Thursday, June 5, 2014

Praise Be to Ray Allen

The NBA finals have begun, and to celebrate I decided to try out NBA 2k14 since it's free on PS+ at present. I used to be extremely good at NBA Live in the mid 00's and that contributed to a greater understanding and liking of basketball alongside my high school, college (MSU), and local professional teams (pistons) being quite good. I'm not particularly deep into the stats section of the game which is evidently all the rage now but I have a general understanding of what PER means and so on (I ma fairly interested in more advanced baseball statistics; but that's my favorite sport). Aside from big budget films the main thing I feel our society's wastefulness has produced worth remembering are the various professional sporting environments and the NBA is no exception.

In NBA Live 2005 (whose best player by their stat system was one Baron Davis) I had a general feel for driving to the basket to create open opportunities for shooters or just to dunk on fools. I developed an interesting back and forth with the hardest computer. It took a solid 20r or so games to get better than the comp who initially stomped me into oblivion; but after mastering some reasonably advanced basketball philosophy I had a good feel for just how to pick apart their defenses. The inexorably dominant Baron Davis surely did help in this endeavour. Richard "Rip" Hamilton of the Pistons was highly successful at the time and sort of made me fall in love with the mid-range jumpshot. Despite being inherently inefficient relative to the 3, the mid-range is still quite powerful given the shooter is accurate enough with it.

Now, you may ask, wasn't NBA 2kxx the game you bitched about causing an absurdly long line at Dark Souls' midnight release all those years ago? Yes... yes it was. Apparently it's actually a pretty good game and has amazing production values relative to the games I used to play. The animation especially feels very fluid and the absurd attention to detail on a per player basis is extraordinary. Even the commentary doesn't have that usual extremely stilted problem that video game commentary tends to have. They must have recorded an absurd amount of dialogue to get that to work out (though admittedly I am running into repeats due to doing the same thing every game so far). There are still candid camera moments where a player will get stuck in an animation loop trying to pick up a ball out of bounds and failing, but that's just part of the charm. This game is so realistic that I feel it cleanly rests in the Uncanny Valley universe; but it sort of embraces that as well.

The most notable new feature of this game is the "path to greatness" mode with Lebron actually voicing over little segments for each game, that's primarily what I've been playing. There's definitely some obtuseness to the introductory portions of the game and even the insistence on immediately throwing a game at you when you turn it on instead of a menu screen. But what's most duanting about this game are the controls, which admittedly do facilitate an incredible level of depth. Going through the tutorial for this game is not unlike going through a difficult fighting game tutorial a la Skullgirls or King of Fighters XIII. The game even has you doing quarter, half, and full circles in specific directions to get your player to do various dribbling or shooting maneuvers. It's pretty intense stuff and I might not have the motivation to actually get to a high skill plane, as even the game's base difficulty computer is quite difficult to beat. However that doesn't mean there isn't fun to be had.

Like every other sports game NBA 2k14 has a hidden stats system on every interaction you make; most obviously impacting the FG% of whatever shot you happen to be taking. However this is slightly more apparent and easier to exploit because of how the game presents its systems and shows specific traits for each player. Dwayne Wade for instance becomes an absolute monster in the 4th quarter and gets a raw boosts to all of his stats in that time period; an already good player becomes ridiculous. Lebron has a whole shitload of icons to this effect and I'm not really sure what all of them do other than "yo this guy's good." However, I do pay some amount of attention to NBA coverage and am aware of Lebron's prodigious passing ability.

Lebron "Magic" James, as it were, triggers one of his traits on passing that instantly boosts the shooting percentage of the recipient of his pass; regardless of the situation in which you threw it. His hand is just that magical to convey shooting competence to anyone. While this is obviously ridiculous it only becomes all the more entertaining if you combine it with the magnificent Ray Allen's ability to "Catch and Shoot" as well as the ambiguous "Dead Eye." Effectively a pass from Lebron to Ray Allen gives him about a 60% chance to hit a 3 (a 40% chance is considered exceptional in reality), regardless of whether he's covered or not. So to beat the merciless comp I embarked on this prodigious strategy: bring the ball up court with Lebron, pass to Ray Allen behind the arc, shoot. In many of these games Ray Allen accumulates well over 60 points and Lebron over 20 assists (as is his wont) and the whole rest of the team does nothing other than what the comp decides to do.

I've pretty much given up on the defensive end so I just pick the shortest guy and hope for the best (defense has more Balrog type moves than fireballs/spinning piledrivers); the comp seems to be pretty decent if you just let them defend. So far I have a 5-2 record, even getting 3 stars on one of the challenges (Lebron's true calling indeed). The comp is content to get the vast majority of their points in the paint while I rain down my barrage of 3's. While they might wind up with a 55-60 FG% I'll be content with my 50%+ from behind the arc. Unfortunately with the bizarre alternate future setting you get moved out of Miami after the first season and I no longer have the outstanding Ray Allen to pin all my hopes on, but Ray Felton seems to be doing alright in his stead. Shane Battier contributed as well and even Lebron himself performs serviceably behind the arc.

This game's fun and sort of dauntingly difficult in a way that I find satisfying. I might never figure out how to get to the rim easily, but I'll probably figure out how to get a decent passing game going and my instincts have already sussed out ways to break the ingame systems in my favor. One day I'll be beating the hardest comp with ease... maybe.

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