At a recent visit to the Game Informer offices, Visual Concepts spilled the beans about everything NBA 2K13 has to offer, including My Player, Association, online plans, and a few new surprises. We’ll touch on all of this at later dates, but first and foremost we’re sharing details on our hands-on gameplay session.
NBA 2K13 is building off a solid gameplay foundation, but that isn’t preventing Visual Concepts from shaking things up. Here are 25 things we learned during our meeting:
- In past games Visual Concepts felt that after the whistle blew the presentation would often break the sense of immersion with flaws in the way players acted and reacted. The transition of seeing LeBron James make one of his signature dunks, but then stumble aimlessly around the court like a zombie as a quarter came to a close was jarring. In NBA 2K13, the team made an effort to seamlessly integrate ambient actions to make sure that players are doing things they would actually do in real life during dead ball situations.
- The dynamic commentary I heard between Steve Kerr, Clark Kellogg, and Kevin Harlan proves they are still the premier virtual broadcast team. The conversations flow seamlessly, they discuss off-court activity and statistics like real-life commentators, and their cadence rises and falls with the intensity of the action.
- The broadcast replays are also unrivaled in sports games. This year Visual Concepts has added a few new flourishes, like Nike+ Basketball integration that shows you how high a player jumps during a slam-dunk replay. These replays only trigger if the player making the dunk is wearing Nike+ Basketball shoes.
- It turns out gameplay producer Mike Wang may have learned a thing or two while working on the NBA Live franchise for EA Sports after all. This year NBA 2K takes one of the few good pages out of the Live playbook by revamping its right analog controls to include dribbling moves.
- Dubbed the Control Stick, the right analog stick now works for dribbling, shooting, post play, and passing. Visual Concepts says this new control scheme opens up a plethora of new moves they didn’t have before.
- Isomotion didn't allow players to do anything standing because it was tied to your movement stick. Now you can cross over, go behind the back, or between the legs. This allows you to set up a guy up the way you would on a real court.
- Holding down the left trigger turns the Control Stick back into the Shot Stick from last year.
- Visual Concepts revamped the passing so players are smarter about which passes they make. This year if you take the ball down the middle on the fast break and see a guy filling the lane you will make a nice bounce pass instead of an overhead pass that is easy for the defender to pick off. If you want to guarantee your player throws a bounce pass, you can hold the left trigger and press the pass button.
- Previous NBA 2K games married the passing and catching systems, which meant that the moment you made the pass, the catch was determined as well. This made it hard to jump the lane and cause a turnover on defense because if you weren’t in the passing lane at the time of the pass the system wouldn’t register you as a factor. In NBA 2K13, Visual Concepts has separated these systems. The game makes the appropriate pass at the time you press the button, and the intended receiver makes the appropriate catch based on when the ball is arriving. This should inject more variety into the pass catching animations and hopefully make some balls more susceptible to interception.
- For the first time in the series, the controls for a dribbler and a player in the post mimic one another. Twirling the right analog stick to spin works in both states. Since players no longer need to master a different minigame when posting up, it should be much easier for players to transition between attacking the basket and playing with your back to the rim.
- Visual Concepts also changed the alley-oop controls. This year when you see an opportunity for a quick basket at the rim, you can mash the A and X buttons to throw it up.
- For players who developed muscle reflexes for the Shot Stick, getting used to the Control Stick is going to require an adjustment period. In my short time with the game, I was still accidentally making a dribbling move instead of hoisting up the rock when I saw an opportunity to shoot. Visual Concepts producer Rob Jones says that after playing a handful of games you should get the hang of it.
- NBA 2K games have always packed in a ridiculous amount of animations, but shots tended to play out the same regardless of contact. Thanks to the new Dynamic Shot Generator, the game now uses a physics system to takes into account momentum, the degree of contact, player size, and strength ratings to determine if a player knifes through the defender, is stopped at the point of contact, or gets the shot off but stumbles and falls to the floor. Visual Concepts hopes this will make contact more realistic and keep the outcomes from looking like canned animations.
- The physics system introduced by the Dynamic Shot Generator also affects rebounding, blocking collisions, and charging. Savvy defenders can actually take a charge this year.
- Speaking of defense, players have more smooth movements on defense and appear to be much more reactive. The physics helps more physical defenders guarding against drives to the baskets as well. If you step into the dribbler’s lane, the collision deflects guys the way it would in real life so the attacker won’t just slide off the defender. The dev team hopes this will help players feel like defending can play a vital role in the game instead of just feeling like an obstacle.
- Last year, the AI had multiple options to attack your defense, but it would pick one approach at random. To cut down on the amount of times a player can cheat the system by standing in an obvious passing lane to pick off a ball, Visual Concepts has developed a reactive AI that is smart enough to know when you are trying to take away options. This year, it will notice your guy jumping the lane and look for a backdoor option instead of throwing the obvious pass.
- To better distinguish between the AI point guard performances in the league, Visual Concepts has added awareness differentiations. While a veteran, pass-first point guard like Jason Kidd has a 360-degree view of what’s happening around him, shoot-first point guards or less talented players will have part of the court shaded like a fog of war in strategy games.
- In past games, fans found that it didn't matter how wide the player ratings scale was, because the talented players at a respective position always played the same. To better differentiate between players, Visual Concepts has taken a page out of FIFA and Madden by introducing Signature Skills. Each player can have up to five signature skills, which cover everything from being a spot up shooter or alley-ooper on offense to being a chasedown artist or pick-pocketer on defense.
- Most of the signature skills are individual traits, but some players also have skills that extend to their teammates, which Visual Concepts is calling “team auras.” A floor general will improve the play of everyone else on the court, as will a high-energy defensive specialist.
- Visual Concepts is still locking down the number of skill traits for the game, but right now they are hovering around 28. The developer has not commented on whether or not players will gain or lose signature skills as their career progresses.
BETTER WITH KINECT?
- Like FIFA and Madden, NBA 2K13 takes advantage of the Kinect’s voice recognition software to offer players a new way to interact with the game.
- The Kinect controls work for several basic menu functions, such as calling a timeout, substituting players, changing defenses, or calling plays.
- Most of the commands are conversational and supplemented with AI logic. If you notice Kevin Garnett is tired, simply say “substitute Kevin Garnett” and the AI will chose an appropriate player. If you want to bring a resting star like Kevin Durant off the bench, say “bring in Kevin Durant” and the AI will choose who should sit.
- These conversational commands extend to playcalling as well. Rather than calling out specific plays for players, you can simply say “Run a screen play for Kobe” and the game will automatically choose one of the many screen plays for him. Once the play is activated, the play vision art will appear on screen to guide you though the attack.
- You also need to watch your mouth when using Kinect. If you swear after a bad call, the ref may decide to issue a technical foul.
Stay tuned for more information on NBA 2K13 in the coming weeks.