It’s a luminous fall day at a shopping mall on the west side of Cleveland. Red and gold leaves drift through the air over a crowded parking lot, where a line of people—many clad in wine and gold like the falling leaves—surround the entrance of a Target megastore. Despite the crowd, it’s quiet—until an all-black Range Rover with tinted windows and black rims with red highlights pulls into the lot, accompanied by a thundering bass and Rick Ross’s raspy cadence.
The car swings into a parking space about a hundred feet from the crowd, which is now chattering excitedly. The driver’s door opens and out steps someone who, by nearly every measure, is a big kid—a young guy wearing an oversized sweatshirt and sweatpants. Except this “kid” is Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ point guard.
When you watch him on the basketball court, it’s easy to forget that Irving is only 21 years old. In less than three years in the NBA, he’s already hit six game-winning shots, and his steely demeanor when the game is on the line has earned him the nickname “Mr. Fourth Quarter.”
Irving waves to the crowd and heads to a tent, where he’s slated to talk about technology—his second love, after basketball. This year Mr. 4Q was named the cover athlete for NBA LIVE 14. When designers at EA SPORTS offered Irving the opportunity to help develop the game, it appealed to the former Blue Devil on both passion points.
“When I got to college, [gaming] became a big part of my life, because my roommates were big gamers,” Irving said. “The two freshmen I came into Duke with got me into it.”
A partnership with Irving made perfect sense for EA SPORTS as well. His wizard-like skills with the rock, which once made Brandon Knight fall over on the court, were similar to what EA SPORTS developers aimed to accomplish with BounceTek, a new technology that makes players’ dribbling styles more true to life and gives six signature dribbling moves to 50 virtual NBA players.
“Kyrie, I think, is the best ball handler in the NBA,” said NBA LIVE 14’s gameplay designer, Scott O’Gallagher. “[His presence] spoke well to the new features and technology. Everything just came together.”
O’Gallagher, who played professionally overseas, teamed up with executive producer Sean O’Brien, a former collegiate baller, to pack as much basketball intelligence as possible into NBA LIVE 14. The two have deep connections with NBA coaches, scouts and players; and they set out to vividly recreate the NBA experience, replicating the offensive and defensive sets that NBA teams actually run. They teamed up with Synergy Sports, a firm that provides data to all 30 NBA teams, to rate athletes on the same scale that team front offices do.
“We talk to coaches, we talk to scouts, we talk to players,” O’Brien said. “We understand the level of complexity involved.”
To make the new edition of NBA LIVE more lifelike than ever, O’Gallagher and O’Brien brought in Irving early in the process to break down game terminology and provide insight on the defenses he faces and the angles he uses to attack them.
EA SPORTS outfitted Irving and Portland Trailblazers point guard Damian Lillard with motion-capture suits and recorded their every move on the court. The technical team then recreated those moves digitally on the screen. After months of development, the company brought Irving back to show him their work.
“I was able to see the look on his face when he saw himself [in the game],” O’Brien said. “He and his buddies who were there were absolutely blown away.”
O’Gallagher and O’Brien hope others will share Irving’s reaction, and in all likelihood they will. The level of detail in NBA LIVE 14 is astonishing, sometimes overwhelming. The game takes into account all of a player’s tendencies—e.g., which hand he favors, his favorite spot on the floor to shoot and whether he likes to force defenders right, left or baseline. Teams operate the way they do in real life, from how they guard the screen-and-roll to their patented inbound plays from various locations on the court.
NBA LIVE 14’s partnership with Synergy Sports also lets users become what O’Brien calls “connected gamers.” The game updates itself daily based on events in the league. For example, when Jeremy Lin went on his “Linsanity” run two years ago with the New York Knicks, NBA LIVE would have adjusted Lin’s rating from a bench player (where he had started the season) to an elite point guard whose stats reflected the incredible things he was doing every night.
If this sounds really technical, it is. But don’t worry. Although NBA LIVE 14 may be the most strategically accurate basketball game ever, it’s still accessible—and a lot of fun—to casual gamers.
“If a user just wants to run up and down the floor, shoot 3s and dunk, he can do that,” O’Brien said. “You can do a lot with just the left stick and two buttons to pass and shoot. We cater to the sneakerhead who just wants to have fun and heave it. We also cater to the other kid who’s a stats geek.”
That second market speaks to EA SPORTS’s loftier goals. O’Gallagher and O’Brien hope NBA LIVE 14 will become a teaching tool for high school and college players who want to learn about the pro game. O’Brien said, “A goal from the start was to deliver authentic gameplay, player control and an innovative connected experience. After an extended period away from the market and amazing new hardware powering our games, we felt this provided the best foundation for future NBA LIVE games.”