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The NBA 2K series is a sales juggernaut that won’t quit. Year in and year out, hoops addicts buy the game throughout the year, making it a perennial listing alongside the Grand Theft Autos and Call of Dutys of the world in the NPD sales charts. Playing the game year-in and year-out, it’s easy to see why. While developer Visual Concepts has its share of clanks off the rim (and even the occasional air ball), the team behind 2K continually pushes the boundaries of sports video games with ambitious new features.
NBA 2K18’s bright new features like a MyGM storyline, all-time franchise teams, and improved player models were largely obfuscated by public outcry about the overly aggressive microtransaction system. The backlash didn’t keep the game from selling, but if past sports games are any indication, the successor typically pays for the sins of its predecessor. If Visual Concepts hopes to keep the franchise growing, it will need to take the overabundance of negative fan feedback into consideration and integrate solutions alongside its ambitions for NBA 2K19.
As a longtime player who has owned every copy of NBA 2K since its debut in 1999, Matt Bertz has his own ideas about how NBA 2K19 could rise above the doubt. Here’s his wishlist for this year’s game.
- Improve Load Times
The NBA 2K games are HUGE, with several impressive modes vying for our times. Switching between them can take forever, so here’s hoping that Visual Concepts tries to optimize the game and get us into the action more quickly.
- Year-to-Year Saves
MLB: The Show introduced this feature years ago, and we’d love to see Visual Concepts consider it for NBA 2K. Being able to migrate your MyLeague, MyGM, or MyCareer save into the new game to continue your journey would be a great addition.
- Bring Back Historical Modes
Two of my favorite NBA 2K features of all time are NBA 2K11’s Jordan Challenge and NBA 2K12’s NBA’s Greatest mode, which let you relive some of basketball’s greatest moments. The era-specific presentation packages were a delight, and the modes served as a great lesson to younger fans why players like Jordan, Magic, and Bird are so revered. We’d love to see a new historical mode that either profiles an all-time great or showcases more of the league’s rich tapestry of great teams.
- Sign Stubborn Stars
Certain all-time players like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley stubbornly refuse to lend their likenesses to the NBA 2K series. Here’s hoping Visual Concepts can give them an offer they can’t refuse so some of the all-time teams don’t have as many glaring omissions.
- Improve Playoffs Presentation
The intensity ramps up during the playoffs, both on the court and off, but NBA 2K’s broadcast presentation package could use some renovations to make the occasions feel more special. I still feel Visual Concepts does better at creating context around your team in MyGM and MyCareer modes than any other sports game, but more could be done to identify the narrative and focus on it. When a team has upset higher seeds the last two rounds, this should be the big story going in. If a team has come back from being down three games to force a game seven, the remarkable turnaround should drive the broadcast.
- Refine Transition Game
Fastbreaks still look too clunky in NBA 2K18. When you throw the outlet pass to the breaking player, the pass gathering animation to dribbling creates a hitch in his step that slows him down just enough to let defenders catch up. Offensive teammates occasionally stop running instead of going to the basket, as well. These are smaller fixes that shouldn’t be hard to implement.
- WNBA Integration
The 2K series has a neglected market just begging for inclusion. Adding the WNBA license and allowing people to play a MyCareer through the women’s league could dramatically expand the audience and further the mainstream appeal of the franchise.
- Eliminate Clipping
The biggest gameplay problem in the NBA 2K series is undoubtedly clipping. Watching a player’s limbs warp through the body of their defensive counterpart is immersion shattering, and it feels really cheap in a game where staying in front of your man is hard enough already. Visual Concepts needs to take this problem seriously both in the paint, where bodies frequently bang around, and on the perimeter.
- Add A Layup Shot Meter
Too many easy buckets clanged off the rim in NBA 2K18, and the worst part is we have no idea why. Was the timing off? Is the player’s rating so low he’s incapable of making the easy uncontested shot? Visual Concepts can put this issue to rest by giving us the meter and feedback system we get for jump shots.
- Incorporate Real Ball Physics
The unpredictability of loose balls got dramatically better in NBA 2K18, but the ball is hardly free. We see it cut right through defenders in the aforementioned clipping problems, and you can sometimes see it awkwardly warp to the dribbler’s hand when the game transitions between animations. Adding real ball physics is a tricky endeavor, but if done right 2K would dramatically improve and likely have way more realistic turnovers/steals.
- Double Down On Defense
The new motion system introduced in NBA 2K18 made it easier for stud players to blow past stationary defenders, but it’s created a dramatic imbalance in the one-on-one play against other humans. The series needs to get back to basics with a strong defensive fortification, particularly for versus play. Better movement fidelity to stay in front of dribblers, more anticipatory A.I. defensive reactions during pick and rolls, and a stiffer penalty for ambitious shot takers who throw up threes from 40 feet with a hand in their face would go a long way toward evening the odds.
- Fix Shot Contest Logic
I love having the shot feedback system surfaced, but seeing how the game interprets certain defensive coverages always left me scratching my head. When a big man is being guarded by a small on the perimeter and gets a clean look at the basket – with no hand in his face at all during the shot animation – should that shot be considered contested? Similarly, when a defender is stuck behind the big and roll, should that shot be contested? And conversely, why are players draining threes from 40 yards away with hands in their face? Visual Concepts should take a close look at its values for determining shot modifiers and revise so what you see more often aligns with what you get.
- Make Another MyGM Story
It wasn’t perfect by any means, but as a fan of off-the-court drama, the first-ever franchise mode story mode was a huge success in my book. I’d love to see NBA 2K19 double down on this platform and explore more untold stories of the front office. That said, they should explore some new cinematics with way fewer aggressive hand gestures so it doesn’t look so ridiculous.
- Rebuild Trade Logic
The NBA 2K series has some of the most robust trade options in sports games, with the ability to create trades with multiple teams and explore personnel swaps via the trade finder. That said, the A.I. that drives the other NBA teams could use a dramatic overhaul, particularly on draft day. Last year I watched the Celtics draft a player number six overall, only to trade him for the 15th selection later in the draft. While we’re talking trades during the draft, I’d also appreciate a cleaner trade summary that makes it easier to understand who went where for what instead of segmenting the reports per team.
- Tweak Player Morale System
I’m a big fan of the player morale system in the NBA 2K games, and wish more sports games would give their players agency during their careers. It makes for a more interesting locker room, and gives the players their own motivations for acting during free agency. That said, the system could still use some tweaks to make sure players are acting within their personalities. Mr. Sixth Man himself, the 38-year-old vet Jamal Crawford, should not be complaining about not being a starter.
- Surface Impactful News Better
NBA 2K has a news center where you can read rumors, transaction information, and scouting updates, but it does a horrible job of cutting through the noise to deliver information relevant to your franchise. I would love to see 2K develop a smart news hub with a more readable presentation that surfaces information that matters. If you’re trying to lure a major free agent against other teams, the headline story should be about the bidding war intensifying. This does two things –reflects on your in-game actions, and acts as a warning that maybe you should up your offer if you want to land your free agency target. Leading up to the draft, the news hub could surface the mock drafts buried in menus and discuss performances of the players you placed on your draft board. When you’re on the hot seat due to failing to meet an owner’s expectations, your tenuous situation should become news fodder for columnists. Getting reports like these in front of users’ eyes would go a long way toward making MyGM feel more alive.
- Get A New Press Corps
Perhaps this is intentional, but you can’t win with the press. Most of the time you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t when fielding questions from reporters, even if you offer a perfectly reasonable answer. We would love to see this system revamped, so reporters more capably challenge your decision-making on free agent signings, busted draft picks, and trades. Given the number of decisions a GM has to make on a daily basis, the press has plenty of weapons for challenging their leadership rather than continually making you throw either coaches, trainers, or finance guys under the bus. Visual Concepts should focus on these things instead of the vague questions about how the team is doing.
- Tone Down The Cheese…Or Hire A Comedy Writer
At some point, the writers at Visual Concepts should just take our word that they are not great at writing comedy. The horror of living with the annoying sidekick B-Fresh still haunts us to this day, and we may never recover from the trauma of her terrible schtick. The same goes for the team staff you interacted with on a regular basis in NBA 2K18. The developers need to either abandon this lighthearted trajectory or hire someone who is more capable of creating moments of levity.
- Lose The Linear Story And Embrace Player Choice
The best MyCareer to date is still NBA 2K14, which offered a lot of freedom to act how you wanted to act. Visual Concepts should move away from scripted stories and go back to a branching, dynamic formula that lets us be the players we want to be. This could start by allowing users to choose their origin story. Are they a lottery prospect wrapping up their college career, an undrafted prospect hoping to rise through the D-league, or maybe a Euroleague star eager to make the jump to the NBA? From there, 2K should give the player the freedom to express themselves and write their own narrative, giving them the flexibility to become the next humble HOFer like Tim Duncan, villain like Draymond Green, goofball like Nick Young, or cultural icon like MJ or LeBron. Allowing players to interact more with their coaches, GMs, and teammates could create circumstances to burn bridges and create rivalries or bring organizations together. The water cooler moments that could come from this type of flexibility would dramatically surpass the groans we all shared over Frequency Vibrations, Orange Juice, and DJ.
- Take MyCareer Offline
The archetypes and create-a-player limitations make perfect sense for multiplayer modes like Pro-Am and MyPark, but they hamper the potential of MyCareer because we can never make a legendary superstar that rivals the skills of greats like Steph Curry or LeBron James. 2K should uncouple MyCareer from its online endeavors for good and let us upgrade these offline players to our hearts’ content. Let us create and develop unbound superstars who redefine the game of basketball instead of locking us into pre-set destinations.
- Be Less Stingy With VC
Talk to any hardcore NBA 2K player or watch basically any video or stream, and the first thing to come out of people’s mouths is frustration over how 2K doled out virtual currency in NBA 2K18. That’s a major perception problem, and if Visual Concepts wants to win back these dedicated fans it needs to follow through with a mea culpa by being a little less scrooge like when it comes to in-game rewards. Bring back the modifiers for playing at higher difficulties, ramp up the rewards to be more in line with earlier versions, and clearly spell out the VC reward formula so people understand the system better.
- Bring The Neighborhood To Life
NBA 2K18’s Neighborhood was an outside the box attempt at trying to blend the NBA 2K experience together with a new social hub. The idea of being able to stop into a Foot Locker to shop on your way to your next ProAm/MyPark/NBA game was interesting, but the world felt strangely dead. From the collection of MyPlayer zombies standing motionless in groups in front of the Allen Iverson statue to the otherwise barren streets, it felt more like the set of 28 Days Later than a vibrant community. To improve the experience, Visual Concepts needs to create more side activities and introduce more NPCs.
- Make Cribs Customizable
Designing your court is cool, but why not allow us to also unlock our inner interior designer and customize our cribs as well like the good old ESPN NFL 2K5 days? Offering more ways to spend VC sounds like something Visual Concepts would be into, and gamers have demonstrated an affinity for any type of customization a developer offers.
- Give Us Respecs
Not everyone has the time or energy to level a bunch of alts in NBA 2K, and they are important when constructing a team for MYPark or ProAm games. Sometimes you have too many ball handlers and need someone to run forward instead of guard. Visual Concepts should introduce a respec system for alts that would allow users to carry over unlocked badges (that are position appropriate) and the same number of attribute points they’ve already earned (or purchased) for their base character.
- Let Us Skip Cutscenes
Sometimes you just want to get to the action. The people have spoken.
- Private Matchmaking
Pro Am teams have been asking for this for years. Give it to them.
- Skill-Based Matchmaking
Visual Concepts hasn’t developed a great system for making sure you get paired with players of a similar skill level in MyPark or Pro Am. This doesn’t matter for park rats who are willing to take on all comers, but it can be intimidating for newer players/teams still trying to learn the nuances of the modes.
- Get Rid Of The “Got Next” Format In MyPark
I understand where Visual Concepts is coming from with the idea of MyPark. Placing users in a virtual basketball mecca with several street courts and an indoor gym where they can show off their basketball
fashion skills sounds great on paper, but it breaks every rule about good matchmaking in practice. You know what’s better than making people stand in line to play the next game? Letting them jump immediately into a game via a standard lobby system. Our time is precious. Don’t make us waste it by standing around a virtual court instead of playing.
- Keep Improving Server Stability
The NBA 2K servers are light years ahead of where they were previously, but they could always use some fine-tuning to keep on-court action smooth and server response times for game mode loads fast.
- Remove contracts
As far as we’re concerned, contracts are a niggling hassle that should be eliminated permanently from all Ultimate Team-style modes. Let us focus on card collection and improvement instead of card management.
- Improve Auction House Search
The auction house is adequate, but its search function needs some work to be more effective. Searching by name doesn’t always work, and we need more tools for granular searches. If I want a guard with a defensive grade or system proficiency above a certain threshold, it should be able to give me that report.
- Revamp Packs
As far as I’m concerned, spending coins on packs in NBA 2K18 is a waste of currency. I rarely get good players, and the variety of packs available is extremely limited. Visual Concepts should improve the odds of receiving a halfway decent player and introduce more variety to the types of card packs available. Why can’t I buy a pack that’s weighted more toward players, shoes, or badges?
- Introduce Card Upgrades
The Power Up card upgrade system introduced in Madden 18 was an addictive and rewarding evolution of the Ultimate Team concept. Being able to put your hard work into improving a pre-existing player at the cost of losing some of your collection is a great hook, and I’d love to see it applied to MyTeam. Allowing players to grind to unlock more badge slots, improve badges, and even upgrade a player up the gem scale would dramatically improve the team building.
- Keep Cards Faithful To Real Life
Nothing against the players, but certain players are bad fits for certain schemes and have certain deficiencies. That should stay the case regardless of what level of gem the card is. In no world should Shaq be a great fit for a spread offense, or Boris Diaw a world-beating player who can do everything. Making players’ strengths even stronger makes sense, but let’s kill the ridiculous fantasy of there being an A+ perimeter defense version of Carmelo Anthony.
- Offer More Ways To Make MT
MyTeam’s play options aren’t nearly as varied as its Madden Ultimate Team or FIFA Ultimate Team counterparts. I’d love to see more diversity in play offerings, including situational challenges, more historical moment challenges, and MT boosts for raising the difficulties of the challenges.
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Have a suggestion or comment? Put it in the comments section below, send me an email, or reach me on twitter at @mattkato.
HOW IS ULTIMATE TEAM CHANGING IN MADDEN 19?
EA Tiburon recently published an official blog revealing some interesting details for Madden 19’s Ultimate Team mode – addressing some fan concerns and desires (click here for our Madden wishlist) while raising new questions in the process.
Here’s what’s new for Madden Ultimate Team in Madden 19:
- No Contracts (!)
- Training Replaces Power Ups: Increase the OVR of base player cards through training by quickselling other cards. Cards can be upgraded multiple times, with some upper tiers requiring a specific card, like that player’s core elite card, for instance. While upgrading a player item makes it non-auctionable/tradable (NAT), you can strip a player of his upgrades. This gives you back some of the training you’ve already paid for, although you’ll lose an undisclosed percentage of the training points you’ve already invested as a fee. You’ll also get any base cards back in the same condition as you first put them in.
- Choose Your Chemistry: Almost all player cards do not have a default chemistry apart from the chemistry they generate with their teammates. As you train and upgrade a player, you can unlock the ability to apply a scheme chemistry like Balanced Offense or Go Deep. These too can be changed. Other special chemistry abilities depend on the OVR and attributes of the player itself, so not everyone will be the same.
- Solo Battles: These are like FIFA’s Squad Battles where you play against the CPU (controlling selected user’s lineups) for weekly pack and coin rewards. For more info, check out the official MUT blog.
- Squad Challenges: Squad-based play with your friends against the CPU with weekly challenges.
- Specialist Positions: Seven new special positional designations like slot receiver or rush defensive end.
- A Smaller Depth Chart: You won’t need to fill in as many spots on your depth chart – only 25 for both sides of the ball, with everyone contributing towards the chemistry tiers. Because of this, the requirement for the chemistry tiers is higher.
There are some good changes and additions in here – I love axing the contracts and the addition of the Solo Battles, which will be an easy way to make coins and get some packs. I also have a few questions…
What’s The Training Quicksell Cost?
Historically, quickselling your cards for coins gets you next to nothing. Will quickselling for training give an equally poor return? Hopefully not, because what I didn’t like about last year’s Power Up system is that you have to sacrifice too much in specific cards, coins, and time in relation to the players you get in return. So if you have to quicksell a substantial amount from your binder to train your cards up the tiers, what’s really different? EA says that training is “mainly” done through quickselling, but didn’t specify how else it could be done – which leads to the next question…
Can You Buy Training With Madden Points?
I’d be surprised if this were the case since it wasn’t allowed with last year’s Power Up players.
What’s it Going To Cost To Get Your Cards Back?
While it’s nice that you can start over on a card you’re training, why do you have to pay a tax to do so? EA hasn’t set how many training points you have to pay as a penalty, but like the auction house transaction tax, it’s simply a way to siphon off your coins and keep you playing.
What’s the Relationship Between Training Upgrades & Chemistry
At one point in the official blog written by associate producer Jake Stein, he says, “If that player has an upgrade option…” implying that some players do not have the option to be trained and upgraded. Since the ability to apply specific chems is unlocked via training, it would, therefore, seem that not all cards have chems. This has been the case in the past, but if upgrading and chems are tied together, then this could mean the pool of players that can be upgraded is more than those that could be powered up in Madden 18, otherwise there will be significantly less cards that can be chemed.
All of this could have a knock-on effect on cards’ value in the auction house. They could be worth less because in order for a card to be sold in the first place, it’ll have to have its NAT status removed by stripping it of its chems and upgrades. You’ll then have to train/chem that card on your own dime. I imagine EA will release plenty of program players with their own chems already attached, so hopefully the market remains stable.
Is There A Penalty For Changing Your Chemistry?
EA didn’t specifically say there was a cost to change your players’ scheme chemistry, but it does compare changing your chemistry to removing your upgrade tiers, which does have a penalty.
FIFA 18’S WORLD CUP ULTIMATE TEAM MODE IS LIKE QUALIFICATION ALL OVER AGAIN
The World Cup is almost here, and to get you primed and ready, EA has released a free World Cup update for FIFA 18. The most intriguing component (it also lets you play the regular tournament) is that it comes with its own relatively self-contained Ultimate Team mode. The World Cup Ultimate Team mode gives you players from the squads from the national teams competing in the tournament, and it has contracts, chemistry styles, team chemistry, etc. The only thing missing is the transfer market.
The option to play with highly rated players from the jump is cool, but the experience wears out its welcome. The rewards as you go through the tournament – like getting a single player pack for getting to the semifinal round (which turned out to be a 68 OVR goalkeeper, BTW) – dull the buzz. This is especially true when you think about fulfilling the mode’s Squad Building Challenges. Without a transfer market to help you find the cards you need, you have to grind the tournament with its lackluster rewards for cards you’d normally pay 250 coins for without a thought.
You can also play the draft mode, but like in regular FUT, it costs 15,000 coins just to enter. Similarly, buying WC FUT packs start at 5,000 coins for a standard and 7,500 for a premium pack (I’m in the semis my first time through and I barely have 5,000 coins). So whichever way you turn costs a lot of coins. Ironically, since World Cut FUT gives you regular FUT rewards to, the normal transfer market has dropped since it’s being flooded with cards from the cross-pollination. All in all, perhaps just taking the U.S. through the World Cup in the non-Ultimate Team mode is the less monotonous thing to do.
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week
Tennis World Tour Review – It’s Not Your Racket’s Fault
Konami Loses The Borussia Dortmund License For PES 2019
Interestingly, the German club pulled out of a deal that was supposed to go until June 2020. In good news, Konami has inked a deal with Bundesliga side Schalke.