NBA Live 19 Interview — Creative Director Addresses Annual Releases, Microtransactions, and New Features
DualShockers sat down with NBA Live 19's Creative Director Ryan Santos to discuss this year's new features, microtransactions, annualized releases, and more.
After coming back from a brief hiatus last year, NBA Live 19 marks the first annualized release in the series since that break. That being said, it is still introducing plenty of interesting new features like female Create-A-Player, a custom court creation mode, and smoother animations with the Real Player Motion (RPM) technology that all EA Sports games are taking advantage of this year. Last month, I attended an EA Sports event for DualShockers and was able to try out their complete fall 2018 sports title lineup.
One of these games is NBA Live 19, and after playing it I sat down with Creative Director Ryan Santos. During our interview, we discussed all of NBA Live 19’s new additions, as well as how the team is adjusting to annual releases and how the team at EA Tiburon were impacted by the microtransaction controversy surrounding competitor NBA 2K18.
Ryan Santos: After NBA Live 16, we took a year off regroup an figure out how we could differentiate our game. We did so with The One and made a lot of big changes with visuals and gameplay. With that extra time off, it allowed us to create a strong foundation for NBA Live which set us up for getting back into the iterative and annual cycle.
All of us working on the game were used to these iterative cycles already, so it wasn’t a huge shift for the team to get back into that mindset. I think taking that extra time off was probably one of the best things that could’ve happened to us because we were able to re-evaluate and try to come up with something different with things like The One.
T: How has the addition of RPM tech impacted the NBA Live 19?
RS: I think it’s that improved feel. Once you get on the sticks and feel a lot of the off-ball mechanics especially with your player-locked experiences within The One. You can see that there is just a smoother amount of animation that is more responsive. We’ve built the entire skeleton this year, which made us really evaluate how our mo-cap data was going into the game.
With RPM, we did the skeletons, then adjusted a lot of what was happening as we processed the mo-cap data and you’ll be seeing a lot more fluid, signature moves in the game. As you play it, especially within the regular movement with things like locomotion and playing off-ball, you’ll really see where RPM is highlighted. We’ll continue to grow that feature and spread it to more areas of the game, but as of right now, it is really seen in off-ball play and defensive mechanics.
T: WNBA was added to NBA Live last year, so what encouraged the development team to expand that into Female Create-A-Player in NBA Live 2019?
RS: We saw a lot of positive feedback from including the WNBA in NBA Live 18, and we knew that there are a lot of female players who love and play the sport from WNBA to NBA and Streetball. Even some of our biggest community fans are females, so we wanted to make sure we allowed anybody to express themselves within our game. We felt like this year was the right year to introduce female player creation because we already built that foundation with WNBA because we had animations, models, hairstyles, and things like that from NBA Live 18.
T: How has The One changed in NBA Live 19?
RS: There are a lot of changes within The One. At its core, you have the Icon progression system which was touched on a bit at EA Play. Last year we had signature abilities, this year we have Icon abilities. When you pick a playstyle, you are actually able to create and modify Icon abilities, so these Icon abilities are created based on NBA Legends, current stars, and WNBA players. As an example, if I create guard shooter, I can pick which Icon ability I want to start with.
I could choose ability based on Steph Curry, or one based on legend Ray Allen, as those two Icon abilities are slightly different. As I progress that Icon ability, there are going to be decision points where I can actually decide how I want that mechanic to work, whether I want it to be more of a team or rating buff. We did a lot within the player progression system. We also added the whole new Streets World Tour mode, expanding Pro-Am globally. We have courts in places like Paris, the Philippines, and in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and will continue to expand NBA Live 19 with new courts post-launch.
These games are pick-up Pro-Ams and give The One a non-linear flow where you can unlock groups of venues based on your completion within one group. The squad building mechanic is also huge within The One. We’ve added the ability to recruit players, so as you’re playing through The Streets, you can beat a boss team and recruit that player to your team and continue to play. You can also take that squad into Court Battles, which is one of the biggest game modes within The One where we are letting players create a custom court with custom rules and can go and take over others.
T: How did you guys first conceive the ideas for Create-Your-Court and Court Battles?
RS: The Court Battles idea was actually inspired by a lot of games. We all played a lot of tower defense games on mobile, and we looked at a lot of team-building modes, and we just thought that the court is such an integral part of basketball. Even in our Streetball mode, all of those courts are very different, whether it be the players that play there or the type of gameplay. We wanted to create a mode that allowed you to compete asynchronously, where you can not just form your squad, but you can change the rules up and also change the rules of the court.
For the last few years, we’ve been building this 3D environment in our front-end, and this year we wanted to take it to the next level and allow people to customize it and use different places. The court can also be used in Live Run, our multiplayer PvP mode. If you start a private lobby, you can actually as the host invite people to your court to play on it and change some of the rules, so you can have fun with a little custom match with your buddies.
T: So with Canvas in the Create-Your-Court mode and the appearance of some popular influencers during parts of The One, it really seems like you are embracing your community and bringing them into the game. Was that a process where you reached out to those artist yourselves, or did they reach out to you to be included?
RS: It was actually a bit of both. Part of it was working with our community team, part of it was working with our marketing and branding team. We kind of wanted to give a platform to show off their cool art. One artist we worked with a lot last year has a lot of art in the game. We also worked with a lot of contemporary big-name street artists, but it really varies. It varies from us reaching out to them, and them reaching out and wanting to work with us. We are going to continue to build the Canvas program and introduce more artists into the fold as you level up in Court Battles.
T: Your main competitor, NBA 2K, had a controversy last year for microtransactions that many felt were too intrusive. Did you guys take the backlash from that game and other titles in 2017 into account when implementing microtransactions into NBA Live 19?
RS: It’s funny because it actually didn’t really impact how we did things because we were always creating a game that didn’t have any pay-for progression models in single player. Within The One, everything you do, everything you earn, everything you purchase in the store, it’s all through regular currency. There is no premium currency anywhere within The One.
We always said to ourselves that we wanted to stick with that and we actually wanted to reward players for the time that they spent with the game, so we kept down that path for NBA Live 19. So it really didn’t impact what we wanted to do within The One, we never had plans to follow what our competitor does there because we’re always looking at how we can be different and offer something different to our players.
T: Other EA Sports games like FIFA and Madden are expanding to new platforms like Nintendo Switch and PC, respectively, but NBA Live is still coming to just PS4 and Xbox One. Do you guys currently have plans to bring the series to other platforms?
RS: Currently we don’t. Right now, our focus is to make sure our main, HD title is solid. We want to make sure to just make a great game on PS4 and Xbox One first. I think as we start to build up that momentum, I think that the company and the powers that be can look at expanding into PC and Nintendo Switch. For us, we want to prove ourselves in that HD market and make sure we have a solid product first.
T: Will NBA Live 19 be enhanced by PS4 Pro and Xbox One X?
RS: Yes. While I don’t have the specifics on hand right now, I do know that we support both, and the game looks awesome on them and plays great on them with that extra horsepower.
T: My co-workers at DualShockers also wanted me to ask if there are any plans to nerf the Golden State Warriors in NBA Live 19, as they can be considered a little overpowered in both the game and real-life?
RS: I mean, we have to stay true to the real world. If KD is a 90+ player, I don’t know what we can do to really nerf him. They’re going to be a dominant team. That being said, I think there’s hope. You look at Boston, they got a great young team, Hayward is going to be back. Who knows what LeBron is going to do in LA, and who knows what happens in the post-season. You never know, and that’s kind of the beauty of it. I think even watching the playoffs this year, you had a pretty competitive playoff series between Huston and Golden State, but there are teams that can compete, so we’ll see.
T: Is there anything else you would like to let our audience know about NBA Live 19?
RS: I’d just say to check it out, check out our demo coming August 24. You’ll have access to that, so give it a go and you’ll be able to play through The Rise, scan your face to get yourself into the game. For female players out there, it will be the first time, it’ll really be their first time to compete as a female created player. Then check out the game on September 7, and I think you’ll be surprised. We are really proud of what we are putting out this year, and we’re excited on all of the new ways to play.
NBA Live 19 will hit PS4 and Xbox One on September and can be pre-ordered right now on Amazon.