Back from the dead – NBA2k16 thoughts

Like every other blog you’ve ever read, there’s been a random six month gap between posts shortly after starting. Hopefully that period has passed and I’ll pay more attention to it moving forward.

My last entry was looking forward to NBA2k16 and dealing with the hype, which it largely delivered on. The story mode was very typically Spike Lee, both good and bad. The writing was excellent, but the story line was terrible, intrusive and incoherent. My main issue was with my character being talked about as a superstar in commentary despite averaging less than five points a game. As usual with MyCareer,

The old MyCareer mode where you started at the combine and worked your way onto a team made more sense and was more rewarding. There was always a tipping point where you move from little used bench player to superstar, skipping a huge chunk in between. However it felt more realistic and achievable than the current superstar from day one approach.

The first season of MyCareer is also far too restrictive – you only play a handful of games, and most of the customisation options are locked (either by design or by insufficient funds). After your rookie season it falls into the more familiar format for MyCareer, but it does become too easy to become a dominating superstar early on in your career. The addition of connections as a way to unlock customisation options and cards for MyTeam is a really nice addition though, and does force you to think about how to spend your off days.

The remainder of the game is excellent, with the only downside for me being the lack of opponents online with the PC version.

As someone who collected NBA cards as a teenager MyTeam has incredible appeal to me. It’s a shame that 2K forced players to cheese scores for Domination, requiring endless fast breaks and using the LT exploit to get a post move modifier on dunks to beat some of the target scores. There’s a real need to overhaul how you progress in this mode because currently it encourages you to play basketball “the wrong way”, which is in stark opposition to how they like to promote the game.

It ends up forcing you to use certain types of players to score enough points to unlock the next team. Fast, slashing wings like Andrew Wiggins, and two way guards like Jimmy Butler or Klay Thompson end up as the cornerstones of your team as they are cheap or easily available. Players with high low post ratings like Dirk Nowitski are god tier, and you only need a big man who can score around the basket and defend (Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid were excellent cheap options).

Ultimately this mode isn’t about playing well, it’s about playing efficiently and exploiting the AI. The fun disappears after a while. The Gauntlet forces similar style of play, and is randomly punishing. Being 3 on 3, fast ball handlers and slashing wing players dominate (Giannis is a beast here). The problem is that you only get to pick one of your cards, and the other two are randomly assigned. So I could pick my Amethyst Anthony Davis and get saddled with two bronze centres, while my opponent could have Amethyst Steph Curry and get Amethyst James Harden and gold Jimmy Butler. It’s hard to beat the RNG in that case, but then you have to play to 21 (by 1s and 2s sadly) or quit to move on.

Eventually the limited online community for PC wore thin, seeing the same 8-10 people in MyPark, with only 2-3 courts active at a time. It took forever to find an online opponent for most modes, if I could find them at all (Road To The Playoffs was specifically barren). It was the best incentive for me to buy a Xbone or PS4, which speaks more for the lack of compelling software for either of those two platforms.

The release of Fallout 4 ended up being the final nail in the coffin for playing NBA 2k16 regularly. Fallout 4 had it’s own set of problems, which I’ll get into for my next post, hopefully in less than six months this time.

NBA 2k16 hype

For the first time in almost five years, I have pre-ordered an NBA 2k game. It’s even pre-loaded on my PC, waiting for me to unlock it when I return home from work tomorrow.

I’d been a staunch supporter of Visual Concepts and their 2k games, going back to importing NBA 2k and a boot disc from the US for the Dreamcast in 2000. Despite brief dalliances with Inside Drive on Xbox and NBA Live 2006, I’d been a dedicated 2k player for over a decade.

Short aside – I still miss Inside Drive to this day. At the time, being able to choose how to play a pick and roll/fade/slip in 2004 blew my mind. It took years for EA and VC to catch up with their in game play-calling. Competition is a wonderful thing for consumers.

My falling out with 2k happened around 2k11 or 2k12, with the removal of some basic online features. Around that time I was playing in a reasonably serious 2k keeper league with salary caps. The 2k website would give you live updates of games in your league, allow highlights and photos to be uploaded and really enhanced being a part of a thriving league. It also created a lot of tense moments in close, important games. To whoever it was I called “bush league” for fouling me with 0.6 seconds left up by 3, preventing a game tying three point shot, I apologise.

The removal of their robust online season mode resulted in the end of our league. There was growing disatisfaction with how easy it was to cheese (exploit parts of the game, like players getting stuck in animations) and the overall sameness of how individual players felt. My free time declined as well with a wedding to plan and other work/life issues, meaning it was probably good time to take a step away.

It probably was no coincidence that around this time my Golden State Warriors finally started to put things together, meaning I no longer had to vicariously live their success through a video game. Plus there was no game that could recreate the sort of things Steph Curry was doing.

MyPlayer brought me back, as well as a full featured release on PC for 2k15. The ability to jump in for short game burts was a fantastic use of my limited free time, as I wasn’t able to dedicate the hour needed to play a 48 minute game (I’m incredibly pedantic about accurate stats, hence the 12 minute quarter games). My aim was to create a 6’11” brusier with a grey beard who tried to blocked every shot as if his life depended on it. Carlos ZeDwarf may not have ever won an NBA title, but he certainly blocked his fair share of shots.

The additions to the game like branching animations, increased player control and improved individuality resulted in keeping the game fresh for longer. Being able to pick it up for under $30 a few months after release also helped me feel like I got my moneys worth.

And now they’ve sucked me back in at launch. There’s a good chance I’ll probably be disappointed after consuming all of this hype for 2k16. I understand the aim of Spike Lee’s involvement with MyPlayer but I’m fearful of it becoming someone else’s story that I play a supporting role in. Hopefully with the amount of changes to MyTeam and MyGM, plus a decent online community on PC there will be enough to keep me interested for a while and not immediately contract a horrible case of buyers remorse.

If not, at least the Warriors season will be starting at the end of October. #fullsquad

Her Story with minor spoilers

I spent about three hours on the weekend playing the wonderful Her Story. As someone who grew up gaming in the 80/90s and lived through Night Trap and Mad Dog McCree, the negative reception FMV based games received then is still quite firm in my mind. It would be a disservice to lump Her Story in with FMV games that preceded it, group it with visual novels or “experience” games where you basically watch the plot unfold before you.

The one line spiel is you’re searching clips of a police interview with a woman around a 1994 crime. piecing together the series of events to solve the case. The core of the game is practically a database simulator, with the FMV existing to provide more clues for your next query as each clip has been transcribed, but there are also some hints provided by some subtle visual clues. The fragments of the interviews you unearth slowly shed light on what happened, but each one also raises new questions. The clips you watched 30 minutes ago now have a completely different meaning, and open up a new set of terms to query the database with.

Without spoiling too much, the more you uncover it becomes less about what actually happened and more about why. Which brings me to the refreshing part of Her Story – the plot is largely structured around how you interpret and piece together the video clips you uncover. I might have a different interpretation based on the clips I unlocked and the order I viewed them in.

The fact searching a database and watching some grainy FMV is so compelling is a testament to the brilliant editing – even the shortest clip could contain a clue that unlocks a new piece of information. I finished with around 90% of the interview clips unlocked, and still felt I hadn’t completely solved the crime but had a pretty good understanding of what happened and why. Even if I had swung back and forth between the most probable situations a number of times before I saw the credits.

It shies away from the obvious conclusion of actually giving firm closure, it’s up to you  to fill in the blanks. Having sat through a few hours of investigations to form your own conclusion, and then be told your analysis was wrong would have been a horrible ending to a fantastic experience. Another instance of less being more, which is so rare in gaming today.

Steam sale apathy

I always thought my first blog post would be about my beloved Golden State Warriors and the ups and downs of following them from Australia for the past 25 years. It’s taken me a while to finally start a blog to talk about them, despite threatening to do so for years. I’ve waited so long that it can no longer be complaining about poor draft choices, horrible trades, or Chris Cohan. Being part of the NBA Finals right now, there’s been so much being written about them that I don’t feel I have anything new and/or interesting to add. Eventually that day will come.

Instead it’s a first world gaming whine, which probably fits better in my role as a negative vibe merchant. I’ll probably write a post about that at some point as well.

It’s Sunday evening and I’m current looking at my list of 25 installed games on Steam, and struggling to muster the enthusiasm to spend time with any of them.

The most enjoyable gaming experience I’ve had this year has been Invisible Inc. It ticked all the right boxes for me – developed by Klei Entertainment (I loved Don’t Starve), turn based, stealth, hacking and procedurally generated. There’s a limited amount of content, however it’s designed that way, as you aren’t meant to clear levels before exiting. Each safe or terminal exists as a decision, offering a more credits or items but also increasing the chance of being discovered or terminated.

I had been enjoying The Witcher 3, but unfortunately the claustrophobic field of view was giving me motion sickness after 45 minutes. I’ll come back when there’s a FOV mod that doesn’t break with each update.

There are 45 hours on my play through of Pillars of Eternity, but after taking a break in Act III I’m struggling to get back into it. The late game combat consisting of constant domination feels cheap, although with out it mobs would (and do) feel trivial. I’ve invested enough that I’m determined to see the end of it eventually, even though the story and characters do nothing for me.

You Must Build A Boat is wonderful, but doesn’t feel right with a mouse and keyboard for obvious reasons. Cities: Skylines is similarly fantastic but currently lacks a significant challenge outside of optimising your traffic.

With all that in mind, I’ve been browsing the current (northern) Winter Steam Sale to find something to fill my evening. There’s not a lot that is catching my eye, although I can see Counter Strike Go and Prison Architect with attractive prices, however there’s little chance I’d get much out of either of them. My advancing age and decaying reflexes would probably result in a great deal of frustration playing CS Go. Prison Architect has been regularly recommended to me as someone who enjoys management sims, but the prospect of investing time in an unfinished product doesn’t particularly excite me.

I know that this hardly makes me a unique snowflake, but it is interesting to me how my perception of Steam sales has changed over time. The hope and excitement has evolved into apathy.

So I’ll probably just start yet another game of Civ 5 with some new mods to change things up. Anything to keep me away from that monster clicking meta game.