Next Generation: Q&A with Rob Jones, senior producer for NBA 2K14

This past week, 2K Sports invited a bunch of media members (from the gaming and basketball world) to San Francisco to check out the next generation version of NBA 2K14. The video game company has had one of the best selling sports games for years and is looking to build upon that success while working with the new technology platforms in the XBox One and PlayStation 4 systems that will be unleashed on the market in November. 

I attended the event, watched videos of new aspects in the basketball game thanks to the better technology, and got to play it on the PS4 for a few minutes. The biggest parts of the next generation of the NBA 2K franchise are emotions affecting rhythm of the game, the movement of players to be more realistic, and in-game coaching strategies that will attempt to make it a more realistic NBA experience by factoring in the coaching styles and available adjustments you'd see from many NBA coaches.

I was able to sit down and talk to 2K Sports senior producer Rob Jones about the difficulties in trying to make the same game for different generations of consoles while trying to accomplish the goals of the aspects that were unveiled in the presentation.

Eye on Basketball: You’ve been working on this for a very long time. How do you go from a current generation to a next generation while putting out a current generation game at the same time?

Rob Jones: It’s tough. No sleep. In the long and short of it, you don’t sleep. You kind of have to set out your goals. You have to sit there. You have guys who are building technology behind you and you have to plan out how that technology is going to be used by your aspects of the game. For us, it’s the gameplay. 

So one of the things that we did early is we really started trying to figure out as this new game started being created, ‘how much of this do we want to give both generations?’ And the truth was we didn’t want to give [to both]; we wanted it to be so different but we also had so many fans. What we found was that a lot of the team stuff, a lot of the animation stuff we were doing -- I’m talking about refreshing the animation and making the game feel better -- that’s stuff translated to both games. What we couldn’t translate to the next game was the tech and there were things we wanted to be able to achieve from the past that had to go. 

We set goals as to what our next generation version was going to be able to provide, what experience we wanted, what did we want people to take away from it. But we also said, “we hit a lot of good stuff that we kind of need to carry over.” It’s nice to be able to start with a great artificial intelligence base or a game that played very fluidly because now you can go in and focus in on those main things. For us it was open, it was being grounded in the world, it was -- as I looked up I saw Kobe dunk [on the monitor] -- that feeling, that emotional feeling that current generations just didn’t give us. When I got a dunk in that game, do I emote? Yeah, I’m happy I dunked on you; that was kind of cool. But I actually emote now with what happens within the game. That was what we were trying to achieve.

The first version of a game is always going to create an emotional response that we’ve never had before, so that’s what we wanted to make sure that the moment you watched it, you saw it and you felt it. It was a response that got people pumped this way because over time, everything gets old anyway. We needed to really nail those first points and create a long lasting feeling that was consistent throughout the entire program.

Trying to factor in coaching strategies and in-game strategies, you guys are trying to bring in this feel that it’s actual NBA basketball instead of just a simulation. How difficult has that been to figure out a balance between what you want to do and what’s realistic?

Well you know what happens is you start off with this incredible design how you’re going to make everybody feel human, true to themselves, and as you’re building it out, you realize what the limitations are. You either scale back or you adjust your design to the limitations but it’s not based on the fact that it can’t be achieved. It’s based on the fact that you only have so much time to achieve it.

The Point of Emphasis system, visually it looks like a handy feature. Hey, I can change things around. Internally, it actually makes the game feel a lot different and it makes it feel a lot different based on different people that you play against because they care about different things. That’s what we wanted to achieve. What makes me different than you? I approach a game than you ever would. We may see key points equally but how are we going to solve, what solution are we going to come to? We come to it a different way. And that’s what we wanted to really get.

EOB: In terms of bringing emotion into the game, emotion’s been a factor in My Player. You can have so much of a rating of emotion. To actually implement it without making it cartoonish has to be a challenge. 

RJ: Again, I think it started with a very, very solid design. If you go back in time, all of our emotions have been instilled into this thing called rhythm. If you’re in really good rhythm, you’re doing very well and if you’re in a really bad rhythm, you’re doing very poorly. But what goes into shifting that rhythm? It used to be how many shots in a row you just took. It wasn’t, “Hey, am I involved in this game plan as much as I think I should? Because that affects some guys. So creating personalities and then being able to funnel how they react to everything based on those personalities, that’s where both of our design, both of the thought processes went.

Hey, how do I make this guy swing up and down because he’s that volatile? How do I make this guy feel consistent? How do I make this guy not feel consistent? Those were the original thoughts and once we were able to lay those out on paper, the execution of it was actually easier than… well, not to say that it was easy. We were able to deliver that. 

What I was alluding to somebody else earlier, none of that really would matter without you actually seeing the emotions in the game. We’ve done that animation before. But now when you see someone’s face, you know specific emotional reactions and then when you see a change in his rhythm, you know those two things work together. It’s not the opposite. We’re not dropping eye candy because we can. When that happens -- when you see the emotion -- you also know there’s an effect. That’s what I hope people take away from that feature. 

EOB: People seem to want to feel like there is realistic movement and you guys seem to have accomplished that pretty well. Is that a baseline from where you want to build from here?

RJ: It is. It always is. It is very, very hard and this is something that we always fight with. You fight with people who play basketball games and how they feel that guys should move quicker than they do. In physics you can’t Physically, you just can’t do some of the things they want to be able to do in a basketball video game. There’s a fine balance between one and the other. What we achieved this year was to create a balance. We wanted to be planted, we wanted to be true to actual movement, and at the same time we wanted responsiveness that feels right. Because if you went completely one way, it would feel sluggish from a game side; if you went in complete opposite way, you get sliding the feet we used to have. I think it’s a stepping-stone.

The more we learn about the technology, we can actually put into the game and the more we’ll be able to do both things. 

CBS Sports Writer

Zach Harper likes basketball. Some would even say he loves it. He's also an enthusiast for everything Ricky Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Nic Cage, and has seen the movie Gigli almost three times. He's been... Full Bio

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