It's been a while since an NBA Live game hit store shelves, but NBA Live 14, a next-gen game coming to PS4 and Xbox One, might make up for that.
The troubled EA Sports series was hit with delays and cancellations over the last few years. But fans have missed the series, and the new game is looking better than ever.
TechRadar got a chance to sit down with two of NBA Live 14's producers last week at an Xbox One Games Preview Showcase in San Francisco, and we asked them how the game takes advantage of the new next-gen hardware.
We learned that NBA Live 14 will constantly evolve based on what happens in the real NBA.
More importantly, its developers said what they're doing is only possible because of the next-gen Xbox One and PS4 hardware.
From the court to the screen
"Basketball as a sport is something that's constantly changing, and what our feature set allows us to do and what the hardware and the live services allow us to do is stay relevant," NBA Live 14 Executive Producer Sean O'Brien told us.
"Through our Xbox One hardware and the live services we are able to update content on a daily basis. So a guy changes his hairstyle, breaks his nose, wears a mask, new footwear drops - we're able to update that stuff on a daily basis."
Our conversation with O'Brien and fellow producer Ryan Ferwerda focused largely on the Xbox One, given that we were at a Microsoft event, but based on our discussion it seems the game's Xbox One and PS4 versions are largely the same.
Thanks to the new consoles, updating minute content on a daily basis is painless, O'Brien said. And those updates extend past aesthetic changes into deep and detailed stats from the real-life NBA court thanks to EA's partnership with Synergy Sports Technology, a company that tracks objective player data from NBA games.
After every game, EA will collect Synergy's data, which includes details like what players tend to do in certain situations and which side of the court they favor, and implement it into its virtual players' ever-evolving behavior sets.
"So if there's a guy who's really shooting the ball really well in the real world, you can see him evolve throughout the course of your game," O'Brien explained.
"It basically makes the players play as they play in real life," Ferwerda added. "So if one of your favorite players is performing poorly in NBA Live he's got to perform better on the court and that stuff will slowly correct itself."
It's not just player tendencies that will be updated, though.
"The first thing you notice in NBA Live is right when you go on the main screen, the entire UI is all new, live and dynamic, and it's updated basically every day," Ferwerda said.
"What's really cool is it's basically silent. You turn the game on, you'll have your updated stuff. That's one of the big advantages of these new boxes, especially the Xbox One, is it's always online."
As you may remember from all Microsoft's back-and-forth, the Xbox One doesn't actually require an internet connection, but Ferwerda was suggesting that most players will be connected to the internet most of the time.
EA will constantly check for roster updates and other obvious data, but even more fun are the challenges that will evolve from events that occur in real basketball games. NBA Live 14 has all the modes that fans expect from the series, but it's modes like "Live Season" and "Friday Night Live" that really stand out.
Live Season allows users to play through entire NBA seasons as their favorite teams, with player behavior and rosters locked in for each game just as they were during those real life games.
"I can go through and play every single game that the Knicks played, for example, in this playoff series, all the way down to the statistics, the way the players played that game, everything is accurate to that game. Then once the season starts this year you'll be moving along with them in lockstep," Ferwerda explained.
Friday Night Live is a more multiplayer-focused mode where the developers create events and challenges and people participate and compete together.
"We create challenges that are specific to your team. You can play along with your team this season and replay that actual game, or just big moments that happen in the league," Ferwerda said.
"Let's say I'm a Warriors fan. I go to the game and something happens in the game that's crazy. A few hours after that we actually create a challenge in our game you can go play with the exact player data in that exact moment. And these challenges are created every single day within hours," he continued. "All this stuff's updated every single day. Every time you turn on Live, something new and fresh is happening."
These modes are something that are really only possible on the Xbox One and PS4, thanks to their robust online capabilities and to the new Ignite engine that drives all of EA's upcoming next-gen games, Ferwerda said.
Sports games have been keeping their rosters and player stats updated for a while now, but NBA Live 14 looks like it will take that to a new level, particularly thanks to its partnership with Synergy Sports.
EA is the first company outside the NBA itself to use Synergy's data, so that may give it an edge over the well-entrenched NBA 2K series.
But O'Brien expects nothing less out of his games than the deep and dynamic statistics that they've implemented in NBA Live 14.
"When I'm on ESPN.com or when I'm watching a game during the week, I expect that my software when I play a video game is constantly relevant and updating as well along the way," he said. "We've got a couple features that really showcase that, allow us to stay connected through gen-four hardware, and really build out an experience that stays relevant, connected, social and competitive."
"It's been a rough past couple of years, and [NBA Live] hasn't actually shipped in a couple of years," O'Brien continued. "So what we tried to do a year ago was really restart the engine and get going on gen-four exclusively. It allows us to focus specifically on what that hardware and what that connectivity and what that experience is supposed to look like moving forward."
So far it's looking good. NBA Live 14 launches November 19 for Xbox One and PS4.