As has become the yearly norm at this point, people have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing shooting in NBA 2K21. The normal NBA 2K launch discussion basically goes like this:
- Why don’t the servers work? Are the servers working yet?
- Why can’t I shoot? Shooting sucks.
- I have to pay how much VC for that?
- What’s the fastest way to grind badges?
- 2K releases patch/hot fix for shooting
On the bright side, the servers have not been a major debacle this year. But shooting discussions are as all-consuming as ever. Now, it took on added focus this year with the “aim” system being implemented, but really we’ve been having these conversations since NBA 2K15. Why? Well, in large part due to green releases. In fact, I would say green releases have been breaking brains since NBA 2K15.
Yes, there was a brief respite during NBA 2K16 when green releases went back to not being mostly auto makes, but I think even then they were somewhat patched back in to things (though my memory could be off here). Regardless of the exact specifics of that one point in time, green lights have been a mainstay since NBA 2K17.
So after five-plus years with this system in place, I don’t have any hope that flashing green lights and “perfect” releases are going to vanish any time soon, but I still want to make the case for why green releases should be removed from NBA 2K21 and all future NBA 2K games.
Green Releases And Flashing Green Lights Are Popular
Before I get into picking apart this game mechanic, I want to start with the obvious here and say I understand I’m in the minority. As big as OS is, we’re a drop in the bucket when it comes to the NBA 2K ecosystem. So while I know I’m speaking to my audience here saying “green releases are bad,” this opinion has in no way reached critical mass. In addition, I don’t blame the developers for not taking the “green release” system out if it’s popular. I’m sure some of the developers don’t like the system, but being a big-time sports game developer isn’t just about what you want to make, it’s about what people want to play.
I also don’t think Twitter is a great barometer of the real world or even a good polling mechanism, but it’s still instructive to point to a poll by NBA 2K developer Mike Wang as it relates to just one specific component of perfect releases:
Do you want to be able to see your opponent’s green lights online?
— Mike Wang (@Beluba) August 27, 2020
100,000 people responded to that poll and 85 percent wanted to see an opponent’s green light online. 85,000 people wanted to know the result of a shot before it went into the hoop. That’s wild to me.
Some of the best reasons I read for this rationale were things like “I want to know if I have to rebound or not.” In baseball terms, they wanted to know what a pitch type a pitcher was going to throw during the windup. Let’s all agree that is a very video game reason to want green lights, but also let’s realize this is the sort of opposition we’re up against here. Some people simply want to know whether they even need to box out or they can just start sprinting up the court for a long outlet pass.
To me, seeing logic like that tells me Pandora’s box has been opened on this front and it’s hard to go back now. The online push back would be immense. After all, the 2K development team already has to try and fend off Twitter zombies when trying to avoid making shooting easier during the launch week when players stink and have no attributes. Just imagine a world where green releases no longer mean (mostly) auto makes and everything is back to being purely “random” and “luck-based” with no “skill” involved.
Being Able To Green Release Does Not Create “Skill Gaps” On Its Own
As it relates to the idea of “skill” and skill gaps, when discussing these sorts of things it’s hard to talk about these concepts and not get bogged down in lots of drawn out arguments that go nowhere fast. There is certainly a substantial sect of the 2K community that just does not like change even if they say they want that change. A tweet by DBG sums this up as it relates to “aim” shooting during the launch of the game:
2k community "2k is a joke, it's the same every year"
-2k changes multiple key gameplay mechanic which fundamentally changes the entire game
2k community "2k is a joke! Why did they make a change to the game" https://t.co/sX8R5YYEZ8
— DBG/BBALL Daily (@DBGyt_) September 5, 2020
Any change that makes users “worse” at the game is a bad change to some of those same users. Even if 2K tries to create “skill gaps” with something like aim shooting, they have to deal with feedback that basically makes them question the decision. It’s a normal human response to get frustrated when learning something new, but it’s also yet another obstacle in the way of making sweeping changes in yearly sports titles.
Beyond that aspect of things, defining a “skill gap” is hard to even pinpoint for something like shooting. Shooting in 2K is one part dice roll, one part timing and one part shot quality. Even when you’re a Tyceno-level dribbler and shot timer, there’s still a component of randomness that plays into things.
Even with that randomness, yes, the best players generally are going to rise to the top. But this idea that “green releases” somehow create this massive skill gap isn’t really true. Removing green releases would not suddenly make Tyceno some dumpster-level player because it’s just one aspect of the game. Does being able to consistently time up a jumper make people very good at certain modes in the game? Yes. But, again, it’s just one component.
So pushing back against the idea that green releases create a skill gap, I would say instead green releases really more just stunt creativity and force people into this small room where they’re searching for the same 3-4 releases that are meta, and hunting the same shot over and over because they’ve boxed themselves in with muscle memory and specific “combos” of moves/on-ball picks to get that same open shot. Perhaps some people like labbing one jumper for hours on end and then doing the same couple things over and over — probably more than some people since green lights clearly make our baby brains go “yay!” too — but it’s not creating an interesting ecosystem out there.
“Aiming” Was Supposed To Change This A Bit — In Theory — But It Has Not
I was high on the “aiming” system in the demo, and honestly I still believe in the mechanic in the long run for the reasons I wrote about then. Namely, I do think it’s a good counter for the online latency inconsistencies because aiming is not as impacted by that as trying to figure out a timing window on a button release when you don’t know what the lag will be like game to game. On top of that, a consistent aiming window to strive for means you can take more shot types — and dribble into more types of shots — while not having to be so obsessed with learning the timing of one sort of jumper and never really straying from it.
Ironically, now it’s the faders and leaners no one ever really wanted to take that have become “meta” in a lot of ways because you have a longer amount of time to aim during those shots. That being said, I don’t really want to pick apart the aiming system because it’s not the point here. Rather, I want to simply point out 2K has already begun tuning things and it’s lead to the usual hit-or-miss feelings from people — and these are all the same sorts of discussions that existed long before the aiming system.
To me, there’s a host of reasons for why this happens just about every season, but I think it still comes back to either you’re perfect or you’re not. We can spend hours debating “full white glitches” and everything else, but when shooting is about being “perfect” then it consumes everything else. To put it another way, as soon as you know there’s a “perfect” way to do something, then immediately the conversation is only going to revolve around that and discussing why you’re either not able to get perfect, or you’re making too many/missing too many shots when not perfect.
When you then factor in the multiple different ways to shoot, plus badges, hot zones and ratings, it all becomes a nightmare of tuning and balancing.
Green Releases Lead To Unrealistic And Inconsistent Percentages
Is it really worth all this effort to tune all these elements when green releases still lead to unrealistic percentages either way? I don’t think so.
Even when we factor in people screaming out “full white glitch!” and whatever else on perfect releases, the reality is shooting percentages are absurdly high once you reach a certain level in this game. And, to be clear, I’m not saying everyone even gets close to approaching this level. On OS and beyond, I see people discussing how they still can’t shoot and so on, so I’m not out here saying shooting is “easy” for everyone. But what I’m talking about are things like this chart from NBA 2K Labs:
From yesterday's video.
200 shots taken in the middle of the green window with every 3pt rating from 60-99. White and green makes to make the total make percentage at each rating. Further explanation in the video herehttps://t.co/weHAtYedHl pic.twitter.com/wYbLE9ZWeP
— NBA2KLab (@NBA2KLab) September 18, 2020
This was a test they did with a modded controller while testing players with no hot zones or badges. This showed off the percentage of green releases and “full whites” and what they shot on those attempts. Looking past the possible issues with tuning here between the attribute levels, the point here is that while hitting the green window every time does show you can’t be “perfect” even with a modded controller (at least not without badges/hot zones), the percentages are still very high.
And yet this is still what so many people want to complain about? A lot of these folks are the same people who get upset when they don’t green every open shot in the corner when they have maxed out players, or they somehow think an open shot should mean you make it 70-90 percent of the time. And, again, I get it. You grind out this player and have this shot you think you’ve mastered, and you want to see the fruits of your labor. But that conversation only starts up because we know “perfection” is possible and we’ve now been trained to expect certain results even though it’s not remotely like real basketball.
Shooting Does Not Exist In A Vacuum, But It’s The Only Thing You Can Be “Perfect” At
Perhaps the conversation about green releases and why they should remain in their current form would hold more weight for me if “perfection” could be reached elsewhere. But it can’t be. No other aspect of the game involves something where perfect timing or whatever creates these one-to-one results. Pressing the steal button in certain timing windows, or timing a dribble move or whatever else does not incorporate this concept to the same degree — nor does it give you the same feedback mechanisms.
So really we’ve just created an environment where shooting is on its own special island with all these special rules that are then catered to and chatted about while so many other aspects of the game lose out because shooting sucks up so much of the conversation.
There Are So Many Other Problems Worth Spending Time On Instead
Finally, I want to end by talking about something that’s in a sense only tangentially related, yet still hammers home the overall point I’ve been making that shooting is playing by its own set of rules and hurting everything else. There are bigger problems here than green releases, but green lights and everything about them sort of dilute and obfuscate these other issues.
To put it another way, we talk way too much about results rather than process. We talk about green lights rather than how we got to that green light.
Books put out a video yesterday showcasing the issues with screens, and it’s not a new issue. Moving screens and suction screens are longstanding things 2K players know about. It’s one of many reasons why green releases can be frustrating to go up against. You’re playing defense, and you know giving up an open shot is death in some games, and yet you get sucked into a screen or nailed by a moving screen and it’s all over.
The video also showcases bad help defense on a corner shooter, and this is another thing that just highlights the helplessness you feel as a green release occurs — AI defenders can’t be trusted and you pay for it because you know a shot is going in the moment it leaves the shooter’s hand.
These are not new issues. I spent hours and hours way back with NBA 2K16 highlighting AI 2K defenders being overly eager to help on D. I showed off overly aggressive on-ball physicality and two-man interactions that were not enjoyable. I talked a lot about transition defense being bad (it’s in a really rough spot once again this year).
But I also spent far too much time breaking down contested shots here and here. At the time, basically contested shots in the real NBA went in far more often than they did in NBA 2K16. If I did this testing for NBA 2K21, it would be different because “shot quality” has been replaced by contest percentage and a whole contest system.
However, this also leads me to my point about contested shots. They’re, generally speaking, a mess when it comes to tuning and being graded by 2K’s feedback system.
This was 7% contested pic.twitter.com/xct5bnms2b
— Danny Wriggles (@DannyWriggles) May 14, 2020
That Twitter clip is from NBA 2K20, but it’s still one of my favorite examples of contesting gone wrong. The differences in what made a shot smothered vs. what didn’t, and then also factoring in how strong certain badgers were made contests in NBA 2K20 a special kind of bad. However, the contests issue last year still served as yet another example of why the idea of “perfect” was so frustrating. It would be one thing to see a shot go in if there was no “perfect” shot system in place. But to see a green light flash when you think you’ve smothered someone based on the visuals, yet the game says it’s an open shot, is when you find a level of rage you didn’t know existed in yourself over something so petty and meaningless.
There Has To Be A Better Way
Was shooting so bad when we didn’t have green lights? We loved 2K plenty before green releases, and I know I was having a good time even back back in the NBA 2K10 or NBA 2K11 days (as the above video shows). So I’m sure we’d still love 2K plenty if they went away.
Shouldn’t good quality shots trump perfect releases? Wouldn’t it just be better if we went back to something like early/late/good releases beating out the days of chasing “perfects” or having to test out “base” Dwyane Wade with “release 13” or whatever for hours on end? If the equation were simply shot quality + shot timing + attributes + badges and now just left out the idea of perfect or “green light good nights,” couldn’t we spend more time on just tuning shooting and complaining about general RNG rather than discussing why it’s so unfair you couldn’t get a perfect release that goes in every time?
After all, pobody’s nerfect.