The next patch for NBA 2K16 — not its regular roster update, but a content update for the entire game — could be one that solely addresses one player: Stephen Curry, and the problem his real-world exploits pose to the balance of a video game.
Speaking to Bryan Wiedey in the latest Press Row Podcast, Visual Concepts' Scott O'Gallagher and Mike Wang tried to resolve Curry's once-in-a-generation talent without destroying the thing they and so many others have worked so hard to create. Curry is hitting a mind-boggling two-thirds of his shots from 28 to 50 feet — that's three feet behind the midcourt stripe — including this dazzler against Oklahoma City two weeks ago to cap a game that will be talked about for decades.
Those performances drive many to NBA 2K16 — casual and hardcore fans alike — to recreate Curry's feats. Visual Concepts has to give these players a way of doing so without breaking a system their studio has spent almost two decades refining. The answer, at least for now, appears to be in a "badge" or a special attribute applicable only to Curry or another player who matches his kind of talent for hitting long-long range shots — or perhaps more importantly, long-range shots with no one near him.
Under NBA 2K's current performance engine, "everyone in the league gets penalized at a certain distance in the same way," Wang, the gameplay director, told the Press Row Podcast. So, in the video game, Curry actually shoots a worse percentage from extreme long range than he does in real life. "He's still getting hit the same way as these other people taking these, quote-unquote, bad shots," Wang said.
O'Gallagher pointed out that NBA 2K16 also can't attribute Curry's effectiveness to defender proximity alone. That is, Curry may hit a lot of open shots (and plenty of old timers have complained about this), but more than 60 players in the NBA also hit more than 60 percent of their shots if no defender is within 12 feet.
Bottom line: You simply can't rate Curry's talent relative to the rest of the NBA
To extend NBA 2K16's shooting accuracy to account for Curry, but condition it to defender proximity, would give ordinary players a godlike Curry status they don't deserve. That could have a devastating effect on the video game, because NBA 2K16's diehard core knows how to play a drive-and-kick game — particularly against inexperienced multiplayer opponents — to create that kind of space.
"Golden State has three guys shooting 75 percent on kick-out situations," O'Gallagher said. "They're making it more than free throws."
The answer seems to be not in improving an attribute that applies to the overall player population. Instead it's to give Curry a special "badge," a perk available only to a specific player — but theoretically one also available for created players who earn it within NBA 2K16's vast career suite.
"If 99 percent of the league is going to shoot worse when they're contested, and shoot better when they're open, if that's the rule, then you obviously don't have to make a rating to support that rule," reasoned Wang. "So it's more, let's create something to break that rule. ... That's what the badges are designed to do. They're designed to say 'Here's an exception, or a special context in the game for someone who excels at something and can do it better than anyone else,' and that's what we're looking to do with Steph."
"It's a tough balance. Because it's like, where is that breaking point? He's taking a 37-foot jumper," marveled O'Gallagher, himself a college player and overseas professional before joining 2K Sports. "It's literally a jumper. ... If that happened, if you lost a game that way, it's no different than losing on a hail mary in football, you want to throw your controller, but he's doing this stuff at an absurd rate, and we're reacting like everyone else."
Curry, paradoxically, saw his overall rating slip by one point in NBA 2K16's latest roster update (to 97 from 98) but he remains the game's deadliest shooter. If what Wang and O'Gallagher are contemplating comes to pass, it's remarkable on a couple of levels.
The first is that Visual Concepts and 2K Sports would deliver such a significant change, addressing an individual performer in a team sports title, this far from launch (NBA 2K16 released in late September). Sports video games have the most watchful post-release support, especially among console genres, mainly because they're obligated to follow real world action and re-rate their performers to reflect it. Rarely does an entire title get modified for one player in the way Wang and O'Gallagher proposed.
Rarely does a sports video game get modified in the way these two propose
The second is that if NBA 2K16 introduces a special badge for Curry's sharpshooting ability, presumably that badge would become available to created players in the MyCareer suite. If such a talent becomes available, especially within human-on-human multiplayer, watch out.
Let's be clear, a created player in NBA 2K16 earns a badge only for on-court performance — you can't just buy one for real or virtual currency like you can a pair of shoes, or an ordinary attribute upgrade. The conditions to acquire Curry's shooting ability for a created player would likely be formidable.
But assuming this badge can be acquired by a player not named Steph Curry, especially if it's introduced when the NBA playoffs begin in April and everyone really starts watching, God only knows how many would hurl themselves at NBA 2K16 from then through the summer, trying to get it.
"We're taking our time with it, and we're going to do it in a way that's faithful to Steph Curry, but keeps our game the competitive and fun experience it's supposed to be," Wang said.