Dime Q&A: Go Behind-The-Scenes With The Designers Of NBA LIVE 14

By: 08.28.13  •  3 Comments
Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard (photo. EA Sports)

Last week, I had the chance to visit the EA Sports Studios in Orlando, Florida and experience the making of NBA Live 2014 — literally. Much like the up-and-coming NBA Live Franchise, I felt as if I were an NBA player on the rise as I prepared to put on my motion capture suit that would catch my signature moves and tendencies on camera.

Now, as the former captain of my college basketball team, of course I had dreams of playing in the NBA, however, the chances are slim to none for a 5-8 Division III point guard. But there I was putting up shots with the reigning Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard. He recorded his signature moves and then I helped him out with his in-game celebration. The next thing I know, Damian Lillard and I are going one-on-one.

[RELATED: Dime Q&A – Damian Lillard Talks NBA LIVE 14 & Shows Off His Rap Skills]

Surprisingly, the mo-cap suits that we were wearing weren’t that uncomfortable. Imagine playing basketball in scuba diving gear with a head cap on and all of your gear has balls on it that are attached by velcro. You even have those same motion detecting balls stuck to your shoes with duct tape. Eventually, I started to sweat; as Lillard noted to me during an insane ballhanding workout that would make Ganon Baker look like an amateur, the headgear was pretty hot. Still, I wasn’t paying attention to that. I was like a kid in a candy store.

Before we went to check out a sneak peak of what Damian actually looks like in real gameplay, I sat down with the Portland point guard for a while to talk NBA Live, this upcoming season and his skills on the mic. I also got the chance to be involved in an EA roundtable interview with three of the masterminds that are behind this game.

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Scott O’Gallagher is a gameplay designer on NBA Live 14 and has been loyal to the franchise for years. As a former pro baller in Europe, Scott says he remembers paying close to $300 in shipping before he could finally land NBA Live 2010 while he was playing across the pond. Scott was the go-to guy on set when explaining to Lillard what specific moves they wanted to see out of him.

Ryan Santos is a Senior Designer on NBA Live 14 and has previously worked on NBA Live between 2000 and 2005. In addition, he worked on NBA Street Volume 3, NBA Street Homecourt and NBA Live 2010 while most recently working on digital Jordan Campaigns before rejoining the team at EA for this project.

Ryan Ferwerda is another EA veteran who is on the NBA Live 14 project as a producer after working on Madden football since 2000.

While they realize their competition has owned the market share for the past three years in basketball video games — likening them to the 96′ Bulls — the guys behind this game know that there are Live players out there and players that prefer games by EA Sports.

I caught up with the crew over at EA to talk about what goes into making the game, how it’s changed, their new game technology, and about their unique marketing strategy.

***

Game-Making Process

On The Different Disciplines That Went Into Making Live 14
Ryan Ferwerda: I think one of the things you see with today specifically and really what’s kind of been a driving mantra for the entirety of the game is authenticity. First thing we get out of here is having Damian here and other guys we’ve had in to do mo-cap and work on all of the signature dribble stuff. Everything you see about our game is all about being the most authentic, real basketball video game brand and game that there is out there. Every single thing we do kind of backs that up from animation, music, shoes- everything in our game. The goal is to make it exactly like the real NBA everyday and keep that updated and refreshed throughout the season. So everyday you turn the game on, you’re going to get the most authentic, up-to-date experience.

Taking The Game To The Next Level and How It Has Changed Over The Years
Ryan Santos: I think we’re at a really unique position here with the launch of the next-gen consoles. The sort of advantage we have is that we’ve been able to just focus on NBA Live for next-gen. What that gives us is the ability to take advantage of next-gen hardware. So with that hardware, with each cycle, each transition year that we move up in hardware we’re able to really harness the things that we’ve always wanted to recreate in a basketball game. So it gets more authentic. The AI (artificial intelligence) behaves a little bit more smartly. The players look just that much more realistic. We’re able to get performance from these guys that really show off the emotion of the sport and give you that next-gen detail that you’re looking for. I think we’re able to use technology like the ignite engine to really push our sports games forward.

Looking back at previous-gen titles, I’ve worked on a lot of the basketball games then and we were always bound by certain things in the hardware. We had all of these great ideas but we were being held back by the technology and I think moving forward, we’re going to be able to see a greater sense of authenticity in the game with the next-gen consoles.

RF: To add to that, a key element that you’re going to see that’s unique to Live, especially being on next-generation platforms is that every single day you play, you’re always going to have a heartbeat connection back to NBA Live. Every time that you turn it on, if there’s new shoes that drop, there’s new player updates that drop or AI with Synergy Sports, you’re going to get that stuff within the hour in some cases. That’s really unique moving forward and something that’s never been done as far as we’ve handled stuff. You’re always connected to the service.

Scott O’Gallagher: Obviously these new consoles have so much more space. So like today- you saw that we captured six of Damian Lillard’s signature moves and we can do that for damn near every player in the league if we want to. It’s just the time of getting in and now we have the [memory] space to do it where before, you didn’t have enough room to do so.

RS: You buy the game at launch- it’s going to be a different game every single day. We’re giving you that enhanced experience throughout the season. You can keep up with your teams, what’s going on in the league from tattoos and sneakers to actual stats and how that effects the AI and how the game plays.

Keep reading to get an in-depth look at the game’s technology…

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Kyrie Irving NBA Live 14

Kyrie Irving Cover of NBA Live 14 (photo. EA Sports)

Game Technology

EA and Synergy Sports Partner Up To Put Current Basketball Analytics Into Game
SO: Synergy Sports is the No. 1 data driven and analytic tool that all 30 NBA teams are using. So basically, in this case for like Damian Lillard, we know how many isos he’s been in all year. We can watch videos on every single iso he’s had. We know for example, how many times he goes right, how many times does he like to finish right, how many times does he like to pull-up going right, guarded or unguarded. The amount of power that is in there is unbelievable. We’re pumping that into the background so our defenses are dynamically changing to that. So they know whether we can pressure a guy like Rondo. Well, he’s not a very good shooter so we know in the system to close out short to him, make him shoot the jumper. There’s so many things [that are in this game] that I don’t know if the consumer is going to pick up. It’s almost an overload of information.

RF: I mean, it’s a shift from just going through and saying, “I think this guy has a 74 2-point shooting [rating],” to true data that drives every single thing that happens that the player does from when you play to how the AI drives it as well.

RS: There’s no longer one of us saying, “this guy’s a 74 [in] shooting.” It’s [now] how he shoots every day and that goes up and down throughout the season, so that changes in the game.

RF: It’s the evolution from you sending a guy into the season with how he plays to how someone’s game molds in real life. And it’s different than a box score. We’re basically tracking every player’s tendencies and how they think on the court and what they do in certain situations. You have guys that will drive and guys that will just pull-up. We track it and make it and it’s updated within an hour after a game is played. So, you see guys that go on crazy streaks or you see a rookie that evolves his game and that will evolve in our game as well.

SO: Even in those particular areas too, we have this in the post. How many times does he (a post player) shoot over his right shoulder? His left shoulder? Does he like to go middle? Does he like to spin baseline? We’re constantly driving it every millisecond.

RF: A guy gets hurt and he doesn’t want to drive as much anymore. That stuff all gets updated into the game.

Live 14 Includes New BounceTek Feature
SO: BounceTek is releasing the ball to physics for the first time ever in a video game. So basically in prior video games, the ball is always tied to animation. So if I try to turn in older basketball games, the ball would magically find its way there (to the next movement) where now, it’s sending it to physics and were going to find an anim that will find it for you. It’s going to help (player) balance and the true feel of momentum. It’s going to be different but it’s going to be something that the consumer really enjoys.

The Motion Capture Experience
SO: So for example, when you (Matt) were guarding Damian when he was doing all of the signature stuff, we’ll take that exact anim with all of the balls (from mo-cap suit) that are picked up with our software, transfer that right on into our rig, and then we’ll animate it and get it all done from there and that’s what you’ll play in game. And there’s that saying that, “every player is somebody’s favorite player,” so we wanted you to feel the difference between Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich. Steve Blake and Steve Nash. Nash’s hesi[tation] between Kyrie‘s. And there’s just a difference and with this Ignite [technology] stuff we can get different types of mannerisms. All different types of signa[ture] play calling: chins, nose.

Process of Bringing Player Characteristics And Data To Life In Game
RS: Well, all of the data needs to be processed, and then cleaned up. Then when they send it to our animators in the formats that they use, our animators will take that in-game and make sure the clips are the right length or the type of move that we’re trying to re-create. Then, that’s built into the game and could be in the game easily in like a day or so once we get the data back.

RF: The key is to keep the data so that it’s as lost-less as possible. Going through the data you go through it, edit it, translate it for our game. It’s literally going through each frame because you don’t want to lose any of the mannerisms or the nuances- that’s where the special stuff is. Then we hand it off to our animators, who then go through it and start hooking it (the data) up in the right situations.

SO: And we have some amazing people in the studio so say if Damian likes to go right and develops this leg kick [on his jump shot], we can add that and start manipulating things to how he’s doing it.

RF: And many of the guys (players) that we have can look at footage here and if they do something in the mo-cap that it can’t pick up, they can go through and actually add that stuff.

Hit page 3 to hear why Kyrie Irving was chosen for the game’s cover…

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Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving (photo. D.L. Anderson)

How The Finished Product Is Determined
RS: It’s based on sort of the design that we come up with at the start of the year, the features that we really want to blow out- BounceTek and then our dribble system. We plan really far ahead before these shoots even happen to figure out what type of data we need and once we get it, it’s just [a matter of] plugging stuff in to reach our goals.

RF: I think when you saw these guys working they had their shot sheet. They go through to make sure that Damian feels the right way [in the game]. So they take that shot sheet and basically fill the holes for each specific guy. You kind of start with your control like a science experiment and say, “here’s my one guy that I have and here’s how I make him feel right [to the audience]” and we design that stuff up front and it happens months in advance. Then that really opens it up for us to add variety and all of the signature stuff because we spend so much time using Ignite tech to get the players to feel right generically, then we can add all of the signature stuff to make each guy individually feel the right way. We’re really fortunate that we can mess around with stuff and check it two hours later. We can now look at stuff within hours as opposed to waiting two weeks.

SO: Even on the gameplay side, we have an ANT tool that basically allows us to go in and change stuff by the second and by the minute. If I don’t like a certain crossover, I can change something up immediately, and go back to it and change it again. I can have one of our guys go in and try the new Damian Lillard package I just put in. They can go in [and provide feedback] so that we can change it immediately.

RS: That ANT tool is our propriety animation software EA Sports uses across the board and the main component to the Ignite package so we’re able to do a lot of these things because of our great tools and the support we have across the sports label.

RF: In effect, everybody uses the same stuff and it cannot be understated because when there’s an improvement in one group or one team (at EA), that stuff all cross pollinates to everyone here. If Madden, Fifa or NHL has an innovation, we can all share it and it allows us to run a sport in its entirety and make it feel unique and feel right. Very few people would realize a football game, soccer game and a basketball game are [running] on the same engine, but that’s because of the scale and how much stuff we can add into each.

Marketing

Decision To Release On Only Next-Gen Consoles
RF: I think going to next-gen Consoles, specifically for us, made the most sense. It’s very rare that you get these transitions and for us, a brand back on the rise, we want to plant our flag with the newest, latest and greatest and there’s a lot of advantages with that. We’re singularly focused and in a vacuum looking at XBox One and PS4 in this case and we don’t have to worry about other platforms and that allows us to provide the best possible experience on those platforms and be straight ahead. So to us, it really was the only decision. It’s a very rare, great opportunity to perfectly align with the transition of the new stuff. We haven’t had one of these in about eight years so it’s a really good opportunity.

Targeting Youth With Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard
RS: I think we made that decision because sort of the ethos for the franchise this year is all about what’s next, being next and all about next. We wanted to align ourselves with athletes who are the future of the league and are going to be the next superstars on the rise and we feel like with BounceTek there’s a nice synergy there between the guys that we’re picking, their handles and their game. We thought this year it would make a lot of sense to pick up a guy like Kyrie who’s- I mean the guy’s next up. When Kobe‘s gone and LeBron and Durant get older, he’s going to be one of those guys coming up I think as one of the legit superstars in the league and so all of the guys we’ve gotten, I think we’ve got a great cast to represent what the franchise really represents this year.

RF: Every single thing you see us do is going to be about what’s next, who’s next, what’s the next hot thing and I think that aligns right with our game as well. We’re next and we’re coming up on the new hot machines, we got all of the new stuff. We are next.

What do you think?

Follow Matt on Twitter at @DimeMatt.

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