With the release of the two new next generation consoles less than a month away, it’s no surprise that developers are promoting their next-gen wares. Earlier this week, Alan Moore from 2K Games was kind enough to invite me to a hands-on preview of the PlayStation 4 version of NBA 2K14, and I have to say that it’s shaping up well.
We started out with a video presentation put together by the developers over in the US, who quickly outlined the important details. First of all, they confirmed that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions are not simply ports of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. They were designed specifically for next-gen consoles, and they feature a completely new engine, which 2K are calling EcoMotion. EcoMotion allows the developers to take things to the next level, with noticeably improved animations, more complex physics, and a new lighting system. In particular, they pointed out that when the players are dribbling the ball, the ball actually hits the ground and reacts to it now. In the current gen versions, the ball often yo-yos back into the players hand. The ball itself also has proper physics applied to it now, and instead of being static, it will now spin and bounce realistically as the players handle it. The players feet also move more accurately now. We were shown a side-by-side comparison, and you could see that in the current gen games, the players’ feet slide around a lot when they move. In contrast, the players’ feet have proper weight to them in the next-gen version, and you can see them take actual steps every time they move.
We moved on to the hands-on demo. This was my first time seeing the PS4’s interface in person, and I was impressed with how fast it is compared to the PS3’s XMB. Within about 10 seconds of selecting the game from the PS4’s menu, the game was fully loaded, and we were setting up a match. After starting up the game, you’ll get to create your own player, just like in the previous titles. There are more options than ever before though, and you can create some very personalised character models. We were brought to the main menu, where Alan pointed out one of the new features, NBA Today. NBA Today shows you scores from the real life game as they happen, as well as video highlights. Alan mentioned that 2K have a strong partnership with the NBA, which is something that they’re taking full advantage of. The in-game players’ attributes will be adjusted to match the real life players over time. So, if a real life player is performing badly in the current season, that will affect their in-game performance too. 2K also gathered NBA teams together for their facial capture process, taking photos of the players’ faces as they made different expressions, and then importing them into the game. They managed to do this for almost every player in the NBA.
Alan finished setting up the match, and then handed the controller over to me. He handed me some good news at the same time, confirming that the PS4 version runs natively at 1080p. I noticed that the game’s loading screen shows NBA headlines, which is a nice touch. As I played through a few games, I found the controls simple to learn, and the player animations are what stood out the most. Motion capture was used as the basis for all the animations, and the players move very naturally. With the right camera angle, I actually started to feel as though I was watching real players. There were some great close up shots of the players during penalties and fouls, and seeing the players react just like real people was a treat. The screenshots don’t do the game justice, it looks so much better in motion. EcoMotion uses the mo-cap data only as a framework, player animations can change a little depending on the situation. The engine modifies the animations, and players will move a little differently depending on whether they’re surrounded by other players or not. I was also impressed by the fluid commentary that was going on in the background. There were no noticeable breaks in it, and the commentators were constantly sharing interesting factoids about the players and what was happening in the game.
Looking a little more closely, I could see the improved lighting system at work. You can see how the illumination of the crowd changes subtly as the LCD screens in the stadium change, and see the reflections of the lights on the court change in realtime. Another new feature is the Points of Emphasis. This allows you to control what the coach tells the players during breaks. For example, if the opposing team are putting too much pressure on you, you can tell your players to deal with it by focusing more on their defence. You’ll be able to see the players follow the coach’s advice as you play, they’ll position themselves around the court differently depending on what you tell them.
It’s clear that a lot of time and effort has been put into really making the next-gen version of NBA 2K14 a big step up from the current gen offering. With the help of an impressive new engine, pretty much every aspect has been improved, and the game is both fun to play and great to look at. PS4 and Xbox One owners are in for a treat when the game is released alongside the new consoles later this month.