2K Sports dropped their latest developer blog with an in-depth look at the playcall system. From the looks of it, they’ve totally revamped it from what we saw in 2K11 and it’s looking really crazy. One of the things I’m most excited about is 2k is finally paying attention to inbounds plays, an element that was overlooked for years.
Rob Jones here, bringing you an in-depth look at NBA 2K12’s new strategy features and play system.
NBA 2K11 marked a year of many successful implementations by our development team. From the inclusion of Michael Jordan, with his challenges and rivals, to marked improvements in gameplay, AI and controls, one of the factors we wanted to really step up was the authenticity of playcalling and strategy. Let’s say just it. NBA 2K11 boasted the most authentic and varied playbooks for each team to grace any basketball game. That said, there is always room for improvement. At 2K, improvement is generally not our target, though. We aim to create new experiences and, to do that, you have to be willing to sacrifice all that came before.
With that in mind, we set up to do the following things:
Dramatically improve the play system.
Make Playcalling more accessible to the user, so that more players will understand the value of strategic basketball.
Add On the Fly Strategic Adjustments to allow users to change their team’s approach to the game without having to go to the Coaching menu.
PLAYSYSTEM AND PLAYCALLING
Play distribution became a major area of focus for the team this year. First, there were a few major hurdles we needed to overcome to take our system to the next level.
Our fans had voiced their desire for having plays assigned to players, not positions. As a response, in 2K11, we allowed users to assign four plays to each of their starters. In addition to the four plays for each starter, we had the ability to share four plays between your bench players who played the same position.
As an intermediate solution, this answered some of the community’s requests, but also introduced a few unintended obstacles.
One of those obstacles was play management. Because the playbooks were hardcoded into our game last year, anytime a player moved from a starter to the bench or changed teams, plays had to be manually tracked and updated, even for the smallest roster move. This resulted in many players having plays assigned to them that did not make the best use of their own abilities.
Another long lamented issue for fans of our game was the four play limitation for plays assigned to each player. This may not seem like a big of an issue if you play the game sparingly. However, over time, the lack of offensive play variety for specific players became a major limitation to the strategic element of the game.
So when reviewing this internally, we sought out the best solution to this issue. All of our gameplay team and a member of the SIM gaming community (the man behind some of the great playcall videos put together last year – Da Czar) locked themselves in a meeting room for six hours until they came up with an equitable solution. Yes, we do bring in our most dedicated community members for their opinions – as you’ve seen with Da Czar’s involvement and with our Momentous videos from over the years.
From that meeting we decided that play types distribute themselves into eight key groups:
Pick and Roll Ballhandler
The man who dribbles the ball around the screen in Pick and Roll situations
Pick and Roll Screener
Man who sets a screen on the ballhandler’s man
Space created for one-on-one opportunities
Post plays where you receive on or near the low block.
Post plays where you receive the ball at the high post extended
Plays where a man comes off a screen or receives a hand off headed towards the basket
Plays where a player comes off a screen looking to get open for a Jumpshot from Midrange
Plays where a player comes off a screen looking to get open for a Jumpshot from 3PT range.
In NBA 2K12, any player in the game can be assigned as many as four different play types. These four playtypes are ranked 1-4 and weighted accordingly, so those who choose auto playcalling can influence which types of plays are called more often.
This allows a team’s playbook to be created dynamically which means that no manual intervention is needed when a player is moved into or out of the starting lineup and/or is traded. As in the real NBA, if a player is traded, he will keep his play type assignment and simply inherit all the plays of that type in his new team’s playbook.
We, of course, made sure to have a few plays of each type in every current team’s playbook to account for trades that may happen during the course of the year.
One benefit of this new system is that now, once a player is assigned a play type, he has access to every play of that type in his team’s playbook. So if you have Carmelo Anthony assigned as an Isolation player and you have 10 Iso plays in your playbook, he has access to all 10 of those plays in addition to any other plays in the other three slots.
The only drawback to this system is that the playbooks are created dynamically based on which play types you select for each player; therefore, you cannot choose the order in which the plays show up in the play call screen. The order the plays appear will remain static until you choose to change the play types assigned to a particular player. Then, the play call list is dynamically recreated again and remains the same until changed.
The Regular Playcalling interface remains virtually unchanged.
Bring up the Playcalling interface by tapping LB (R1 on PS3). Then select the icon of the player you wish to run a play for. Once you get here, the plays display for that player.
This menu has changed a bit from 2K11. Last year you had four plays to choose from. This year you have five. You can call a play by selecting either A, B, X, Y, or LT on the 360. However, if a player has more than five plays assigned to his selected play type, then at the bottom of the menu you will see a RT followed by current page / Total number of pages. Advanced users can use the RT to page through all available plays for this particular player.
Now users are freed from the four play limitation and can get as creative as they desire (as all current teams play-books are fully editable). You are free to stack your playbook with plays that only apply to the play types of your stars or spread the playtypes evenly between the different types of player personnel on your team.
You can choose to look for players that fit within your current play scheme or expand your horizons as your front office increases your talent pool.
A second and quicker way of calling a play is to touch D-Pad Right and select RUN BEST PLAY. The AI will select the best play at the time and set it up for you to run. This feature can turn even the most casual player into a veritable Phil Jackson.
Now that the interface and play selection part is done, let’s get to what I consider the most exciting part about the play system changes that are implemented in NBA 2K12.
We went back to the well as a team, along with Da Czar, to provide additional feedback to help us design a system that surpasses any before it in play execution and implementation. It quickly became apparent that our current play system would need to be refactored in order to do the job. One of our top engineers was tasked to redesign our play system to accommodate the massive overhaul to both play logic and play execution. We believe NBA 2K12 offers the most up-to-date and authentic NBA play calling experience available today.
One of the main critiques was that our plays were too static and lacked the ability to branch into other scoring opportunities. In addition, some plays just took too long to get started while others were just plain ineffective.
While past branching systems relied heavily on the pass or no pass option to initiate a branch, NBA 2k12’s Living branch system is the first to allow branching based on a pass / no pass option, as well as branches initiated by movement including off the dribble or dribble entry branches. We also have off-ball movement options where the play can branch depending on which way the offensive player decides to run off of available screens
We are also excited to be the first to offer you plays with nested branching. Traditional play branch options usually only provide the option to branch on the initial pass / no pass opportunity. Nested branching is the key to some of the more advanced offensive options we will discuss as we continue.
In most basketball games, it has been relatively easy for a savvy defender to take away your best offensive option by simply fronting or denying your star offensive player the basketball. This leads to the offense being forced to freelance at the end of games when they really should be going with an established play. The limited number of plays and the lack of intelligent teammates has given the defense a decided advantage in key moments.
This year, we developed what we call Persistent Offensive technology. These are key plays that some teams have available for their stars. These plays are identified in your team playbooks with a capital P in the name of the play.
These are highly advanced and resilient plays that anticipate a defender attempting to take your star out of the play. As an example, we will review a play for the Knicks called NYK P 3 Ice High. In this play, Carmelo Anthony posts up on high post extended. If open, the pass is made from the top of the key and Melo has the ball 17 feet from the basket and can either post or face up.
After you run this play a few times, the defense will more than likely adjust. If they front him or play off the passer, you have the option to run a dribble entry. Once the dribble entry option is initiated the PG (Chauncey Billups) runs a Pick and Post with Carmelo. Now you have Chauncey and Carmelo isolated on one side of the floor with Melo having great post position. If the defense is somehow able to deny the post entry pass to Carmelo or if you see a bigger stronger post defender guarding Melo you can initiate another dribble branch towards the top of the key that will make Carmelo give up the post up opportunity and cut to the Wing for the isolation.
Some of the more advanced Persistent Offensive plays can offer you as many as six opportunities to score the basketball within the same play.
Before NBA 2K12, it was only necessary to know the play that was being run to be able to fully shut it down. In NBA2K12 and beyond, knowing is only half the battle. Multiple offensive decision points means a greater interactive experience, be it User vs. Computer or User vs. User. There have been some epic battles going on during this development cycle. User vs. User games have an added strategic layer that makes NBA2K12 a blast to play.
Not every play in the game is as complex as the one mentioned above. There are plenty of simple and effective plays that allow everyone from beginners to seasoned experts an opportunity to channel their inner Phil Jackson.
Another area that benefits greatly from nested branches are alley oop plays. In the past, alley oops were a hit or miss proposition. If the play was well defended, there was rarely any time left on the clock to run another play. With the introduction of nested branching, if the defense takes away the lob, you have another option that flows naturally. Many times the defense’s overreaction to stopping the embarrassing alley oop sets them up perfectly for the counter.
Out of Bounds Plays
It’s been awhile since a videogame has treated out of bounds plays with the proper respect. In the NBA, out of bounds plays are a crucial part of either winning or losing a game. In most basketball videogames up to this point, they have been more of an afterthought.
With all of the new options mentioned above, NBA 2K12 looks to change that in a big way. All of the inbounds plays from NBA 2K11 have been destroyed. Some plays have retained the same name but have all-new designs. For the first time in the NBA 2K series, we have authentic NBA out of bounds plays for your gaming enjoyment.
The out of bounds plays range from simple and effective to layered and lethal. The plays for this year’s game were created to fit within the following categories for Baseline and Sideline out of bounds.
Inbound protect / secure ball plays
These are plays were the goal is to get the ball to a specific player if possible usually your best free throw shooter.
Quick 2 plays
These are plays were you need a quick 2 point field goal.
We have plays for when you need a 3 for the tie or win
These are plays were you want to get a post up opportunity
Some plays give you two alley opportunities. One from the inbounder and another once the ball has been inbounded.
You can call inbound plays from the Quick Play menu (D-Pad Right), or for finite control of play type and targets, choose the Inbounding Play Selection Tab in the Time Out overlay.
QUICK STRATEGY OPTIONS
NBA 2K12 also offers brand new quick strategy options to the user. These options, both on offense and on defense, allow the user to quickly adjust their style of play based on their preference and/or game situation.
These offensive options are tied to individual tendencies and behavior and affect the directives of each player on the team to achieve the approach dictated by the User.
Space the Floor – Better spacing from the ballhandler; less running around / no onball screens
Screen for Shooters – set up shooters on team to get open using Offball screens
Leak Out – Outside player leaks out on shots to get a break going
Collapse and Rebound – team attacks the basket for offensive boards
Coach Default – resets current active strategy
This gives the user a quick access to setting up the Defensive Settings on the fly:
Pressure Shooters – for opposing players good at med/long range shots; tight onball, deny ball, go over screens, hedge on screens
Lock Down Paint – double down in the post for all players, go under screens
Focus on Stars – for opposing star players; always double, tight onball, deny ball
Constant Pressure – double team on drive for guards, double team in post for bigs, play tight on stars, go over screens, hard hedge
Coach Default – resets current active strategy
That about wraps it up – as you can see, a ton of effort has been put into improving the strategic elements of NBA 2K12. We’ve always longed for a time where an older user can compete against his gaming wiz child and be successful due to his understanding of the game. NBA 2K12 takes a giant leap forward in achieving that goal.