On the defensive side, you will notice them doing a better job at defending the lanes and reading mismatches that occur on the court. The AI will execute double teams and traps more organically than it has in the past, making the entire experience feel more authentic and real. THe overall goal here is to make the experience flow and feel more like an actual NBA game, and the team feels that they have done that better than ever this year.
Jay Z: more than just a name on the box
A lot of people, including myself, were surprised to see Shawn “Jay Z” Carter’s name attached to the title in the role of Executive Producer. Surely this is just a matter someone with a lot of money “buying” their way into the project, right? According to Erick and Mike: DEAD WRONG. They expected the same thing when he came on board but it turns out that Jay brought a lot more to the table than any of them could have ever hoped or expected.
According to them, it was clear from the start that Jay Z had bigger intentions than seeing his name on a box. It became clear, very early on, that this was a guy who was not only a tried and true fan of the series, but someone who was invested in helping the series evolve and go the next level. Perhaps Jay’s biggest influence can be felt in the game’s style and presentation.
NBA 2K13 will feature an all new visual style in terms of the experience players will have within the game. Outside of the actual gameplay on the court, you will be treated to a hand-picked soundtrack as well as an integration of highlights and music videos. From start to finish, the game is intended to deliver that NBA “game time” experience, complete with real footage integrated with the music videos and highlight reels.
As I am sure you have heard in the recent news regarding the game, Jay’s influence was also felt in some of the licensing agreements in the game. Many keen-eyed gamers noticed when the original Dream Team was first revealed for the game, there was a key member of the team missing. Scottie Pippen was originally reluctant to agree to his inclusion, and so was Charles Barkley for that matter. The team at Visual Concepts was ready to move forward without either of them but Jay wasn’t about to let that happen without lending his connections to the effort. Sure enough, thanks to his personal connection to both stars and with a little help from social media and the dedicated fan community of the game, agreements were reached that brought both key stars into the fold for inclusion in the game.
And as a side note, don’t expect the Brooklyn Nets to receive any favoritism in terms of their rankings and player grading... we were promised that this didn’t happen.
Legends, celebrities, and classic teams galore
One of the biggest additions to the series in recent years has been the inclusion of NBA legends and celebrities; that trend isn’t changing any time soon. 2K13 will include all of the legendary players and teams from last year’s game and more, including the entire 1992 Olympic Dream Team and the 2000-2001 Philadelhpia 76ers (Allen Iverson at his prime). All of the legendary players / teams will be available from the start. There aren’t any special conditions for unlocking them or codes required to obtain them; they are an integral part of the game’s core roster from the beginning.
The development team has done everything that they can to ensure that all of the classic players and teams “play” the way that they are supposed to; as long time fans of the league and these stars, the developers know what makes them tick and how they play. That knowledge combined with and endless archive of classic footage and game film provided by the NBA has given them everything that they need to make each player in the game as accurate to their real life counterpart as possible.
Yes, celebrity players are returning the the game as well. This includes notorious names such as Justin Bieber and a few members of the Jersey Shore cast. The inclusion of these names is simply to add entertainment value to the game. When each of the included celebrities was integrated into the game, the developers asked them to name 2 NBA stars they wanted to be modeled after. Bieber, for example, cited a desire to be a combination of Allen Iverson and Nate Robinson; the resulting creations might not be realistic, but who doesn’t want to see Justin Bieber (or Kevin from The Office) dunk over Kobe Bryant?
Just the tip of the iceberg
Sixty minutes into the conference call things can to an abrupt end and we were assured that we had barely scratched the surface of everything that the new game has to offer. NBA 2K13 is aiming to offer gamers anything and everything they desire in the basketball experience, no matter how shallow or deep your desire. This will be the sort of game that casual fans can pick up and play endlessly alone or with friends while diehard ball-hogs will spend the next year of the their life simulating and running their own personal careers or teams in the various modes. All of the mode options we have come to know and love are back: head to head freeplay (online and off), career, My Team, My Player, Blacktop, and many, many more.
For those looking to engulf their selves into the career and simulation aspect of the game, there will be opportunities to do that away from your console as well. 2K will be introducing mobile and Facebook applications in conjunction with this year’s game which will allow you to take the experience beyond your console(s). Your virtual career won’t end when you put down the gamepad as these applications will give you a chance to further your player and team careers through a variety of training mini-games and off-the-court activities that will benefit your careers.
I will sum everything up by saying that this game is looking to be a must have for any basketball fan out there, or perhaps any sports fan for that matter. 2K Sports and Visual Concepts aren’t content on having a heralded game like NBA 2K12 on their resume, instead they take it as a challenge to do better the next year. That mentality alone will keep them at the top of this genre for a long, long time to come. NBA 2K13 will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PC on October 2, 2012. The Wii U version will be available this Holiday Season.