Feature Article
NCAA Basketball 09 Producer Blog #1

Gameplay Producer: Connor Dougan

EA SPORTS Gameplay Engine: How we made NCAA Basketball 09 Better and different

Hey what’s up everyone, my name is Connor Dougan and I’m a Producer on NCAA Basketball. I’m here to give you some details on NCAA Gameplay and the adoption of the EA SPORTS basketball engine into NCAA Basketball 09.

Some of you may already be aware, NBA LIVE re-wrote their Gameplay engine a few years ago and it has seen significant improvement in 08 and in 09.

At the end of the 08 product year for March Madness we felt that the basketball engine (shipped in LIVE 08) was in a state where we felt that that there was a strong, core foundation and ultimately, in a position for us to take it. The March Madness Gameplay engine was suffering from old tech resulting in poor animation blends, questionable physics and a code base that was very difficult to manage/maintain/enhance (to name a few issues).

So… the EA SPORTS Gameplay engine was a go for NCAA Basketball 09.

As a production team, we all knew that we had to continue to invest in creating an authentic college basketball experience. We needed to continue to capture everything that is unique about college basketball – from the mascots and cheerleaders to the amazingly unique venues to the student sections and fight songs. Also, and probably more importantly, we had to recreate the differences in gameplay that you see between NCAA and NBA. The two games are very different. College basketball is about 5 on 5 team oriented basketball whereas the NBA is about 2-man games and isolations…Additionally, we wanted to ensure that the effort and intensity you get from collegiate athletes, each and every game throughout the season, came through. Also, from a development standpoint, we knew we had six more weeks of development on this gameplay engine to make some additional improvements from NBA LIVE 09. Out of all of this came the mantra “Better and Different”.

Why “Better and Different?” In short - the game had to be “Better” than NBA LIVE because we ship later and it needs to be “Different” because we had to recreate authentic college basketball Gameplay; not an NBA Gameplay experience in college uniforms.

So the question remains – “what did we do to nail the college basketball experience and how is the game ‘Better and Different?”

There’s no short answer to this so I’m going to get into detail on what we did in Gameplay for NCAA Basketball 09.


The new Gameplay engine not only has an improved animation system which results in better looking blends, improved momentum and sense of weight, but it also gave us nearly double the animation space that we had in 08.

Animation is a great way to differentiate between the college and pro basketball game. Our focus was to increase the energy and intensity as well as provide more variety than we’ve ever had in the past.

Here’s a list of some of the animation improvements specific to NCAA:

Defense – Since our focus was on adding a variety of new defenses we felt we needed to support all of the logic with additional animation variety. There are new zone stances and intensities depending on the defender distance to ball and the type of zone defense being played. We’ve also added a greater variety and intensity for both on ball and off ball man-to-man defense.

Transition - Many new animations for players in transition: starting with the guards coming back for outlet passes. They now have many more contextually appropriate receptions where they catch and advance up court. Wing players will fill the outside lane sprinting up court calling for the ball and looking for the hit head pass. The lead post will run the middle of the floor with a greater sense of urgency looking for the hit ahead pass as well. As these players settle into the frontcourt you’ll notice a bunch of animation for off ball players. These types of animations will vary depending on a teams’ tempo – an up tempo team will be ready to catch and attack whereas a Halfcourt teams’ animation will not communicate the same sense of urgency. The visual look for a Halfcourt team is consistent with their style of play and varies drastically from an Up Tempo team (More on the Team Tempo feature at a later date).

• a variety of new Jump shots - assigned according to player position

New dunk and layup animations

• Specific animations for players moving to set a screen.

• We’ve added more running rebound animations.

• Added more play calling animations

• Added a bunch of new positive and negative crowd animations. New crowd ambiences and chants to add to our bank of 300+ chants.

• New player bench animations

• New coach animations.

• Added a ton of animation for our full court press (see below for specifics)

Full Court Defense

We’ve rewritten our full court press. This means new full court defenses, such as a 1-2-1-1 and full court run and jump (trapping man-to-man), to name a few. New press breaks specific to each defense and a lot of animation support to recreate the intensity and frenetic pace of college full court defense.

As a result, we’ve put a lot of effort into a new trapping system. This new system is fundamentally different because the ball carrier now maintains his dribble when he’s being trapped. Once trapped, he can try to beat the trap with his dribble and depending on ratings there will be various outcomes. We felt that traps in the past were flawed because we forced the user to pick up their dribble. The additional functionally gives the user more control with the added bonus of better looking animations when beating the trap off the dribble or with the pass.

We’ve added 3 man pass animations to support a press break and to enhance the look of our passes. You can see the reaction of the defenders as you’re passing the ball. We’ve also added 3 man deflections - these occur from time to time when passing from a trap. The goal with traps this year was to give the user more options to beat the press and to accurately recreate the intensity of full court trapping defenses.

We felt that we needed to increase the intensity of the full court press beyond just traps so we’ve added new animations for both offensive and defensive players. As an example: instead of an offensive player standing around waiting to receive the ball, he’ll be on his toes calling for the ball with a sense of urgency. You’ll also see defensive players in aggressive stances looking to pounce on an offensive player or shoot a passing lane.

We’ve also added animation support for defensive players guarding an inbound situation, players moving towards a trap (think arms out covering passing lanes), as well as offensive players flashing to the ball and sprinting up court to break the press after a ball reversal.

I should also mention the work we’ve done with passes, receptions and interceptions in the context of full court defense. Offensive players will come back to the ball catch and square up looking to attack the press or find the open man. We’ve also made some adjustments to receptions so when you reverse the ball and hit players on the move – they will continue to run and attack the basket. We’ve also added additional interception content and some “bad pass” animations so you can’t always make that 90 foot full court pass. At times we instead throw a bad pass and have the receiver jump for it and readjust to the catch or miss it completely based on the logic that determines how bad of a pass was thrown.

I’m really happy with the implementation of the full court press this year. It’s a core feature for NCAA Basketball 09 and early feedback from the community has been positive. 

Play calling

Since we have taken the core of NBA’s signature play calling system I wanted to touch on how it was modified for NCAA.

We have expanded offensive and defensive play books. The user now has 8 offensive and 8 defensive plays to choose from as well as the 4 quick plays as per NBA live. Be sure to customize your playbook so that you have the appropriate plays for your teams’ personnel and playing style.

I should also mention that we have more team oriented sets as opposed to player specific sets. It all depends on the personnel on your team and who is good at what. If you have a dominant post player, run some sets geared toward getting him the ball in a scoring position. If you have a talented perimeter scorer, find that set which will get him a catch on the perimeter and in a position to score. If you have a balanced team with multiple scoring threats, find a play which will allow you to use all of your offensive threats. Don’t forget you also have zone specific and 3point specific plays at your disposal -- when the time calls for it.

There are close to 150 offensive sets to choose from and it’s a matter of finding the one which works for your team.


In addition to the full court defenses we spent a lot of time fine tuning our zone defenses.

We touched the 2-3 zone, 3-2 zone and 1-3-1 zone….knowing which one to play and when is more important in our game now then every before

We’ve also modified our defensive positioning for help side and denial. Weak side defenders will be positioned closer to the ball especially if they’re assigned match up isn’t a 3-point shooter. We also had to modify our denial positioning to suit the college game.

Post play

We had to re-implement dynamic post control into the game this year. So you’ll still have the same functionality spins, power moves, up and under, pump fake and go. We’ve replaced the jumpers and some of the moves from face up as well.

Pick and roll defense

We modified the pick and roll defense by making it a little tougher to get the pass to the roller when there are multiple defenders in the way. We also implemented trapping the ball screen to give the user another way to defend the ball screen.

Ball Physics

We modified the lob trajectories and increased some of the pass speeds to eliminate cases of “floaty” ball physics.

Responsiveness issues

-We made pulling away from 2 man defense more responsive.

-We cut off the gather from our block animations so you’ll get up much faster to challenge the shots.

-We shortened many of our pass receptions so that the user won’t feel stuck when trying to move after a catch.

NCAA Basketball 09 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 Jay Bishop @ 10/10/08 06:17 PM
Damn I wish they could DLC their improvements to LIVE. I would love to have that "cut the gather off from the block animation" joint. All of the responsiveness issues should be patched to Live!
# 2 asu666 @ 10/10/08 07:20 PM
EA still has a lot of major hurdles to clear in getting its college game up to the level of NCAA College Hoops 2K8. NCAA Basketball 09 will probably be decent, but will still need a lot of work to take the crown.
# 3 tril @ 10/11/08 01:27 AM
sounds promising!!
# 4 texbuk84 @ 10/11/08 01:40 AM
Originally Posted by wsu_gb23
If March Madness is going to have the same engine as Live, consider me out.....The players in the Live series have never moved right; everything just looks awkward....
amen to that brotha
# 5 texbuk84 @ 10/11/08 01:41 AM
i think they need to add the 2k engine to there portfolio then March Madness will be a good game
# 6 PaperLantern @ 10/11/08 01:52 AM
LOL @ the second to last picture.

Cole Aldrich looks like a clown in this game. He looked bad in 2k8, but this is just horrible. He's almost bald IRL, but they've got him with a LAME hairstyle in this pic.
# 7 DubTrey1 @ 10/11/08 01:29 PM
I suppose I will wait for the demo on this one before I absolutely dismiss this game.
# 8 Alliball @ 10/11/08 01:47 PM
Originally Posted by PaperLantern
LOL @ the second to last picture.

Cole Aldrich looks like a clown in this game. He looked bad in 2k8, but this is just horrible. He's almost bald IRL, but they've got him with a LAME hairstyle in this pic.

Good Lord
# 9 whittleboy615 @ 10/11/08 02:04 PM
Originally Posted by PaperLantern
LOL @ the second to last picture.

Cole Aldrich looks like a clown in this game. He looked bad in 2k8, but this is just horrible. He's almost bald IRL, but they've got him with a LAME hairstyle in this pic.
So edit his appearance.

College games are not allowed to make their players look just like the real persons. It's against NCAA regulations.
# 10 Tomba @ 10/11/08 03:22 PM
The team is intent on establishing itself as a good college basketball brand. Sean and company listened to all of us carefully and I directly saw the excitement they had over their alpha build of the game even though we did pick it apart as much as we could and gave enough suggestions that would hopefully benefit this years title more.

I'll say right now it was better playing then NBA Live 09 and that is exactly what they were ehaded for and wanted. To be a better basketball game then NBA Live because they improved on the engine they were given. NBA Live 09 was roughly like 2 months done when we saw NCAA 09 so the improve from that game to NCAA was fairly decent.

These producer blogs and EA being on these very boards themselves and getting us guys involved is so that the right information comes out...
# 11 Glenn33 @ 10/11/08 05:21 PM
After playing NBA Live 09 - I am PLENTY excited for this game. I am a Believer!
# 12 Behindshadows @ 10/11/08 07:41 PM
Love the screenshots, thanks Steve for sharing. Player models look good
# 13 Cusefan @ 10/11/08 10:06 PM
The Carrier Dome Looks Sexy, Cant wait...
# 14 Ceothachosen1 @ 10/12/08 12:27 PM
im a 2k guy but i will give it a try if they are really putting work into it how is the recruiting?
# 15 sportdan30 @ 10/12/08 09:17 PM
I'd love to hear if they changed the responsiveness in regards to the jump button. The delay is quite frustrating.
# 16 whittleboy615 @ 10/12/08 09:57 PM
Originally Posted by sportdan30
I'd love to hear if they changed the responsiveness in regards to the jump button. The delay is quite frustrating.
See here:

-We cut off the gather from our block animations so you’ll get up much faster to challenge the shots.
# 17 PaulZweber @ 10/13/08 12:19 PM
Looks like a rental, I wasn't impressed by this years Live, so hopefully the "improvements" actually happen or improve gameplay.
# 18 HechticSooner @ 10/14/08 02:40 AM
Yet no talk about recruiting college is all about recruiting and not one single thing about it. That worries me bigtime.
# 19 Brandwin @ 10/15/08 12:29 AM
ON my radar, but i need some dynasty mode info too.
# 20 ravensfan53 @ 10/20/08 06:37 PM
I agree, gameplay is important and all of the improvements sound nice, but I loved the 2K college series and not just because of the gameplay, but because of the recruiting and all the rest of the dynasty features. It's what college sports are all about and I hope we don't just see a knock off of NCAA Football's recruiting engine, a different sport deserves a different style of recruiting. I love college hoops and will probably give this game a shot, but if not I always have 2K8 to fall back on.

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