Photo credit: EA Sports
If you haven’t heard the name NBA Live in awhile and can’t quite remember what it is, we won’t blame you. The EA Sports basketball franchise has been dormant since 2009, but now it’s back with a vengeance in NBA Live 14. With the release of the Xbox One and Playstation 4 next generation consoles this month, EA decided it was time to reboot things, and they’ve done so in a very big way.
Featuring Kyrie Irving on the cover, NBA Live 14 is a complete overhaul of the product, an attempt to create the most strategically realistic basketball video game on the market. To mark the occasion, STACK spoke with Scott O’Gallagher, NBA Live 14‘s gameplay designer and former pro point guard, and Sean O’Brien, EA’s executive producer and former college basketball player, about how analytics drive the game, how Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard informed the game’s development and whether so many layers of new detail will turn off the average gamer.
STACK: So NBA Live is back. There are a ton of new features, but one of the biggest seems to be what you guys are calling BounceTek. What is it and how do featured players like Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard fit into it?
O’Gallagher: It’s the first time in a video game where we are releasing the ball to physics. We are taking in true momentum and the rhythm of the dribble for the first time in a basketball video game. That was really our focus. Kyrie, I think, is the best ball handler in the league. It really spoke well to the feature, the new technology, and everything just kind of came together and made sense.
O’Brien: This year we also introduced a signature dribble feature. We have 50 players and each player has six signature moves, basically six directions he can go to. We brought Damian and Kyrie in along with other talent and continued to motion capture and told them, ‘hey, this is what the user is going to control, so whatever moves you use, please do so.’ They went hard and the motion capture turned out really well, so we’re excited for the gamers to get their hands on it.
Aside from dribbling, we’ve heard a lot about how much strategy is involved in the new edition of the game. Can you talk about how things like stats, data and analytics are driving NBA Live 14?
O’Brien: I think we understand the difference between intramural basketball and professional basketball. The average person looks at the game and says the NBA, they just roll the balls out and they are really good players and they don’t call plays, they don’t run sets, there’s no schemes defensively. They don’t see that. I think given our basketball experience and acumen, we see beyond that. We talk to coaches, we talk to scouts, we talk to players. We understand the level of complexity that goes along with it. Having friends who work in the NBA, we also understand the things they do to help prepare themselves for games and how they scout opponents. That was the springboard for us, and a relationship with Synergy Sports Technology, which is a data tendency service provider for all 30 NBA teams. That came from me asking the question to a friend of mine who is an assistant coach, ‘how do you scout your opponents?’ That was four or five years ago. You see now with Synergy on a daily basis the role that they play for those teams. You see the world of analytics and how it’s been ingrained into the NBA and what teams are doing. I think that allows us to at least have the understanding of how things are done—what sort of service providers or tools—and just the level of complexity that goes into every single minute of every single game. I think that gives us a unique position to understand what it is that we need to do when we are building our game.
This is using objective data to drive the way players play in our game. Even breaking down defensive schemes and how different teams guard the screen and roll, how they guard each player. Do they force them baseline, middle or to the weak hand? I think the options we give our player and the way our game plays, it adds that level of depth and authenticity.
Sean, you’ve mentioned a few times this concept of a creating “connected consumers” with NBA Live 14. What do you mean by that?
O’Brien: Take Jeremy Lin and Linsanity. I’m seeing Jeremy Lin play in NBA Live like he was at the time with the Knicks and that run he went on. I don’t want to have a disconnect where I read about Jeremy Lin online, I watch his games on television, but then I play him in NBA Live and he’s just not very good, because no one knew who he was before he had that opportunity to play. With Synergy Sports driving the way our game plays, you would have seen Jeremy Lin get on that roll and start performing like he’s performing in the real world. That relevancy and that tie-in, and not having a disconnect from my gaming experience to the real world, I think is really powerful.
What else are you guys most excited for your users to experience?
O’Gallagher: The team specific defenses and, again the dribble moves. We’ve finally captured player authenticity. Now Derrick Rose feels like Derrick Rose, and we have a dribbling system that works off hesitation and when to go and when to cross, when to branch into other moves. Defense-wise, Tom Thibodeau has this “Floor Space Line” defense. No game has ever captured that, and he was running that back in Boston. We are constantly going back and forth with our contacts in the NBA, so our play-calling has realistic names, and that’s something that’s very cool.
O’Brien: We’ve spoken about replicating the league and the nuances of the league at a pretty sophisticated level, and the level of connection that we’ll offer. NBA Live 14 is a game that leverages the real world NBA and creates a gaming experience that stays relevant during the course of the NBA season, and provides our players with a lot of constant updates that change your gaming experience during the year. That’s something that a couple months down the road, when you’re still playing and enjoying NBA Live 14, I’m hopeful that our gamer realizes that this is a commitment to that connected consumer and why we are doing this and the impact that it will have on them.
The detail and level of strategy involved in NBA Live 14 is immense. Do you worry this will turn off the average gamer who just wants to launch 3-pointers and dunk all game long?
O’Brien: As a user who wants to just run up and down the floor and shoot 3s and dunk the basketball, I can do that. If I want to be more cerebral or more strategic, as I evolve in my gaming experience, I can do that right from the get-go, or I can do that [after] I put more hours into the game. You can literally just run up and out, use your left stick and two buttons to pass and shoot.
We understand that there are many different types of consumers in the sport of basketball. More so than any other sport, in basketball you can have that kid who is a sneakerhead and really interested in more of the lifestyle components with music, with footwear, accessories, tattoos, hairstyles. We cater to that kid. We also cater to the other kid, who is such a prevalent part of the NBA right now, who is that analytics/stats geek. Having both those ends of the spectrum is a challenge for us, but we’ve devised a way where we can offer feature modes that give you that type of experience, and then when you’re playing that 5-on-5 experience, because of the layers of depth, you can get a bit of both and you get to carve off as much as you want from either.
NBA Live 14 is in stores now.