Sports games don’t get a lot of love on this site. If genres were children, sports games would be forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs, and sit quietly in the corner when first-person shooter comes over to brag about their fantastic opening weekend and thriving multiplayer community. Imagine dealing with friends, family, and co-workers who don’t care at all about sports unless it’s already on the TV, and must rely on me to explain to them what’s going on. The only relief I got from this was working as a ref at my school’s intramural sports department. But all the sports banter in the world wasn’t worth getting yelled at by 12 different people in the course of an hour, and only one of them was actually my boss. But now, sports games get to step out of the corner, hold their head high, and compare themselves quite well with one of the cool-kid genres. How? Because some of the best RPG elements I’ve seen in a game are present in NBA 2K13.
Most of these elements stem from 2K13’s MyPlayer mode, in which you create an NBA rookie, participate in the “Rookie Showcase” to gain attention, and then get drafted by an NBA team based on your performance. This mode excels in the RPG aspect right out the gate with its character creation. 2K13’s MyPlayer features a wide, expansive collection of customization options for your character. You decide your player’s name, nickname, age, origins, looks, play style, attributes, preferred plays, and accessories. It emulates RPG’s in the sense that less important parts of your character such as looks, the college they attended, and their accessories include a huge amount of options to pick from, but keep important aspects such as play style and attributes varied but not out of control. You can spend hours picking out your guy’s hair, nose length, and freckle intensity, as well as what color and brand his wristbands are, if you want to, but you don’t have to spend so much time deciding whether he’s a pick-and-roll kinda guy, or if he likes to drive toward the basket. The only faults with character creation is that when it comes to picking a position, it’s difficult to get attention from teams during the Showcase when you’re not the point guard, since the offense runs through him. Fortunately, as someone who could only possibly play in the NBA as a point guard given my skin color and the fact that I’m not seven feet tall, I don’t really mind all that much. Another minor infraction is that let’s say you get picked number one overall by the New Orleans Hornets. When you join the team, the real-life number one pick, Anthony Davis, is also on the Hornets. You’ve now got a team with two number one picks. In order to fix this, however, the game would have to shift the entire draft class to different teams each time you made a character, resulting in multiple rosters that the game would have to keep track, so we’ll give NBA 2K13 a pass. Pun definitely intended.
With Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and (I guess) Dragon Age under their belts, I find it best to default to Bioware when it comes to crafting RPG’s. One of the best parts of these RPG’s is making decisions that affect the environment around you. And since the NBA 2K series took over as one the best sports series of all time, as evidenced by this incredibly handsome writer’s Top Five Sports Game Franchises of All Time, the effects of your player’s decisions have only become more advanced and important. Every decision your player makes on and off the court has effects on how the fans, your teammates, the organization, and other players respond to you. In-game, if you’re having a good shooting game, your teammates will feed you the ball more. If you start taking bad shots, causing turnovers, and playing bad defense, they’ll start to ignore you on offense, and coach will bench you. When you hit a big clutch shot, or posterize a defender, the crowd will respond by going absolutely bananas. The better a teammate you are, the better your teammates play. But even when the final buzzer is over, the game isn’t over. It’s time for the press conference. When asked a question by a reporter, you can respond with either professionalism, arrogance, team loyalty, or indifference. Neither one is the right answer all the time. Answer incorrectly, and your teammates won’t feed you the ball so much next game, or the crowd might not be on your side. The commentators might even bring up your remarks in the next game. But the meeting with the most importance regarding your surroundings are when you meet with the General Manager. Most meetings with the GM are optional, unless he asks for recommendations for who to trade for, or your contract is up and you two need to discuss renewal. But many of the GM discussions can be useful, and almost always have consequences. If you’re a star quality player who’s sick of coming off the bench, you can ask for more minutes, advise the GM to cut the player whose spot you want, or demand a trade if you’re really fed up. If you like the amount of minutes your coach is giving you, you can go in and give him a glowing evaluation, and solidify your role for years to come. But you have to be careful. If you march into the GM’s office and start demanding more minutes, and that certain players get cut, and that you should have a big shiny billboard downtown, all while you haven’t built up enough reputation, the GM could get sick of your attitude and trade you. Trust me, there’s nothing more embarrassing than going from being a starter on the Chicago Bulls to a bench player on the Charlotte Bobcats because you wanted a certain teammate gone. I’m sorry, is it my fault that Carlos Boozer can’t hit a shot or box out to save his life? An important part of RPG’s are companions, and in NBA 2K13’s MyPlayer mode, your choices affect who’s around you, and how they play around you, just like a good RPG should.
Moving on from my quarrels with the Booze Cruise, we come to the importance of skill points and signature skills. Skill points are the 1-99 ratings that cover aspects of your game such as Mid-range shot, rebounding, on-ball defense, off-hand dribbling, and stamina. Signature skills are essentially feats that apply bonuses to your character given certain situations. Signature skills such as Floor General act as buffs that increase your teammates’ offensive efficiency. The Bruiser skill makes your opponents’ stamina drain faster. And Finisher makes you more clutch in the fourth quarter when the game’s on the line. A problem I see with a lot of recent RPG’s is that they streamline skills for you, so your character becomes the advanced character they want you to be. In trying to attract a broader audience, Mass Effect did wrong what RPG’s like KOTOR, Skyrim, and Fallout did right, where your character excels at what you want them to excel at. NBA 2K13 lets your player be YOUR player. Want to focus all on offense and be a liability on defense? Want to be a blocking machine? Of course. Want to put all your points into dunks and simply be a highlight generator? Why not? When you earn skill points after every game, even if you fuck up where you allocate your points, just grind through a couple of lousy games until you get your stats up!
The NBA is where amazing happens. But the NBA isn’t built around general managers or coaches or commentators or even fans. It’s built around the player, and what they do on and off the court. In NBA 2K13’s MyPlayer mode, you get to experience that living, breathing world first hand. As your star power grows and grows, your team will respond, your fans will respond, and the league will respond. Are you going to be a draft bust? Or are you going to make it BIG?