As sports games evolve in new directions, the decades-long mainstay franchise mode is often superseded when it comes to development resources in favor of shiny new possibilities like moneymaking Ultimate Teams, new draft modes, competitive play, and even simply playing along with a team through the regular season. The neglect of this mode is sometimes attributed to a shift in player interests, but from where I'm sitting a well-executed franchise mode offers more engagement, depth, and long-term replayability than any contending mode.
Visual Concepts senior producer Erick Boensich agrees, which is why each year he and his team push hard for the resources to build forward-thinking new features into the NBA 2K games. This year is no different. In fact, Visual Concepts staffed up with more engineers this year so the franchise mode team responsible for building MyGM and MyLeague in NBA 2K16 could think big. Here are their bold plans for continuing to raise the bar of franchise modes:
- The banner feature for the two NBA 2K16 franchise modes is team relocation. Whether you are in MyLeague or MyPlayer, you can right the wrongs of NBA owners and put teams back where they belong (looking at you, Seattle SuperSonics) or chart a new future for an NBA team in a new North American city as far flung as Anchorage, Alaska.
- Each of the more than 60 cities available for relocation presents a unique opportunity with different market data. GMs can look over market size, median income, number of homes with TVs, each of which plays a role in your potential success in that location.
- You can try to double or even triple up on major metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles, though rival owners in those locations won't be supportive of your move.
- At any time in your tenure in MyGM mode you can approach the owner and indicate you think the team should move. Depending on your location, the owner contribution to the costs can fluctuate. You can also throw your own hard-earned money that you earn from completing owner goals behind the move.
- After you choose the city you move onto the team branding. You can carry over your team name, logo, and colors, or start from scratch. Users can choose from several 2K-made logos or upload their own via NBA2K.com. The play-by-play commentators know a small collection of generic team names, but if they aren't familiar with your team name they will simply refer to your city during broadcasts.
- Once your team branding is in place, you can design your arena. The options here are incredibly robust. You can choose from 13 arena templates of varying shapes and capacities and customize nearly everything in the arena, including the jumbotron, the animation packages that play on the jumbotron, the center court logo, seatback colors, basket colors, the scoring table style, and every line, pattern, text, or color on the floor. You can even upload graphics to use on the floor and in the advertisement areas via NBA2K.com.
- You can choose moment-specific arena sounds that play when a team scores a game-tying basket or misses a free-throw, for instance. These must be chosen from the hundreds that 2K has included in the game; you cannot upload your own audio this year.
- You can name your new stadium, but you cannot sell the naming rights for money.
- After you build your arena, you can purchase amenities for your facility including bigger parking garages, different levels of luxury suites, concessions, restaurants, or even a train or bus terminal that eases transportation to your location.
- The final step to customizing your team is tweaking your jerseys. 2K offers several different jersey styles, accents, and fonts for you to mix and match, but you can also upload your own images to use as a pattern.
- If you'd rather borrow someone else's hard work you can search for other images by user and download them to your game.
- You can rebrand even if you don't plan to move the team.
- Completing a relocation is as simple as selecting your new city in MyLeague, but you'll need at least 16 of the 30 owner votes to complete your move in MyGM.
- Before submitting your move pitch, you can converse with other owners to see what you could do to sway their votes in your favor. Many are chiefly concerned with the economic impact of the move; as long as money is coming in and you aren't hurting their bottom line they may sign on. Some may have simple requests, like switching your location from a suburban area to the urban center or upping the number of luxury suites. Others may oppose your move no matter what.
- Once your pitch is submitted, the vote takes place in the offseason. If your vote doesn't pass you can return to your proposal and make the adjustments you need to get approval.
- If the owners approve your team's move, then the league will determine whether or not relocation is necessary in the offseason. If you move the Knicks to the West Coast, for instance, they will be moved into the Pacific division and other changes will be made to balance the Atlantic. Visual Concepts spent a ton of time on this algorithm to make sure it works in a believable way.
- Visual Concepts spent a lot of time overhauling the offseason this year to inject new life into the rebuilding months of the year.
- The first portion of the revamped offseason is the draft lottery, which Visual Concepts rebuilt to bring some drama to the proceedings. Instead of a static screen, the deputy commissioner reveals each pick one by one. The visual treatment takes a text-heavy approach not unlike a 16-bit RPG. Between each pick a reporter will weigh in on the situation, amping up risers in the lottery, talking about what teams have done in this slot in the past, or discussing a team's recent draft history.
- Once the lottery is complete, users move into the staff-hiring portion of the offseason. Visual Concepts is raising the bar of staff management by giving each coach, scout, etc. agency in their careers. Some may be happy to work on rebuilding teams, while others may want to coach contenders. Many also have aspirations to hold more power than they currently do. Assistant coaches may want to be a head coach someday, and a scout may have designs on becoming a GM. After they retire, players can ascend through the management ranks as well.
- Teams can poach personnel from your staff provided they are making an upward move; no assistant coach will leave your team to assume the same position, for example. You can also ask permission to speak to another team's employee and negotiate a new deal.
- The NBA Draft is also being overhauled to speed up the process. Commissioner Adam Silver still announces each pick, but you can skip directly to your pick should you choose. Flashier, snappy graphics packages liven up the experience, and Visual Concepts is working in fan and reporter feedback into the presentation as well. If you draft the next Kristaps Porzingis early, don't expect the fans to be excited (whether that condemnation is deserved or not).
- Users can now craft their own draft big board to keep track of favored prospects and move them around. This will help you have a clearer understanding if the good talent is coming off the board and it's a good time to make a move up or down in the draft. If you choose to auto-draft, the A.I. will use your draft board as a guideline for selections.
- After the draft, the offseason transitions to the summer league. Modeled after the leagues in Las Vegas and Orlando (complete with the correct format and rules), you can get some hands-on time with your prospects to see if they have what it takes to crack your roster.
- The 2K Hoops Summit follows the summer league. Modeled after the Nike Hoops Summit, this gives you a chance to play with the upcoming draft class on either the U.S. or International team. This early scouting opportunity may inform whether you should stock up lottery picks or trade out of the first round.
- Visual Concepts has rebuilt the landing menu to surface more league happenings. This includes a news ticker with score and standing updates, trade rumors, injury reports, etc. that follows you no matter which screen you go to.
ADVANCED TEAM BUILDING
- Predicting or understanding an A.I. team's decision making when it comes to player management can be tough in franchise modes, so to cut down on the confusion Visual Concepts is surfacing a lot of the logic that ran behind the scenes in previous games so you can understand where teams are coming from.
- Each team falls into one of four franchise categories: rebuilding, buying, selling, or contending. The A.I. GMs are aware of their current circumstances and will act accordingly, taking the long view into account as well as the present.
- Teams will track when key players like LeBron James become free agents, and if their team status aligns they will prepare to make a run at these franchise-changers. They will first analyze if the player satisfies a need, and if he does, they will determine what they need to do to clear space.
- Users can access a team intel screen to get a quick glimpse of a franchise's current status, their untouchable players, their trade block, players on the roster with expiring contracts, and players they are thinking of targeting either via trade or free agency.
- Much like the real NBA, players with expiring contracts are valuable trading chips when it comes to reshaping rosters. A.I.-controlled GMs are aware of their worth and will use them accordingly.
- The trade proposal screen has been tweaked slightly so the star rating of your proposal is the opinion of the team you are trading with rather than a global value like in 2K15. Each GM and coach prefers different types of players. For instance, once coach may prefer bigs with the ability to stretch the floor, while another may value low-post defending above all. Play style, contract status, and team construct all factor into which players teams target. For instance, Joe Johnson is a 79-80 with an expiring $25 million contract. Some teams may think he's too expensive for that level of output, but others may give left arm for that cap space.
- Teams offer more feedback when rejecting trades so you know if you are close or not.
- Players can now suffer multiple injuries. If your star guard has a bum ankle and broken index finger, you may want to shut him down.
- Three-team trades are back, but don't expect to see them in the trade finder. The math is tricky, so they need to be user initiated.
- Visual Concepts is taking the SimCast one step further by featuring a GameCast-like experience that showcases player icons in real-time. You can call plays, switch up defenses, substitute players, or jump in and out of the live-action at any time.
- NBA 2K16 is the first place where you can see how the huge salary cap jump expected to take place in 2016 will play out. As you move into your second season in MyGM, the cap will jump $25 million.
- Owners can introduce long-term goals that take two or three years to complete.
- If you prefer to have an experience more in line with MyCareer, you can activate a player lock so you control only one player on the court.
- You can set up or download team trainer sliders to streamline your roster management.
- Visual Concepts is incorporating new advanced stats to better help you track player performance. For instance, you can see a clearer line between Tony Allen-style lock-down defenders and Kevin Love-level turnstile defenders by tracking the opponent field goal percentage of players. Other stats include shot charts and field goals broken down by zones.
- The big improvement coming to MyLeague is the ability to share your franchise experience with up to 29 other players online. CPU-controlled teams will fill out the league if you want to play with only a few of your friends.
- To ensure the experience is stable, Visual Concepts focused on making the design as simple as possible, leaving the power to advance days and customize the league to the admins.
- A vast array of sliders is available for admins to tweak the league settings. Options include changing difficultly, trade logic, setting the salary cap, setting the rate of inflation for the salary cap, player progression/regression rates, and gameplay sliders.
- You can share different sliders settings or download those from other users if you don't want to do the tweaking yourself.
- Admins have the ability to kick or add owners, demote or promote new admins, approve trades, reset games, determine the outcome of games, or even bring in custom rosters for the league start.
- The fantasy draft returns so you can mix up the rosters before you start playing.
- You can use any of the modern or historical teams for your league. With more than 40 classic teams (including 12 new ones from the last 15 years of the league) you can skip the modern teams altogether.
- New classic teams include the '00-01 Lakers, '99-00 Raptors, '07-08 Rockets, '07-08 Celtics, '02-03 Mavericks, and '99-00 Blazers.
- MyLeague Online is a single-season experience with no draft or free agency. You can re-up the league if you want to with the same rosters as the end of the season, however.
- A much requested fan feature, you can turn off auto-save on MyLeague.
NBA 2K16 comes to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on September 29. The features discussed in this preview are only coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.