NBA 2K17 Improves On Merging Sports Technicalities And Gameplay

I like the way they dribble up and down the court

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NBA 2K17 released its newest trailer today, previewing the game’s new features and the league’s biggest stars on their new teams.

I got a chance to sit down for a demo of the game last week and gained a bit of insight on how the changes actually affect gameplay. The 2K team walked me through a lot of technical work that they’ve put into enhancing both the technology and the user experience in the game.

To make the game more realistic, the team made sure you could no longer run or jump through an opposing player’s limbs, which was a complaint they heard repeatedly. This also means that the ball will actually ricochet off of a player’s arm or leg, making you fight for better position. The team worked on tweaking the physics of the game, allowing you to play more physically and fight for the ball like real players do.

The game also changes up shooting a bit, adding in aiming on the joystick to increase difficulty. If you use the stick to shoot (which I don’t, I find I’m better off just using the buttons), you have to try to keep the joystick straight up so that you don’t miss the hoop. You also have to be accurate in the mechanics for layups, which hasn’t been seen before, but movement also allows you to avoid defenders in your way.

The 2K team has also put in work to upgrade the algorithms and AI for a couple of in game actions: dribbling moves and computer-run offenses/defenses.

The algorithms that allow you to do dribble moves were pretty good in the past, but they looked like scripted animations that were hard to escape. That made it difficult, in some situations, to capitalize and beat your defender off the dribble. Now, the algorithms are layered, which helps the gamers with better timing and stick skills to actually dice up their opponents, rewarding the better player.

In practice, dribbling moves have gotten a lot more difficult to time up, which is good and bad. It makes the game more realistic, but it doesn’t allow you to string together a ridiculously fun sequence of moves like you could in the past. I’m sure that if I became more familiar with the game, as I have with the previous versions, it would make more sense the more I messed around with it. For now, it does seem like a hurdle that the average gamer might not be able to fully clear.

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Team USA Basketball Team rendered by the 2K Team NBA 2K17

Improved AI is hinted at in the trailer, when a defender blocks a layup from behind. You see a vastly improved help defense system in the game, where computer players are much more aware of their surroundings. Instead of simply moving from point A to point B, or sticking with one player on defense, the 2K team told me that computer players are much better at understanding what to do on the court and why.

In my limited playing experience with the new game, they were great at spacing the floor on offense and helping out on defense when I inevitably allowed an open lane to the basket. It was more fluid, as a real basketball game is, than sequenced movements that we’ve seen before.

The biggest change comes in the form of a mix of reality and gaming. In the previous 2K games, when your player would be low on energy, his attributes would suffer and he would have to be subbed out of the game. If you watch basketball, you know that this isn’t how professional athletes work. Yes, they need rest, but they often play just as well in the closing minutes of the game as they do at the beginning.

To replicate this, NBA 2K17 strayed away from a long-term energy tank and refocused on short term maximum energy use. What this means is that you can no longer sprint constantly, just like an NBA player doesn’t sprint the length of the court five times in a row. This prevents players from riding the turbo button, making you use your energy more wisely.

As for visuals, it’s still difficult to recreate real humans in video games, but NBA 2K seems to get closer with each passing year.

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Paul George of the Indiana Pacers NBA 2K17

The design team has focused on two improvements to try to make the stars look like how they do on TNT or ESPN. They’ve tweaked the players’ skin, making it less plastic and shiny, to more “tangible.”

The 2K team also told me that they went around to arenas with light measuring equipment so that they could measure how the light would affect colors on jerseys. In the past, the colors — like the Knicks blue that I played in — looked washed out, and it was because the design team hadn’t spent as much time calculating how the in-game lights would affect jerseys. Now, with better measurements, the jerseys look as they do in real life.

The game’s goal is to make it as realistic a basketball experience as possible while still balancing the gaming aspect, and NBA 2K is doing a pretty good job. They’re getting better at the design and the function of in-game mechanics; now, it’s just a matter of keeping it balanced between a casual sports game and one with the best technology that brings gaming skill and sports knowledge together.