NBA 2K12 Q&A: Producer on the inclusion of the 2001-02 Kings, the game’s historical focus and more

Yesterday was a bittersweet day for some NBA fans.  The league and players union didn’t reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and the start of the 2011-12 season is in jeopardy.  But, it also marked the release of NBA 2K12, the 13th edition of 2K Sports’ long-running basketball franchise.

With the league locked out and the city still fighting to build a new arena, the mood around Cowbell this offseason has often been serious.  So I decided to lighten things up a bit by catching up yesterday with Erick Boenisch, a producer of NBA 2K12.

NBA 2K11 was centered around Michael Jordan and most video game critics were calling it the greatest basketball simulation ever.  So with such a high standard set, how did the development crew think about topping last year’s edition?

Well exactly one year ago today (October 4th), I was on this call with someone else and they were asking me “2K11 – greatest game ever.   Jordan Challenges – love it.  How will you ever top yourselves?”  And here we are fast forward one year, and we have NBA 2K12 with the NBA’s Greatest featuring who we think are the 15 greatest and most influential players in NBA history.

It’s a credit to this team, the development team we have here, and just what kind of creative minds we have and really tapping into the NBA and the NBA’s history in regards to just developing a product that our consumers are really interested in.  I think with NBA 2K12 over 2K11, we’ve really improved the game in just about every area possible from adding this NBA’s Greatest to My Player Mode improvements to gameplay improvements.  It’s spreads all boundaries of the game.  2K12 is a pretty phenomenal accomplishment here.

Last year and this year’s editions of the NBA 2K have revolved around the league’s rich history.  Why that approach?

I think historical players in the NBA, and this may just be me being a huge NBA fan – more so than any other sport, but I feel like today’s youth can relate to them better than perhaps stars in other sports.  I think when you think of guys like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and on down the line, those players still have a lot of cultural relevance in today’s NBA.  But when you start looking at baseball and you start looking back to the Hank Aarons and the Reggie Jacksons – the Jim Browns in football, I don’t feel there’s that connection between today’s youth and those older players.  And I think their relevance is a stark contrast in the NBA where people are still hungry for the content of these classic players and we really struck on delivering that to our fans.

It’s not so much about just getting them in the game – it’s about positioning them in a way that’s fun and educational for our users.  And that’s kind of what we did with the NBA’s Greatest this year in regards to having very specific commentary about the players where we tell their histories and stories, to presentational elements where we have, like that Bill Russell game (which is played) in black and white.  Just a really unique way we can kind of bring basically the NBA’s history.  It’s so rich.  Just in the last 45 years, it’s gone from pretty much nothing to the number two sport in America.  And it’s a great opportunity for us to tell that history of the NBA and tell our younger audience kind of where basketball came from and they can kind of see obviously where it is today.  It’s been educational for even us as well.

How did you determine what legendary teams would make the cut for NBA 2K12?

It all started with picking who we thought were the 15 greatest and most influential players.  So, everything started there.  That was a long, drawn-out, discussion, argument, fight -  what have you.  By   the time we finally came to that list of 15, we were obviously very happy with the list.  But then we kind of realized, we have to pick who their opponents are going to be.  So at that point, we really wanted to highlight some teams that had players that were kind of second-tier stars that we wanted to honor in the game – guys like Dominique Wilkins and even the Bulls opponents (like) the 1992-93 (Charlotte) Hornets.  From everything that we’ve seen, everyone is super excited that we have guys like Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, even Mugsy Bogues in there.

It’s just about bringing forward teams that people really latched onto.  (For example), I’ve liked Dikembe Mutombo, and he is just followed by a hoard of people.  People love these guys and we just wanted to pick and choose the players that our fans would most appreciate playing with.  That’s kind of the idea where these teams came from – putting together a package our fans just couldn’t say no to.

And one of the classic teams included in NBA 2K12 is the 2001-02 Sacramento Kings. 

Yeah.  I want to preface my answer that I’m a huge die-hard, born-in-LA Lakers fan.  But it was actually at my strong urging and pushing that we really got this Kings team into the game.  I think it’s a phenomenal team.  It represents, in my opinion, the peak of the Sacramento Kings franchise.  I mean if you just look at that roster, even today, it’s an amazing team.  You have guys like (Chris) Webber in there, Vlade Divac, the young Gerald Wallace, Mike Bibby and the list just goes on and on.  I mean, Peja (Stojakovic) – on and on it goes.  It’s an incredible team and it’s a team that I really felt needed to be honored.  Obviously they never won that title – tried to get Kobe sick, it didn’t work!*  But, it’s a team that needed to be put in the spotlight and that was one that we definitely felt needed to put there.  As a huge fan of the NBA, even though I’m a Lakers fan, I have a lot of respect for that Kings team and I’m just really glad we got them in the game.

*Editor’s Note: He said that jokingly.

With the lockout on-going right now in the NBA, what role, if any, did it play in terms of the development of the game?

Honestly, not a whole lot.  For us, while the NBA may be in a lockout case, NBA 2K12 is not in a lockout.  We have all the teams and the players in the game.  We knew that our fans, this was going to be their outlet to have the NBA this fall and we basically put our heart and soul into just delivering everything we could to kind of satisfy that urge and really hold people over.  And it really gave us an opportunity to be put into the NBA spotlight on the pedestal and shine.  For us, it was a great challenge and ultimately we think it’s a great thing for us as well.

The lockout has affected a number of league entities and products.  Examples: team websites can’t feature players and jerseys of rookies-to-be aren’t being sold and marketed right now.  How is NBA 2K12 able to utilize player likenesses when the players union is butting heads right now with the league?

We do have an agreement with the NBA and the NBPA, as far as what we can release every year, and that does include access to all 30 teams and its players.  So that’s pretty much the bottom line on how we’re able to get them in the game.

Editor’s Note: Because of the lockout, rookies-to-be like Jimmer Fredette, Tyler Honeycutt and Isaiah Thomas are not included in the game, yet.  

Let’s discuss how players are rated.  For example, Dallas Mavericks fans aren’t too happy that Dirk Nowitzki’s overall rating is lower than Pau Gasol’s this year.  Share with us the process of rating players in NBA 2K.

Rating players is always a big challenge for us.  It’s not an exact science and it’s always up to subjectivity.  But as far as rating the players, I think so much emphasis is put on that final product – that overall rating number.  And the way our game plays, that number just doesn’t mean much because the players are rated on 80, 90, 100 different things between attributes and tendencies, and now we have abilities in the game this year.

Speaking to Dirk Nowitzki, who I believe is rated 85, if you play as Dirk, he is money in the game.  He’s one of the best mid-range shooters in the game.  He hits every shot.  He’s seven-feet tall.  If you do his little signature (fadeaway)-off-the-wrong-foot shot, nobody is going to block it.  You have all the tools at your disposal to dominate with players like this.  And part of the reason Dirk kind of gets dinged in our game is obviously he’s listed as a power forward, but his game is so small forward driven, even shooting guard driven just in the way that he plays.  Our rating formula is looking for an incredibly strong low post game.  He has a decent game, but it’s not his bread and butter, so he gets dinged a little there.  But again, that’s just the final outputted number.  If you play with Dirk, like I said, he’s money.

So as far as rating players, it’s a matter of intense scouting that we do all year long on the players.  We’re huge NBA heads here.  We watch every game possible.  We have scouting services at our disposal.  And ultimately, there’s a little bit of it in there.  It’s just what are predictions are for the upcoming season.  People think “Oh he did this last year, so he should be rated this.” And you know, we’re not making NBA 2K Last Year - we’re making NBA 2K12, which is the 2011-12 season.  So, some of the rating is built into what the player is going to do this year, whether that’s a player who is on the up-and-up or a player approaching the tail end of his career – kind of a Kobe-kind-of-guy, who’s starting to defer a little more, maybe starting slow down a tiny bit.  Some of that’s factored in there as well.  I don’t know if people really pick-up on that, but that’s something we’re always looking at when we’re rating the players.

In your mind, what is NBA 2K12′s best new feature?

There’s so many I don’t know where to start.  I think the feature that’s the strongest to me as a huge NBA fan is the NBA’s Greatest feature.  It pretty much recreates the NBA – doubled over.  Our game has 30 NBA teams in it obviously, 400-some players.  This NBA’s Greatest feature has 34 classic teams, over 350 legendary players.  It’s almost like we’re delivering two products in one in my opinion.  So I don’t see how I couldn’t say the NBA’s Greatest.  It’s an amazing feature.

Got NBA 2K12?  What say you so far?  Leave your feedback.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.