NBA 2K11 New Controls

  POSTED August 26, 2010

NBA 2K11 has a revamped controls system so 2K Sports thought that it was a great idea to put out a video showing you all the cool moves you will be able to feel while playing NBA 2K11. Check out this trailer and the Developer Insight "The Sticks" by Sr. Gameplay Producer Mike Wang.

  NBA 2K11 New Controls

Depth is one of the main things that people love about NBA 2K. As a first time user, you can pick up the game and get the basic fundamentals down in a matter of minutes... but the game really shines when you dig deeper and start to master all of the advanced game controls that are available. NBA Basketball is an elegant game, and in some ways, form is just as important as function. Signature Style is the cornerstone of our franchise and we believe it to be one of the most essential aspects of gameplay. Not only does it allow us to portray each NBA player correctly from an aesthetic standpoint, but it also gives us the ability to make players feel different. Player ratings and under the hood attributes help differentiate the star players from the lower tiered players, but we found the only way to really make the superstars shine was to give them superstar-caliber animations and equip them with the unique “pet moves” that they use in real life. In NBA 2K11, you’ll see that more than ever, especially when you get your hands on the G.O.A.T., Mr. Jordan in The Jordan Challenge and MJ: Creating a Legend. 

The number of moves you can pull off in NBA 2K11 is pretty insane. When you get your hands on the game this fall, one of the first things I’d recommend to everyone is to navigate to the Main Menu and go to --> Options --> My Controller --> Advanced Controls. Here, we’ve detailed most of the major things that we’ve added to the on-court experience. Of course, in typical 2K fashion, we’ve left some of the moves off the list for you to discover on your own as you play the game. As a game designer, one of the ways I’ve always gone about my work is to study real NBA games and translate what I see into game mechanics. For me, if I can pull off everything I see on TV in our game, then I’m pretty happy with the controls. And with NBA 2K11, there’s very little (if anything) that you can’t do on the sticks to replicate your favorite real life moments. I remember being in motion capture with a few of the swingmen we brought in to do some new dribble moves and shots. Walking the guys through what we wanted them to do, on more than one occasion they would say, “that’s a great move, I’m gonna start using that” or “man, you guys got every move in the book in this game!” Coming from NBA-caliber talent, that’s a nice acknowledgement to how in-depth some of the moves in our game have become.

And then we come to the topic of responsiveness. We’ve heard “canimation”, “stuck in a movie”, “sucked into a two player” as catch phrases when describing past 2K hoops games and it drove us nuts. It’s something we stressed heavily with our engineers; something that we needed to completely eliminate for NBA 2K11. Every major aspect of the basketball game got a complete makeover this year with that in mind - so now you’ll be able to interrupt or branch out of any animation that would have previously locked you in from beginning to end. The great thing about the way our engineers went about achieving this in their respective features, is that they were able to greatly improve the feel of the game without sacrificing any of the smoothness and beauty of the overall game. I know there’s a sentiment out there that you can’t have the best of both worlds: control and nice animation. But I think with this year’s game, we’re going to prove that it’s possible.

Now let’s talk about some of the actual controls in more depth. 

Shooting the Ball

As many of you know, shot control is one of the things I’m most passionate about when it comes to my virtual hoops. And I’m proud to say that NBA 2K11 got a huge upgrade in that regard. When we introduced the Shot Stick back in NBA 2K6 it was one of the best innovations of its time. Unfortunately, over the years, the Shot Stick hasn’t seen a whole lot of upgrades. That all changes this year.

The first thing we did was re-map the dunks, as we felt Basic, Flashy, and Power had way too much overlap. Now, the categories are: 

● Straight = Normal/Signature dunk

● Left = Hop/Euro Step dunk

● Right = Rim Hang dunk

● Away = Spin dunk (in traffic) or Reverse dunk (on a breakaway)

● Twirl = 360 in air dunk (for the few guys that can do them)

We’ve also doubled our layup types:

● Shot Modifier + Straight = Euro Step or Fake Pass (think Rondo) Layup

● Shot Modifier + Left = Hop Step left layup

● Shot Modifier + Right = Hop Step right layup

● Shot Modifier + Away = Spin layup

The nice thing about the longer gather to finish sequences is that you can branch them prior to takeoff. So let’s say you see a seam in the defense and trigger a hop step layup through the gap. If you beat the first defender with the hop and have open space to finish, just let the rest of the layup play out. But if you see help rotate over to beat up your shot, you can quickly neutral the Shot Stick, and re-issue a new command before the hop step finishes and switch your layup to the other side. It’s a nice tool for the offense and makes attacking the basket more of a twitch game.

Momentum jumpers also got some love. Like last year’s drifters, these play when you’re driving across the basket and are useful for creating space against the onball defender. These shots are also interruptible. So you can trigger the shot animation and neutral out the Shot Stick before your player gets off the ground for a pumpfake. I love doing this against overzealous defenders looking for a highlight block. Hit the brakes and they fly right by:

● Shot Stick with momentum = Drifter

● Shot Stick away from rim = Stepback jumper

● Shot Stick opposite your momentum = Spin jumper (Lebron uses this all the time IRL)

We’ve also given you the ability to perform Kobe’s reverse pivot, Hakeem’s dream shake, Rondo’s ball fake, and various up and under type moves on demand. When you hold the Shot Modifier (LT for 360 and L2 for PS3), flicking the Shot Stick for a pump fake will initiate the first part of the move - the type of move you get is based on the direction you flick your stick and the context of your movement. This gives you a second to read the defense and see if he bites on your fake. Flick and hold the Shot Stick again and you’ll complete the second part of the move. It’s a fun read and react mini-game which allows for some nice highlight moments.

A few other tidbits about shooting... something that really annoyed me is that, in the past, we typically captured sig shots as set shots off the catch or from a standing dribble. Obviously, when shooting a contested jumper or pulling up in traffic, a shot will look completely different in that context. This year, we’ve added pullup jumpers that trigger when you face those types of scenarios. As with all other jumpshots, you can assign which animations you want to use in the Create/Edit Player interface. And speaking of sig shots, certain players have multiple ones (like Paul Pierce’s set 3 for example)... so it really pays to spend some time in practice mode to get to know your personnel and master the shot arsenal and timing of each of your players’ shots.

Many people also complained about how fast jumpshots were last year and that it was difficult to get a “feel” for a guy’s shooting stroke. We re-worked our shot gather and shot release systems to improve on both counts. Now you’ll see much better footwork as well as an improved feeling of weight and gravity on all jumpshots. When releasing a shot, letting go of the Shot Stick will directly correspond to your player’s shot animation. So you can get those quick buzzer beaters off when you need to, or hang a little bit longer to get off a cleaner look when you’ve got better elevation than your defender. We’ve tied the ball physics to your release timing as an additional timing feedback tool. So if you release early, your shot will go long… if you hold too long, your shot will be all arms and miss short.

Another tool for creating space, we’ve added some new Hop Step Button moves. My favorite addition is what we’ve deemed “Signature Hop Gathers.” This feature was birthed from seeing clips of Deron Williams breaking down his man with a few setup dribbles and hopping off to the side as he was gathering for a jumpshot. We ended up capturing several different types of hop gathers, many of them signature like Lebron’s quick spin pickup and Kobe’s between the legs half spin. They’re great little moves for breaking down the defense, or in Kobe’s case, just making guys look bad. And if you really love a specific gather, you can assign it to your player in the Edit Player menu.

The last thing I want to mention about shooting is for all those Shot Button fans out there. One of our AI engineers absolutely refuses to use the Shot Stick. Why? I’ll never know. But to each his own. He spent some time beefing up the shot face button, and for those in the same boat as him, you’ll be very happy he did. The Shot Button now has access to just about all the shots available on the Shot Stick. So when you keep your Left Stick pressed toward the basket on a drive and hit the Shot Button, you’ll get the same shot that the AI would get in that instance, rather than just the basic set of shots that you got in previous iterations. We then decided to take it a step further. If you quickly move the Left Stick in various directions, just prior to hitting the Shot Button, you can manually control your shot types just like Shot Stick users can. So for example, to get a stepback jumper: drive across the lane, quickly move the Left Stick away from the basket, and press Shoot. It’s a nice alternative for those who like to shoot with face buttons or just in case your Right Analog Stick breaks in half from overuse.

Dribble Course Frustration

Rob talked about the new and improved dribbler in his Insight, so I’m not going to go into much more detail about it here. But I can’t stress enough just how much it’s impacted my personal enjoyment of the game. No more sliding, no more unwanted changes of directions, no more unpredictability... it just works. The new dribbler gives you the ability to go where you want to go and stop where you want to stop, all while preserving a realistic feel of momentum. Guys with great handle feel quick and agile compared to the scrubs; and the new and improved analog stick gesturing detection makes it much easier to pull off the moves you want, when you want them.

One thing I will call out is the new sizeup controls. Sizeups have been part of the 2K dribbling design for several years now. They give you the ability to set up your defender in a 1-on-1 situation. Size him up, try to get him to gap off you or cheat to a side, then take him off the bounce or raise up for a jumper. However, the old sizeups suffered from two major issues: they were random and they were canned. We changed it so that now if you’re in a stand dribble, you hold down the Left Trigger (L2 for PS3), and move the Left Analog Stick either forward, left, right, or back. Each direction will give you a specific sizeup sequence (which can be changed via Create/Edit Player by the way.) The best part is, at any point you can release the trigger to cancel the move; or release the trigger and move the Left Stick to the left or right to get a hard first step drive to either side. Going this route allowed us to keep the style and flash of the sizeup dribble sequences as they were mocapped, while also allowing the user full control to break out when he wants. When you start to chain the sizeups with the new Isomotion moves (which are also chainable, branch-able, and interruptible) you’re finally able to replicate the creativity that you see from great ball handlers like Nash, CP3, or D-Rose. And all of it looks silky smooth.

The Other End of the Court

So what good are all these offensive weapons if the defense doesn’t have the tools to counter? That was something we were very conscious of throughout feature development and something we knew we had to get right in order to have a fun and balanced experience. 

The first order of business was movement. As any coach will tell you, moving your feet is the key to good onball defense. Our lead AI engineer worked closely with Jerson (Gameplay Producer and my late night online nemesis) to completely redo our offensive and defensive movement engine. The end product is a very tight movement model that both feels and looks fantastic. Finally, users will be able to consistently stay in front of the ball handler, even in an online setting, without any artificial cheats or assists from the CPU. We’ve completely gone away from the Lockdown Defense idea (aka. Auto-D) and returned the Left Trigger to a movement modifier to give you full control over your facing. In NBA 2K11, playing solid onball defense has returned to being a skill that rewards quick reflexes on the gamer’s part, rather than allowing people to sit back and let the AI do the work for them.

The Right Analog stick gives you the ability to jump in front for a charge (a la Fisher), or when coupled with the Left Trigger, allows you to play a quick cutoff move in any direction. If you read the ball handler and anticipate his movement correctly, you can jump in his path and knock him back -- causing him to get deflected off course, pick up his dribble, or even lose the ball.

The second line of defense has been greatly enhanced as well. We’ve implemented a new midair collision system that allows for all kinds of body to body contact. If you meet a shooter in the air on his way for a layup or dunk, or if you slide underneath him to try and take a charge, you’ll see some beautiful collision animations result. The major difference between the new system and the old, is that we used to validate multi-actor animations while both players were still on the floor. So once these animations kicked off, you were stuck watching the rest of the sequence play out and there wasn’t much you could do -- sometimes your defender would get snatched away from you and perform an entire defensive play all on their own. At the time, it was the best solution to prevent “ghosting” (players going through other players), but obviously a lot of control was taken away from the user in the process. With the new midair branching system, we can keep the user-controlled defenders under the user’s control and still have a proper collision response when bodies bang. And for those of you worried about high volume scoring in the paint, let me put your mind to rest now. People continually forcing shots inside will pay the consequences this year. We’ve spent a lot of time balancing the inside/outside game and if you want to be successful in NBA 2K11, you’re going to need to distribute your shots evenly and work for high percentage looks.

Rob mentioned this last week, but it’s worth mentioning again. The blocking code was completely re-written this year. Timing the block feels much better and throwing a shot into the stands is more gratifying than ever. You’ll see everything from catch blocks, to chase down backboard pins, and everything in between. They’ve created some of our favorite highlight moments this development cycle.

And if all that fails, hold RT (R2 on PS3) and push the Right Analog toward the ball handler for a hard foul. That’s always fun.

Making Plays

Calling plays is MUCH quicker now with Positional Playcalling. Just tap the Left Bumper (L1 on PS3) to bring up the Positional Playcall icons. If you hold down a selected player’s icon, he’ll come set an onball screen (finally you can run those precious pick and fades with your guards); or you can tap the player icon instead and bring up that player’s signature plays. All of which takes a fraction of a second to do... no more fumbling around with the D-Pad as the AI picks your pocket.

You can also do more advanced things like sending your teammates on cuts with the Right Stick or taking control of them all together to run those Ray Allen, offball catch and shoot plays.

Zach worked tirelessly with another one of our AI engineers all year long to overhaul our passing and catching systems. Directional Pass targeting is now much more reliable and passers do a better job selecting the correct animation for the situation. If you read IGN’s preview last week, you know that we’ve incorporated a couple of new controls as well. You can manually move your receivers wherever you want using the Total Control Passing feature, the Right Analog Stick becomes the Pass Stick when Icon Passing is enabled for those quick drive and dish passes, and fake passing is a nice new weapon as well. Players will step back behind the 3PT line when you pass them the ball on the perimeter to fix all those frustrating moments of, “I wanted a 3, why is he standing on the line?!” And if you force passes into traffic or try to cherry pick, improved interception logic will almost always knock the ball down. If they don’t, expect to see the ball get fumbled (allowing the defense to recover) or a bobbled catch out of bounds. Goodbye, Lead Pass exploit! And going back to the importance of form and function, there are some absolutely beautiful looking passes this year of all varieties thanks to Zach and his memory-busting 10 million pass animations. Slight exaggeration… but not by much.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, NBA 2K11 is much more than just a tweaked 2K10 with Michael Jordan on the cover. We spent a lot of time re-working major aspects of our gameplay engine and refining the on-court experience to accommodate newcomers, as well as the most seasoned vets. When you put together all the new control features, the most extensive signature animation library available of any sports game (built over the course of the last 5 years), and the immensely improved feel/responsiveness on both ends of the floor... it’s easy to see why NBA 2K11 is our finest product yet. And believe me, there’s still a whole lot more to talk about. Go Bulls!

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