I had the chance to visit the studios at 2K this week and get an advance sneak peak of NBA 2K17. For full disclosure the trip was paid for entirely by the folks at 2K.
The first thing I want to tell you about NBA 2K17? It has nothing to do with the game itself directly, and everything to do with the people who work on this game year-round.
The wonderful folks at 2K Games, and specifically the team members I met in San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon -- Ronnie, Jeff Thompson, Erick Boenisch, Mike Wang, Ryan Peters, Chris, Czar, and many others -- are folks who are incredibly passsionate about their craft and the game they are producing. They were very welcoming and displayed a lot of that passion while describing what NBA 2K17 is bringing to consoles this year.
While I plan to dive a lot deeper into the topics I'll share below in the coming days, I wanted to at least get some of the nitty gritty out for folks to see and to begin discussing.
Jeff Thomas, VP for Visual Concepts, was the first person to present, and he had lots to share.
Jeff is a passionate and genuine speaker. The passion comes from a background of being involved with 2K for over 20 years, and he seems every bit as passionate about your experience with this game as you are.
With that said, below is what he had to share about graphics:
- Uniforms will no longer be washed out (Knicks, for instance). Reddish skin tones on players has been adjusted to a far more realistic looking tone.
- Player hair has been improved -- something you'll want to see for yourself, and something that words can't really put into proper perspective.
- Shoe accuracy and other accessories will now update as NBA players change their look throughout the year.
- For shoes specifically, they are now all 3D-scaned for 2K17, something referred to as 2K Kicks.
- Included Shoes: Entire Kobe collection, Chuck Taylors, Converse Weapon, Air Force 1, Jordan, Air Penny, Shaq Attack, And more…
Next, Jeff discussed audio, and how it was an area the team simply was not satisfied with. So the 2K team set out and traveled over 16,000 miles to record actual audio from each NBA arena.
- Literally, every single court now has unique audio for a ball dribble based on the stadium being played in. We heard the difference, and while subtle, it's one of the most remarkable attention-to-detail items I've ever seen in gaming.
- Arena horns, although similar are all unique across the NBA. Again, a montage showed the subtle differences.
- Commentary has been expanded upon with new dynamic commentary booths.
- NBA 2K17 now has a total of 11 commentators. Some are familiar faces -- such as Kevin Harlan, Greg Anthony, Shaq and Ernie -- while others are new, including Brent Berry, Steve Smith, Doris Burke, Chris Webber, and David Aldridge. The commentary team is based geographically, so depending on which arena you're playing in, you'll hear from different commentary teams.
NBA Blacktop & Play Now Online
Jeff then began to briefly discuss two more modes: NBA Blacktop and Play Now Online.
- NBA Blacktop has changed the whole court. A crowd has been added to add some life to your Blacktop experience, and they'll react to the game as it unfolds in front of them.
- Blacktop allows users to select rules such as half court, wind strength, points to play up to, and even introduction animations.
- Play Now Online continues to evolve. Last year PNO had a tier-based system, and this year a new tier has been added to prevent people from being too grouped together.
- A strong focus on matchmaking and finding similar opponents has been added.
- You can also customize your tier, teams to play against, etc., however this could increase wait times. Of course, the less selective you are, finding a match should be something that's instantaneous.
- You'll also receive more points for playing tougher games.
Jeff's last topic (for now) focused on MyTeam. Jeff shared how this is a mode that 2K really likes a lot. The improvements this year revolve a lot around the concepts we see in our fantasy basketball teams.
- Redesigned cards, including 6 new gem levels. Cards featuring NBA Moments, Historic cards, Franchises, and Theme Packs.
- 2K plans to release new cards moments after they happen in the NBA. Same with challenges--you'll see new ones from the previous night around the league.
- Dynamic Duos such as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and the Gasol brothers, for example, offer unique bonuses for MyTeam. Dynamic Duos will include current and historic players not just for NBA careers, but college, and even high school.
- You'll start your MyTeam off with what's being called a 'Free Agent' card. Every MyTeam will get their pick of 1 of 5 top NBA players to help you get connected to the mode. These cards cannot have contracts added to them, and they are served more as trials for folks -- especially those new to the mode who might never see such cards -- a chance to play with the NBA's best.
- MyTeam Blacktop replaces Gauntlet. This mode includes quick multiplayer 3v3, and a new draft wheel (sort of like a slot machine); you'll pick one guy, and the wheel picks the next two.
- After each game there is a prize board to choose rewards from. This can include point cards to unlock new boards with better prizes. Watch out for technical foul cards though which reset the board. Gems can include diamond players. Prize deck adds random player cards to the board, and there are a total of 10 levels, each with better prizes.
MyLeague & MyGM
Next up was Erick Boenisch, Senior Producer, who discussed MyLeague and MyGM. Erick is my kind of guy because he's obsessed with the franchise-type modes, and had quite a lot of details to present.
His team had lots of new features, all built around the core tenants of "innovation, authenticity, and engagement." He mentioned how if something does not fit all three of those expectations, it's not being added into the game.
- The following options exist when choosing your mode: MyGM, MyLeague, MyLeague Online, Start Today, Season, Playoffs
- Start today is a brand new MyLeague option, and it takes the real world stats and standings on the date that you start it and lets you start from that point. So imagine, kids during their holiday break can start their seasons on that date the morning they open their presents. Even when using Start Today, players can continue their franchise for another 79 years.
- League expansion allows players to start with 30-36 teams.
- You can design your own expansion teams, use pre-built teams, or download team designs from the community.
- Expansion and game scheduling provided a challenge, but it's fully and accurately implemented--the game still respects back-to-back games for teams, etc. Any such challenge that may come about through expansion was planned for and dealt with such as menus, power rankings, draft, etc.
- Leagues will dynamically expand in future years.
- Total user control over expansion AND contraction.
- Expansion draft fully implemented. Each team can protect up to 8 players. There is logic put in place where contenders will keep their team's core in-tact, while a younger team is more likely to expose their aging pricey veterans to the expansion draft.
- Expansion can be turned off entirely. You can also contract teams you do not like in MyLeague (there was no mention anything about a reallocation draft, FYI).
- You can now start your franchise experience in the offseason before the 2016 draft and free agency, and rewrite the history with new draft picks, and new free agency homes for players like LeBron, Durant, Wade, etc.
- Perhaps one of the most impressive features - Dynamic rule changes. For instance, league meetings will occur during the offseason. An extreme example would be the league voting on using a sudden death OT rule change--first bucket wins. Extreme cases such as this are very rare, we were told. More common would be changes to the shot clock timer, back clock timer, etc.
- Eventually, every few years, your league's CBA will eventually expire, and then you'll see big changes to the finances within your league. This is a quite unique feature, and something typically only seen in rare sport text simulations such as Out of the Park Baseball's "random league evolution."
- You'll now see trades which can include draft pick protections (a 1st rounder, but only if it's not the first three picks) and pick swaps (we'll take either your 2nd in '17 or 2nd in '18)
- We can now protect certain picks in the draft, and allow teams to choose options.
- Advanced rotations--a whole new gameplan that not only allows you to slot your minutes like before, but actually when your players play those minutes and with whom those minutes are played with. Players will typically play in units. This is very deep, but can also be autoed by asking for coach recommendations.
- Jersey retirements now exist, and logic has been put in place to prevent a player having their jersey retired after a short amount of time on team.
- Dynamic uniform updates.
- Offseason trading that takes into account many pending factors for a team such as free agency plans, who the team plans to draft, etc.
- Easier roster/draft class editing -- can now edit an entire roster at once on one screen, not player by player.
- Playoffs totally customizable.
- 30+ more features such as hot zone customization, new sorting logic, proper re-trading rules added, etc.
- 80 year online MyLeague, complete with drafts, offseason, progression/regression.
- More admin features optionally available such as "keeper years." Other things inspired from traditional fantasy basketball leagues.
- Stability and performance continues to be priority #1.
Gameplay, New Features, & Control
Gameplay Director Mike Wang and Gameplay Producer Scott O'Gallagher were up next, and they were discussing the enhancements made to gameplay and controls for NBA 2K17 as well as some new features that will enhance the in-game experience. They both reiterated that they wanted the skill of the player holding the controller to matter more in this year's game.
- All shots now have a timing component to them; everything, that is, but dunks. No more "activate an animation and hoping for the best."
- Dribbling now breaks up canned sequences into user combos that give you control over any sort of combinations.
- Custom jump shots are back for '17. Select multiple upper body and lower body presets to create an unlimited number of unique shooting profiles for your players.
- Defensive skills will also matter, such as beating a guy to the spot, reacting to the ball.
- Did not want to make the game feel too complex. All of these new options are bonuses on lower levels where you won't be penalized by not utilizing them.
- 2KU has been redone, and you'll now play 2KU tutorial games playing as an inter-squad scrimmage using Team USA. 2KU walks you through an entire game step-by-step as you progress. Duke's Coach K walks you through it all.
- There is a huge emphasis this year on smooth animations.
- The interior post game has been revamped this year. Lots of banging down low, wrestling for rebounds, and other messy plays, including putbacks.
- New off-ball collision system. Now gives post players tools with 700 animations between deny and off-ball posts. "Battle before the battle is now here." Can grab, pull, chuck, and fouls will even be called during these times at the proper time.
- ACE which stands for Addaptive Coaching Engine. Coaches will adapt to players differently depending on player type, playoffs, season, behavior, efficiency, etc. Over 6,000 adjustments, and any schematic changes will be updated all the way through the real-life NBA finals. A concept that was discussed to demonstrate ACE's depth was how a 20 points per game performance is different playing as Cleveland than it would be with, say, Utah.
- We should continue to see a point per game reduction by players online, yet all the while an increase in assists per game. This was the pattern seen between 2K15 to 2K16, and further tweaks were made to ensure this trend continues.
New Features & Controls
- Smart Coach - You'll really want to listen to your assistant coach during timeouts as he will share knowledge of specific players around league as well as real life instruction on how to stop opposing teams and how to run your offense and who to run it through. Your assistant coach will talk you through the ups and downs, and chart and analyze the game as you play. Different messaging exists for every team.
- New team schemes
- New freelance offenses (30 unique in 2K17)
- New transition offenses and defenses
- Improved (new?) defensive AI
- Positional mismatches--different coaches have different aggressiveness in attacking mismatches, for instance.
- Formation recognition--defensive help assignments will change and offenses will be more aware than ever.
- Don't let up--offenses are measuring offensive efficiency to track the opposition, and difficultly level matters for this sort of thing.
- On the fly team individual ACE packages
- New dynamic plays and quick plays
- Coaching intangibles
- Extend the pressure, and you can control the help (literally assign who you want to press, etc.)
- Switching on-the-fly for Pro AM
- Ability to go from Park directly into ProAM.
- Will earn Park revenue by playing ProAM (this got a huge response from the audience)
- Now includes rosters, no more free-for-alls. The owner will control a roster of 10. Owner can move players in and out. Owner does not need to be there for others to play. '
- Can warmup and shoot around while waiting for opponent.
- Can view stats on all players.
- Leveling up as a team - Amateur team which is limited in their capabilities and customization, then Pro with more abilities and customization, such as different arena features (think HUGE team wall murals which looked incredible). Elite status is next which is very special. Custom importing of pictures is granted at this level, and overall much expanded from last year. Also sponsors which brings in extra VC. Work up from Elite level 1 to Elite level 6.
- If you become an elite team, you could get invite to the 2K All Star Tournament around ASG which includes a $250k grand prize, tickets to the All Star Game in New Orleans and more.