NBA 2K13 has been released for eight different platforms, but Senior Producer Rob Jones says that there is a clear winner. Put aside your mobile, your PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PSP and even the Wii - the "superior" version of the game is on its brand new home: Wii U.
While the choice might be obvious when compared to the mobile, handheld and PC versions, Jones explains that the newest console simply trumps the other two, by adding features they're simply not capable of.
I think that... if we focussed in on [Wii U], the experience on it could be superior, in my mind, to the other two consoles.
This is even taking into consideration the Xbox 360 Kinect functionality, which 2K Sports and Visual Concepts has embraced, incorporating voice recognition and motion controls into this year's game. Those functions brought something new to the game, but Wii U has the potential to add more, Jones continues.
I think that the way you can interact with that game controller is going to open up different ways of experiencing the game going forward, if we're smart.
We don't want to get into a situation where we're so focussed on integrating the controller features that we forget that a sports game usually gets interacted with in the same way, regardless of what console it's on.
While Jones firmly believes the Wii U has the potential to be the best, it's not quite there yet - and this is not the time to go all out. While developing NBA 2K13 as a launch window title, the platform had not yet been "solidified". Even though all of these cool things were being dangled in front of the studio like some sort of brand new technological carrot, Visual Concepts had to take a deep breath, prioritise, and only move ahead on the important bits.
This is why, even though there is voice recognition in the Kinect version of the game, and the Wii U is capable of it, the feature didn't make it into the newest game.
When you start trying to add voice recognition to a game, it impacts the performance of the entire console, so you have to be careful, you have to focus your efforts in a specific way.
Microsoft recommended a command set that was a lot smaller than the command set that I needed, in order to make kinect work. As we started, we had a laundry list of all the things we wanted to do, and then we had to pare it down and make it a lot smaller and simpler than we originally set out to do - because otherwise you couldn't maintain the same performance.
We didn't necessarily delve into voice recognition or facial stuff, and I think that all of that stuff is on the table going into the future. As our first step, we wanted to deliver the full, complete experience of NBA 2K, and give the users a taste of some of the things you'll be able to do, going forward.
Right now, the Wii U version of NBA 2K13 is built around three major features, which Jones explained to us in detail.
The main change, which most people will encounter almost immediately is the fact that a new focus has been put onto optional strategies that many gamers will leave hidden and unused. The extra real estate provided by the Wii U GamePad means that users have more options at their fingertips. No more pausing the game and navigating through menu upon menu to make changes!
(By the way, Jones comments that these are no minor tweaks - some options are strong enough that they can affect the outcome of an entire game "pretty quickly", so being able to access things quickly is a significant advantage.)
Moving from the very practical to the somewhat gimmicky, we have the Gatorade Biometric Scanner (no, really). It's accessed by lifting the controller up to the screen, where it provides an almost x-ray vision of the player on the tv.
It shows you your energy and how well your player's performing - y'know, if a guy's hot, on a hot streak, he'll be coloured red, but if he's cold, he'll be coloured blue.
It's nice because - again - that's something that you can bring up in our game, but it's a little chart, and you have to bring it up and analyse it and read it, whereas you can keep playing, and you visually can see quickly what the status of your players are right there.
It's another, innovative, way of using the new peripheral, and while we're not sure how many people will use it once the novelty wears off, for a little while at least, it does provide an extra level of interaction with the game.
The third new feature has been designed in direct response to gamer complaints about recent versions of the game. Visual Concepts has heard players complain that they aren't getting enough feedback from the game about how well each character is doing in My Career mode. Now - again using the extra screen space - all of that data is literally at your fingertips. Rather than sorting through endless menus, the GamePad shows off all of your statistics - where you're doing well, where you're doing poorly - and it also reminds you of dynamic goals that are set by the game. Traditionally, this information was only accessible via the pause menu. Now it's there on the fly!
As Jones reminds us - this is only the beginning. NBA 2K13 is the very first game from the series to make it onto the new hardware, and while it's a neat, tidy little package, it only scrapes the surface of what the Wii U is capable of. Bigger things are definitely in store.
I've spent time with the Wii U producer, and I have a laundry list of things for next year that I think will take this console to a different experience, in terms of its interaction with the consumer and the person who's playing it.
NBA 2K13 is out right now for Wii U in North America, while it's scheduled for "January 2013" in other territories including Australia.
I like video games and music and cups of tea and noodles and beagles and colour-cycling LEDs.
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