It can't be easy for a sports-game developer to put a new spin on a popular franchise year after year. After all, the rules of games like football and basketball are already set in stone, so you have to find new ways to innovate to keep the gameplay fresh on an annual schedule. Luckily, the team behind EA Sports' NBA Live 06 has brand-new hardware to work with in the Xbox 360, and here to tell us what will set the 360 version apart from the current-gen games is producer Tim Tschirner.
GameSpot: What are you hoping to accomplish with your first next-generation basketball game?
Tim Tschirner: I think first and foremost we have set out to make a game that is able to show off what the hardware allows us to do with a basketball game while also giving fans a taste of what's to come in the future in next-generation gaming. When we began our development process of this game, we set out with three goals that everything we did for the past year was focused on--we wanted to make a game that looks next-gen, that feels next-gen, and that plays next-gen.
It's very simple. We were not going to port this game; we were going to reinvent the basketball video game experience and deliver a completely new experience, while of course not ignoring something like freestyle control that is a defining feature of the NBA Live series, which over the years helped us to build such a loyal and dedicated fan base.
I'm proud of the game we have made, but I also think we're just scratching the surface. This is a first look at what the future holds for next-gen gaming. The ultrarealistic player models, new broadcast-style camera angles, lighting, and new collisions and textures are all things we were never able to do before given the limitations of the hardware. Now we have a new system that we can learn from and continue to try to build the most authentic simulation basketball game ever created--with every NBA player playing and feeling like they do in real life.
GS: How much of NBA Live 06 for the Xbox 360 is new from the ground up? What aspects have you rebuilt, and how can we expect those areas of the game to be improved?
TT: We went into this project knowing that we wanted to rebuild the foundation of the game from the ground up. Porting over our current-gen game was never an option, because that never would have put us in a position to maximize the hardware in the years to come and ultimately deliver fans the best basketball gaming experience.
I like to think of what we did as the equivalent of rebuilding the foundation of a house. We wanted to get the foundation right so we could continue to improve and grow and add on to the core architecture of the game in the years to come.
With NBA Live 06 on Xbox 360, the core game architecture has completely been rebuilt. That means that the visuals are completely new as well as all the game modes and our new system of being "in the game all the time" where there are no load times and you can play while you wait. That's a completely new way of playing sports video games and something that required a complete rewrite and a totally new way of thinking about how NBA Live was built. Our arenas are rebuilt and are authentic down to the screws in the seats and the JumboTrons. Player models and faces also offer a completely new look to the series.
In gameplay, we have taken what works and what's familiar in NBA Live and enhanced it, and we've taken what needed fixing and gotten rid of it. We bring you the freestyle control but made significant enhancements to the gameplay to ensure that new real-life "rag doll" physics allow for a new physical brand of basketball. There are now real collisions like in real-life basketball, not the scenarios that were written into the old logic. Collisions now feel more real and more physical.
We'll continue to rebuild the house to create the greatest game on the market. We didn't have time to rebuild every aspect of the game from scratch, and we know we need to open up new rooms in the years to come. The way we have built this game will now allow that, which means nothing but great things for the future of the platform.
GS: How do you compare developing for the 360 with developing for the original Xbox?
TT: It really depends on what year you are thinking of in the life cycle of the current-gen systems. This experience this year has been completely different than development from NBA Live 04 to NBA Live 05, where we had a strong foundation and were very familiar with the hardware and were simply trying to maximize what we could do on the Xbox and PS2 as we added new gameplay enhancements and deep new modes like All-Star Weekend.
This game has been very much like starting over and building a brand-new game. We were starting with a blank slate and trying to brainstorm and figure out how we could rebuild this game from the ground up and truly make a game that would be next-gen and not just a port of the current-gen game. The feeling has been similar from when we went from PlayStation to PS2 as we continue to discover new things about the box and challenge ourselves to do all the things we've always wanted to do over the years but just didn't have a piece of hardware to build a game for that would allow it.
Making NBA Live for Xbox 360 is about allowing us to do what we have always wanted us to do and putting us in a position to continue to do so over the life of the platform. A great example is with the visuals--we always have internal targets that we are trying to reach with visuals but never quite get there. This year, for the first time, we've exceeded our visual targets. The final product actually looks better than what we had even targeted months ago. That's exciting stuff.