NBA 2K12: Developer Interview

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NGB talks to Erick Boenisch, NBA 2K producer.

A couple of weeks prior to the launch of NBA 2K12, NGB were given the opportunity to catch up with NBA 2K producer, Mr Erick Boenisch. Without hesitation, we accepted, went along to meet him, and put forward a few questions about the latest addition to the series. Erick talks to us about the challenges the team faced moving from NBA 2K11 to NBA 2K12, the NBA’s Greatest mode, online multiplayer, graphics, and he even lets slip that he supports Arsenal! Enjoy!

NGB: How much of a challenge was it developing NBA 2K12 after the commercial and critical success of NBA 2K11?

Erick Boenisch: It was a big challenge, as we feel like we delivered a really solid game with NBA 2K11. For a couple of weeks we were like “we’re screwed, we can’t top this”, but then you meet the team, talk to the guys, the ideas start flowing and you quickly realise “we’re gonna blow NBA 2K11 out of the water”.

I think a lot of fans expected us to relax this year. We have no competition, no rival games are coming out and it’s admittedly really risky to change the formula of a game that just sold 5.5 million units. You have a lot of corporate people to convince that this is for the better of the game, but we do have great ownership. They’ve trusted in us for so many years, and allowed us to get the game to where it is. For NBA 2K12, after a while, they really pushed us to develop the game further. They didn’t want us to rest on our laurels, take our foot off the gas pedal and put out NBA 2K11.5. I don’t think our fans would have wanted that, the NBA doesn’t want that and ultimately our management didn’t want that either. We really turned up the heat, put out this whole greatest players feature, and made all these improvements to the gameplay.

Was the NBA’s Greatest mode a natural extension of the Jordan Challenge mode in NBA 2K11, or is it something you guys had thought of before?

It was actually a kind of a two year plan we had been working on. We thought “let’s have Jordan”, and then once we were about mid-way through the development we thought “wouldn’t this be cool if we could do this for Magic or Bird”. It felt really natural to roll from one thing to the next. I definitely think the Jordan Challenge helped to serve the greatness that is the NBA’s Greatest feature.

How hard was it to come up with the 15 players that ultimately made it into NBA’s Greatest mode?

We had a long list of players, and everyone has a favourite player. We have a very strong minded development team, we’ve all been there for 10 years or more, so everyone was pretty much at each others throats most of the time. It was very challenging to come up with the final 15, but I really think we put together a list. We had no limitations as far as money goes or anything like that. It’s pretty much anyone who’s anyone in the NBA, we weren’t held back by anything. The other cool thing about this mode is the actual opponents that you play. Once we had the 15, we were like “crap, these guys have to play someone”, so we really honoured the second tier of legends with the opponents. Overall, the feature is very well thought out, we picked a lot of very strategical games, so people can have fun.

In terms of the online side of the game, have you guys made any improvements to the multiplayer?

Online is a tricky subject, but as far as the concept goes, I know we had some problems there in the past in terms of connection quality and the ability to get into matches. We actually re-wrote the entire server architecture for online this year, gutting every single line of code and writing it from scratch. It was old architecture that had kind of been there from the Dreamcast days, which shows you how long ago that was created.

We have quick play matches where you can play your friend your just a random online opponent. Team up games are back again, which is 10 humans controlling a player in the game simultaneously, and from everything we’ve ran so far, those games run flawlessly. We definitely know we’re heading in the right direction when it comes to online quality.

You guys at 2K Sports are well known for pushing consoles to their graphical limits, do you think you’ve got the best out of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, or is there more to come?

I always think that every year internally, though I can’t say it, then we find a way to squeeze a little more out and make it look better. With that in mind, I think I should hedge my bets this year and say “no no, we have more up our sleeve”. We always find a way to make the graphics look even more lifelike.

In that respect, are you looking forward to looking forward to the next-generation of consoles?

New consoles always present a new challenge because your install base is on the previous console, but technology wise you obviously have to be looking forward to developing for the “next next” console. As a developer it gives us more opportunity to create realism, so in that regards, I’m very much looking forward to it.

The PlayStation 3 version of the game has Move support, did you ever think about adding in Kinect functionality to its Xbox 360 counterpart?

Yeah, we’re always looking at ways to support the various peripherals, and obviously Kinect is something we’re looking at, we’re just trying to find the right medium to deliver it on. We don’t believe in using something because we can, we prefer to use it if it benefits our users.

2K Sports are known for creating the best replication of the sports they cover, with that in mind, would you guys ever consider doing a football/soccer game?

That’s definitely not my call to make as I’m just a producer for NBA, but I think it would be a tonne of fun. I’m a huge football fan, go Arsenal! [silence] That’s right, Arsenaaaaal! [Erick actually sings]

I think it would be a challenge, obviously Pro [Evolution Soccer] and FIFA have many years head start on you, and there’s a lot of work involved in creating a game of that scope. It would definitely be a challenge, but if 2K Sports have proven anything, it’s that we’re capable of doing anything.

NBA 2K12 is out now on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Joint Editor-in-Chief of this wonderful place. Over 10 years of games industry experience on all sides of the fence and more! Huge Metal Gear fan and all-round geek.

@AsimTanvir

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