The Big Question: Can new tech help NBA Live 13 bring back EA’s once-dead basketball series?
EA Sports has had a hell of time trying to keep up with 2K Sports on the basketball court. Flash over substance has always kept them one crucial step behind NBA 2K, with the gap widening to the point that EA tried to re-brand it as the never-released NBA Elite.
Now that NBA Live 13 is returning for the 2012-2013 season, I went to go see an early pre-alpha build at EA’s E3 booth as the developers talked about the new technology that’s going into the game. Essentially, talent and tools are being pulled in from the teams behind Madden NFL, FIFA, and Fight Night Champions in order to fix various issues that the games have had in the past.
To its credit, NBA Live has always had great presentation. Mimicking camera angles and production values from live TV broadcasts has always been a good call, and the graphics are usually better than any other NBA title.
In a brief clip showcasing the start of a game featuring the Miami Heat, the visuals shown were extremely crisp and heavily detailed—I could even see the pores on the skin of the players on the court, as well as the individual etchings in their tattoos. It’s nice to see that NBA Live can still find ways to improve its looks.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see any extensive gameplay footage, save for a few examples of how NBA Live‘s adaptive AI handles one-on-one situations like the post game. Instead of locking players together in a joined animation, both of them now act independently of the other. It makes a difference, as you can freely flip between backing down a defender and getting in his face without having to break away entirely. Most important of all, EA Sports doesn’t want to players to ever feel stuck in a move or animation.
Probably the biggest issues that I think NBA Live 13 needs to solve are the ball physics and lazy team AI behavior. 2K Sports seems to have finally figured out how to consistently make the basketball interact realistically with the players’ bodies, and I’m really hoping that EA Sports is doing the same thing.
As far as AI player behavior, EA Sports is partnering with a company called “Synergy” that records and compiles player activity on the court. When that data is implemented into NBA Live 13, the goal is to have everyone constantly working for offense or defense, displaying the active on-court habits they’re known for, rather than lapsing into brief standstill moments.
Even though we didn’t see much, it’s good to see EA acknowledging that they needed to start from the ground up. Taking in resources from Madden NFL, FIFA, and Fight Night Champions should help shape up the basketball side of the EA Sports suite, but as the developers admit, there’s still a lot of work to get done.