Thoughts on the delay of NBA Elite and how they can fix it

October 1, 2010 in Basketball, Game Reviews, NBA by pacejmiller

So far, NBA Elite has looked horrible

For the first time since the NBA 2K franchise burst onto the scene, the NBA season will begin this year with only one new basketball video game on the market.  In a stunning announcement on EA Sports President Peter Moore’s Blog, it was revealed that the release of NBA Elite 2011 (formerly the ‘Live’ franchise) will be pushed back indefinitely into next year (it was originally set for release on October 5th).

This is what Moore had to say:

This year, we set extremely ambitious goals for our new franchise, NBA ELITE.  We are creating a game that will introduce several breakthrough features that have been missing from the basketball genre.   Unfortunately, NBA ELITE 11 is not yet ready and we have made a decision to delay next month’s launch.  We are going to keep working until we’re certain we can deliver a breakthrough basketball experience.

The decision to delay NBA ELITE was hard because the game has great promise.  But ultimately we feel this is the right thing to do.  We’ve been making steady progress on basketball for the past few years and it’s going to take extra time to make the game.

Why make this decision now?  As with all of our titles, we continue to evaluate and improve the code right up until launch.  Feedback from consumers is a very important part of the process.  NBA ELITE had the benefit of play-testing, a demo and a lot of our own research.  All that feedback revealed some concerns about gameplay polish, so we’ve listened to your feedback, and made a judgment that the game would benefit from more time in development.

In other words, EA knew the game as it stood absolutely sucked (as demonstrated by the demo), and that if they released it to compete with 2K, they would be laughed out of the building.  I was pretty harsh in my review of the demo (available here), which I believe was justified because there was no excuse to releasing a game that looked and played like NBA Elite — especially not after NBA Live 2010, which was a very competitive title.

The good news is that NBA Jam will now be released on the PS3 and XBox360 as a standalone game (previously it was packaged together with Elite) by Christmas.  As compensation for loyal Live fans, EA will offer free roster and player DNA updates for the entire upcoming NBA season.

(click on ‘more…’ to read thoughts on the delay and suggestions on how they can fix the game — with videos!)

Delay of the game will incur massive losses.  This is because gamers like to have their NBA games mimic the upcoming season, and so it is imperative for the game to be released before the actual season begins.  Further, it is unusual for a gamer to buy both basketball titles from EA and 2K — usually they belong to one camp or the other.  Accordingly, by the time Elite is eventually released, it is highly likely that most gamers would have already purchased 2K11 and won’t even consider it.  Kotaku suggested that the delay could set EA back as much as $60 million.

However, in my opinion this was still a smart move by EA.  There was no point rushing the game out to compete with 2K because there was no comparison.  I knew something was awfully wrong with the game even before the demo was released, because all the commercials only showed rough ‘work-in-progress’ screens and the real players’ reactions (Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, etc) as opposed to proper gameplay footage.  EA had previously banked on the inclusion of NBA Jam being able to persuade gamers to buy Elite instead of 2K11, but after the appalling demo that was almost universally panned, they knew it was a gamble they were going to lose.  There was no need to damage the goodwill of the new franchise any further by releasing a game no one was going to play.  What they’ve done instead, which is delay the release of Elite and release NBA Jam separately, will go some way to reducing the losses Elite would have incurred.

Looks like the EA Sports development team has a long battle ahead of them.  Here are the things I think they should work on:

1. Total control tweaks — I actually think that they are onto a decent idea with this new total control system, but they need to make a number of adjustments to make it a little more playable.

2. Improve AI — For all their talk about real AI, the CPU’s play is actually one of the weakest aspects of the game.  EA needs to study what 2K has done in terms of gameplay and look at the real flow of NBA games. Players need to react the way they would in real life.  If a teammate is left open, a real basketball player would pass the ball to them — that actually doesn’t happen in Elite right now.  Sounds obvious but they don’t appear to have figured it out yet.

3. Improve realism — The ‘real physics’ that EA was talking up was a joke in the end.  Yes, there are in-air collisions and so forth, but the players simply don’t move like their real life counterparts.  Forget that, they don’t even move like real people.  Even the best NBA player cannot dunk two handed from just inside the free throw line with a two step run-up.  It’s nice to be able to control every single move of a player, but please, fix up their unrealistic, robotic movements.  No more sliding all over the place, no more crazy dunks, no more akward movements that don’t resemble real humans.  Oh, and fix the way the ball sails through the air.  The arcs are all wrong.  And don’t get me started on the net, which is beyond horrible.

4. Improve authenticity — This is slightly different to realism.  When I say ‘authenticity’, I am referring to the extent to which the on-screen players resemble their real life counterparts.  For example, Kobe dribbles differently to Andrew Bynum or Derek Fisher.  They have different moves, different repertoires.  In the demo, it appears there was some attempt to differentiate the shooting styles of the various players, but it wasn’t authentic enough.  When gamers look at the screen, they want to be able to recognise a player from the way they move on the basketball court.  2K has done a great job of this, and Elite should definitely try and learn from them.

5. Improve graphics — EA had been hearing for years that 2K trumps them because of their better gameplay, the most important part of any game.  While this may be true, it doesn’t mean Elite can simply ignore their graphics completely.  As many have already said from the demo, Elite’s graphics on PS3 makes it look like a PS2 game.  The reason why people focused on gameplay all these years was because Live and 2K’s graphics were largely comparable.  It was taken for granted that the games were going to look good.  Elite needs to go back to making the game look as good as it can be.  Taking a look at Live 2010 would be a good start.

6. Fix glitches — there’s nothing worse than playing a glitchy game, and the Elite demo was plagued with plenty (not to say 2K is perfect in this regard, but the glitches are at least less unforgiveable).  Simple things, like backcourt violations and stepping out of bounds need to be accurate.  If we see a player clearly stepping on the line, we want the whistle to be blown.

Here are some other hilarious glitches.

Anyway, for the sake of the future of the franchise, I sincerely hope EA Sports can fix Elite.  The game is not without hope.  They just need to put some more thought and effort into it.

PS: Those who say Elite’s controls make it seem like they are playing a real game have obviously never played real basketball in their lives.  Pushing a couple of sticks around is nothing like the real thing.