Wednesday, January 9, 2008

GrnDynsty* vs. EA Sports: The Untold Story

The very first basketball sim I ever played as a kid was made by Electronic Arts and it was called Dr. J And Larry Bird Go One On One (pictured above). It came out in 1983 but I didn’t get to play it until 1984 when my big brother Dave bought version of it on tape from some dude from the UK. He brought it home, hooked up our Commodore 64 to the living room TV and put the game into the tape drive. After typing in the RUN command and pressing PLAY on the tape drive it was just a short five minute wait before the game finally loaded. It was the first time I’d ever seen a basketball game where you could shoot, steal, dribble and even dunk the ball. If you did a really good dunk you could even break the backboard. Larry Bird could shoot threes and Dr. J was fast and could jump pretty high (just like in real life). I thought it couldn’t get any better than that.

Other basketball games/sims came out and over time graphics got better and the games made advances as far as becoming more realistic simulations of the sport. Eventually, they even began releasing games where you could play five on five. In 1990, Electronic Arts (EA) released the first game in what would become a series that would change the way basketball sims would be made from then on. It was called Lakers vs. Celtics And The NBA Playoffs (pictured below)and it was a huge hit due to the fact it was the first time that star players from real teams had signature moves and looked somewhat like their real life counterparts. The game was also licensed by the NBA Player’s Union and the staff at Electronic Arts made it a point to discern the difference between each position and make each team’s star players shoot better and run faster than the other players on the court.

EA made slight improvements in the series sequel after sequel until they created a new game in 1994 called NBA Showdown. The thing that made Showdown stand out was that it was the first time EA (now they had a division called EA Sports which handled sports sims) allowed the user to customize their own teams by using any of the players in the league to make their own 12 man roster. In 1995, EA produced a new series called NBA Live which is still running today, but it wasn’t until 1996 that EA put a feature in the game that allowed the user to customize the game like never before due to the NBA expansion into Canada (Toronto and Vancouver)...the Create A Player option.

For someone like myself who grew up with a Commodore 64 and an Apple II back in the days and was used to manipulating BASIC and modding games this had unlimited possibilities. I used the Create A Player screen to make high school players like Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields in Chicago and players that were currently stars in college. I eventually began making players that were old ABA and NBA legends just for fun. I discovered that if you input the names of the players from the 1995 NBA Draft class, they appeared in the game as well. My friends used to ask me to hook up their Live’s with CAP’s (Create A Players) so I’d do it and think nothing of it.

It wasn’t until I went away to Morgan State University in 1996 and people would come to my room and play Live against me on my roomate's Super Nintendo and realize that the Boston Celtics were killing them because I had myself and Allen Iverson as guards, Kevin Garnett and Antoine Walker at forward (this was before the Celtics drafted him that June) and Marcus Camby at center in the starting five. Heads were asking me to hook up their Live’s for them. Since I was broke as hell I began charging them and asked them to write a list of all the players they wanted and I made them.


Each CAP took only about a minute or less each to make so it was nothing to do multiple ones in one sitting. I even came up with guidelines for how to rate players based on position and skill level. To make things even quicker, I kept a list of the most popular player and their rankings in a notebook. After the school year was over, I left Baltimore never to return and moved back to Boston full-time. This time I began charging my friends...I wanted to buy one of those new PlayStations for when Live 97 came out.

When EA Sports released Live 97 for the PlayStation, they allowed the user 50 slots for CAP’s and the option to edit the ratings of any player in the game. The Create A Player screen was completely user friendly and it allowed the user to modify the game any way they saw fit. Even better was that instead of me having to physically have the client’s game itself like I needed to do with the SNES version of Live. With the PlayStation, all I needed was a memory card. I’d put the 50 players they wanted on the memory card, pass it along and collect my money.

I became sort of famous with area college students and I was known for dumping scrubs that no one wanted on their rosters and replacing them with players that enhanced the playing experience. Someone told me back in 1999 that I needed to find a way to reach more people with my services and I should use the internet. I just rolled my eyes at the idea. “Nobody else cares about this stuff” I thought to myself. Years later I’d be proven very, very wrong.

In 2001, after the PlayStation 2 was in a fair amount of households I came up with the idea of introducing the concept of modding Live 2002 using CAP’s but the game was so godawful that it took too much work to fix. I decided to wait another year to introduce the idea to the users on the EASports.com messageboards after Live 2003 came out. There were some users receptive to it, but not many could fully grasp the concept or see the applications. They usually just put the game in and played it without changing anything, like people did with EA Sports’ flagship series John Madden Football.

The major difference between the two series’ was that for the most part Madden was an accurate football sim. The same couldn’t be said for Live, though. The programmers and game designers would drop the ball year after year on rating players, especially the incoming rookie class. There were plenty of missing free agents signees as well since the game went into production while rosters weren’t even finalized meaning that quite a few of the players in the game were on the wrong teams or just no longer in the league.

For a flat fee, I would “fix” the season so the rosters were set correctly and add/remove whatever players my clients wanted. This was an issue that Madden never had. Everyone would just pop Madden in and play, most of all the Live fans I knew had to go through a bunch of painstaking work before they could just play a worry free game of Live.

In 2003, things were going to be different for Live users because for the first time in a long time there was a phenomenal NBA draft class that included LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Users on the EASports.com messageboard were a whole lot more receptive to the idea of CAP’s and player edits. When EA released Live 2004, they had made a change to the ratings system. Instead of rating every attribute from 50-99, they changed the range from 0-99. Little did they know what can of worms that would open up at the time.

I hijacked a thread where someone was already posting up ratings for players in the new rookie class and posted up some of my ratings and ideas. In less than a week it was the most popular thread on EASports.com’s ENTIRE website. I wasn’t a problem yet, but that would soon change.

Users would make requests for me to post up ratings for different high school players, college players and free agents that weren’t on the game. I would come back the next day and fill everyone’s requests. I even began making edits of players in the Live series that were either under or overrated by the game’s programmers. Pretty soon I started getting e-mails from all over the world and people all over the internet began posting my ratings and solutions to EA errors. In order to rest more people I started threads on several different messageboards, the two biggest being EASports.com and IGN.com.

I was just enjoying helping out fellow Live fans so they could get the most out their gaming experience. EA Sports didn’t agree. They felt I was on a one man mission to show them and their entire programming staff up. I was just providing a service that their consumers clearly wanted but they just didn’t provide.

All throughout 2004, I helped create over 800 CAP’s and edits of players that EA dropped the ball on their ratings. I even did edits of pretty much all of the players in EA’s Legends Pool because they didn’t play like NBA legends. If you can’t score 30 with George Gervin and Robert Parish doesn’t have a jumper out to 15 feet then something is very wrong. I also undercut EA by posting up CAP’s for NBA and ABA fan favorites and semi-legends, streetballers from the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic in Rucker Park, the And 1 Team, the Harlem Globetrotters, international prospects and high school prospects (all past and present).

This was all made possible by the extremely user friendly Create A Player menu featured on Live 2004. With it you could create almost anyone of any ethnicity and I took full advantage of it. The demand for my work was so large that I ended up starting several websites to direct the web traffic from different places.

I figured that if I played my cards right I could somehow end up with a position working with EA Sports in a game testing/development role since I was singlehandedly keeping thousands (and I mean thousands...I have the threads and e-mails from 2003-2005 to prove it!) of consumers that would’ve just given up on the Live series playing the game. Plus I was adding to the replay value of the game by modding it and keeping it fresh.

One of the things that incensed many Live fans was that so many of their complaints and gripes about Live fell on deaf ears while Madden fans got whatever new modifications or features they wanted with the next version. When they began beta testing for Live 2005 I waited for an e-mail or message from EA to be invite to test it like a bunch of other users on the boards got. I was told by several users not to hold my breath and EA wasn’t too fond of me. Whatever, man.

I also noticed that on the EASports.com website (which stayed at the top of the messageboard and was never once stickied in the almost two years it ran) my posts would be erased for petty reasons that ended up being called TOS violations. I had to branch out to even more sites to curb the demand for new CAP’s and player edits. I figured that since so many people clearly needed help to make Live 2004 playable and chances were that Live 2005 was going to have the same problems that I should do something to help other users out rather than do all the work of a programming staff by myself. I decided to post up a step by step how to guide that would allow user to make their own CAP’s and player edits for when Live 2005 came out.

EA was not happy with that and they repeatedly erased it from their boards whenever another user or myself posted it up again. I posted it up on IGN.com where it still exists to this day. By giving thousands of potential users the ability to do it themselves I made it a bigger problem for EA. In my mind I was helping out fellow users in an online community. To EA I was showing them up by pointing out their deficiencies and offering other users/consumers solutions for free. Shortly thereafter, communities of CAP makers popped up all over the internet...all using The Art Of CAP Making as their guide.

When I saw some of the first screenshots of Live 2005, I realized that this game was going to be completely different than the previous games in the series. The main difference? EA completely gutted the options in the Create A Player menu (which they called the Creation Zone). You couldn’t create faces easily, the options for high schools, colleges and countries were either reduced or completely omitted and the entire menu was clunky, awkward and user unfriendly. Whereas before I could create a accurate CAP for a player in less than 2 minutes, it now took me 15 just to make one guy that looked NOTHING like I wanted him to.

EA added All Star Weekend to the game’s features but didn’t improve the ratings system (it actually got worse) and the overall gameplay suffered. Without the ability to freely modify the game and make it playable, a huge number of users preferred to play Live 2004 throughout the 2005 season rather than buy the new game. They also reduced the amount of CAP slots from 50 down to 25 (I wonder why?). Live 2005 was also the first to provide online play (but EA was slow to do roster updates so if you went to play online the rosters would all be wrong anyways).

I gave up making any more CAP’s and edits for the Live series because the game was devoid of any enjoyment for me personally. If I couldn’t mod the game and make it playable for myself, then why would I couldn’t go online and do the same for others. It was too late because I’d already given the blueprint to others. EA found a way to shut that down as well.

Live 2006 was even worse than Live 2005 and they reduced the amount of Create A Player slots all the way down to 16. A game that once gave the consumer the options to modify it any way they saw fit has now taken back some of it’s freedoms. If you go to EASports website for Live 2008, it’s a ghost town. While EA’s other titles are thriving, Live has been in a free fall since the 2004 edition. Consumers want to be able to customize and modify games and software to their own specifications and EA Sports (more specifically EA Sports Canada) forced you to use computer generated players in Dynasty Mode rather than you having the option to make your own changes to them or make your own. This has cost EA Sports a lot of customers over the years.

I haven’t played Live in years (and it's now widely regarded as crap by most gamers), but it cracks me up that one guy who made it possible for people to enjoy their product was treated like a pirate rather than a consumer to be consulted or listened to so I could have helped them and their finished product. Now most gamers feel that EA’s Live series is in dire need of a reworking. Oh well.

*GrnDynsty was the username I wrote about basketball online and blogged under between 2003-2005.

One.

7 comments:

zilla said...

So you single handedly brought down NBA Live?? HAHAHA! Good read. I thought I was the only person that ever created college players!

a-one said...

Interesting. I used to see those CAP's online but assumed they were for the PC version of the game. Looks like my Live 04 (& the ps2) is getting dusted off tonight!

What would you say is the current best basketball game? & what about systems? I'm gonna upgrade when GTA IV comes out but really the only games I play are GTA, Madden (which I JUST) started playing again, & Live (every 2 or 3 years).

DocZeus said...

Fight The Power!

Dart Adams said...

@ a-one: I haven't played a basketball sim in the longest. I get pissed off that I can't get a breakaway steal and dunk with Rajon Rondo or when a player that's quick gets caught from behind by a center or something stupid just sets me off.

I stick to sports games, RPG's and shooters (Wii Zapper games) because I suck at everything else. I got a Wii and a PS3 is forthcoming in the next few months...I'll be watching a lot of the new PS3 joints like Assassin's Creed and Metal Gear when it finally drops.

One.

Diora said...

Dart, you hacker and troublemaker, you. You got some Asian blood in you?? ;)

My brother just got Assassin's Creed. I'll let you know what he thinks if you care, he's an avid FPS player, as am I. I only play FPS's and WoW. I played Live '98 for a little bit but due to being cursed with being a woman, I've never been good at sports game because I lack good hand eye coordination and spatial relations. Oh well.

bob digi said...

two words for you:

2 K

best basketball game out since 2000

brandon said...

Techmo NBA Basketball for NES is slept-on.

When I was nerdy baseball fanatic at like age 9, I'd make the Orioles' minor league prospects in NES' Baseball Stars and called them 'Baby Birds'...