What a difference a year makes. For this basketball fan, last summer was painful. The NBA was in the midst of a lockout, the summer league was cancelled, free-agency was on hold and the prospect of missing a full season was all too real. By stark contrast, the Nike-penned motto "basketball never stops" which was conceived during that lockout, seems to be the theme this summer. Less than a month after the 2012 season ended, summer league began and then Olympic basketball shortly thereafter. With the Olympics now over, what has often been one of my favorite times of the year now begins: NBA 2K season.
The NBA 2K franchise currently stands at the pinnacle of video game basketball and, until NBA Live returns, has only itself for competition. This is a challenge the games’ developers seem to acknowledge, as they have repeatedly communicated a refusal to rest on their laurels but rather to push the envelope with each consecutive release. So what type of a difference has a year made for NBA 2K13? We are slowly finding out the details and they seem pretty legit.
So what am I looking for exactly? Here's my list of things that NBA 2K13 will have to do in order to 'win' this season for me:
Options, options and more options
Depth and authenticity is what make the NBA 2K franchise unique and staying in this lane is a key to success for NBA 2K13. For years, 2K Sports has been somewhat of a niche brand, appealing mostly to gamers seeking a more hardcore simulation experience. 2K basketball games have been characterized by their learning curve, which provided depth and a sense of reward to gamers who took the time to master it.
In recent years, particularly after having upped the ante' by adding Michael Jordan and other NBA legends to the mix, NBA 2K has become a mainstream commercial success with a much more casual audience than is traditional for 2K Sports games. You can tell this change has resonated with 2K Sports, as the design choices of the game have definitely begun to cater more casual.
Recent efforts seem to have been made to make NBA 2K more accessible to the casual fan, often to the chagrin of the more hardcore fan. From streamlined control schemes to the more instantly-gratifying nature of My Player mode to the recent Guitar-Hero-esque control scheme of the All-Star weekend DLC for NBA 2K13, there seems to be a concerted effort to make NBA 2K more pick up and play.
Don’t get me wrong, more accessibility is not necessarily a bad thing. The key in my opinion, which is also NBA 2K13’s first key to victory, is providing options. The only true way to please the disparate groups that enjoy NBA 2K is to allow the gamers to play how they want to play. From control schemes that range from button pressing to full out analog, to modes that allow casual and hardcore experiences alike, providing options is the only way 2K can really play both sides of the fence.
2K has already displayed consciousness of this in a sense by creating slider presets which range from casual to simulation for the on the court gameplay and as we have recently discovered, by providing different control schemes for their revamped dribble system. I would however, also love to see this in gameplay modes such as My Player and even the All-Star weekend DLC. I would like to see the option to streamline your My Player experience and fast track to the NBA, along with the ability to grind it out in the draft combine, training camp, etc. and have a more simulation type of experience. Imagine the option to forego the Guitar-Hero watch-an-animation-play-out-as-I-mash-buttons-in-concert dunk system in All-Star weekend and have the option to create a dunk in 1:1 motion with the right analog stick. One can only hope…
Make the good better, rebuild the bad
NBA 2K12 is arguably the best basketball game to date and is a solid foundation to build upon for this year’s effort. One key to success in this writer’s opinion is that the developers at 2K do not re-invent the wheel year after year. Generally, they have done a commendable job of taking the good from their previous games and improving upon the bad. Though this is by no means comprehensive, let’s examine some of the good which needs to be carried forth from 2K12 into 2K13.
Pacing – When I play a basketball game I look for a simulation experience personally. NBA 2K12 is the only basketball game to truly capture the pace and tempo of basketball so perfectly that a user can play out a full 12 minute game and achieve realistic results. No more playing 8 minutes and simulating on 12 minutes in association mode or making all sorts of slider adjustments to get the game to do something it wasn’t programmed to.
AI – There is room for debate here but outside of different aspects of “computer cheese”, NBA 2K12 boasted perhaps the most intelligent computer opponent I have experienced in a basketball game. Games generally felt more dynamic and less scripted, although there were certainly imperfections along the way that could see improvements as well.
Live ball mechanics – This mechanic was a welcome introduction to NBA 2K12. For the first time, the ball did not seem attached to the player’s hands. Rather, there was a live-feel to the ball in that it could bounce off a defender’s leg with an awry dribble. This aspect was a significant innovation that I really think can add a whole new element to the game if enhanced in 2K13.
Let’s take a look at some things that didn’t work quite so well in 2K12.
Cheap AI logic – As much as I appreciate the AI in 2K12, there is plenty of room for improvement. Playing against the computer has always been hobbled by the inability of the AI to respond as a human opponent would and by its uncanny ability to respond in ways a human player cannot. 2K12 took some positive steps in this regard but there were still aspects of the game that served to remind a user that it was the computer they were playing against. From psychic defenders knocking away passes with their back turned to the ball, to on-the-ball defenders that anticipate your every direction, to AI exclusive speed bursts that create separation on offense or thwart a fast-break on defense, 2K13 has some holes to fill.
Canned animations – NBA 2K12 was a step forward in the attempt to introduce a more organic gameplay experience. Still, there are numerous events that seem to occur exclusively as part of a so-called “canimation” sequence as opposed to specific user input or a dynamic interaction of a physics system. This has been a hot button topic with fans for so time and with the new control system implemented into 2K13 as well as the dynamic shot generator and new physics engine, I anticipate organic play being taken to a whole new level.
Player movement – For years fans have clamored for realistic foot-planting and momentum in regards to player movement. NBA 2K12 an improvement in this area compared to previous efforts but there is still much work to be done. Unrealistic defensive recovery, difficulty getting past a defender and the limited effectiveness of the dribbling mechanic are all products of faulty player movement. Based on what we have heard about 2K13 thus-far, it seems apparent the developers at 2K are well aware of this and have taken the right steps to begin to solve it.
Rebounding – The rebounding in NBA 2K12 was so insanely imbalanced at times it threatened to make games unplayable. The computer AI was far too overpowering, especially on the offensive glass. This seemed to be an issue with coding, as slider adjustments did very little to create parity. With NBA 2K13 taking a more physics based approach hopefully this wrinkle will be ironed out.
Fix nagging issues
Online play, out-of-the-box glitches and imbalances and outdated/inaccurate art are some of the aspects that have blemished an otherwise pristine product. Even after having re-written the code for online in 2K12, there still were a litany of glitches and issues that hampered the online experience and its connected modes. It’s time for 2K to step up the game in this department and create an online experience worthy of its product.
With each year the challenge to stay on top gets more daunting for NBA 2K. If 2K stays in on the correct path of aiming to deliver the best experience possible from year to year for both casual and hardcore fans, it will be even harder to see the product going anywhere but up. The recent media blitz of information about NBA 2K13 has taken me from nonchalant to optimistic that this just might be the best basketball game we’ve seen in years and potentially, ever.
Game on basketball fans, it's NBA 2K season.