When NBA Live 09 was released last fall, there were two major aspects of the game that reviewers could not pass judgment on -- Live 365 and Dynamic DNA.These were two new features that were so dependent on the start of the actual NBA season that it would have been impossible to evaluate them properly until the actual NBA season had a few months under its belt.
Four months after the game's release and a few days before the All-Star festivities, I am happy to report that these features are overwhelming successes in my eyes. Do not just take my word for it either, Live 365 and Dynamic DNA were a smashing success with the OS staff and community alike, winning our coveted Best Roster Update award for 2008.
Why exactly are Live 365 and Dynamic DNA such groundbreaking features? In order to answer that question, I think it is very important to examine the relatively short history of roster updates on consoles.
Taking a Step Back
When mainstream consoles got their first taste of online connectivity, avid sports gamers were treated to some very simple, semi-annual roster updates. For the most part, gamers still had to do manual roster edits and utilize the create-a-player function to replicate a correct professional roster.
As technology and consoles advanced, so did roster updates. Updates would now be delivered in a monthly fashion, but still would not have 100 percent accurate rosters or updated player rotations/injuries. Waiting for roster updates became an exercise in patience, and there was nothing more tedious than having your favorite real-life team discover a hidden gem of a player, only to have to wait a month to have this player added to your virtual team -- if the game even decided to include him.
Years later, MLB: The Show became the first console sports game to start doing weekly updates that tracked the injury status of players, tweaked attributes, modified pitching rotations and added new players to the game.
As great as it was to have a game that updated weekly, NBA Live 09 changed the way we look at roster updates forever. Live 09 was the first game to feature daily roster updates. But more importantly, it included daily ratings upgrades. Never before had a console game been able to integrate ratings changes that were based on the daily happenings of a real-life sport. Sure, Madden and other games have released roster updates with upgraded or decreased attributes based on true-to-life player performance, but these ratings changes were nowhere near as in-depth as Live 09's Dynamic DNA.
When you take a step back and look at it, Dynamic DNA is kind of impressive.
Snapping Back To the Present
After spending the last four months analyzing the Live 365 feature, I really have nothing but great things to say about how well the feature has been implemented. There are some issues with the feature that I will touch on later in this article, but it is my opinion that every other sports game released from this day forward needs to mimic what the Live team did with Live 365. Once you have had a taste of the filet mignon of roster updates, it is hard going back to Sloppy Joes. In fact, going back to other sports games with antiquated roster update schemes is downright painful.
The absolute best way to demonstrate just how awesome Live 365 works is to start up a quick game against a team (or player) that has been having recent success. With both Kobe and LBJ recently lighting it up at MSG, I wanted to see how well Live DNA would be able to reproduce those results.
I booted up the game, got my latest DNA update, selected the Knicks versus the Lakers, bumped up the quarter length to 10 minutes, and began my quest to somehow stop Kobe from taking me apart in the Garden. The results were amazingly realistic. Not only was Kobe taking the majority of the shots for the Lakers, but he was also isolating much of the game -- just as he had done in real life against the Knicks. DNA had taken Kobe's real-life dominance at MSG, adjusted his ratings and tendencies, and created a virtual Kobe that played just as well as the real-life version was playing at that time. CPU Kobe's stat line against my human-controlled Knicks: 48 points, seven boards, 10 assists, three steals and one block.
Next up was to see if LBJ could duplicate his superhuman feats at MSG. I started a game with the same options as the Lakers game, and proceeded to take on the Cleveland LeBrons. Again, Live 365 presented me with an eerily realistic version of King James. LeBron was able to have his way with my helpless Knicks, dropping 3s on me and penetrating the lane for easy layups and dunks. LeBron's stat line: 35 points, six rebounds, six assists, two steals and one block. Sure, it was not a near triple-double like LeBron had in real-life, but the results were close enough to make me a believer in the virtual-ratings adjustments that Live 09 employs.
What is so great about this feature is that it is not only the superstar players that benefit from the ratings adjustments. There was a point in early December when Rudy Gay was torching the league, earning himself the number one spot in Live's Top 10 hot players. I booted up a game with my beloved Pistons and faced off against the Grizz. The result was a very competitive game that I won, but Rudy Gay put his team on his back and was a nightmare to contain.
Dynamic DNA has changed how we view roster updates forever.
It is examples like these that make me fall in love with this feature more and more, and I even find myself ignoring my franchise in favor of playing quick games against the CPU. There really is no cooler feeling in a sports video game than to really feel like you are playing a game that you just watched on TV the night before.
Actually, I lied, there is nothing cooler than watching SportsCenter highlights of a specific NBA player who is on fire, and then seeing him have the same tendencies and hot zones when you fire up your copy of NBA Live.
Room for Improvement
There are some downsides to Live 09's DNA system that need to be touched on. For one, it feels like the system is geared exclusively towards the offensive side of the ball. For example, if Dwight Howard goes on a tear in real-life, blocking 10 shots per night, this does not seem to affect his block tendencies in the game. This is a letdown as there are several NBA teams that go on defensive tears, and this needs to be represented in the game.
Back in 2004, the Pistons went on a 10-plus game streak of not allowing 80 points. How cool would it be if DNA were able to recognize those scenarios and upgrade team defense as a result? I am not sure if defense is integrated into the DNA currently, but from my extensive play-tests, I can say that I do not see any defensive upgrades in the Dynamic DNA system.
Another downside to the DNA system is that there is no possibility of carrying the real-life tendencies/injuries/updates into your franchise. I know there are many gamers out there that do not view this as a big deal, and enjoy creating their own fantasy year in Dynasty mode, but there are some that would really enjoy having real-time injuries and tendencies carry over to a franchise.
The Thunder are definitely a bigger disappointment performance wise than Dynamic DNA.
As I said before, once you have had a taste of Live 365 and DNA, you will never want to go back to another roster update system again. Every sports game released from this point forward needs to integrate daily roster and tendency updates. Just think about how much more realistic this would make goaltenders and hot scorers in hockey games. Imagine how great dynamic DNA would be for hot and cold hitters or a pitcher's command/control in a baseball game. The feature may even make golf and NASCAR games more interesting in the long run.
Dynamic DNA and Live 365 are outstanding innovations in the sports-gaming genre. Even though the features have some limitations, there is a solid roster update foundation that the rest of the industry needs to mimic and build upon.