From the coveted Madden series to the various competing titles for the NBA, MLB, and NHL, it has been a creator’s ambition to make the next year of sports gaming more realistic and compelling then the last. After spending just under a year with NBA 2K9, and NBA 2K10 fast approaching, I’ve had the opportunity to play through the woes of being owner, GM, and coach with Association 2.0. What I thought I knew about basketball, made me realize that I’m just another ranting fan pushing for the next big trade.
Franchise modes, like Association 2.0, push sports knowledge to the limit; what seems like simple team mechanics turns out to be a perfect balance between player chemistry, talent, economics, and future endeavors. And although it may be a stretch to say that Association 2.0 is breeding future GMs, coaches and professionals, it’s definitely reasonable to say that it is a believable experience that delivers an insight into the many facets of a NBA team, and it’s a new way to connect gamers to their favorite sports stars.
A couple of months back John Gaudiosi wrote NBA Stars Game for Fun for IGN, which he investigated the relationship between NBA players and the games they are featured in. His results showed that, “85 percent of NBA players are ‘gamers.’ While video games are certainly popular in other professional sports, the NBA seems to own the virtual crown when it comes to active and devoted gamers.” Now that players and fans alike are sharing the video game experience, the pressure is on the developers to deliver a believable experience without sacrificing entertainment.
Similarly, since developers for NBA Live 09 and NBA 2K9 have implemented “Living Rosters” and “Dynamic DNA,” how a player is doing in the league is reflected within the game. Although I’m sure players could care less how a game perceives them, I wouldn’t doubt that it manages to spark a bit of curiosity. Taken from Gaudiosi’s article, Chris Bosh from the Toronto Raptors commented, “I think people enjoy it because they’re up-to-date and current and they’re always playing with their favorite players… With Dynamic DNA they’re going to have the most realistic experience with their favorite players and teams.”
Because of the combination of real time stats and franchise modes, gamers can now simulate appropriate decisions about a team’s future despite the owner’s wishes. To make the simulation more realistic, sports games now provide feedback through the team’s chemistry percentages and players’ feelings about their roles.
For example, while playing NBA 2K9′s franchise mode, I chose to play as the Los Angeles Clippers since I’m a huge fan. I know anyone who is familiar with the NBA is probably thinking to themselves, “What is up with this guy? They’re one of the worst teams in NBA franchise history.” After spending a couple of hours analyzing the mechanics of Association 2.0, and paying particular attention to the Clipper’s roster, cap space, chemistry, and current events, I began to realize how coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy Sr. is beginning to mold this team; I have to say, he is doing an excellent job of bringing in the right players. (Link to see my thoughts about current trades and acquisitions.)
After comparing Dunleavy’s current trades to my experience with the game, I’ve learned that building a roster entirely based on player skill isn’t necessarily the best route to take. The game goes beyond merely filling positions with super stars, but it’s about finding talent and leadership in your core line up; it’s about having second string players who know their roles and bring a tremendous amount of energy while also searching for potential talent to develop within the third unit. When you find players who understand this, all the components of an organization (salary, chemistry, behavior) harmonize together. And the game reflects this very well.
Similarly, after being accustomed to the game, I’ve learned that bringing in new players to fill certain roles is one thing, but managing a team based on play time and setting up a practice schedule is an entirely different aspect – one that I’m still working on. In hindsight, I praise Phil Jackson and Joe Torre for finding ways to getting their players on a winning path in the NBA and MLB.
Because franchise modes are trying to grasp the realism within sports leagues, gamers and fans now have a bit of understanding of what goes on within a team. “I think kids that play (NBA videogames) now and are truly educated in what they’re doing end up learning more about the game of basketball as opposed to just going out there and chucking it up” (Kobe Bryant). It still may be years before, if ever, sports games capture the true simulation of a major sports league, but it doesn’t mean that what we have today doesn’t teach gamers, fans, and super stars alike about the ins and outs of what is currently happening behind the scenes.
As a result, the sports games we play are inching ever closer to the realism within the sports leagues we follow. With NBA 2K10 nearly upon us, it is incorporating a few new tricks that match its competitor: NBA Live 10. The inclusion of drafts, summer leagues and walk on players are beginning to bridge the gap between high school and college potentials to their standings in the pros. Not to mention, gamers are now taking control of player customization and seeing if they have the wits, intelligence and thumb dexterity to take their created player from the draft combine to the hall of fame.
Why is this important? As a fan, it’s easy to scrutinize your favorite team for their less than stellar performances – such as a harsh loss to a farm league team despite having four all stars. Basically, it’s easy being a critic when your favorite teams are seemingly never making any forward progress. At least with these ever evolving sports titles, we now get an idea of what it’s like to be the focal point in every aspect (owner, general manager, coach, player) of a franchise.