As NBA 2K developer Visual Concepts attempts to continue the series' stellar recent history with NBA 2K14 this fall, the studio is keeping its focus on refining existing systems and mechanics as opposed to making wholesale changes. It's a strategy that makes sense when you approach a new generation of consoles — and when you've had as much success as Visual Concepts.
With NBA 2K13 last year, the studio made a major change to a couple of fundamental mechanics — shooting and dribbling — by putting both on the right analog stick, with a modifier button used to toggle between them. Dubbed the "Control Stick," the setup made complex dribbling moves more accessible for casual NBA 2K players without getting rid of the depth that die-hard players craved. But the modifier button, the left trigger, occasionally caused problems in the heat of battle.
"We never want players to feel stuck in a canned animation or out of control at any time," said NBA 2K14 producer Rob Jones in an interview with Polygon. "Basketball requires split-second reaction time, and even the slightest delay can cause you to give your opponent a huge advantage."
This year, Visual Concepts removed the modifier but left both shooting and dribbling on the right stick, a control scheme the studio now refers to as the "Pro Stick." Flicking and rolling the stick will produce dribble moves like crossovers, and if you want to shoot, you just hold the stick in a particular direction. The modifier button is now used in conjunction with the right stick for flashy passes. According to Jones, this setup "makes quick twitch actions in the heat of the game much simpler."
The change seems significant enough to warrant a renewed focus on tutorial elements. The tutorials in previous NBA 2K games have allowed players to practice the complex variety of controls on offer, but haven't done a good job of teaching players how to use those moves in a real game setting. Jones said this year's tutorial "includes all of the latest moves to make the player experience better than ever," but didn't mention any changes that could potentially fix the issue by putting that training in the context of an actual game.
In addition to revamping controls, Visual Concepts also wanted to tweak the way players move, with an eye toward "improving smoothness and responsiveness." Basketball games really suffer if players get caught in animations and can't branch out of them. So the studio worked on animation transitions to reduce the frustration associated with poor responsiveness, which, according to Jones, will be appreciated on defense in particular.
During our interview, Jones repeatedly said that Visual Concepts wants to take individual NBA 2K14 features, and the franchise itself, "to the next level." We haven't played the game yet, so it's unclear if the aforementioned changes that the studio is making will accomplish its goal. But considering the NBA 2K series' esteemed pedigree, Visual Concepts has earned the benefit of the doubt.