Closing The Gap Between NBA Live and NBA 2K

Operation SportsCorrespondent IJune 26, 2008

Three seconds left to shoot. You’re down two. Do you set up a play for your star forward or quickly inbound to your sharp shooting guard for the win?

These decisions and more highlight the excitement of a basketball video game. The core fundamentals are a must and no matter your preference, be it Live or NBA 2K: a basketball is passed, a basketball is dribbled and a basketball is shot.

The deal breaker for gamers is the importance of detailing the other, more dynamic intricacies of the game of basketball. And despite its vast improvements to silence the cries of the sim-gamer, many gamers agree NBA Live still does its best at highlighting the arcade aspects of basketball. Or in other words, there is a large gap in basketball excellence between NBA 2K and Live, with Live being the one needing to play catch-up.

The complaints of Live's engine and presentation range from gimmicks and signature styles to lighting and animations. But always the most important complaint is Live's inability to capture the core essence of basketball game play.

Wish lists galore can showcase the necessary improvements Live needs to make to be taken seriously. And though some may speak about features like online play, online leagues, and franchise/dynasty mode, it is essential that EA Sports concentrate on those aspects of the game that directly affect our 5-on-5 gaming experience. The aspects that can close the gap between Live and NBA 2K.

The first thing all gamers take notice of no matter their preference or its importance to game play is graphics. For the purpose of this article when I speak about graphics I mean animations, lighting, player models and anything in-between.

EA has taken a direction with Live's lighting that has, for the most part, alienated even the most loyal of their customer base. They have taken away one thing that most humans find so admirable and astonishing and cast it with a shadow of darkness.

As a species our overwhelming visual preference is to bright light and colors. Most things dark are considered gloomy, uninspiring, and dull. EA has managed to take the worst in arena lighting and make it a mandatory condition of play.

The shame of it is that Live’s lighting system is actually beautifully done. But their stubborn decision to darken arenas in exchange for performance makes it difficult to both acknowledge and appreciate the way light bounces off players, their sweat and the court.

NBA 2K has somehow managed to render beautifully crafted arenas, bounce light off players with great precision and showcase near exact replicas of player movements and shots all while keeping arenas well-lit and running at a brisk frame rate.

If EA expects Live to close the gap graphically then they must figure out a way to do the same. They must turn on the lights and it to flow naturally on the hardwood. There is even a strong chance that with those improvements, Live could finally be recognized for it’s more advanced and specific lighting system.

I won’t speak about player models in particular because its long been confirmed that this will always cause debate. There are those that prefer Live’s models over 2K’s and vice versa. And no matter how long you want to argue, no one is changing their opinion because no one is wrong.

Instead I rather speak about fluff or what might be better known as gimmicks. For at least the past 15 years gamers have taken note of the reliance on catchy, attention-making gimmick features on the back of the box.

Last year, EA went to great efforts to speak about new features like quick strike and go-to-moves. And while each of these new features did in fact improve the quality of their title, they didn’t give many gamers confidence in Live’s direction or game play.

Whether fair or not, the differences between Live and 2K are obvious. EA has a way of dramatizing their new features that turn off basketball enthusiasts, making them wonder how long before the online community abuses the new addition in game play. Whereas Visual Concepts pours in so little information, which is vague at most, that gamers become more receptive to their motives and new game play enhancements.

Already, EA is focusing on, and making gamers aware of, new features with catchy names. If EA is truly interested in making Live more realistic, it would do more good to advertise what the new features actually do rather than showering us with a hodge podge of new terms.

Game play, as previously mentioned, is essential. Live does little to deviate from the standard rules, limitations and creativity of an NBA game. It may even be argued that Live has gone above and beyond acceptable physics and human limitations with the addition and tuning of their superstar features.

"It is time for the developers to step out from behind the curtain and reveal their true selves. Opening up to the community allows that same community to feel willing to do the same."

It is a severe case of implementing too little with too much. Live's game play relies on many over the top animations which can be seen in a simple crossover and poor design choices in basic maneuvers such as the dunk. In order to compete with NBA 2K in terms of realism and critical acclaim, EA needs to re-evaluate their motion capture and tune both its fluidity and realism.

Gamers also enjoy playing against the individual tendencies of different teams. We expect that playing the Phoenix Suns will result in an up-tempo flow with several screen plays and passes to keep the game moving.

Against the Utah Jazz we expect picks and rolls will force us to switch repeatedly on defense and prevent mismatches benefiting the Jazz offense. It is crucial that Live individualize teams beyond their tempo tendencies and follow 2K’s lead by importing plays specific to a team’s offense and defense. Making each game a unique experience will make older gamers come back for more.

Last but not least is something we’ve seen at OS in the past weeks. Titles have benefited when members of a development team visit the gaming forums and involve the community in the design process. EA has made good on that with Madden and the reception is clear – more gamers have become interested in the development of Madden and even have looked forward to offering their own insight knowing that it is being received and seriously considered. EA needs to take that step with Live.

It is time for the developers to step out from behind the curtain and reveal their true selves. Opening up to the community allows that same community to feel willing to do the same. There is little doubt that community involvement will help make Live a better product. We’ve all already seen and read it with Madden and other games and we now even expect that our game play experience will support our feelings.

It is EA's job to go beyond those expectations and reward us with their attention to detail to “Liven” up their game. The rewards will come full circle.

This article was written by Carlos Hernandez for Operation Sports.  Operation Sports is the internet's leading sports video games resource.


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