NBA Live 18 is the first new entry its series in over two years, and comes at a time when the NBA 2K series is dominating the basketball market. During this time, the developers have been diligently working on the game to make a true competitor, adding quality of life improvements, many RPG elements, the WNBA, and even a single player mode called “The One“.
At a recent EA Sports event in the company’s Redwood City headquarters, DualShockers got the chance to sit down with Mike Mahar, a Producer of NBA Live 18, and discuss “The One” mode, how EA plans to take on the massive NBA 2K series, the possibility of seeing the series on Nintendo Switch, and more.
Tomas Franzese: Why did you guys decide to add The One to NBA Live 18?
Mike Mahar: Essentially, over the span of time that we have been developing the product, 16 to now, we looked at a lot of player motivations, how people like to play these games, one of the most important ways to motivate them is the single character, single player kind of compulsion loop. When we set up to do that, we wanted to do it a bit differently. That’s not really out of the norm in sports games, of course I want to create my character and win championships or whatever it is, so one thing we wanted to bring in is the spectrum of the spectrum of the basketball universe.
This real world Pro-am – which we call the Streets – Circuit that occurs every summer, that NBA players play in, and the play incredibly hard. It has celebrities in it, a lot of streetball players, and the level of basketball is incredibly high. Of course there is also The League, which is the NBA. We wanted to take those worlds, because they offer very different ways to play, like viscerally different on the sticks, and we wanted to put them together. So you could have one career, hence “The One“, that spans both of those ecosystems.
TF: The NBA 2K games have become quite dominant in Basketball Sports game market over the last couple years. What is EA doing with NBA Live 18 to chip away at the lead and take back some of the market?
MM: First and foremost, the core gameplay changes we’ve made in the last two years, the feel of the game on the sticks, the one on one mechanic, actually being able to play defense on the perimeter, and making playing defense actually fun. The core game quality needed to get increased in NBA Live so that it is a viable alternative for players who want to play.
Once we had that on lock, we wanted to build something unique, we wanted a differentiator, which we believe is The One. A different way to play the game, a different reason to buy NBA Live, and we actually wanted to put those two things together and say at the end of the day “Come try us out at EA Play, download and play the demo, and see for yourself.”
That’s really the best thing we can do, is hype all the gameplay with a really different and unique way to actually play the experience, and then put it in your hands, say “What do you think?” and see if it’s good enough for you to change to or potentially try.
TF: Could you delve into the core story of The One?
MM: The One obviously centers around your character. Your character’s backstory is that he has to play his way back towards the NBA Draft. You had a knee injury in freshman year. You have to then play your way back towards getting drafted, and then once you get drafted, two worlds open up to you. One being The Streets and one being The League, and that really encompasses The One.
Within both of those, without giving too much away towards the full product, because it is outside the scope of the demo, they both have unique characters that you interact with, they have unique unlocks and achievements. Your objectives in both The Streets and The League offer under the same ecosystem and same character, vastly different worlds for you to play through, which we’ll obviously get into more detail with as we get closer to launch.
That really encompasses The One, and the narrative of it if you will, but the first taste of it you get is the demo, which is The Rise. That’s the first part of that journey you’ll play through.
TF: So you guys are aiming to make The One very replayable?
MM: Yes, absolutely. Something that I mentioned earlier – and it will be available in the demo – just one way it is replayable is the Live Events, which are like Raids, almost. You’ll be able to take that character that you’ll be playing with in those modes, online with your friends, and you’ll be able to play in these boss battles for unique characters, historic characters, Legends, and unlock even more unique gear and power ups to increase the the dominance you have on the court.
TF: So how did you guys balance both realistic and fun game design when developing NBA Live 18?
MM: That’s something for which, if you are not intimately familiar with the Pro-AM Summer Basketball scene, we use the word “authentic” as much as we can. “Authentic” in basketball is a broad spectrum of stuff that is absolutely real and does happen on the court; I’ll give you an example. Last night, in the Drew League, which is in our game – it’s a Summer Pro-Am in LA – James Harden and Chris Paul – who is a new Huston Rocket – actually played together on the same team. It’s basically a Pro-AM, so they are playing against Streetball players, who are ex-college players, who are semi-pro in Europe. They all just come together and play in this league.
Last night, Chris Paul crossed it between his legs four or five times, then put it through his opponents legs, and the guy fell over, and then threw it off the backboard to a guy who caught it for an alley-hoop and dunked it. That really happened in a game, so it’s really fertile ground for us to go “Just look at those things that are really happening with NBA players, and that’s not really even over the top.” We just need to put that in our game, and allow players to do it, and they are going to have a ton of fun.
TF: How much player choice is present in The One. Are there multiple endings or dialogue options?
MM: Yes to the second point, there are branching options. Based on the characters you interact with, there are one-time interactions, or potentially branching interactions based on how you answer and react to certain questions or how you successfully complete or don’t complete objectives. So based on how you interact with characters and your responses to them, that will set your objectives for example in the League, and whether or not you are successful with those will determine the next step. Some of them are very short and succinct, and others are branching depending on the choices you make.
TF: Why did you decide to introduce so many new RPG-style elements to NBA Live 18?
MM: That goes back to the first question you had. We just looked at player motivations, and what people liked to play, and the feedback we got from players. That single player – not playing only by themselves, but playing as a single character – possibly by themselves, but with others or against others, that was really the core of what people found compelling. We wanted to take inspiration from other genres with that single character compulsion really well, and RPGs do. That’s what an RPG is right?
So we took a lot of inspiration from those games and tried to apply them to what would make sense in basketball. So creating a character, creating a sub-class, a certain set of skills that are your core, and as I was alluding to with the traits being your kind of loadouts: you have your core attributes, but then you have these things you can specialize in that can make you even more unique, or allow you to have a little bit more impact outside your core attributes.
Ultimately, our goal there is to allow everyone to be uniquely impactful in gameplay. The anti-vision, if you will, is that we don’t want everyone developing these characters and getting to the same place, that’s not where RPGs hold out. I pick the class, I play with it, I have a very specific set of skills and way I like to play, and an impact on gameplay that I really enjoy and master. That’s what we want.
TF: How much eSports potential do you see with NBA Live 18?
MM: I think provided that that system operates the way we designed it, and the way we intended, I think that’s pretty good fodder for competitive gaming. I think if you have a system that’s built where every position on the court has a unique impact on gameplay, and there has to be balance and strategy between those, especially in a team of five, where you have to have a balance between all of the traits that you loadout with, versus what your opponents have… I think that’s kind of the core of what could bring really compelling eSports gaming upon it.
TF: Are there any plans to bring the NBA Live series to the Nintendo Switch?
MM: Potentially, yes. For this year, we are focusing on X1 and PS4, but that will be a focus for NBA Live.
TF: Will the game feature special enhancements on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X?
MM: The enhanced visuals are obviously taking advantage of the power of both systems; that will be where we focus most of our energy. Both systems, with their improved visuals and the power and capacity that they both have is something we are looking at taking advantage of for sure.
TF: Is there anything else you would like to tell players before they get their hands on the NBA Live 18 demo?
MM: I’d like them to know that we’ve spent two years listening to and getting players feedback in person a lot of times, and we’ve rebuilt the gameplay and introduced a new mode called The One, and players will get to see that for themselves in the demo. They’ll be able to play through The Rise, they’ll get to play with the Cavaliers and the Warriors as well, and they’ll get to play online in the demo. So really the best thing players can do is see for themselves, download the demo and give it a try.
NBA Live 18 has a demo available now on PS4 and Xbox One, and will be releasing on those same consoles on September 15.