Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NBA 2K11 - A brief history of sports video games. And a review of "My Player" mode.

I have lived through the earliest generations of video games to what we have now. My first memories of sports games were on the Odyssey 2 system. I remember playing baseball, football, basketball and golf. The football game had a field that wasn't quite big enough (80 yards?). The basketball game was 1 on 1 with two large "hoops" on either end. The 2nd baseman in the baseball game played directly on 2nd base. (In hindsight, I think this is why I learned to hit opposite field in real life.)

Only 5 years later, the NES brought us Tecmo Bowl, First and Ten, Baseball Stars, RBI baseball and other games that were leaps and bounds beyond our original game playing experience. I'd spend nights with my neighbors creating our own leagues in Baseball Stars. You couldn't save games back then, so we'd just stay up all night. Eventually our Nintendo would overheat and give out, leading to 4:30 am yelling sessions.

Fast forward another 5 years to the early 1990s. My brother and I would gasp at the latest on Sega Genesis. The Madden games were amazingly innovative. We had real teams! And playbooks! And announcers! ("Oh no. There's a man down.")

My brother still hesitates playing sports games with me after the "Madden Years" of the early - mid 90s.

The point here is that he and I used to say, "Wow. Look at what's happened to games over the past 10-15 years. Imagine what's going to happen 10-15 years from now." We were legitimately excited. Well, here we are, in late 2010. And that time is now. And I've recently purchased NBA 2K11 for my first basketball experience since NBA Jam some 15 years ago.


First off, I just want to give all sorts of praise to the video game industry. The level of detail in this game (and many other games) is simply extraordinary. Yes, you can play as any of the NBA teams. Yes, the likeness of the players is pretty impressive. And yes, they do tend to play to the skill level of the real player.

Many other details are not overlooked... The stadiums, the advertisements and even tattoos.
Each stadium even has their own sounds - For example, Minnesota has the howling Timberwolves.

Where I'm truly impressed is how lifelike the experience can be. The announcers, for the most part, are seamless in their play calling. Doris Burke is also on the sidelines giving updates on player health and what the coaches say.

Joakim Noah got hurt in reality? The game updates itself and you play as the Bulls. But without Noah who's injured on the bench. Current (real) scores tick away as you play, allowing you to keep up with your favorite team.

This game isn't for the faint of heart. It takes amazing amounts of practice. I would say that sports games are no longer for the casual player. (Although, I wouldn't mind seeing an NBA Jam type game that doesn't take oodles of skill.) You really have to understand basketball to play the game. You need to run plays, space the floor, make good passes in the passing lanes and only shoot high percentage shots. Playing with Kobe or LeBron won't help poor decision making.

Oh, and let's not forget, you can play as Michael Jordan on a few of his Bulls teams.


My favorite (and most frustrating) part of the game is "My Player". You make a player and try to work your way into the league. I gave my player my real name. And I decided I wanted a Deron Williams mold point guard. So he's 6' 3", 210 pounds and passes first. They intentionally make your skill set pretty raw, so you have lots of room to improve.

Listen, I'm not a great basketball player in a real life. But I understand the game and can hit a jump shot. We're at the point that, even in my basketball fantasy world, I'm worse than I am in real life. That's where we're at when it comes to some of these games. If you're new to the game, you're going to be terrible.

So, in my fantasy world of making the NBA, I start with a few scrimmages. I commit too many turnovers, allow my opponent to score on me and begin falling in the NBA draft projections. Eventually, I'm drafted by the Miami Heat in the 2nd round. Which, despite my hatred of the Heat, I figure it would be fun to be the point guard on their team.

Before I can do anything, they get rid of me. So I've been relegated to the D-League, playing for the Springfield Armor. So now my NBA fantasy has me playing point guard in the D-League. Oh, and did I mention I was the backup point guard, coming off the bench?

At this point I consider restarting "My Player" mode, but it really wouldn't make me any better. So instead, I play as a backup in the D-League. The player you get is bad. You're slow. You can't jump. You're not strong. Your shot is terrible. And you're forced to really learn fundamentals. It's like being a real player who's fighting for an NBA spot. You have to learn the ropes, run the plays and just get the fundamentals down.

After each game, based on your performance, you get points to improve your player. You improve slowly. VERY slowly. There are dozens of categories to improve. And the improvements you can make are incremental at best. It's depressing to think about how long it will take to become decent.

After a day or two in the D-League, I get the big announcement. The Charlotte Bobcats just signed me to a 10 day contract. I'm telling you - even in my fantasies, I'm lame. I come off the bench, again. I now understand why players want out of bad teams. When you're the point guard for a team that can't score, it's frustrating. They judge you on your assists. And Gerald Wallace blows far too many layups.

There's a "request a trade" option. So I did. The home fans got pissed and began chanting "Trade him! Trade him!" whenever I touched the ball. I play a good 15 games as the backup point guard, with one good game. I scored 23 points and had 13 assists.

Just today I got my trade approved. To the Lakers. So now I start instead of Derek Fisher. After all these hours of playing NBA 2K11, it's fun. It's as if, working towards playing for a winner was all worthwhile. Passing the ball to Kobe and Gasol makes me look better.

So there you have it. I wish I was about 12 years old right now. As an adult, I don't have the time or desire to get really good at a game like this. But my competitive nature is somehow reinvigorated. In just one generation, we've gone from Odyssey 2 to this. Not too shabby.

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