"We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing."
- George Bernard Shaw
Hard to argue against a socialist playwright who is the only person in history to win both a Nobel Prize AND an Oscar.
Photo above speaks for itself : copies of NBA 2K13 (for XBOX), NBA Live 2004 and NBA Live 97 (both PC versions). My first purchased NBA game (Live 97), the last game I had before I took a long break (Live 2004), and the current 2K Sports incarnation. Well folks, what I'm trying to say is, I AM BACK!
I am back to playing basketball video games. But wait, technically I haven't really stopped since I've continued Career Mode of NCAA College Hoops 2K7, you know, play a game once in a few months, but I've gotten bored and the College Hoops series has been discontinued (such a bummer). The correct statement should be : I'm back to playing an NBA video game.
Chances are, our NBA "playing career" started with Nintendo's "Double Dribble". If you were already alive in the 1980's, you'd know what I'm talking about. Such a lousy game with poor graphics, uber-simple gameplay, and overall an incomplete NBA experience. But during those days, it was THE premier basketball video game.
You know what? That's always the case looking back. You'd always feel great about the current game and think of the previous version as trash. I guess that's why we have the term "development". So if I thought Double Dribble was fantastic when I first played it (I was probably 7 years old then), imagine the high I got when I tried "Lakers vs. Celtics and the NBA Playoffs" on Sega Genesis. The graphics was better, gameplay improved, players were detailed, heck there were FOUR MORE TEAMS to choose from (can you imagine that, more choices than LA-Boston-Chicago-NY!), and the bomb of 'em all - player signature moves! Kevin Johnson would do a gorgeous spin move when he reaches the free throw line before laying it up. Charles Barkley, likewise, will take off from the FT line and throw down a vicious gorilla dunk. But the nastiest of all, and the one that I will never forget, was the signature dunk of Tom Chambers. Give him the ball near the three point line, yes, maybe a step inside the trifecta, and he will double-pump all the way to the basket and in for an unfathomable dunk that defies logic and physics. It was so extraordinary that I wonder what the game developers were thinking. Yes, Chambers was a known dunker, but from near the three-point line?? Outrageous. Even MJ or Dr. J couldn't do THAT. Well, it was an unstoppable weapon so I used it to my advantage...sometimes. Anyway, the bad news was I only borrowed that console game. It was my cousin's, and by the time he needed it back, I was back in hopeless-fandom.
Then EA Sports' NBA Live came along. It was 1995, the start of the personal computer craze. I actually started playing NBA Live 96 (they name the series version for the subsequent year of a season, say it was the 1995-96 season, the video game will be named NBA Live 96) with Shaquille O'Neal - still with the Orlando Magic - on the cover. Playing on the PC was harder since you had letter keys as your control, but I liked how you could view and save the stats (I was a stats freak, I loved basketball stat-compilation books) into a computer file. (Yup, I saved my games' stats files!) NBA Live changed the game, literally and figuratively. It was the first video game that featured all the NBA teams and almost all the players. Individual ratings and info, individual photos, and individual graphic rendition. You could play a whole 82-game season, compete in a 5-7-7-7 playoffs (it was still best-of-five first rounds then), trade players, and all the basic stuff that previous games' developers obviously didn't work on. You could even run plays as Live 96 had various offensive play patterns and diagrams. Truth be told, I used that play diagram feature when I coached our high school senior team during our school intramurals (we lost 2-1 in the semifinal series, by the way).
I could feel it right there and then, NBA Live was a big step in the right direction for basketball video games. By that time, Double Dribble was considered jurassic, Lakers vs. Celtics was garbage.
And it didn't take long before I thought of NBA Live 96 as garbage itself.
The next year, I upgraded to NBA Live 97. That's why I lost Live 96 and the box, because I probably gave it to a friend or someone borrowed it and never bothered to return it (I think it was the latter, because why would I give away a game that cost more than a thousand pesos, a fortune back then). Live 97 had better graphics by using 3D rendition of the players, a first of its kind. Gameplay was a bit more realistic, ratings were more detailed. What I liked most was the menu screen styling. It was edgier and packed a visual punch, like some of those collectible trading cards' (Upper Deck, Fleer) graphics.
Then the next big trend happened - massive piracy. Suddenly, more and more video games were being sold in bootleg copies, and mind you, the game functions were exactly the same. After 97, I stopped buying the original versions. (Oooops, why did I say that?) I tried 98, 99, 2000, until 2003 (which was even modified by ingenious Pinoys who came up with a patch so you could play PBA Live 2003; it was a cute attempt). Piracy made the game more accessible to a broader audience, but for sure the developers lost money. I switched back to buying original with NBA Live 2004, because I just got tired of patches, bugs, and other unreliability that you had to put up with bootlegs. But by then, my NBA video game appetite has waned. It was just a cycle : the current year's version is just slightly better than last's, and we are just sucked into constant upgrading. So what happens to the 10 seasons I've already played? What happens to the player I drafted and developed? What happens to my records? They're all wiped out in the next version of the game. And frankly, I just got tired of playing 82 games a season (I don't like shortened seasons). It was time-consuming and unproductive. For a while there, I morphed into an all-work, no-play person. Naaaah, just kidding. I switched my gamer's focus to Madden football. Hahaha!
Anyway, during my NBA sabbatical, I grew a liking for College Hoops because of the short season (about 30-40 games per collegiate season including the NCAA Tournament), and the recruitment tug-of-war. I'm a huge college basketball fan myself, and College Hoops was a perfect fit. Going after blue-chip highschool players on limited resources, offering them scholarships while hoping that they'd sign with you and not with other programs, developing them into full-fledged college stars, having them drafted in the NBA - all those stuff that makes college basketball's dynamics different from any other level. But after a while, I also got tired of the game. I was waiting for the latest release of College Hoops when I found out 2K Sports was discontinuing it due to licensing issues with the NCAA. That was the end of the road for me, it seemed. I was content with playing Madden once in a while (only 16 games per regular season) and Top Spin tennis, of course aside from grooving to Dance Central with the XBox Kinect (the XBox console was given by my father,of all people, a year ago - talk about timing it when I was already past 30 years of age).
Fast forward to 2012. I had no plans of rekindling my love affair with NBA video games. But let's see...my Miami Heat has just won the championship (TAKE THAT, HATERS!!!), the hatin' Lakers reloaded, the Thunder looks poised to avenge, the Knicks got OLDer, the Nets got a fancy facelift, and the Bobcats still have the league's worst owner and decision maker. I told myself, "hey, you know what, with all the drama and subplots of the coming season, maybe it'd be cool to see how it all unfolds in the video game". And really, I've missed the game. Madden and Top Spin were taking a toll on my kiddie lust. So I scooped up a copy of NBA 2K13 on its first day of local release, and the rest is history.
I'm hooked. Again.
The game is leaps and bounds better than the last time I played it. Well, 2K Sports has really dominated EA when it comes to the NBA game. EA has scrapped its 2013 version and rescheduled its own title's release for next year. With 2K13, I have a clear idea of why EA retreated : their Live 2013 would prove no match. It's that simple. Like taking one step back in hoping to make two steps forward. But maybe they'll need three. Or four, just to catch up.
Ten Things I Love About NBA 2K13 * :
1.) The best graphics yet - As can be expected with the latest developed game, NBA 2K13 delivers the best-looking and most realistic graphics by far. Tiny yet important details can be seen, almost in HD-like quality, like player sweat, reflections, hair patterns, even how light bounces off their skin. Those kind of details are what make the graphics look closer to reality. But probably the most distinguishable change in the graphics? More realistic-looking fans in the arena. They now have distinct appearances, unlike in previous versions where they look like papercut figures.
2.) Effortful gameplay - Sure, we will like it if we can score a bunch easily. However, after a while, you get bored and unchallenged. Which is why I really love the new gameplay difficulty in 2K13. By effortful gameplay, I mean REALLY working for your points by shaking off a pesky defender, by going thru hard and annoying screens, by drawing and adjusting to contact, by altering your shot on-the-fly, by making sure your timing will not affect how you stroke your shots. Those things happen in real life, and that's the way it should be in video games. Even if they're just video games. The way LeBron sometimes bleeds for his points, to the effort Kenneth Faried scrapes his way to loose balls and rebounds, video game players should also struggle and feel with the controller.
3.) Thorough player details - Each player is now unique in his own way. Appearance, signature moves, special skills, shooting strokes, layup motion, crossovers, pre-game and free-throw rituals, ratings, demeanor, I could go on and on. The details are there, different for each player. No two players are alike.
4.) Jay-Z - I just found out 2K13 was executive-produced by Jay-Z upon purchasing the game and looking at the actual cover. At first, I thought it was just a ploy to use the rapper-mogul's name and brand to market the game. But after playing the game and seeing the music-video integrated presentation, I believed Jay-Z was genuinely involved in the production. It was good for the game (now I know why Beyonce fell for him). And rumors are that he was the one who called Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley that led the two to agree to be included in the Dream Team roster in 2K13. What else? It's believed he personally chose the music, which leads me to...
5.) The Soundtrack - There have been other games with outstanding soundtrack before, particularly sports games. 2K13's music is different because it breaks away from the conventional high-octane rock and hip-hop-heavy soundtracks of previous titles. Instead, 2K13's OST is a balanced mixture of hip-hop, alternative rock, and electronic music that points to one basic principle - likeable rhythm and beats. Jay-Z didn't pounce on the opportunity to make it a hip-hop/rap-dominated listing, instead he chose songs that caught gamers grooving to the beats. My favorites? Coldplay's Viva La Vida, of course, and Phoenix's 1901 - two songs which I loved before but never thought I'd hear in a basketball video game. Thanks, Jay-Z.
6.) My Career mode - The last time I played (NBA Live 2004), this was the feature I was wishing for. I wanted to play only my created player (which I imagined to be myself or a reincarnation of myself, haha) and not bother controlling my teammates. I didn't want playing the whole 48 minutes, only the time my player was in the game. I wanted to focus on my player alone - develop him with the playing time I got. Well, what do you know, wish granted. In 2K13, My Career lets me do all those things I mentioned, and even better. First, my created player gets to be drafted, work his way up the rotation, earn starter status, et cetera, et cetera. Everything I wanted in a "me only" setup is present in 2K13's My Career mode. Just brilliant! Now I can take some minutes off and not play the full 48 minutes. Now I know how it feels to be ignored by teammates who don't want to give you the ball (some selfish, some jealous that you're a scorer). Now I can determine my value to my team's defensive strategy. Now I can pout and whine when I'm benched by the coach. All that, plus lots lots more. My Career will extend my NBA gaming career. I truly, madly, deeply love it.
7.) Rich NBA experience - Overall, NBA 2K13 is not just about the game of basketball anymore. It transcends the on-court experience, and brings us what current-day players also go through off the court. Fans express their opinion on your play on Twitter. You answer post-game conference questions. Even before the draft, you go thru a series of interviews, and you have to choose your answers carefully. You get endorsement deals, you get magazine covers. You go thru drills and training camps. You can talk to your General Manager if you want to air your grievances and demand some changes. You get to pick your shoes and customize it. You even get to select the brand of shoe you're going to endorse. Living the NBA life is awesome!
8.) Signature roles/skills - As I've said, no two players are alike. Each player has his own set of ratings, and as such, each has his own specialty. Just like what they did with Madden, players have a comprehensive set of special skills and roles that provide boosts and benefit the players' teams. Lockdown defender, interceptor, dead-eye shooter, posterizer, bruiser, dimer, chasedown artist, acrobat, and a whole lot more. It would be impossible to get all these skills with one player, so the choices you have to make in upgrading your player's ratings should be made carefully. The signature role I love most? Floor General. Teammates will stop what they're doing and pass you the ball ANYTIME you ask for it. That's the power of control right there.
9.) Stats compilation/computation - In recent years, specialized analysis of sports statistics have been used by teams to fine-tune their roster moves and gameplay strategy. In basketball, it is known as APBRmetrics, and I'm sure most fans have heard the terms "PER", "plus-minus", true shooting percentage, usage rate, rebound rate, among others. As I've mentioned above, I've kept a close eye on basketball statistics since I was a child, and it is for this reason that I really find 2K13's incorporation of advanced stats as amazing. I look at these stats when I'm bored. Seriously.
10.) Kinect-ready - Exclusive for the XBox, you can actually shout plays or call timeout via the Kinect accessory. (Rumor is you can also get called for a technical by swearing.) A cool feature indeed, but one that I don't get to use, since I play the game at night when my five-month old baby is already asleep. Surely won't risk waking him up, else I will have to stop playing to lull him back to sleep.
What I still find missing :
- In-game fights/altercations, players having "combustibility" rating that reflect their susceptibility to getting involved in fights or hard fouls/retaliation. This feature won't be cool to child advocates, but hey, fights DO happen. Hard fouls DO happen. Emotions DO happen. They're part of the game.
- (Related to fights) Technical fouls, suspensions and fines as a result of fighting or flagrant fouls. Take away SPs from the next paycheck.
- More occurrence of injuries. Hey, I'm now in my 30th game in MyCareer mode, and I still haven't had a teammate getting injured while in the game. Injuries always seem to happen during practice, because I only learn about them in the injury report. I'm also open to having my player getting injured so I can take some time off. LOL.
- International play. Perform well and stand out so you can earn an invitation to Team USA. Compete for a slot to play in the FIBA World Championship and Olympics. That would be an awesome honor.
- My Career player voice choices. As much as I love My Career, there's one detail the developers skimped on : the player's voice. It's the same voice everytime. Gamers should have a choice.
* - based on my experience playing 2K13 after last playing NBA Live 2004
I'm back in the loop and it's good to have friends who are also into NBA 2K13, especially competitive friends. So, after two weeks of playing again after 9 years, I plunged into action : a 2K13 tournament. Friendly, but with a better-than-bitter winner's prize : bragging rights. WHO IS THE BEST 2K13 PLAYER OF 'EM ALL???
It was single-round robin, 7 minutes per quarter, default (Pro) difficulty. Some wanted Hall-of-Fame, but I requested default because I was just getting back into playing the game. Hahaha. For the next tournament, HOF it is. Anyway, the tournament results :
I'll say this : I've always thought Carmelo Anthony is an overrated player. He can score, SURE, but overall I don't think he's elite. But Kim surely knew how to maximize Carmelo's scoring, making the Final game exciting. After two overtimes (Melo with a buzzer-beating jumper to send it to the first extra period, then a last-second three-pointer to extend it to the second overtime), the dust cleared and one man was left standing. It was 106-97.
I WON THE FIRST B-LEAGUE TOURNAMENT, hooraaaaaaaay!
Just got lucky. Imagine having a freight train in LeBron, a finisher in DWade, an inside-outside threat in Chris Bosh, and two terrific spot-up shooters in Ray Allen and Shane Battier. It was actually easy. Hahaha!
But the guys will be back with a vengeance for sure. Hall of Fame difficulty level next time, as promised. The next B-League tournament will be in January. If you want to join us, just let me know. =)
While I'm at it, I'd like to offer my NBA 2012-13 season projections. Nostradamus mode on.
Western Conference Playoff teams : Lakers, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz, Mavericks, TrailBlazers
Eastern Conference Playoff teams : Heat, Celtics, 76ers, Pacers, Hawks, Bulls, Knicks, Nets
Rookie of the Year : Damian Lillard (Blazers)
Defensive Player of the Year : Dwight Howard (Lakers)
Most Improved Player : James Harden (Rockets)
Sixth Man of the Year : Ray Allen (Heat)
Coach of the Year : Doug Collins (76ers)
Most Valuable Player ** : LeBron James (Heat)
Western Conference Champions : LA Lakers (had the Thunder penciled in before they shipped Harden)
Eastern Conference Champions : Miami Heat (only Boston has a puncher's chance)
NBA Champions : Miami Heat (of course I'd say that)
** The MVP award is based on ballots where voters assess a player's stats and team performance, but I really think the NBA's "most valuable player" is Rajon Rondo. Take LeBron off the Heat and they'd still make the postseason. Derrick Rose is a great player, but the Bulls will be a bubble playoff team even without him. But take Rondo off the Celtics, and they're not going to make the playoffs. He's THAT valuable. Just my opinion.
The NBA 2012-13 season is here! Good luck to your team. As for me, LET'S GO HEAT!
I'm praying for a Heat-Lakers Finals in June. It's an overdue matchup of two premiere teams with the league's premiere superstars. Should the Lakers disappoint (again), there's always NBA 2K13 to simulate the what if's, the coulda-woulda-shoulda-been's.
That's the beauty of these NBA video games. They make us fans part of the action. We're all ballers in our own way.
I'll end this blog with this quote, which most of you may be familiar with :
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy."
Rush of Blood to the Head
We all have something to say. If I get the rush and find a keyboard, I blog mine. Anything and everything under the sun. And stars.