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Lindstrom Future Stars Academy Objective

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NBA 2K12 Developer Insight 9 - Defense

  POSTED September 16, 2011

Jerson Sapida, NBA 2K developer, back for another insight. This time he will be going over NBA 2K12’s gameplay features and improvements on Defense.  Just to note, as announced in yesterday’s Post Game Insight, there will be a video that chronicles all controls he references below early next week. Check out also new screenshots.

 Screenshots Gallery

Movement and Controls

With NBA 2K11, we made marked improvements on defense with regards to control, responsiveness, and game AI.  The entire movement system was also re-written last year, giving us a solid base to build on for 2K12.  Getting defensive movement as responsive and tight as possible is always a top priority, and the same philosophy holds true for this year’s title.  On top of that, we wanted to give the user more control over the defensive player’s movement and actions.  With NBA 2K12, we give you more commands on the defensive end.  Here’s the breakdown of what they are.


Shuffle Speed

Let’s start off with controlling your defender’s speed.  When guarding the ball handler in NBA 2K12, you have complete control over how fast your defender moves in order to keep up with your matchup.  Speed throttling, as we call this internally, gives you three levels of control as a defender.

  • LSTICK = regular movement
  • LT + LSTICK (L2 + Left Analog Stick on PS3)= Intense Defense and tighter movement
  • LT + RT + LSTICK  (L2 + R2 + Left Analog Stick on PS3) = Fast Shuffle movement

When guarding the ball, you now have three options over how fast or how slow you want to go.  Without any modifiers, LSTICK  (Left Analog Stick) will give you the default movement speed.  This is what you’ll be using the most, such as when the dribbler is roaming the court or setting up a play.  You can still tap the stick to take a step, or feather it lightly to walk.

Moving on to the next level, when you hold down LT (or L2 on PS3), you enter Intense Defense which will give you a tighter set of controls.  You won’t be moving as fast as the default movement speed when holding down LT (L2).  Your defender will make small adjustments while in this mode.  Even with the stick fully pressed, Intense Defense limits you to a slower shuffle speed for that tighter control.  Use Intense Defense when you are playing the dribbler really close and only need to take a step or two to get in better position.

Lastly, and this is my favorite, when LT + RT (L2 + R2) are held, the defender will be in Fast Shuffle mode.  Think of this as moving laterally but with Turbo applied.  This is especially helpful when you feel that you are getting beat by a step or two but do not want to sprint to catch up.  It is essentially the fastest speed your player can go without turning to run.  You can also use this to defend a fastbreak.  By getting into the Fast Shuffle, you can now face up the dribbler and backpedal towards the basket (be it as early as the half court line) as he is attacking for a score.  You can even hold down LT (L2) and periodically tap/hold RT (R2)  to get that extra level of control over your speed.  A word of caution: this will drain your energy much faster than normal movement, so use it only when necessary.



RSTICK Defense

The RSTICK (Right Analog Stick on PS3) now has two functions on defense this year: Hands Up and Deny Ball.


In 2K11, you could perform the Hands Up move but doing so restricted your movement.  You couldn’t shuffle or adjust your position once you put your hands up.  The move basically locked you in a standstill, putting you at an even more disadvantageous position.  In NBA 2K12, you can now get your hands up and move at the same time.  By simply holding the RSTICK in any direction, your defender will raise both hands when close to the ball handler.  As long as the RSTICK is held, you will keep your hands up.  Mix in LSTICK for movement to keep up with your opponent.  You want to use this move to (a) defend a shot or (b) force a more difficult pass.  Playing hands up defense on a shooter will have an effect on the overall shot percentage.  The closer you are to the shooter, the higher the impact you have on the shot.  Another added benefit is that you have less chance of fouling when simply raising your hands.  The AI also makes full use of the Hands Up move, especially when the ball gets close to the basket.  With this move as part of their defensive arsenal, the inside game feels more balanced now as well.


One thing I would like to mention is how shot contests work with hands up now.  In 2K11, shot contests triggered automatically for both users and CPU.  This is no longer the case for the user.  We want to give you complete control over your actions on the court.  Getting some random animation that you specifically did not call for, without any input, is something we wanted to move away from.  This same viewpoint was shared and passionately voiced by one of our community members, Da Czar, during development.  Conversely, there were those who liked the auto-contest in 2K11.  Among them was one of our gameplay interns who has been a longtime fan of the series.  After days of debating, we came up with the solution that should satisfy both camps: Auto Contests will play as long as you are performing hands up defense or holding LT (or L2 on PS3) in Intense Defense mode.  This means you need to perform one of the two, meaning intentionally feeding an input, to get the contest.  As a side note: auto contest animations will not make your player jump.  If you want to leave the ground to contest a shot, you must press the Block button (Y on Xbox, Triangle on PS3).


Now when you are guarding an opponent without the ball (offball), the RSTICK will put your defender in a Deny Ball stance.  While in Deny Ball, the defender will face his matchup and one arm is extended to defend the pass.  Similar to hands up, you can move around while denying the ball.  If your matchup moves, you can stay in Deny Ball and keep up with your man using the LSTICK.  You do move slower while in this stance, so be aware of that and know when to get out of it, especially if your man gets too far away from you.  When denying the ball on your matchup, you affect their openness for a pass.  Another benefit in using deny, you can easily steal passes when they are forced to the man you are closely guarding.  Deny Ball gives you access to the auto-steals to knock down incoming passes.



In 2K12, we have incorporated part of the steal moves into the actual motion model itself.  As I’ve said previously in this Insight, giving total control to the user is part of our goal.  We want you to be in full control of your movement.  In 2K11, when you pressed the steal button your player occasionally ends up shooting off in a random direction that takes you out of position.  This is no longer the case in 2K12.  We keep your movement independent from the steal gesture.  This means that if you hit steal while you are backpedaling, you will keep backpedaling as you swipe at the ball.  The system is also aware of ball location with relation to your player.  For instance, when you press steal when the ball is to your right side, the player will reach in that direction.

Boxing Out

When boxing out (by holding down LT on 360, L2 on PS3), you will now get into an actual box out stance.  Going back to movement controls once again, you can shuffle around and make adjustments to your position while in this stance.  Simply move with your LSTICK while keeping the triggers held down.  Getting into the box out puts your player into a wider stance, making it easier to seal out an opposing player trying to get the rock.


Defensive Setting and Strategy

With NBA 2K12, we have also added a new feature that allows you to set strategies on how to defend the pick and roll.  Fans of the series have been asking for this and I am happy to share that it is now in the game.  When you pause the game and access the Defensive Settings screen (Pause -> Coaching), you will notice two new columns: Screen Defense and Hedge Defense.

For each opposing player, you can select how your teammates on defense will react when that player gets a screen set for him.  This can be set individually.  For instance, how you defend the screen when Derrick Rose has the ball might be different compared to Luol Deng.  You can be very specific in your defensive strategy.  Let me go over in detail what each setting does:


Screen Defense

This setting controls how the onball defender will react to the screen.  You can set it to any of the following:

  • Auto – Let the game logic decide.
  • Go Over – Onball defender will always attempt to go over the screener.  This is a good strategy to use against good outside shooters.
  • Go Under – Onball defender will go under and around the screener.  Use this strategy for opponents that can drive to the basket but is not a very good outside shooter.
  • Switch – Onball defender will always switch so that he is now guarding the screener (offball defender picks up the ball handler).

Hedge Defense

This setting controls how the offball defender (defender matched up to the screener) will react to the screen.  Hedging is a way to slow down the dribbler during the screen by stepping out to defend him briefly and then getting back to the original matchup.  Below are the settings available:

  • Auto – Let the game logic decide.
  • No Hedge – The offball defender stays close to the screener.
  • Soft Hedge – The offball defender steps out to briefly impede/disrupt the dribbler’s path
  • Hard Hedge – The offball defender steps further out to force the dribbler to take a longer route around the screen
  • Double – The offball defender stays on the dribbler for the double team

Both Screen and Hedge strategies also tie into the quick Defense Strategy in our playcall system.  You can quickly change these settings on-the-fly (DPAD Left) while on defense.


User-Controlled Defender

In competitive play, be it online or offline, there is always that never ending dispute over opponents never wanting to guard the ball.  Many users just don’t want (or are afraid) to be tasked with keeping in front of the ball handler and preventing penetration.  They end up controlling and offball defender and simply camp out down low to defend the inside shot.  Even during our friendly office tournaments, the majority of the participants played this way.  We wanted to address this for 2K12.  Playing onball should not be something that’s feared.

Now, we give you an added incentive to play the ball on defense.  For one, user-controlled defenders will impact the shot percentages more than an AI-controlled one.  When you control the defender and perform hands up defense or jump up to contest, your shot release defense will be higher than just leaving it to your AI teammates.


Shooter Vulnerability and Strips

Further balancing the game, we also ensured that all shots could be countered on the defensive end.  As an example, the spin dunk and hop steps from 2K11 was nearly unstoppable once the animation has started.  This ended up being a cheeser’s favorite go-to move.  To those not familiar with gaming memes, a cheeser is a user who performs the same move over and over because of a game balance issue.  In NBA 2K12, we have addressed this by creating vulnerability windows during all shots.


During the gather, from the moment the shooter starts the shot and before he leaves the ground, he is vulnerable.  During that window, a defender can strip the ball away by timing the steal command properly.  This applies to hop step layups, euro layups, spin layups, spin dunks, etc.  These moves are no longer overpowering once you learn and detect their vulnerable windows.  Player skill also factors in as well.  Erick Boenisch touched upon the moves proficiency new to 2K12 in the My Player Insight, which plays a big role in the type of shots taken by the player.  For example, a user trying to perform a spin layup with a player that’s not good at it will end up either getting stripped or just lose the ball outright and have it slip out of his hands.


Another counter to these shots would simply be getting a body in front of the shooter before he takes off.  This year, shots can be disrupted mid-gather and branch out to a contested one if a defender impedes his path.  Whereas last year the shooter was always guaranteed to complete his shot animation (until a midair collision prevents it from finishing), this time around shooters can be forced to a much tougher shots during the gather.  This added branch point makes you work harder to get quality shots on inside penetration and taking advantage of open lanes.


Speaking of mid-air collision shots, we have also made some additions and changes to this system.  The way it worked last year, players needed to match up body positions in order to trigger them.  Since we have limited collision animations, sometimes we will fail to find a match and the shooter gets a free pass by letting their shots finish.  In 2K12 this is solved by blending the shooter into another shot mid-air if a defender gets in the way while he is airborne.  You should no longer see mid-air shoving as if the defender wasn’t even there.  Shooters will now be forced into a tougher shot if contact is detected.


The game’s blocking system has been vastly improved for 2K12.  One of the major complaints from last year was that hands would sometimes go through the ball when it clearly should have been a block.  We now have a better physics detection for body-ball collisions.  Balls that hit body parts (as part of the live ball physics) should now be knocked loose out of the shooter’s hands. 

Further improvements to blocking include implementation of an IK system and better predictive logic for determining the shooter’s shot release point.  To put it simply, IK allows us to adjust the aim points and direction of a player’s arm.  Before IK, we were limited to the animation data and players would be stuck with whatever block animation they got. But now we  can tweak that same animation so that the hand actually aims at hitting the ball.

With the shot prediction logic, our block selection is now much better with regards to playing an animation that fits the context.  What does this mean for you as a user?  When you send a block command, the defender should now play a block animation that puts him in an advantageous position to contest the shot.  As an example, we don’t want to swat straight up when we see the shooter performing a scoop layup on the right side.  He should jump to contest with his arms actually aiming at the ball.

All of these improvements mean that when you get your block timing right, we can ensure that you are rewarded by stopping that shot.

On the flip side, we also addressed game balance issue.  That is, being able to recover too quickly from a block attempt.  There’s nothing more frustrating on the offensive side when you get the defender to bite on a pump fake only to see him right in front of you again a split second later.  Now, when a defender goes up for an aggressive block, there will be a recovery period where he can’t immediately launch and run to get back.  This change really balances out the game now.


Hard / Wrap Foul

A new defensive move added this year now allows you to wrap up your man to prevent an easy bucket.  By clicking the RSTICK, your defender will go into a wrap foul animation.  If the shooter is in vicinity for the foul, he will get wrapped up and be sent to the line.  You can use this new mechanic in times where you find yourself mismatched in the post and got beat to the basket.  As an example, you can send Dwight Howard to the line instead of giving up an easy dunk by wrapping him up during the shot. 


Defender Reactions

Another improvement on our defender is on overall reactions to game situations.  With the inclusion of fake passes in 2K11, we allowed our defender to react to them.  For 2K12, we didn’t want to stop there.  Why not react on jab steps and shot fakes as well?  A simple twitch or hand reaction is enough to sell that realism that players are actually aware of what’s going on around them.  It’s a minor and cosmetic change, but it drastically gives the game that organic and realistic feel.



Well, that’s it for now 2K fans.  We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished this year with giving you, the user, more controls and arsenals to use on the defensive end.  The game balance is something we’re really happy with.  I’d like to wrap up this Insight by saying thank you once again.  A reminder about the controls video early next week along with the fact that the demo should be dropping soon, as you read this, so definitely check that out once it releases.  And remember, defense wins championships!


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