NBA 2K18 took a bold swing at innovation with the introduction of The Neighborhood, a one-stop-shop social hub that served as the virtual space where players could get a haircut, shop for new gear, or play one of the three modes supported by MyCareer. While the concept seemed promising, develops Visual Concepts has a few kinks to work out before The Neighborhood reaches its potential.
Today, we got our first glimpse of how the studio plans to innovate on the social space in NBA 2K19.
After the seeing the trailer reveal, we sat down with senior producer Ben Bishop to talk through the many changes coming to The Neighborhood and MyCareer. Here are the big beats you need to know about:
Player Archetypes Are More Balanced
During the NBA 2K18 post-mortem, Visual Concepts looked at the numbers and realized some archetypes were much more valuable than others. They hope to spread the love in NBA 2K19. "I think the biggest thing we did this year was to refine the different archetypes and balance them more," Bishop says. "For example, we did a lot of work on the defensive-minded ones to give them some offensive skills. They're no longer completely useless on that end of the ball. The goal is to make it so whatever style of play you prefer, you're not going to be at a disadvantage. We want them all to be relatively equal so we spent a lot of time evening those out."
This approach extends to the various positions you can assign your player as well. "A lot of people prefer to play center to power forward because you can be that much taller and stronger, but now we're giving you different advantages as a power forward," Bishop says. "Shooting guard is another one. It seemed kind of like there were point guards, small forwards, and centers, and those two in the middle got left out a lot. We just wanted to make it so there's a reason to use all of them depending on what type of game you play."
When mixing and matching archetypes, once the final game ships you'll be able to see how they max out so you can make the tough calls before you go deep into mode and get locked into an archetype you aren't happy with. "That's one of the things we added almost last minute," Bishop says. "You won't see it in The Prelude version, but once the main game hits, as you are changing your archetypes there's a button you can hit to bring up a list of what your max will be for each attribute. You can see how the different combinations affect it. Then when you move over to height, weight, and wingspan, it's the same thing. You can see if you go up two inches, this is what attributes are going to change." This menu displays the exact max number, not just a vague colored meter.
You Level Up Much Faster Early On
First, the bad news: you still start MyCareer as a talentless hack rated 60 overall. But the good news is you won't have to grind as hard to become an average player. The difficulty modifier returns, so players who want more of a challenge can reap larger rewards for good performances. Bishop says that between the Neighborhood events and changes to VC distribution, you should have a lot more ways to upgrade quickly.
"If you go to practice after every game that gives you the opportunity to move up much more quickly," Bishop says. "One of the things we did in practice, for example, last year you had a set amount of drills and they were tied sometimes to multiple badges. You could do a drill and maybe not get any extra points toward that badge. This year, we have a drill that's one-to-one to every single badge, so if you want to go and target Ankle Breaker or some specific badge, you can be sure that you're going to get points toward that."
Leveling an alt also gets much easier once you cross a certain threshold. "When you get to a certain level – it's 90 maybe? – then you have an opportunity to make a new career but already have a bunch of your MyPoints set, so you can skip that early progress," Bishop says.
A More Centralized Neighborhood
The first iteration of the Neighborhood was awkwardly laid out, making you hoof it pretty far between some buildings. The redesign makes it a lot easier to get around. "Everything is more centralized," Bishop says. "We're trying to get you from place to place more quickly. It's more user-friendly. You can change clothes right in the menu. You don't have to go all the way back to your MyCourt and then back out. Practice is another good example. If you play a game, you can go straight to practice from the post-game locker rooms. You don't have to go to the neighborhood."
One of the quickplay options I have been requesting for years is a menu that drops me immediately into a park match instead of making me queue up. While NBA 2K19 doesn't make this quality of life improvement, Bishop thinks there should be less friction in finding matches anyway. "Got next is still there, but what I'm hoping people will see is there's such a spread of things to do you won't have to wait so much," Bishop says. "You remember you had the subway last year that would jump you to the courts? Now you can go into the subway and drop you into a new instance of the neighborhood. If you see one that's super full, you can quickly get to another one that's not so full. The Jordan Rec Center is essentially the replacement to ProAm walk-on. There are the cages. There's just so many more ways to play I'm hoping there's not as much of a need to wait for stuff."
One small change I'm thankful for is players other players are no longer visible until they start moving, which means hopefully we'll see a lot fewer hoards of motionless MyPlayer zombies standing around. Visual Concepts has also created more variety for spawn points.
More Shopping Options
NBA 2K19 gives you a lot more gear than previous years, but the best change is that haircuts no longer cost VC. You can even preview new styles (and adjust hair length of the various looks) before you tell the barber to get clipping.
On the fashion front, Visual Concepts plans to have regular drops like Throwback Thursday and Wacky Hat Wednesday to keep the threads fresh throughout the year.
The Neighborhood also has two new stores. The first is Wheels, which lets you buy skateboards, scooters, and various bike styles as you rank up. All move at different paces this year (and each is faster than walking on foot). The second is a MyTeam store that lets you create a card for your MyPlayer that can be used in the new Unlimited mode. This card is capped reasonably, so don't expect this to be an easy path to a Pink Diamond. You can play Unlimited games right from the store, but you'll have to exit The Neighborhood and visit the MyTeam hub if you want to go into any other part of the mode.
New Side Activities
When you're not playing park games, suiting up for your pro team, practicing, or playing Pro-Am, NBA 2K19 gives you a wealth of new activities to kill time with, including dodgeball. This opt-in experience rewards the winner with a healthy dose of VC, as does winning the daily trivia contest. The one million VC pot is split evenly between any players who answer all 10 questions, which span in topics from hoops and pop culture to history. Then, there are the new Under Armor cages.
"It's basically trampoline ball," Bishop says. "It's definitely less simulation and more of an arcadey style of basketball, but there are four trampolines on each side of the court, and you basically use them to jump off to block on defense, get rebounds, or try to do a lot of crazy dunks. It's an avenue for more highlight plays. You can play off the walls of the cage, so that's a different element."
Revolving Live Events
You may have noticed a wealth of different themed court designs in the trailer. Each of these is a timed live event, which Visual Concepts plans to refresh on a regular basis.
"Right now, there's like 25 or 30," Bishop says. "Those will be thrown out one or two each day, and we'll kind of change it up over the course of the year. Do you remember Ruffles Four Pointer from last year? We're doing different ones like that. There's Court Conqueror, which is one of my personal favorites. It turns that whole half of the park into a medieval castle. It's surrounded by walls, but what's cool is when you are in there, you are teaming up with other people to play against A.I. players from the different NBA teams. They'll be six different courts for six different teams. They'll be like three Lakers on one court, three Sixers on another. Your goal is to try and beat all six of those teams to get big prizes. All these events are different ways to earn not just VC, but points toward breaking your cap and leveling your character up, and a bunch of exclusive clothing. We're really trying to find ways to give back."
A Streamlined Approach To Story
As you may have already read, NBA 2K19 acknowledges that not everyone wants to sit through a narrative to get their MyCareer off the ground. This year you can skip cutscenes to your heart's content, but Bishop says it's worth sticking around this year.
"I think the narrative is the best we've ever done – it's probably the best written and best acted," he says. "Compared to last year, where it was just a scattered group of characters that didn't really have a thread tying it together very well, I think this year is much more contained in the beginning."
Once you play through the Chinese League and G-League, you earn a spot on an NBA roster. From here, you'll follow the similar trajectory of gathering fans, earning endorsements, and meeting NBA stars.
Last year's scatterbrained approach to MyCareer left players to their own devices. This year, Visual Concepts wants players to have a better picture of what they can do next to best advance their careers.
"One of the things we wanted to do is make it clearer what you're supposed to do next and where you're supposed to go," Bishop says. "There's that endorsement screen that shows you how many more fans you need to get the next thing. We have a new objective list so as you're playing through MyCareer you'll see what your next objective is. In the beginning, it's just going to be earning more minutes, working toward the starting lineup. But eventually, it will be trying to get into the All-Star game, getting your team into the playoffs, trying to clinch the number one seed, trying to win the championship. One of my favorite little features is you can become All-Star captain and we have a whole sequence where you can pick the teams. If you're good enough, that ends up being one of your objectives."
MyCourt Returns Largely The Same
You can still create your own court, but outside of a few new designs, Visual Concepts left this part of The Neighborhood largely untouched. No, you cannot add the trampolines from the Under Armor cages to the court. You also can't customize the rest of your crib. But at least B-Fresh isn't hanging around eating all your food and inviting strangers over. We got the message with her," Bishop says. "It really didn't work last year."
The NBA 2K19 20th Anniversary edition releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on September 7, with the regular edition coming September 11 on the same platforms.