NBA 2K11 : Association

  POSTED September 22, 2010

  POSTED September 22, 2010 |   VIEWS 12737

Erick Boenisch, Producer for NBA 2K11, talks about the improvements they have made to The Association. The Association has seen a lot of improvements! Building teams, players valuation, NBA Draft ( check screenshot ), Dynamic Attendance, Classic Teams, Awards and more.

 Screenshots Gallery

Under-The-Hood Brains
Over the past few years, we have implemented some very successful features in, Player Roles, Player Ambitions, Player Morale, Player Personalities, and so on. I feel like these additions have defined the 2K Association experience. Moving forward, I would like The Association to be defined by something completely different, and that’s the smartest AI of any franchise mode across all sports titles. 

To achieve this goal, the main focus for us this year has been to completely re-write the underlying logic that drives the mode, along with adding new systems that will help the AI to make the smartest decisions possible at all times. Every time the CPU makes a move, they are making it for a very precise reason. It may not be completely evident to you at first as they often think two, three, even four steps ahead, but they are always thinking, always assessing. They have brains this year folks; here is how we did it…

Team Building & States
The core system that has been added to the AI this year is one called Team Building. This system actually oversees the other systems (which I’ll detail below). As the name implies, this system is responsible for building the strongest team possible with respect to the style employed by the coaching staff. The first step in building a successful team is identifying what the team’s current goals are. This year, our AI classifies a team into one of the following four Team States:

- Contending: This is a team that has the pieces to win the title. They won’t be overly active on the market as they don’t want to disrupt their chemistry, but they certainly won’t let an advantageous trade slip by should one present itself. When you think Contending team, think the Lakers.

- Buying: This is a team that is a step below the contending teams, but is only a solid acquisition or two away from being able to take that next step. The AI will actively pursue an upgrade to any deficiencies in its starting lineup and/or the first few players off the bench. If the piece is a perfect fit, the team will often mortgage the future to get that player. When you think Buying team, think the Blazers.

- Selling: This is a team whose window has closed and they are clearly trying to move their aging/bad contracts for youth/picks. It’s not common for a team to be in this state long in our game, or in the real NBA. When it happens though, it’s best to strike while the iron is hot. When you think Selling team, think what the Wizards did last season or what the Celtics and Spurs will be doing in approximately 12-24 months from now. Sorry Celtics and Spurs fans. Reality is coming soon…

- Rebuilding: A large portion of the NBA teams tend to live in this state for long periods of time. This is seen in our game as well. Rebuilding teams are, simply put, looking to upgrade their rosters. They are looking to build through the draft, through free agency, and through trades. Rebuilding teams aren’t interested in your aging, overpriced 35-year old guard. If you are going to offer one up to a rebuilding team, they are going to value him quite low (unless you pair a nice draft pick alongside him), meaning you’ll be getting pennies on the dollar for him. When you think Rebuilding teams, think the Timberwolves, Wizards, Kings, etc.

Teams are very cognizant of what state they are currently in, and they will update their state as their rosters change. The entire logic for the mode this year is designed around this logic model, and its implementation has paid off in spades. You’ll see that as we move through the rest of the logic systems.

Roster Building
Beyond the Team States, our new Roster Building system is very much aware of the current roster. In previous versions of NBA 2K, it wasn’t uncommon for a team like the Hornets to go out and sign a top-flight point guard in free agency. With Chris Paul and Darren Collison on-board, that makes no sense…whatsoever. In NBA 2K11, the CPU is smart enough to know that the Hornets should be upgrading the wing positions ideally, or at the very least, their bench.

Teams are visibly different in their approach to Roster Building, and this all ties back to the head coach and the types of offense and defense he runs. Simply put, teams tend towards players that fit their play style. These play styles are spread out across Tempo (half court vs. transition), Team Focus (offense vs. defense), Focal Points (forwards vs. guards), Player Style (skill players vs. athletic players), and Shot Preference (inside vs. outside). The exciting thing about this new system is that you will see teams with unique styles emerge as The Association plays out; it will no longer just be a hodge-podge of players thrown together onto a team. Heck, you can see this yourself early on this year by simply running a fantasy draft and noting the styles of players drafted to each team.

Player Valuation
With Team States and Roster Building out of the way, our next step was to replace the Player Valuation system. After all, players are going to have different values to different teams now with the Roster Building system. The Player Valuation system is responsible for, as the name implies, valuing the players. This includes the AI that is used to determine how teams value their own players based on the team’s play style, how much players ask for in free agency, and how much they are willing to accept.

In previous versions of the game, it wasn’t uncommon to see middle-tier players asking for max contracts, or at the very least, contracts much higher than their actual worth would indicate. With this new system, player salaries should be a lot more in-line with their actual worth. 

One thing to always consider though is that some players perceive their skills to be much greater than their worth (this is something NBA 2K11 models). We see this every year in the real NBA where teams feel pressured to make a signing to keep their fans and ownership happy. Does anyone remember the Mavericks splashing $30+M for Desagana Diop a few years back? Point being, sometimes teams overpay to get their guy. It’s a part of the business, which we feel makes it important to make it a part of this game.

Trading Logic
With Player Valuation complete, replacing the Trading Logic system was the obvious next step in our revamp of the under-the-hood AI systems. The first thing we did to help teams was to help them identify who they should and shouldn’t keep on their teams. Much of this is handled by the Roster Building system described above, but another safeguard that was used in the game is the addition of a new ‘Player Role’, called the ‘Core’ role. 

Core players are guys like Kobe, Wade, LeBron, D. Howard, etc. These are guys that are so valuable to their team, that a trade involving one of these players is incredibly unlikely. I’m not here to tell you that you can no longer trade for these players, but I can tell you the CPU will be much, much stingier in parting with a Core player. In fact, they’ll demand one in return. Don’t expect to package two 82-rated players and grab a Core player in return. Not happening this year.

Beyond the addition of the Core role, the system now features new logic that can be best described as, “do I really need this player?” If you are trying to make a trade with the Jazz where the best player they are getting back is a point guard, they aren’t going to be overly interested as they now have the knowledge that they already have a Deron Williams filling the starting PG slot. When you offer a trade to a CPU team, that team will assess what their lineup looks like pre-trade as well as post-trade. This alone gives the CPU a tremendous amount of knowledge that it did not have in the past. In fact, prior to NBA 2K11, the trade system would simply look at the value of the items being swapped and make the deal if the values were close enough. This is how you ended up with CPU teams trading for stars at positions they already had stars at. I’m pleased to say this is no longer an issue with NBA 2K11.

Signing Logic
The final system in line to be revamped was our Signing Logic system. As I mentioned above in the Player Valuation section, player signing values should be much more in-line with expected return. Beyond this, the Signing Logic system has been updated to use the new Roster Building system. When teams are signing players in both in-season and offseason free agency, they will be looking for players that fit their team mold, and even more importantly, their current team needs. They will also be looking at what the player has accomplished over his career (or as we call it internally, his ‘fame’ level) when choosing between players. On a veteran contending team, who would you rather have, a 75 rated journeyman with no career accomplishments or a 75 rated player who was a 7-time all-star and had a couple all-league appearances in his earlier days? Exactly. Not all players of the same rating are created equally, and the teams use that knowledge to their advantage when signing players. 
The other half of the system that has seen updating is how Player Ambitions are used when signing players. Player Ambitions now play a stronger role in determining where players choose to sign. Pay close attention to their Ambitions (Play For Winner, Financial Security, and Loyalty); they have never been more important! Through all of this, the important thing to note here is that we have tied all of the logic from the above systems into the Signing Logic system, and that level of AI intelligence will expose itself as you play through the mode. 

NBA Draft 2.0 + Draft Day Trades
With our under-the-hood logic tasks out of the way, I felt it was important for you to have some ‘tangible’ features. Something you really sink your teeth into and play with. At this point, the area most in need of a revamp in my eyes was the NBA Draft. It’s always been a bit of an eye sore, no doubt. This year, we’re in a fully rendered environment at Madison Square Garden with David Stern manning the podium. This visual alone creates a much more intimate environment that draws you in closer to the experience.
As you can probably guess, the first thing we wanted to address with the new draft is the draft logic used to select players for the CPU teams. CPU teams now use a combination of ‘team needs’ versus ‘best player available’ logic. Initially, they will look at positions of need and identify the best player at those needs. After that, they will look at all players available and determine if the best player available (if he is not at a position of need) outweighs the benefit of drafting the best player available at a position of need. It’s really a very crafty logic system that works extremely well.

So where are the ‘tangible’ features I mentioned above? Well, I’m very pleased to announce that our new NBA Draft features Draft Day Trades! 
Here is a Draft Day Trade where the Thunder, knowing they are close to title contention, made a power move to acquire J Rich. The Suns, clearly in need of assets, managed to pick up a couple draft picks to aid in their rebuilding efforts. A good deal for both.

As the draft progresses, you will be informed of completed trades where CPU teams have successfully traded up or down to get their guy. As the user, you have the ability to stop the draft at any point to try and trade for the current pick (CPU teams will be offering you as well during the draft). I have found this to be very handy when I start to get antsy that my guy is going to get taken before it is my turn to pick. We’ve made trading in the draft VERY easy this year courtesy of the Trade Finder, which I will discuss below. Actually, I love this feature. Let’s discuss it now…

Player Finder / Trade Finder
Over the course of developing 2K11’s The Association, these two features very quickly became my two best friends. Let’s start off with the Player Finder. With this feature, users can find players in the league that meet any search criteria you want. An example of this in use is as follows. I’ve started a new Association with the 76ers, but I’d like to find a new PG to run the team as I don’t see Louis Williams or Jrue Holiday in my future plans. Here is what I need: A PG that is under 28 years old, that makes less than 10M per year, that has a B+ or Better Outside Shot, and that has a B+ or Better Perimeter Defense rating. Just like that, I have a list of every player in the league that fits my criteria. When used properly, Player Finder is a very valuable took for team building and filling out your roster. Finding specialists has never been easier.

Let’s move on and discuss the Trade Finder. This feature, simply put, allows you to make trades without having to deal with all of the complicated NBA rules related to making a successful trade. This feature is as simple as going to the Trade Finder menu, looking for the player that you want to trade for, and asking the team “what it will take” to get a trade done. They will return to you with a list of trades that they would accept for this player. Just because you ask for a trade though, doesn’t mean you should accept it to be fair. If the team doesn’t want to part with the player, they may propose some trades that are clearly to their advantage. Beyond that, sometimes the team just won’t find an acceptable trade for that player at all. If you are a team with no talent and you go to the Heat asking for a LeBron James, you’ll likely get no offers for them. Another twist in the Trade Finder feature that is useful is how you can use it on your own players. In my 76ers Association, I can go to my own team in the Trade Finder and select Louis Williams. After pressing Start, I’ll be presented with offers from every team in the league (every team that made an offer that is). If you see one that is close, but not exactly what you are looking for, you can simply take the trade to the regular trading menu and make adjustments wherever you see fit. In short, executing trades in NBA 2K11 is easier than it ever has been. Give it a try and see for yourself.

Dynamic Attendance
If you read the Presentation Insight that DDP posted last week , you’ll recall his mention on how they implemented Dynamic Attendance into the game. I’ve taken this system and expanded on it for The Association, to great success. Allow me to explain the high level details of the feature in the event you didn’t read the above-mentioned Insight.

Dynamic Attendance is a feature that aims to re-create realistic crowd sizes based on real-life attendance levels. A game like Bobcats @ Bucks isn’t like to sell out the Bradley Center, but Heat @ Bucks is a surefire way to pack the house. Beyond this, Dynamic Attendance aims to emulate fans arriving late to the game and leaving early in blowouts. Within the scope of The Association, we have added a number of new variables to ensure that the right amount of crowd is on-hand to cheer at your games.

The important thing to note is you can change the culture of a franchise. You can take the Nets and sell the place out with the right personnel and some wins. You can take a team like the Lakers and turn them into one of the lowest attended teams in the league. While quite complex, the system is fundamental on the surface. Star players and Ws bring people to the stands. Trading away or not re-signing your best players coupled with losses drives the fans away.

Events that happen during your season will absolutely have an effect on your fans and their propensity to come to the games. If your team goes on a little 5 game winning streak, the buzz will start to build. If you trade for a star player rated 90 or above, the buzz will grow very loud. On the other hand, if you make a trade where you trade away that 90+ rated player and don’t get much in return, the fans will begin to lose confidence in the team. Additionally, once the team is eliminated from playoff contention, you will slowly see the attendance decline until season’s end. You don’t blame the fans in that case, do you? Dynamic Attendance is one of those features that you begin to appreciate more and more as you play through your Association. The varying crowd levels really give you a sense of the status of a given franchise, and equally, how ‘big’ of a game you are playing in.

The Little Things
For anyone that has read one of my Insights before, you know I love to point out the Little Things. Little Things are small additions to the game that often make a world of a difference, though that’s not necessarily apparent from their description. The following is a few of the items that stood out the most to me this year.

- Hall of Fame: New to The Association this year is the Hall of Fame. As players play through their careers, we internally keep a ‘Hall of Fame’ score that tallies their accolades and statistical accomplishments. Upon retiring, proven players will be selected to the Hall of Fame where you’ll be able to reminisce on their careers while viewing their career stats and accolades.

- Classic Teams: I’ve seen so much discussion on this in the forums despite us previously confirming this. Yes, you absolutely can take our classic teams into Association. This means you can bring any of Jordan’s Bulls into the league. Equally as fun I have found is to bring in the Malone/Stockton Jazz and the Ewing Knicks alongside the Jordan teams. It’s an interesting wrinkle to the Association formula that people in the office have been enjoying for months now!

- Player Progression Tracking: At the end of every season, you will now be presented with a menu that will you show you how much your players have progressed/regressed since the last offseason. You’ll be able to see both the before and after for every rating, for every player in the league. This is a very handy feature that will definitively tell who is in the up-and-up, and who is on their last legs.

- White House Visit: This one is quite possibly my favorite visual addition to the mode this year. Every offseason, you have the opportunity of watching the team that won the Finals visit Barack Obama at the White House. The White House Visit consists of the championship team donning suits and posing for a variety of pictures with Barack. It’s a pretty simple thing, but it’s what I like to call icing on the cake.

- Auto-Generated Portraits: For those of you who play many years into Association, you will recall from last year that all generated players had silhouettes for their portraits. Aside from being unsightly, this really draws you away from the authentic feel of being in the NBA. In NBA 2K11, ALL generated players will have auto-generated portraits that will 100% resemble the physical appearance of the player. No longer will you have a league full of players who have silhouettes as portraits!

- Autosave: For those of you who were frustrated by the inability to disable Autosave within Association last year, we have re-engineered the mode such that box scores are not lost when there isn’t a save file present. In short, yes, you will be able to successfully turn off Autosave this year if you so choose.

- Intra-Squad Scrimmages: Another new feature this year is the ability to run Intra-Squad Scrimmages with your team. Here, we pit the starting 5 against the best of your bench players. You can choose to run with the starters or with the bench unit. This is a great way to get some time with some of your lesser talent in a ‘game’ situation without having to worry about Ls piling up in the loss column.

- Simulator Improvements: We spent a lot of time this year working on our simulator and the various components of it. For starters, you will notice that simulated stats will be much more accurate this year as we continue to tweak and tune our stat engine to be closer and closer to real life. I can personally guarantee that Chris Bosh will no longer be your league leader in Rebounding! As for how it determines who wins and losses, we put a lot of effort into the matchups when simulating the games possession by possession. In previous years, it was not uncommon to have a 6 seed playing a 5 seed (or some similar configuration) in the NBA Finals. Upsets should occur at a much lower frequency now and will be dictated exclusively by matchups. We really feel we hit the nail on the head this year in regards to the simulator.

- New Metric Stats: I can admit that I am a huge stats/numbers geek. I’m always looking for new ways to measure players against one another, to find out who stands out from the crowd in various ways. There are a number of new Metric Stats in The Association this year, the following is just a few of them:
- Rebound Rate: This stat will tell you the percentage of rebounds a player grabs during his time on the court. The true rebounders are on your team will immediately jump out at you here.
- Usage Rate: This stat will tell you the percentage of offensive possessions a player is personally responsible for ending while he is on the floor (either via a field goal attempt or a turnover).
- Estimated Wins Added: This stat aims to estimate the number of wins that a player adds to a team’s season total above what a league average player player at that position would add. This is a great tool to determine where upgrades are needed on your roster.

- Splitting The MLE: This one is short and sweet. Users are now able to split the MLE amongst as many players as they want during free agency. This should give you a little more flexibility when it comes to filling out your teams.

- D-League Utilization: CPU teams will now be making effective use of the NBA D-League this year. They will be sending down young players who aren’t getting enough playing time to ensure they continue to develop. Remember, the more playing time young players get, the better the chance they have of reaching their full potential. If you draft a player and stash him on your bench for a few years, his development will take a significant hit. Give your players every opportunity to develop into all they can be!

- Morale & Foul Trouble: A highly requested addition, players will no longer take negative morale hits when they don’t play their desired minutes due to foul trouble. They will now only get mad at themselves and not at you for keeping them off the court!

- Season Awards: Where appropriate, Season Awards are now handed out properly using the 2 guards, 2 forwards, and 1 center format rather than how we have had it in years past where it was strictly, 1 PG, 1 SG, 1 SF, 1 PF, and 1 C. It should be noted that the All-Rookie teams are also now handed out without 


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