- Category: Game On
- Created on Friday, 05 October 2012 21:14
- Written by Mark Navarro
- Hits: 2440
Today sees the long-awaited release of NBA 2K13. Every year, 2K sports outdoes themselves and I'm expecting this game to be no different. Why is this so? Why do men of all ages religiously play 2K games until the next game is released? What gives these games such ridiculous longevity?
Is it because the game is executively produced by Jay-Z? Is it the opportunity to play as the legendary Dream Team and quell any debate as to which USA Olympic team was better? Or is it the chance to play as teenage pop sensation Justin Bieber? Well, whatever floats your boat, I say that none of these gimmicks would have any real value to a gamer if the gameplay and game design did not back it up.
In an earlier post, I mentioned the term "Grokking". To reiterate, this means to assert complete mastery over a particular skill or technique. And we should also understand and agree that games, to a varying extent, have an element of simulation. It can be arbitrary, like in Tetris, or quite extreme, like in Sims. Grokking and simulation are two dynamics that give this game its ridiculous lifespan. In real life basketball, trial and error teaches us what to do over time. For example, take one-on-one situations. A good basketball game would give you three options: pass, shoot, and dribble. But like in real-life, you can do a one dribble, step-back jumper, or use your non-pivot foot to create space and drive the ball to the hoop, or back down and do a one-legged fadeaway if you're Dirk Nowitzki.
NBA 2K gave us all those options and the extent of the simulation was very lifelike. Over the years, it's still not as perfect a simulation as I'd like it to be. Defense, physics, and triple threat controls were, in my opinion, really bad in 2K12, but these are mechanics present in the game unlike it's competitors that don't have these at all. The longevity comes in grokking these mechanics. Given enough practice, you can effectively link a combination of dribble moves to a spin-move past Metta World Peace and end with a dunk over Dwight Howard. An entire arsenal of moves, shots, and options are available on the fly to any player all with a handful of buttons. You just have to grok all those moves.
This is also the essence of fighting game design. Studying and practicing outside of the actual matches is what separates those gamers who can show up and annihilate opponents as opposed to gamers who become button mashers at the heat of battle... or just choke in crunch time.
NBA 2K is also touted as the most realistic sports simulation game on the market, bumping it's only competitor so far down into obscurity that 2K13 has a monopoly over us. How does it's design set it apart? Shouldn't controlling 5 NBA players in one game be no different than controlling 5 NBA players in another game? This is where we see how faithful 2K sports was to their intended base experience.
Obviously, the base experience of the game is: "Be an NBA player". Outright, the manifestation isn't limited to just the My Player mode but also how each player in the game plays. When you're LeBron James, you feel his strength as he flies in for a dunk. When the ball is with Chris Paul, you know it's safe in your hands. Whereas when you handle the ball with JaVale McGee, you start to feel clumsy and awkward handling it from the 3-point line. Gone are the days when you handled 5 clones playing a ball game against 5 other clones.
Furthermore, going back to the My Player mode, it enriches the core experience by giving you the off-court experiences of an NBA player like training, practice, press cons, and for 2K13, walking in the GM's room to get your coach fired.
Finally, 2K is a mix of skill-based and stat-based design. Fighting games are purely skill-based. A great player can beat an average player with any character from the game's roster just because he/she is better. On the other hand, RPGs are stat-based games. You get the feeling of becoming better whenever your character levels up. Taking it into context, NOBODY will be able to make Dwight Howard a go-to 3-point shooter simply because his stats won't allow for it. But I've spent hours of my life trying to make the lowly Golden State Warriors win more championships in the Association mode, sometimes playing the best teams myself just to guarantee a win. And the game's mix of skill-based and stat-based design makes it harder to win as compared to say, playing as the Miami Heat.
The game has more mechanics and dynamics that I failed to discuss. If there's something you want explained, just hit me up in the comments section below.