Now that Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and the rest of the Boston Celtics have hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy, the NBA season has officially come to a close. The information about EA’s upcoming NBA Live 09, however, is just starting to surface.
The NBA Live team has three main focal points for this year’s game: great gameplay, the NBA Live Academy, and a “super secret feature” that is yet to be unveiled.
While NBA Live 08 played a decent game of basketball, there were several areas in the gameplay department that needed some improvement. So for NBA Live 09, one of the team's mottoes is “putting the fun back in fundamentals.” Their goal is to make shooting, passing, rebounding and defense a smooth, realistic and enjoyable experience.
One area that has been addressed is dunks. Last year’s dunking system, which looked and felt clunky and unnatural, has been completely scrapped in favor of a new system that utilizes a single, smooth mo-capped animation from takeoff to celebration. The developers feel like the new dunk animation captures the explosiveness and fluidity of the NBA’s high-flyers.
Another area that has received a lot of attention from the development team is rebounding. Boxing out is important when going for a rebound, and players will now explode up high and rip down boards. Rebounding animations have also been smoothed out and should be much more fluid.
Shot timing also makes a welcome return to NBA Live this year. In NBA Live 08, shooting was as simple as pressing a button -- timing the release wasn’t a factor in the success of the shot. Now players will be forced to time their releases correctly. Poorly-timed releases can result in bad misses and even airballs. This should help make shooting a much more interactive experience.
Passing will also see some significant improvements. The team has added lots of new passing animations that will allow for more variety and creativity to the passing game. Driving and dishing -- an NBA staple -- will be much more effective and look a lot smoother thanks to the new kick-out animations that the team has added.
The NBA Live team has highlighted four new gameplay features that they feel will vastly improve user control: Quickstrike Ankle Breakers, Lockdown Defense, Pick and Roll Control and Signature Playcalling.
The developers didn’t leave the defense without a new weapon of its own. Lockdown Defense makes its debut in the NBA Live series and should help make defense a more active rather than passive process. Activating Lockdown D puts a substantial amount of pressure on the ball handler, the goal being to try to force the offense into a hurried shot or pass, or potentially force a turnover. Ball handlers can attempt to break free from the Lockdown Defense by backing off or using one of the dribble moves. Player attributes will affect how successful a Lockdown Defense attempt will be, so don’t expect bigger, slower players to keep up with quicker, faster guards.
The all-new Pick and Roll Controls will give users more options when calling for a screen. This feature basically allows you to control two players at once. When the user calls for a screen, the screener will approach the ball handler and wait for a command. You can call for the screener to slip the screen, roll to the basket, or spot up for a jumpshot. These new controls allow for much greater variety within the pick and roll game and establishes them as a powerful offensive weapon.
Lakers fans would soon love to forget this image.
The final new gameplay feature is Signature Playcalling. When facing a CPU opponent, you can be sure that it will utilize authentic playbook and sets -- when playing the Lakers, expect to see lots of plays run out of the triangle. Signature Playcalling also gives the user many more options when running plays; users can choose to run plays for certain players. There’s even an option that will suggest four possible plays to run based on the personnel currently on the court. What’s more, each play has several options. There is no visible playart -- users can read the plays as they develop and make decisions on their own. Of course, there are also the standard quick plays: post up, iso, pick and roll. Signature Playcalling should make playcalling easier and gives users many options in how they choose to pick apart defenses.
The NBA Live Academy will be an important feature for both rookies and veterans of the series. The Academy is essentially a sandbox for users to work on their game. Users can practice shooting, dunking, rebounding, passing, running the fast break, Lockdown Defense, and more. In all there are close to 40 different training challenges available to help you hone your skills. These aren’t the typical crazy mini-game type drills, either; expect to run many of the same drills that NBA teams do in their training camps and practices. The Academy will also be used in dynasty mode as the method to improve your players’ attributes. It can even be used to work out upcoming draft classes in order to get a better idea of which players are best suited for your team.
NBA Live’s FIBA mode has been drastically expanded this year. There are now 24 countries represented and users can play the authentic FIBA tournament. Also included are authentic FIBA courts and rules, accurate rosters, faces, and jerseys, and even tweaked AI that will utilize a more FIBA-style of play. Enhanced stat tracking will also be available in FIBA mode.
Graphics and presentation are also being improved. The crowd has been revamped and now includes all 3D fans and 64 different faces for crowd members. Dance teams and mascots will also add to the atmosphere during the game. An all-new cloth system is being implemented, which will allow for jerseys to flow and fold realistically. To top it off, both versions of the game (PS3, 360) will be running at a smooth 60 frames per second.
Overall, the development team is working to add depth and realism to gameplay and to make every aspect of the game fun and exciting. The team may have a couple of additional things up their sleeve, including the aforementioned secret feature that will “revolutionize the sports videogame genre." This feature, along with additional information, should be available within the next month (sometime around E3).