On Friday, NBA 2K23 will release to the joy, and sometimes frustration, of basketball fans everywhere. NBA 2K is a franchise that in many ways represents the many different cultures of basketball all intertwined into one video game. From stats geeks that want to build the perfect franchise to the gym grinders creating the perfect character to take on other players in Blacktop or ProAm. This year’s edition will feature all of that as always, but it’s also going to include a tribute to one of the greatest to ever play, Michael Jordan. Not only is Jordan on one of 2K’s three covers, but with him is the return of The Jordan Challenges.
The Jordan Challenges were originally 10 challenges in NBA 2K11 where players got to play iconic moments from Jordan’s career, from his 63-point effort in Boston to his final shot against the Utah Jazz. In 2K23, they’ve taken it even further with more depth. The developers at Visual Concepts wanted to show a more complete story of Jordan’s career, starting in college, and were kind enough to chat with us about what it took to make that happen. Erick Boenisch, an executive producer at Visual Concepts, worked on not only this year’s Jordan challenges but also the original mode back in 2K11 so he’s very familiar with how it’s changed from the previous iteration to this one.
So 2K23 is almost out, how excited are you?
It’s incredibly exciting. I mean we have been working on this for a year now and to see it all come to fruition in the last two or three months. It’s a good feeling as a game developer. We spend all these months designing stuff and then it’s in a very broken state when you start and to see it kind of come all the way to where the Jordan challenge, in particular, is now, it’s breathtaking and amazing. It’s an incredible feeling mostly because I know what the public gets to play a week from tomorrow. They get to play an amazing experience, whether you are an old head, whether you are a kid, and never saw Jordan play. There’s something for everyone.
So what led to the decision to bring the Jordan challenges back?
So when we did that in 2K11, obviously the reception was huge, but for that generation of fans at that point in time Jordan had only been retired eight years. Everyone had him in their head, and most people who bought the game at that point watched Jordan play in his career. Fast forward 12 years later we’re kind of in a whole new generation of fans playing NBA 2K, most of our audience, you know, 13, 14, 15, 16 17-year-old kids, they weren’t even born when he last played. They just see YouTube clips, dad says Jordan’s great, take it for his word. This is a chance for us to retell Michael Jordan’s story to a whole new generation of NBA fans. And for me, I take great honor and being able to do that and in doing it, I only wanted to do it in the most robust way possible.
Obviously have the challenges from last time to pull from, and then you have the most iconic moments of Jordan’s career. The final shot against Utah, the flu game, 63 points, 69 points all that. When adding in new challenges, why did you choose those specific moments?
I really felt from a fan’s perspective, they help to better tell Jordan’s narrative from an earlier point in time. Our first game is that NCAA Championship game against Georgetown in 1982. And that’s really, I don’t want to say when Jordan first came on the scene, because he went to UNC, right? But that’s really when the star started to come out of nowhere. He made that shot over Patrick Ewing, Eric ‘Sleepy’ Floyd was on that team, and it’s just it’s a great way to begin our telling of Jordan’s narrative. You get to play him at North Carolina, in college, in our game, which is awesome. It’s just a really fun experience for that. We have his Team USA and 84 experience, which we didn’t have last time. You’re going to be on a team with Babyface Chris Mullin and you’re going against these NBA All-Stars, and that’s a lot of fun. And then from that point, it was adding things along the way to better fill out what we thought was the best narrative for his career.
When you were getting the mid-game interviews with everyone who was probably your favorite person you got a chance to talk to?
We did Kenny Smith and Kenny Smith is a super professional, right? He did an amazing job. He’s so polished. You know it’s like you’re getting a broadcast interview. Jeanie Buss was like raw, and just honest and open, and she comes across amazingly in the game because of that. So I love love that. Patrick Ewing was incredible when we did him for the double nickel game against the Knicks. Marv Albert, I had never spoken to Marv in my entire life. We talked for like an hour, we then had cut his interview down to like a minute – a minute and a half.
When you have a cut them down into a minute, what’s the greatest challenge of getting those interviews into the game itself?
So each one had two parts. There was getting their personality like, Bill Walton, you give him a question and it’s seven minutes to get the answer, right, and it’s a total side tangent. So it’s getting their flavor and their unique touch that you don’t even know to ask about, but then also kind of pairing it with the narrative of the game the users are about to play and what their impact was like, Bill Walton did the arrival game because he was on the Celtics in that game. So trying to craft all those into a piece that’s consumable for the user where they’re not just skipping it. We’d sit there and massage it, watch it, and add more flavor. This one’s too long, he talks too long here, and just really crafting it into something that they were proud of as well. There’s so much extra footage we can do with later in the year if we really want to spend the time on it. The Cutting Room floor, if you will, that I think people would love.