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Sega Sports NBA 2K2 (PS2,Xbox) Interview

1/14/02

Ivan Abrahim recently had a chance to interview DERRICK AYNAGA, lead designer of Sega Sports NBA 2K2 at Visual Concepts. (Click here for screen shots)

1) Whats your position at Visual Concepts? What other games have you worked on?

    DERRICK AYNAGA – I'm the Lead Designer on NBA2K2 and have worked on the series from the very beginning. I was the Assistant Producer with SEGA for 2K and moved to Visual Concepts and game design starting with 2K1.

2) Will there be any major differences between NBA 2K2 for PS2 and Xbox? What about the differences between the PS2 and Dreamcast version besides graphical differences?

    DERRICK – The biggest non-graphical differences came after the Dreamcast version. Our engineering group re-wrote the entire play system from scratch to create more realistic and intelligent behaviors. Things you'll notice straight away on PS2 and X-Box is the AI's ability to recognize and hit open cutters, particularly on the pick and rolls. You'll also notice things like the AI choosing to isolate Kobe one-on-one when he has a slower defender on him. The new AI is also very good at reacting to opportunities at the last minute just as a human would. One of the most amazing things I've seen is the AI passing out to a wide-open shooter, from a lay-up that was going to get blocked by 2 defenders. You normally see this type of split-second decision from skilled human opponents, yet we've been able to incorporate them into our AI's game.

    Other big DC to PS2 / X-Box differences include the ability to lead off a crossover with a series of dribble fakes adding another exciting element to the one-on-one aspect of the game. We also re-tuned the entire shooting game to account for feedback from Dreamcast players who were saying our shooting percentages were a little too high.

    While the PS2 and X-Box will be very similar there are tons of behind the scene differences that ensure the same great gameplay and experience is consistent regardless of platform.

3) How many people worked on the actual development of the game?

    DERRICK – The core team was about 30 but we received lots of help throughout development. I think we pulled in as many as 25 different people from other teams to tap their experience and expertise.

4) Since zone defense is now legal in the NBA, how difficult was it to program such a feature into the game?

    It was tough to get right but we really wanted to spend the time to make zones as realistic and playable as possible. The goal was to make each zone beneficial in the appropriate situation while exposing their realistic weaknesses. For example, running the 2 –3 helps against a team that posts up often, but won't work against a team that moves the ball and can hit the outside shot. Our defensive AI even changes its zone strategy according to how the opposition is scoring. Score too often with a single player and the AI responds with the Box and 1 to contain him. Score too easily from the post and the AI will run a 2 – 3 to force you to make shots from the outside. So you can see it's actually implemented as a very deep defensive feature that has tons of strategy implications.

5) How flexible will the options for the franchise/season mode be? Will you be able to opt for a shorter season schedule?

    DERRICK – You can currently adjust season play lengths for both PS2 and X-Box but we are definitely looking to do much more next year particularly with franchise. I can't talk about specifics at this time but we are aiming to make the game as customizable as possible.

6) AI time management seems to be a popular problem for most of sports games out these days. Has the AI time management been improve? I'm hoping we don't see the cpu wasting 20 secs of the clock while down by 4 or 5 with a minute left.

    DERRICK – Some of our biggest strides have actually come this year. We spent a lot of time on tying coaching decisions to play calling and late game situations. The result is an AI that goes for a 3 when it needs it, slows the game down when it has a big lead, and fouls when behind late and needs to stop the clock. There are also more subtle late game details like the AI coach favoring plays for guys that have been producing all game long. It's these types of details that really help bring the authenticity of the NBA to our game.

7) How is the injury engine? Will we wee both minor and major injuries? Minor is in players having to sit out a quarter or half versus being out for more than one game.

    DERRICK – The injury engine is quite robust and accounts for both short and long term injuries. We factor in everything from the severity of contact to the injury proneness of the players involved to determine if an injury is going to occur and how long it will last. Our process is accounts for a lot of different variables but we feel it yields more realistic results that directly stem from gameplay context rather than feeling purely random as with other games.

8) Will the Xbox version support the system link feature?

    DERRICK – While we are not supporting the feature this year, it is certainly something we will be looking to in the near future. It's definitely an exciting prospect, but our main goal this year was to create the best playing basketball sim on the market, and I definitely feel we've done that with NBA2K2.

9) Will future releases for this series include more tweakable AI?

    DERRICK – We've heard NBA2K players asking for this option and are currently looking into doing more for next year. However just like everything else about our development style, we want to do it right to make sure it's a valuable feature to the user.

10) Where do you and your team get fan feedback from? Websites? reviews? stalkers?

    DERRICK –As a team, we really take pride in being open to suggestions and using it to help make a better basketball game. We've received suggestions from all the sources you mention, and many team members have gone further, talking to people in game stores, looking over and gathering feedback from newsgroups, and even chatting and playing against folks in online Dreamcast tournaments. I think if you look at the evolution of the NBA2K series as a whole, it's clear that each game is better and more robust than the last, and that's a philosophy we take to heart here. Tons of work goes into expanding and adding more detail into each game and a lot of what we decide to do comes from the expectations and suggestions of NBA2K players who give us feedback.

11) Anything you wish to add?

    DERRICK – I'd like to thank all the NBA2K players for supporting and playing our game, and to let them know that we do listen to what they have to say. We want to make sure we are developing the type of game basketball gamers want so we really do keep an open ear.

We would like to thank Derrick Aynaga for his time in answering a few of our questions. Be sure to check out out preview of Sega Sports NBA 2K2.



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