We're still a bit over a month away until the 2013-14 NBA season tips off, but the satiation of our nationwide thirst for NBA hoops is coming far sooner than you think.
At least virtually.
The latest release of arguably the most respected sports game on the market, NBA 2K14, hits shelves on Oct. 1 in the last release with Xbox 360 and PS3 serving as the primary consoles. The focus will shift to PS4 and Xbox One, both releasing in November, starting next season—though NBA 2K14 will release on both of the next-gen consoles as well.
Although details have been somewhat scant—at least in terms of other iterations—the developers have begun rolling out the full-court press (sorry) with NBA 2K14 details over the past couple weeks. We've learned about the LeBron James-based "Path to Greatness" mode, where fans can control the future of the four-time NBA MVP's career. James' involvement also goes to the soundtrack, taking over the reins from Jay-Z to craft the sound of the game.
With just a little more than a week remaining until release day, though, the real meat and potatoes of NBA 2K14 are starting to get revealed. In particular, 2K Sports has released two episodes in their "Developer Diaries" series, in which those responsible for the game go for a deep dive into the improvements they've made to gameplay and already-beloved game modes.
Let's take a look at both of those Developer Diary episodes and break down what we've learned.
You Want GamePlay? 2K14 Has Your Stinkin' Gameplay
The obsession within the gaming community about game-mode depth is understandable. Most folks use video games as an escape into a world that they'll never see. In games like Grand Theft Auto, you get to enact every bit of road rage you've quelled deep inside your being when cut off on the highway.
In sports games, you're living the full life of a member of the NBA community. You're the player, the general manager and the coach. You control roster movements and gameplay in Association mode and live out your ballerific dreams of signing a max contract with the Clippers in My Career.
But what has always made the NBA 2K series stand out is its commitment to creating the most realistic basketball sim on the planet. Considering their biggest competition—EA Sports' NBA Live—had to take a multi-year hiatus because it fell so far behind, it's safe to say the developers have done an excellent job of just that.
This year's diary on gameplay improvements make it abundantly clear that the current-gen owners are going to get as close to a maxed-out product as you can possibly get. In the video embedded above, lead gameplay designer Mike Wang speaks on breaking the assumption that NBA 2K14 would be a mere minor upgrade with PS4 and Xbox One iterations in the offing.
In particular, the artificial intelligence has received massive upgrades. A series of new animations have been added to offensive players, with guys contorting their body in a more realistic fashion than a series of three or four moves on each possession.
Senior producer Rob Jones broke down arguably the most important improvement offensively—the understanding of spacing within an offensive set. In today's NBA, where paint-packing hybrid defenses have sent coaches scrambling to come up with innovative ways to score the ball, the importance of spacing is at an all-time high. Teams like the San Antonio Spurs have thrived despite the defensive improvements across the league, mainly because their players move the ball beautifully and understand where they're going.
NBA 2K14 does the best job of any release in history of representing that importance.
While that may be concerning on the surface—video games tend to be mostly offense-based to begin with—there's no need to worry. The developers have doubled down their efforts to make 2K14 have a balanced feeling, and that came with ratcheting up the intelligence for opposing defenders.
No longer will you be able to attack the rim with ease. The near-unstoppable dunk has been tossed in the trash heap, with defenders now able to give your shot the JaVale McGee treatment. Also improved is the understanding of spacing from defenders; they now understand what you're trying to do on offense and do well at adjusting over the course of the game.
Association and My Career may be the reason you buy NBA 2K14; gameplay will be the reason it doesn't land on the secondary market after a couple weeks.
MyTeam Is Back...And It's Way Better
While their ultimate goal is to create a great product, it's not exactly a secret video game companies are out to make money. The $60 you pay for a game isn't wholly for altruistic measures like paying salaries. And based on the graphic quality of free games, it's probably better off that way.
Hence the development of modes like MyTeam, which returns for NBA 2K14. Built in a very similar fashion to EA Sports' Ultimate Team modes, MyTeam gives players the opportunity to build their own pseudo-franchise from the ground up. Teams are built through accruing Virtual Currency, which is free to those who play the game but can also be purchased through micro-transactions.
Let's just say not everyone is patient enough to let their team build. These modes are massive money-makers, and it would behoove all sports gaming companies to create something similar—and invest developer time in making the modes as engaging as possible.
2K14 does just that. Somewhat a bare-bones mode in its roll-out period a year ago, this year's iteration of the game goes out of its way to make MyTeam as customizable as humanly possible. You can now choose your team's location, its name, uniform and multiple other things that the fan community requested.
Producer Kelly Wilson also goes into how the developers have added gameplay features to make you continue coming back to MyTeam. Players can now compete in tournaments—with specific rules for each event, dictated by 2K—against either an online opponent or the AI. Some of those events will be specifically related to what's going on in the NBA season, while others will be dictated by the three player levels—bronze, silver and gold.
Another interesting wrinkle is the addition of "Schedule" mode into MyTeam. Choosing the schedule option will allow users to take over an NBA team's schedule, wherever it is in the particular season, and play those games for VC.
Playing with friends has also been added to the mode, along with a leaderboard to see where you rank around the world. With all of those additions, it's possible that MyTeam could start creeping in on MyCareer and Association mode among fan favorites.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: