What’s up, 2K fans?! Mike Wang here to give you the scoop on some of the hotness our gameplay team has in store for you this year! I know a lot of news has already come out about some of the gameplay features for NBA 2K17 but hopefully this blog can give you a fuller picture of what to expect when you get your hands on the game and clear up some of the questions you might have. So let’s jump into it!
Each dev cycle we have a million things we want to accomplish on the gameplay front, but if I had to sum up the main goal for NBA 2K17 it would be this: MAKE THE SKILL OF THE GAMER MATTER.
One of the most noticeable applications of this idea is in the area of shooting. In NBA 2K17, ALL shots (with the exception of dunks) have a timing mechanism to them. Jump shots, layups, hooks, buzzerbeater pullups, even full court heaves. Our goal here was to engage the user in every shot attempt from beginning to end, rather than just have you guys kicking off animations and hoping for the best. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Layups? I have trouble hitting layups already, isn’t this just going to make it even harder for me?” The way layup timing has been implemented, the timing modifier acts primarily as a bonus to reward users who can master it but won’t punish you if you can’t do it or ignore the shot meter completely. So if you beat your defender and have a wide open lane or are finishing off a fastbreak layup with no one around, you’re not going to brick the shot even if you completely ignore the timing feature. The cool thing about layup timing, is it makes you feel like you actually have a chance to impact those tough and-1 contact shots in heavy traffic. So the more you practice, the more you can look like Kyrie finishing those ridiculous circus shots that he makes look so easy. And don’t worry, on the flipside the system is also tuned in such a way that prevents bad shot selection or chucking from half court from being a viable offensive strategy. You still have to take good shots with the right guys to be successful.
Another feature we’re introducing to make shooting more of a skill is the idea of shot aiming. For perimeter jump shots, if you use the Pro Stick, you now need to pull straight down or push straight up (the latter if you want a bank shot.) Again, we didn’t want to make this addition overbearing for the average gamer, so you won’t be airballing shots left or right if you ignore the feature. But if you do pay attention to how close to 12 or 6 o’clock you move the Pro Stick, you will give yourself an extra boost to making those shots. So for those competitive gamers who want to maximize their shooting percentages, my advice is to migrate to the Pro Stick for those long range bombs. That doesn’t mean that Pro Stick jump shooters automatically have an advantage over Shot Button users however. It’s a risk/reward mechanic in that you actually might be hurting your shooting percentages if you’re inconsistent with how you move the Pro Stick, especially on the higher difficulty levels. So for a lot of guys, at least here in the office, they’ve been perfectly content shooting with the Shot Button. Personally, I only shoot with the Pro Stick and love the advantage I can gain when I do nail my aim.
Let’s talk about the shot meter as it’s been re-designed for NBA 2K17. This year, you want to fill the meter all the way up for ideal timing rather than stopping the meter half way. This makes it easier to get a sense of when to release the shot without having to stare at your player’s feet while he’s shooting. Also, the size of the meter will grow or shrink depending on the player’s shooting range. So if you have a large horseshoe shaped meter, the shot will be much easier to hit versus a short sliver of a meter. You’ll also notice a thin red circle around the meter when you’re standing in a player’s real life hotspot or a blue circle if you’re standing in a cold spot. Lastly, if you shoot with the Pro Stick, you’ll see a small white tick and colored arrow underneath the shot meter after you release the jumper. This arrow represents how far left or right you were off center when aiming your shot as I discussed above. If the arrow is way off to the left and you miss the shot, you’ll miss to the left. If it’s off to the right and you miss, you’ll miss right. You can also turn on Shot Feedback and we’ll tell you (to the degree) how far off your aim was. If the arrow is green, you know you’re really close to perfect aim and you’re getting a boost to your shot chance. And one more thing I know a lot of you will be happy about, no more missed Green Lights!
One last thing I want to mention regarding shooting is the idea of evasive layups vs. strong layups. In the past, when you attempted layups, pretty much every shot went hard to the cup and there was a chance you’d draw a foul, finish through contact or get stopped. For NBA 2K17, we wanted to give you more control over how those outcomes play out. Moving the Pro Stick toward the basket will attempt a strong finish at the rim (similar to last year), but if you move the Pro Stick left or right for your attempt, you’ll perform a more evasive layup that’s really useful for avoiding contact with defenders and finishing with a much more conservative scoop shot or floater. Because these types of shots require a bit more touch, it’s really important to nail your timing when using the evade layups.
Ball handling is re-tooled for NBA 2K17 as well. Last year we introduced Signature Size-ups that included dozens of Iso animations for the top ball handlers in the league. This feature was well received as it let our fans create some great mixtape highlight plays off the dribble and raised the bar for signature style. One thing that bothered us though was that the Signature Size-ups didn’t have that 1-to-1 feel of chaining together moves that our past games had. You would input a single command and the ball handler would play out a long mocapped sequence all by himself. This year, we broke all of the Signature Size-ups into shorter combo moves that can be strung together based on user input. So for example, Steph Curry’s signature “between the legs to behind back combo” from last year is now performed by manually doing a between the legs cross directly into a behind the back move. The end result is a system that’s very robust, basically allowing the gamer to string together whatever sequence of moves he/she wants while still maintaining the beautiful motion captured sequences that our fans enjoyed in NBA 2K16. These combos can also be mixed and matched so you can equip your MyPLAYER with Steph’s Between the Legs combos, Jamal Crawford’s double behind the back, and Kyrie’s double cross if you want. The new system is much more engaging for the user, creates a wider skill gap in ball handling and really makes you feel like you’re breaking defenders down as you would in real life. We’ve also completely refreshed all of the driving Iso moves so you’ll be seeing a lot of fresh content there too.
The theme of gamer skill being a driver for our design doesn’t only affect offense, but extends to the defensive end of the floor as well.
First off, the steal system has been completely re-worked for NBA 2K17. The new system takes into account many more factors than before, including: the type of move the ball handler is in, how exposed or protected the ball is in relation to the defender, whether the ball handler is in open space vs. in a crowd, and of course, each players’ attributes. Skilled defenders can use real basketball principles to read the situation and time the steal attempt to get much more predictable results. The content for steals has also been completely refreshed so you’ll be seeing lots of nice knockaways, forced pickups, strips, etc. You can also use the Pro Stick on defense to steal the ball this year. So pressing toward the ball handler will attempt a dig steal (great for popping the ball out from a player in triple threat), away from the ball handler for a strip, or left/right for a left or right-handed swipe.
Blocks also received a nice makeover with tons of new content, better hand to ball collision detection and ball targeting recognition. If you’re controlling a rim protector, it feels better than ever to read the play and send those weak layup attempts into the stands. Weak blockers vs. great blockers are more accurately differentiated in the game now too. Low vertical blocks were added to better represent the low-tier players with regards to vertical and athleticism. There are also several subtle additions such as “give up” contests, those half-hearted close out blocks that players do in real life when severely out of position but don’t want the coach to bench them for lack of effort. You can even control those by half-pressing L2 or LT.
THE BEAUTY OF BASKETBALL
Usually when you spend a lot of time working on things like responsive controls and respecting the user’s input 100% of the time, it comes at the cost of visuals taking a hit. NBA 2K has always been known for its beautiful animation and lifelike movement. That’s something we never want to sacrifice. So it was very important to us that, even with the advancements in responsiveness and control, that NBA 2K17 animated even more smoothly than any past NBA game before it.
This is where our animation tech team stepped up to the plate. They spent a greater portion of the year analyzing our animation system, motion capture pipeline, and blending techniques and made some huge improvements in all areas. The first thing you’ll notice when you sit back and watch gameplay footage of NBA 2K17 is just how smooth everything looks. Our team worked heavily on a process we call pose match editing. They created a system that identifies and works to repair problematic animation transitions for thousands of animations in our game. We’re also now using a dynamic blending system that calculates the most ideal blend times for different parts of the body when transitioning from one animation to another in an effort to smooth out things like posture and back angle changes, facing pops, etc. while still maintaining the responsiveness that gameplay animations require. One of our engineers also created a new limb collision system that combines animation and a physical simulation to allow limbs to collide with other objects/players and react in a more natural and dynamic way. Sometimes you have to pause the game and watch a replay up close to appreciate just how amazing the tech is. We’ve seen players get wrapped up during rebounds, react to glancing collisions as players brush past each other and everything in between. It really brings the game to life and most of the time we can’t tell if the new limb collision system is at work or if we’re watching pure motion capture.
Last year we introduced the concept of situational motion. Instead of playing “normal movement,” we started to play contextual animations on offball players that made them look more appropriate to what was happening on the court. In year two, you’ll really see an explosion of content in our situational motion engine with tons of new get open animations, offball cuts, settle outs while spacing, etc. These special motion captured sequences are now fully integrated into all of our plays and freelance sets so that players are constantly moving around with intent. I think we’ve really raised the bar in terms of authenticity and lifelike movement in this area of the game, and coupled with the dramatic improvements to the animation system and the new blending tech, NBA 2K17 moves just as smooth as real life.