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Hands-on with NBA Live 14's dribbling, and only dribbling

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

NBA Live 14 publisher Electronic Arts brought an early build of the next-generation exclusive to E3, and while the demo showed promise, it's what we didn't see that's more telling.

EA debuted the game at its E3 press conference on Monday, announcing that developer EA Tiburon is putting its focus on dribbling with a new system it calls BounceTek. The feature separates the ball from the hands and uses physics-based modeling for the ball's movement. Combined with a new animation system that lets players fluidly go from one dribble move into another, BounceTek is said to offer users a new level of freedom in breaking down defenders and blowing by them.

All this is facilitated by EA Sports Ignite, the company's next-generation sports engine. Realistic, physics-based movement and human-like AI are two of the core pillars for Ignite.

An EA representative explained BounceTek on the E3 show floor, and added that the system is not only realistic, but authentic to the NBA thanks to another feature called CourtQ. It's a database that tracks statistics and tendencies for all 30 teams, so players will perform dribble moves with the same frequency they do in real life. Tiburon is also putting in signature dribble moves for the league's most talented stars; NBA Live 14 currently has moves for approximately 40 players.

One of those players is Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, who is featured in the game's first trailer as well as in the E3 demo. Irving is actually the only player in the demo: It consists of Irving on a practice court, and offers nothing more than the ability to test out Tiburon's new dribbling mechanics with him. The left stick controls the feet, while the right stick controls the hands, a setup similar to the system Visual Concepts introduced in NBA 2K13 last year.

NBA 2K's system is complex, with dozens of dribble moves and endless ways in which to chain them together. Only players who have most of the moves' analog stick movements memorized are able to pull off the flashiest ankle-breaking moves. NBA Live 14's setup seemed to provide more options because the animation branching allows players to mix up moves without waiting for each animation to finish, although we still, on a number of occasions, dribbled out of bounds without meaning to do so.

It's also worth noting that Tiburon had nothing more complete to show than a single player dribbling on an empty court. Dribble systems can only be measured by how well they allow you to get past defenders, and by how well that defense holds up, so it's impossible to say more about NBA Live 14 at this juncture other than that BounceTek has the potential to pay major dividends in EA's attempt to recapture part of NBA 2K's audience.

EA has not specified a more concrete release window than "within the next 12 months," so NBA Live 14 likely has a long way to go. But considering the recent history of the NBA Live franchise — particularly, that Tiburon showed nothing beyond a one-on-one demo for NBA Live 13 at E3 2012, when EA intended to ship the game that fall — it's at least somewhat worrisome that the studio didn't have more to show this week.