Since the 1990′s, Electronic Arts football franchise was the only “must have” sports video game on the market. However, once EA scored exclusive rights to the NFL license in 2004 and became the only player on the market, Madden lacked the competitive push to make drastic improvements and began to stale with gamers. Meanwhile, 2K Sports’ and Visual Concepts NBA 2K series evolved since its inception in 1999 and slowly crept up on the Madden franchise as the best sports game in the business. The game reached the holy grail of basketball games by scoring Michael Jordan as both the cover athlete and a playable character for NBA 2K11. This effectively killed EA’s NBA Elite (or NBA Live) series and left NBA 2K standing alone. Unlike Madden, NBA 2K continued to evolve by including legends such as Magic Johnson and Julius Erving in NBA 2K12 to much acclaim. With so many gamers coining NBA 2K as the best sports game on the market, you had to wonder just how they could improve for 2K13.
How about a number of new features ranging from using the right stick to handle the basketball, an NBA All Star weekend featuring a revamped dunk contest and including both the 1992 and 2012 Olympic squads for the ultimate showdown of basketball supremacy? Not good enough for you? Well, what about landing JAY Z as the executive producer of the game? You see, 2K Sports and Visual Concepts aren’t about being complacent; it’s about being the best in the business. “You’ve never heard a sports game being named as the best overall video game, but that’s what we strive for,” says NBA 2K producer since 2001 Rob Jones. “We also think we can match and outdo what all of the other sports games are doing out there.”
Although NBA 2K stands alone on top of the basketball mountain, Jones and fellow producer Erick Boenish refused to stand pat. Instead, the 2K team listened to users complaints about game play, enhanced the physics engine and piled on some more new features to ensure that 2K13 wouldn’t feel like 2K12 with a roster update. “We knew last year that we could do better for 2K13,” Jones says. “Everybody here plays a lot of games and there are things that resonate from role playing games, sports and first person shooters that we looked to implement into our game. It’s about knowing what your core uses are looking for and bringing in influences from other genres that resonate with current gamers and consumers that don’t play our game yet.”
Aside from features such as customizing your own in game sneaker using NikeID, a revamped post game, a new physics engine that ensures that the same animations won’t happen every trip up the floor and bounce passes, NBA 2K13 has included the “Control Stick.” Rather than press a button to crossover or do a spin move, the Control Stick allows you to have complete control over your player’s ball handling, shot selection and post moves. “We realized that their implementation of the right stick wasn’t the way that we wanted it to work,” Jones says when asked to compare it to the “Freestyle Stick” NBA Live used back in 2002 that made the game feel less like a basketball simulation and more like a glorified And 1 game. “Our aim was to do right stick dribbling the way we thought it should work — realistically. We wanted to give that freedom to users so they could actually break down their defender.”
Aside from all of these features and signature moves that make every single player look, feel and play different, the biggest coup for 2K13 had nothing to do with a basketball player at all. When it was announced that Nets owner JAY Z was going to be the executive producer of the game, people didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, JAY Z is much more than a big name slapped on the box art who you can occasionally spot sitting on the sidelines watching his Brooklyn Nets getting busy in the digital Barclay Center (no, seriously). Jay has been far more hands on with everything from a handpicked soundtrack and pre-game presentation — complete with music videos intertwined with game play to hype up each game — to making a phone call to get the ever elusive Charles Barkley to sign on to be part of a video game for the first time since his retirement.
“I wasn’t surprised that he wanted to approve everything that went into the game, I was surprised by the fact that he actually had any comments that had to do with game play because most of these guys at this level don’t have time to play,” Jones recalls of hearing everything JAY Z wanted to include in the game. “We glossed over including Barkley because we ask him every year and he always turned us down,” Jones continues. “But it was JAY that really pushed for the full Dream Team to be in and it was his initiative to personally contact Charles and get him to sign up with us.”
To add to the game’s star power, NBA 2K13 also includes a celebrity team that features the likes of Mac Miller, Meek Mill, Wale, Vinnie and Pauly D from Jersey Shore fame and a little bit of Bieber Fever. Oh yeah, and this celeb squad is rated a 97 and will rival any all-star team. Why? Because it’s much more fun watching Bow Wow pull off 360 dunks instead of getting his jumper slapped into the 7th row on the regular. “As far as those guys are rated, if you played with them and they sucked it wouldn’t have been any fun,” fellow 2K producer Erick Boenish says with a chuckle while noting that each celebrity chose who they modeled their digital game after. For instance, Justin Bieber wanted to be a 6’9″ version of Derrick Rose. “If we rated them accurately they’d be like a 25/100. When you choose to play with this celeb team they are going to be rated high. Justin Bieber is going to do crazy dunks and it’s going to be a fun experience.”
With all of these new features packed into 2K13, one would think they have exhausted all possibilities in making this game better. But don’t fret, Jones and Boenish are already hard at work for 2K14.
“We’ve been working on 2K14 already for about a month now,” Jones says when asked how they can improve a game that’s already being considered as the best sports game ever. “We already know where we wish we could have done even more and have a bunch of ideas.”
NBA 2K13 is out on October 2nd for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii.