With NBA 2K21 and its launch just around the corner, I had the chance to attend a Zoom NBA 2K21 Q&A on Wednesday (August 26) with some of the NBA 2K21 development team. We heard from Mike Wang, Erick Boenisch, Ben Bishop and Chien Yu regarding various modes in the game. Let me take you through everything discussed during the call.
Recap Of Released Information
To start the call off, we were introduced to the members of the development team that were part of the call. After a quick introduction, we were given a recap of each area of the game that the 2K team had already discussed. Matt Chang (NBA 2K Comms) gave a brief introduction on what was new for NBA 2K21 and what would be talked about during the call.
Mike Wang then jumped on to recap the gameplay changes that we’ve already heard about, including Pro Stick dribbling and shooting. He touched on player builds, including the fact that time was spent balancing player builds and badges. He lastly touched on Signature Motion Styles and how they were equivalent to Signature Dribble Styles introduced in NBA 2K20.
Signature Motion Styles are applied on both ends of the court, where a better sense of weight and momentum can be felt when controlling players. Mike also mentioned that improvements were made to differentiate player speed so that quicker guards feel more realistic and move faster than slower bigs. Lastly, Mike stated that the general thing the team wanted to do was to make NBA 2K21 more skill-based, and to make the game a more realistic experience overall.
Next up was Erick Boenisch covering MyTeam. The first thing that Erick explained was that it was very important to the devs that MyTeam was playable across generations (current gen to next gen) so that fans weren’t left having to make a decision on what version of the game they’d be purchasing. It was a goal to have the confidence of the fans of MyTeam and let them know that the countless hours they put into the mode wouldn’t be wasted if they decided to get the current gen version of NBA 2K21.
Erick next mentioned that Seasons was important to get into the game as the 2K team had been working on this feature for a couple years. He also mentioned that Seasons wasn’t “pay to play” nor did it have a Battle Pass type of setup. Seasons is free for everyone to play and enjoy with great rewards for getting through the tier levels. Seasons will bring players new rewards every “six-ish” weeks, which it looks like will be the run for a season.
He mentioned that strategically designing your team instead of just having the best cards and trampling over opponents would be an important factor in MyTeam Limited. Rules to play will differ and change the meta week to week. Customizable Evolution cards are back this year as they were well received by fans last year. Badge customization has also returned after a year hiatus. MyTeam Unlimited is back again with a new design. The Exchange allows you to change out cards you don’t want in your inventory for new cards that could be more useful to you.
Ben Bishop was introduced next to talk about MyCareer. He firstly mentioned that the biggest decision made this year was bringing back the college experience to the MyCareer story. Fans this year will have the choice of ten (10) schools including UCLA, Michigan and Villanova. You’ll start your journey out playing a few games in high school before deciding what college you’ll attend.
The narrative and cast this year were touted as being exciting, and a new addition Ben felt strongly about was the ability to choose one of two agents to represent you in your progress through your career. The agent you decide to go with will shape what happens to you as your career unfolds. An example given was that one of the agents would allow you to earn fans while playing Park games. It was lastly mentioned that with the new gameplay mechanics and changes that the transitions from high school to college would allow players to really get their “feet wet” and develop better understandings of how to utilize their player and control them on the court.
Chien Yu was up next to talk about the Neighborhood and all of its changes. 2K Beach is this year’s new stomping ground for Playground fans, based off of Southern California’s beach community and feel. Not too much was divulged, but we can expect the new atmosphere to give a much needed change to what we’ve seen the past few years. We’ll have all of the game types we’ve grown accustomed to, including 3-on-3 streetball, 5-on-5 Pro-Am games, The Rec and SWAGS. There will also be new Park events but we didn’t receive any details on that.
Erick came back to discuss other modes in the game such as the WNBA. It’s making a return for NBA 2K21 with improvements off of last year. It’ll be available in Play Now and Season mode. He alluded to the importance of the WNBA and hinted that there were much bigger changes to the WNBA’s implementation for next-gen that we’d get information on soon.
MyGM/MyLeague has received new additions based off of community feedback. MLO, known as MyLeague Online, has different levels of privileges similar to admin privileges such as changing gear and equipment that was restricted only to admins last year. Another improvement mentioned was the activity log where all changes to the league could be seen. A new boom-bust progression system was touted, which was mentioned as a complete rewrite of the MyLeague progression system.
The dynamism of the mode and this new system should mean that no MyLeague will be the same. The example given here was that in one league Erick progressed Zion Williamson in such a way that he was becoming the next coming of Michael Jordan, averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds a game. In the next league that he started, Zion ended up being a bust after getting injured early in his career and not really panning out as he should have. In other words, it now sounds like the system could see studs become duds based on how dynamic the mode plays put.
Erick lastly mentioned that authenticity was of course important and talked about using the adjusted NBA schedule while next season is still an unknown. The calendar has been adjusted to start the NBA in December for the time being.
With the recaps completed, we got into the Q&A session. Questions were sent in advance by myself and other attendees for the devs to answer. We were also able to ask questions on the fly as well. Almost all the questions seemed to come from the batch that were sent in advance. I’ll list out the questions and try to transcribe the answers to the best of my ability.
Q to Mike Wang: The demo released on Monday offering players the chance to try out some of the gameplay changes that are in NBA 2K21. How has the feedback been so far, and are you planning on making any changes from now until launch?
Mike Wang: The feedback has been pretty positive so far. There’s always a reaction when controls are changed that you get where people get frustrated. Once that subsided and people started getting practice with it, the feedback has been really strong. One thing I should mention is that the demo was cut quite a bit ago compared to where we ended up with the final product so there’s quite a bit of fixes that went in after the demo shipped that we didn’t get into the demo. We’re looking forward to the final product and it’s a lot more polished.
Q to Ben Bishop: How do you typically approach building MyCareer? What do you do to keep it fresh and interesting? What can players look forward to this year?
Ben Bishop: One of the big things in previous years has become crafting this narrative to help you along your way to find your path into the NBA. You’re obviously always looking for different ways to approach that experience. One of the things that we have done in the past that we haven’t done in awhile is the college integration. It’s one of the big decisions that we made this year, giving you the taste of what it’s like to play in college again. I know it’s a common path for a lot of people here, specifically in the US, and it’s something that we kind of missed. I’d also say that it was definitely decided this year to go back and give you a little bit more gameplay leading into the NBA, again, to wrap up getting used to a whole new game. College was a great opportunity to do that while also giving you that whole different atmosphere while having a fun story wrapped around that too. It’s kind of about giving you that opportunity to get attached to your character, letting you get to know your MyPlayer both on the court and off the court. This year it’s got a little bit of throwback to years past with the opportunity to play high school and college, but I think there’s also some new and fresh things that I won’t get into — but I feel people will really enjoy the lead up to the NBA.
Q to Mike Wang and Erick Boenisch: After NBA 2K20, what were some of your goals going into NBA 2K21?
Erick Boenisch: It’s kind of the same goals we have every single year. We always try to take the previous game and just improve it across the board everywhere possible. We have fans who like the gameplay, we have fans who like to play the franchise, we have fans who like to play Pro-Am a ton. We have fans who just like to play casual games in the Park. We have our MyTeam fans. Every single person that plays our game is looking for improvements in the area of the game that they focus on the most, and it’s very important to us that we take a holistic approach to the game and we find ways to improve the experience for every single person that purchases the game every year. This year’s no different, pandemic be damned. This team really banded together and put together an incredible game that I’m very proud of. We have the entirely brand new Neighborhood. The MyTeam blog was, like, 10 pages long. Gameplay is incredible. We’ve got franchise improvements. I’m really proud of the team, and answering the question, we just try and make the game better in every way possible every single year and that’s our philosphy here.
Wang: In adding to all that from the gameplay side, we are an evolving base as well. We’ve got a laundry list we’re always trying to tackle every year so we’re always striving for that. One thing that we did pinpoint as a team very early on is that we wanted to make the game more skill-based, not in such a sense that if you’re bad at the game you’re not going to like the game, but more in the sense that we want to reward users for doing the right things with the sticks. There’s a laundry list of items that people would get frustrated by where they would feel like they made the right play on the court but the outcome was bad. Those are the kinds of things that we tried to address. If you do something right on the sticks, you get rewarded for it. If you do something wrong or you make bad choices, you get punished for it. I think people will find the balance of the game a lot more enjoyable this year.
Q to Ben Bishop: What’s the process like working with universities for this year’s MyCareer? Can you give a bit more detail as to what the official licensing means for MyCareer?
Bishop: Schools are certainly very interested in having their brand represented properly in the game so we spend a lot of time going back and forth with them making sure that we get the details right, from uniforms to the court floors. They want to see what type of narrative we’re doing to make sure it’s something they’re okay with. It’s a process that started very early on back in the fall when NBA 2K20 finished. We knew that college was something we wanted to embrace and come back to for 2K21 so we started it early. We had a long list of schools to start with and weren’t sure what the interest would be. I think we were actually fortunate and almost all of them from the top of our list were excited to participate, and a lot of them we’ve worked with before so they were already somewhat familiar with it. They’ve been really excited to be included, like in the trailer that came out. For us it’s been about representing the specific universities properly but also about getting that college experience overall right. Letting the gameplay feel a little bit different, having the atmosphere and the arenas feel a little bit different, and letting you kind of experience what it’s like to be a college basketball player for a small portion of the beginning of your career before you finish off for however long you want to continue into the NBA.
Q to Mike Wang: How do you balance out the fun elements of NBA 2K21 versus the sim elements, especially in modes like the Park?
Wang: Certain modes are tailored towards certain audiences. With the Park we try to loosen things up a little bit, there’s a little bit more emphasis on things like over-the-top shot blocks and more dunks. When you get into things like MyGM or Play Now/Play Now Online you’re going to see an emphasis on simulation, which is what we pride ourselves on. We spent a lot of time updating new pick and roll spacing modules, rewriting offensive AI actions, all new gameplans for all the current teams, new playbooks. On the defensive end, there’s pick and roll and off-ball switching improvements, transition defense improvements, help and rotation logic improvements — the list goes on and on. I think what we always try to do is give something for everybody. There’s a mode in 2K that everyone is going to love whether you’re brand new at the game, a little kid or someone that’s been playing the game for 20 years.
Q to Erick Boenisch: What is the mindset between making current gen and next gen different games?
Boenisch: If you look at the history of Visual Concepts on console generation switches, we always make an effort to be at the forefront of sports video game development. Even looking back to NBA 2K14, the most recent console shift, I think that game spoke for itself. We all remember the Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” trailer, and then comparing it to everything else out there, it really shows the drive behind Visual Concepts. This year will be no different.
Q to Erick Boenisch: Can you give some details around creating female MyPlayers? Is that something that’s happening this year?
Boenisch: Not in the current-gen version of the game. I did speak to us having some new features and evolutions to WNBA in next gen so stay tuned for that.
Q to Erick Boenisch: Can you provide a sort of overview on how the Exchange will work in MyTeam? Is this something where you can send duplicate players from packs directly to the Exchange?
Boenisch: That’s a very good question that I didn’t cover in the blog because I felt I was getting too wordy at that point. Yes, if you’re opening up packs and get duplicate players, you don’t have to quick sell it or send it to your auction pile. You can immediately drop it right into your Exchange from the resolution of the pack opening. That was a very big thing that was talked about extensively during the development of MyTeam, integrating the Exchange to all the areas of the game where you can obtain cards, making it really easy to get cards into that flow.
Q to Erick Boenisch: Can you talk about what carries over between current gen and next, whether that’s across MyTeam, MyCareer — things like that?
Boenisch: I did go over this in the MyTeam blog but everything in MyTeam carries over. Tokens, MT, progress — everything. MyCareer is a bit of a different beast in next gen. Obviously, we’re not going to have the Beach in next gen. We’ve got something brand new, which is completely crazy. It doesn’t make sense to have that progress carry on over. The VC you earn playing MyCareer in current gen is part of what carries over to next gen so there is carryover game-wide in that regard.
Q to Erick Boenisch: There’s been some feedback regarding the Kobe render for current gen. Can you talk a bit about what’s going on regarding Kobe and how that’s being celebrated in NBA 2K21?
Boenisch: Kobe being on the cover of the game is very special to me personally. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I am a Kobe fan. We know our fans are Kobe fans. The cover athlete of the Legend Edition for NBA 2K, this year being the Mamba Edition, has traditionally been recognized by players, fans gamers as the NBA star who has achieved legend status — or in Kobe’s case has achieved the ultimate legend status right up there with Jordan and those guys. For us, it’s really special to have him on the cover. I wish it were under different circumstances obviously, but this is something that our fans and the community wanted to see happen and we couldn’t be more honored. We’re going to pay homage and honor Kobe Bryant this year. Going back to the face scan, he has a crazy new scan for next gen, which already looks amazing. This goes back to us developing a new game for next gen, so stay tuned to see what’s going to happen there.
Q to Erick Boenisch: With the current NBA season being played out in the Bubble, is that something that’s going to happen in NBA 2K21? Will people be able to play in a no-crowd environment?
Boenisch: Whenever we release the next iteration of NBA 2K, it’s always foreshadowing the season that starts after it. NBA 2K21 is built and based on the NBA for the 2020-21 season, which hasn’t happened yet, so putting the Bubble in there we thought would be a little weird or inauthentic. We don’t see them being back in the Bubble in Orlando for seven months, so we really wanted to be forward thinking and not looking backwards as to what next season is going to look like.
The developer Q&A call only covered current gen so we did not get a ton of new information. As I’ve mentioned before — and as it’s been mentioned by my peers — we’ve essentially reached the capacity of what the 2K dev team can do for current-gen systems. Besides shoring up nuances and legacy issues, there isn’t really much further that we can go with the product we have now. It’s evident that NBA 2K21‘s next-gen product is being touted as an all-new game by the developers. The mention of what’s in store for next gen that is “completely crazy” that Erick Boenisch mentioned has me intrigued, but we’re probably about a month and a half away from seeing that news and information.
Are you going to be picking up NBA 2K21 for current gen or will you wait it out for the next-gen version? Have you already made the jump and pre-ordered the Legendary Mamba Edition? Do you feel like you’ve gotten a bit more information after reading the Q&A questions that were asked? Drop your comments below.