AltChar had the pleasure of meeting Erick Boenisch, senior producer at NBA 2K, at a 2K Sports event in London. We spoke about numerous topics that fans have been eager to learn more about, including WNBA, VC, historic teams and more.
It is impossible to talk about virtual basketball without mentioning 2K Sports. This fact alone speaks volumes about the sheer domination that 2K have managed to build over the last decade. Delivering an utterly immersive and overall incredible basketball simulation has become standard practice for this publisher, and NBA 2K20 is looking to continue that beautiful tradition.
With less than a week away from its worldwide release, the AltChar team was invited to a 2K event in London. There we were given the opportunity to speak with Erick Boenisch, the senior producer at 2K Sports, who gave us some valuable insight into what changes and additions we can expect to see in the new game.
Probably one of the greatest additions to NBA 2K20 is the introduction of WNBA teams. With the game's renowned MyCAREER mode, we were curious to know if we could create our own, unique female player and live the life of an upcoming NBA superstar.
Answering our question, Boenisch said: "You got to build [WNBA] from the foundational ground up. So this year it's playing the WNBA and playing the WNBA season mode that we also added to the game, where you can play as any team you want, you can trade players [and] do all that. They're not a part of MyCAREER yet. This year is just honouring and respecting the WNBA and getting it in as properly as we could."
The always welcome blast from the past
Being able to play with historic teams is certainly something that separates NBA 2K from other sports games on the market. Slashing our way through defence with Derrick Rose, nailing three pointers with Larry Bird or just simply flying through the air with the main man himself - Michael Jordan - is an experience that can never succumb to boredom.
We have seen some new historic teams announced for the game, but going by the the more, the merrier logic, we wanted to know if we could expect to see even more teams added later on.
Erick was rightfully proud to explain: "We add classic teams all the time. We actually added twelve new teams to the game this year, bringing our total number of classic teams to over one hundred, which is a very impressive number considering most games have almost none, or none. So, considering that we added twelve more this year, and we add more or less five to ten every single year - the track record kind of speaks for itself."
This made us question the very process of adding these legendary teams to the game and all the potential troubles behind it, but Erick was kind enough to elaborate further.
"It's really difficult because when you add an X number of new teams to the game, you have to do art for them, you have to have an arena, the floor, the uniforms home and away, maybe alternates. You have to rate the players - we have hundreds and hundreds of ratings and badges. You got to get the players looking, feeling and playing like their proper selves.
There are legal issues for some - you don't have rights to some players so you can't put them in the game. It's a lot of work, but for us, the selection process is like: who would we want to play with, and who are the fans asking for? This year, a lot of fans were asking [for] LeBron James, he left Cleveland. Kyrie left Cleveland a couple years ago. People loved that team when they beat the Warriors in the finals, and so we put that classic team in the game so you can relive that glory year if you're from Cleveland, or if you're a fan of LeBron at the time. You can just play as that team and that was strictly a fan request. People asked for it and that's just what we do at our company - we listen to our fans and [so] we put it back in the game."
The Flash decision
Dwyane Wade is gracing the cover of the Legend Edition of the game this year. We are all well aware of his greatness and contribution to the game, but with Dirk Nowitzki - another superstar of the league - also saying goodbye to the game last season, we wondered what tipped the scales in Wade's favour this time around.
Boenisch was pretty straightforward: "There wasn't like a really great reason. You got to pick someone, right? Dwyane Wade is a very beloved player - not that Dirk isn't, because everyone loves Dirk. 21 years, same team? That's incredible. No one's done that. [But] Wade is just an iconic player. He played with Shaq who is someone we've worked with; he played with Kobe who's someone we've worked with. He's a hall-of-famer. So, you know, the time will come for everybody."
The commentary that keeps on giving
Another thing that NBA 2K games manage to nail year in and year out is the absolutely fantastic commentary. With so many different faces behind the voices over the years, we were genuinely wondering how many games one would have to play before it all became a little repetitive.
Boenisch was very happy to shed some light on this little debate of ours: "A lot of games. Half of our [game] disk is audio. Just the audio. There is an incredible amount of data on the disk. We have seven different commentators [and] sometimes you'll get a guest commentator to come in and take over for the role. You'll get Doris Burke in there, you'll get Ben Simmons who's very popular.
When you get seven guys doing audio - it takes up a lot of space on the disk. If you look at the gaming reviews in press, everyone says the commentary in NBA 2K franchise is leaps and bounds better than others and that's something we take pride in."
Skill over money
The biggest backlash 2K ever suffered was caused by their micro-transactions policies that were at their very worst in NBA 2K18. With NBA 2K19 however, they managed to somewhat rectify this issue by reducing the overall influence of VC, the game's virtual currency, on MyPLAYER's progress in MyCAREER.
For 2K20, it seems as though the road to a high overall rating will be even easier and more rewarding - you will have to earn that 99 OVR, Boenisch says, as the focus is entirely on skill this time.
He explains: "In MyCAREER this year, you get to 95 [rating] significantly quicker than you could in years past - it would take hundreds of hours before. [Reaching 99 rating] is something you have to earn. You have to actually play the game with skill to get there. There's no upgrading your guy to get there - no cheating, no shortcuts. It's all about how you perform on the court.
You can't even buy your way to 95 - that's something you have to play over time and unlock the right to level up that high. It's all about skill for us this year, and separating that gap is a very important thing for us."
Still balling in the familiar court
Blacktop is one of the fan-favourite modes that gets a lot of praise each year for its fast paced gameplay where players are essentially free from a number of game-stopping rules. Being avid fans of this at times refreshing mode, we asked Erick if there was a chance of players getting different courts to choose from in this mode in NBA 2K20.
The reply was simple: "There's not a lot of changes in Blacktop mode this year. There are some gameplay changes to how the AI performs in the mode. There's not a lot of visual changes, mostly it's [all] just AI based, so it plays smarter."
So many things to be excited about
We've had a hands-on session with NBA 2K20 where we got to play a couple of NBA and WNBA matches. The upgrade in the way the game flows was immediately noticeable, especially in the player movement department. Improved foot planting, more realistic animations and physics that take the game's already amazing levels of immersion to new heights simply begged the question of what Boenisch himself was looking forward to the most.
"That's such a hard question", he said. "The MyCAREER mode with SpringHill Entertainment is endless hours of fun. Anytime you have someone who is [as] excited to work with you as you are with them - the results are beautiful. I think the gameplay is more fun than it's ever been.
The thing I'm most proud about [though] is the WNBA inclusion. Honouring and respecting the WNBA game inside our game for the very first time was an incredible amount of work and I think the team did an admirable job of making it look and feel completely authentic. So that's something I'm pretty proud of."
Based on everything we've seen at the 2K event, and the extremely promising additions and changes to the new game, it is safe to say that NBA 2K20 is shaping up to be the complete basketball package that's going to be nothing less than a must-play for all fans of the sports gaming genre. The game will be released on September 6, 2019 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.
AltChar team wants to thank Erick Boenish for his time and 2K Sports for inviting us over to their event. We will be reviewing the game as soon as it launches, so make sure to keep an eye on our website and YouTube channel for this and much more on NBA 2K20.