Hey 2K fans! It’s time to talk gameplay! It’s been a whirlwind year for us and the game has seen a ton of improvements. In fact, it’s tough to even name an area of the oncourt experience that didn’t get upgraded in one way or another. We’ve been playing the game til our fingers bleed and loving every minute of it. There’s a lot to cover so let’s jump right in.
First off, I want to congratulate and thank the gameplay team. This is the hardest working group of guys in the industry with an insatiable drive to be the best. No one has ever said, “ehh… that’s good enough.” We’re our own biggest critics and it’s cool to work with a team of guys who constantly strive to outperform themselves and genuinely love the game of basketball.
Like I said, there’s a lot to cover, way too much to write about in just one blog, so I’m going to try and highlight some of the things we’re proudest of in NBA 2K16.
BRINGING THE GAME TO LIFE
At the start of the year, I threw down a challenge for our gameplay team: make the game LOOK as beautiful as a motion captured movie but make it FEEL more responsive than any basketball game has ever felt before.
We brainstormed for days on how to achieve these goals and then started to detail out what we needed to do in order to take NBA 2K16’s Look and Feel to the next level. We wanted player movement to be more fluid, we wanted guys to be aware of what was happening around them at all times on both ends of the floor, we wanted moves to string together seamlessly, we wanted more authenticity in our signature styles, players, coaches and teams… we wanted to bring life to the game!
A huge aspect of where we felt we could see major wins was in player movement. So a portion of our team took on the challenge of re-writing our motion system to achieve some of these goals. This is one of the most obvious improvements when I look at last year’s game compared to NBA 2K16. When guys move away from the ball, you can read the intent. You can tell when they’re not involved in the play and are trying to space the floor. You can tell if they’re actively trying to get open or working off a screen. You can tell that they’re playing basketball. And these aren’t just canned movies. There are some serious brains driving the new motion system. It understands the player’s current position and target location, proximity/angle to the ball, where the defense is positioned, and the context of the offensive play. If Redick is running a baseline cut, peeling off a down screen but runs into congestion, sometimes you’ll see him fight through the traffic to continue where he’s going, sometimes he’ll cut back to find another route. Guys are never stuck in an animation so it allows our AI to operate as dynamically as it needs to, always recognizing what’s happening and adjusting on the fly – all while maintaining the look of a nice motion captured sequence.
Another big aspect of bringing the game to life is the idea of storylines. The drama of the NBA always intrigues me. Game after game you see different guys step up to play big minutes. Sure, your stars carry you most of the time, but sometimes it’s one of the role players who end up being the X factor that decides whether a team wins or loses. We wanted to bring that element to NBA 2K16 as well. So we re-worked our rhythm feature, badges, and game logic to allow for more flexibility in how games play out. Previously, rhythm was completely performance driven which usually resulted in your great players typically getting hotter and your weaker players getting colder – further encouraging gamers to always take the same shots with the same guys. But this year, we wanted users to have to adjust to what the game was giving them. That means that sometimes your stars won’t be at the top of their game. Sometimes you’ll need to find that 3rd or 4th option who might have it going that night and maximize his minutes. Sometimes players will be feeling it from the perimeter but struggle to finish at the rim or vice versa. Some players will struggle on the road while others step up. It’s a deep system that keeps the game fresh and helps bring our virtual athletes to life.
“Intensity” was another key word for us this year and a big part of the on-court experience coming together. It was also one of the things that Jeff Thomas really wanted us to key on as a gameplay team. Guys struggling to get open when running buzzer beater plays, coaches making smart strategic decisions with timeouts and play calling, players and crowd reacting to big moments the right way, and the list goes on. Our engineers put a lot of effort toward trying to replicate those tense end of game situations that make the NBA so dramatic and it’s nice to be able to see those things play out in NBA 2K16.
I could write for days on the concept of “feel” when it comes to gameplay. But to put it in a nutshell, our goal this year was to make sure that the gamer was ALWAYS in total control and able to pull off the exact move they wanted to, WHEN they wanted to. That was a thought that permeated all of our designs and something we were very explicit about throughout development. To achieve that, we re-designed a number of systems to allow for more on-demand branching so that you never feel locked into an animation. You’ll immediately feel the difference in basic movement, shooting, passing, blocking, you name it… and I think it really rewards gamers who spend time mastering the sticks. However, we also felt it was important to make sure that players behaved in a believable way which leads us to the topic of…
When we introduced our next gen engine a couple of years ago, we talked a lot about physics. In NBA 2K14, we were able to see some cool wins like the ball spinning in players’ hands, better foot planting and improved ball physics while dribbling. A physics engine re-write doesn’t happen overnight and we’ve had brilliant engineers continue to develop it over the past few years. For NBA 2K16, you’re going to see even more benefits from the engine upgrade.
Ball and rim physics look much more realistic now. You’re going to see long rebounds, rim rattlers on made and missed jumpers, and lots of other ball to rim interactions that we’ve never had before. Dunking and rim hangs have also never felt better. This year, the rim and stanchion respond to dunks with a true physical model. So on rim grazers, you’ll see the rim breakaway very slightly if at all. While monster rim hangs will show the basket and stanchion getting pulled down and snapping back up when the player lets go. Dunks that hit the side of the rim will cause the basket support to sway laterally and so on. And a quick side note on dunks, we’ve improved the ability of bigs to dunk from a stand when operating deep in the paint. So it feels amazing to shake a guy in the post or come down with an offensive board and finish with authority like a big should.
Foot planting was also re-written from the ground up inside the new engine, this time using sophisticated toe/heel detection, blending techniques and IK (inverse kinematics.) The new foot planting does a great job of making players feel more grounded to the world when cutting, planting or pivoting. However, the thing I love most about it is that it’s not just an aesthetic improvement. Because players aren’t able to cheat physics by sliding or radically shifting momentum it allows the flow of basketball to play out in a more natural fashion.
There are other nice touches like the ball now responding to “english” on bounce passes, better net physics, mass/strength playing a factor in player to player collisions, etc. We’re definitely making great strides in the area of physics and it’s cool to see the line between real life and our game slowly blurring away.
Ok, I realize if I keep explaining the new gameplay features at this rate, we’re going to end up with a 20 page blog. So here’s a quick rundown of some of the other cool stuff you’re going to see in NBA 2K16:
- New Post Game! Post has been rebuilt from the ground up and is better than ever. We’ve moved post back to a hold of L2/LT to give you quicker access, free your right thumb up for other actions, and to better mirror defensive movement. There are hundreds of new animations, better freedom of movement, lots of new moves and collisions, a new post cutoff system, and just a better overall feel to the play in the paint.
- Loads of passing improvements: faster ball speeds, better pass animation selection, completely re-written pass lane selection, ability to immediately break out of catches, step in catches around the rim, step out catches when crowded, less sliding on standing catches, boat loads of new content, and much much more. We’ve even added a new option to allow you to pick what’s most important when using directional passing. So you can go with the default tuning or you can bias it more toward stick direction or receiver openness.
- New passing controls:
- A/CROSS = Best Pass (gives you the best pass for the situation you’re in)
- B/CIRCLE = Tap for Bounce Pass, Double Tap for Flashy Pass, Hold for dribble pitch/handoff (hold to bring the selected receiver toward the ball, release to pass or handoff if close enough)
- Y/TRIANGLE = Tap for Lob/Overhead Pass, Double Tap for Alley-Oop, Hold for Lead to Basket pass (hold to make the receiver cut toward the hoop, release to pass… awesome addition!)
- Improved pick controls and animations – Ability to quickly toggle between roll or fade as well as switch pick side without having to wait for a timer. You can also call for an early slip or fade at any point. The new pick controls give you ultimate flexibility to read the defense and adjust in real time just like an NBA point guard would.
- Controllable “flick flick” finishes give you the ability to control how and where you finish your up and unders and step thru shots (previous years you were stuck with whatever the animation wanted to do)
- Pump fake, draw foul shots have returned
- MUCH more responsive defensive movement both onball and off which feels fantastic and really helps balance the game.
- A bunch of new jump shot types to cover various cases to prevent weird facing and momentum pops. We’ve also given you the ability to maintain your dribble when pulling off a hop shot and tweaked shot release speeds to remove some of the delays and hitches you may have seen in the past.
- Support for signature size-ups in all 4 directions. Over 200 new size-up animations really boost the floor game and makes it a lot more fun to break down the defense with your favorite ball handlers. All size-ups are completely branch-able at any time and look great.
- Brand new dribble crowd system allows you to body up the ball handler while he’s standing in triple threat or dribbling. This makes the physical onball defenders feel much more dominant. The moving body up ride system also saw a ton of improvements. Collisions are much more appropriate, more intense, and more responsive for both the dribbler and defender. In a nutshell, playing onball defense is nice now.
- Speaking of onball defense, we’ve also added a new Dynamic Defense Assist feature. The harder you press the Intense-D trigger, the more assist we give you as an onball defender. I can’t overstate how much this feature improves the ability to play defense online. There’s also a slider, so you can tweak the strength yourself or turn it off.
- Boxouts and rebounding have been re-designed from the ground up. The major difference you’ll feel is that you now have complete control over how your player moves and interacts during boxouts. It allows players to read and react on the fly and turns rebounding into a game of skill.
- Blocking is another area that has gotten a lot of love. As a blocker, you can now choose to go up conservatively with verticality or more aggressively to try and make a bigger play on the ball. We’ve also implemented point IK, which allow blockers to track the ball in real time and react to different situations in a dynamic way. For me, swatting a shot into the stands is probably the most gratifying thing to do in NBA 2K16. The improved physics on blocks make these scenarios look great too.
- Layup strips have been improved and are a much more reliable counter against guys going to the rim.
- We’ve re-worked the offball collision system to allow you to deny with more physicality and chuck cutters away from the ball. It’s especially awesome to see guys trying to fight their man off while being grabbed to try and get open for those last second buzzer beaters.
- For jump shooters, we’ve added some of the post-release follow through antics that shooters tend to do in real life. So on high percentage shots you’ll see guys leaving their hand up on the follow through or heading back upcourt early as they watch the flight of the ball. You’ll see players try to “will the ball in” with their body language, follow their shots, or even celebrate early like Steph Curry on a buzzer beater. It may be a small detail, but it’s one of my favorite features this year.
- Shot percentages have been re-tuned and provide much more expectable results. We do a much better job now of detecting shot defense and responding with realistic outcomes (fewer missed easy layups, more bricks when heavily contested, and contested jump shot values that match real life stats.) Also, just about every variable we have in our shot heuristics can now be re-tuned post-release without having to create and release a patch, ensuring that we’ll be able to fine tune the system based on community feedback so that everybody’s happy.
- Ball handling saw its share of upgrades. Lots of new content to freshen up cuts, first steps, and overall movement… as well as plenty of ambient, bring the ball upcourt dribbles which the sim community loves.
- One quick gameplay camera thing… for fans of the 2K camera, we’ve added a “Flip Style” option that lets you choose between “Swivel” (what it’s always done) and “Cut” (immediately change camera angle with a cut.) So for those gamers who like playing “north/south” but hate the swivel effect on change of possession, there you go. There’s also a new “2K Wire” camera option which is kind of a hybrid between the 2K Cam and Wire cam. You might want to check it out.
- And last but not least, no 2K basketball game would be complete without a massive content refresh. Last I checked, we were somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,000-10,000 new animations. So you’ll be seeing some new stuff for sure.
I think those are the main things I wanted to cover in this blog… as you can see, we were a busy group this year. The crazy thing is, this is only a glimpse of what the AI engineers spent their year on. I’d literally be writing for days if I had to document all of the challenges the guys faced and conquered in this shortened year. So sit back and enjoy what you’ve created, AI team, you deserve it.
For 2K fans, the last thing I want to leave you with is this… the game is FUN. Usually at the end of every dev cycle, a part of me is disappointed that we didn’t hit this or that goal. And there’s always a sense that we could’ve done more… that something was missing. But the more and more I play NBA 2K16 (and believe me, that’s A LOT), it could be 2AM and I always want to squeeze just one more game in. This is, by far, the best playing hoops title we’ve ever created. It’s the most well animated, most authentic, best feeling, and most balanced 2K to date. And we’re super excited for you guys to get your hands on it!
Oh… and you’ll notice I mentioned almost nothing with regard to artificial intelligence, plays and strategy. Nino and Scott will be tackling that in a separate blog because there’s way too much goodness to talk about. Simnation, stay tuned, you’re gonna love what’s coming up.