Boomshakalaka! NBA Jam is back for another round with On Fire Edition - and surprisingly, itís only available on digital platforms Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, despite the game being released on disc just last year.
Itís not such a shocker for the gameís creative director, Trey Smith, though - the arcade feel of two-on-two basketball action, coupled with the light-hearted presentation and silly faces, makes this the perfect candidate for the online space.
EA Sports is seeing On Fire Edition
as a true sequel to the last iteration of Jam, with advanced AI and a more streamlined focus on fun. And thereís no shortage of carefree Jamminí either - spectacular stunts, crazy mascots, even US Presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush as playable characters. I talk to Trey about the nature of the digital distribution move, and what it means for EA Sports as a whole.
SPOnG: Is this an update from last yearís version on the Wii, or are you treating it as something more?
I think itís a sequel. I really do. Weíre very proud of what we did on the Wii. We were given a specific challenge to make a basketball game on the platform, and when the opportunity came up to bring Jam
back it was a no-brainer. We had lots of fun with the motion controls, because there are just so many shitty waggle games out there. Being a developer that really made good use of the system was satisfying for us.
But I think to truly take this into the modern day, itís all about online. I personally underestimated that-- a bunch of people hanging out on a couch just doesnít happen as much as it used to.
SPOnG: Is that one of the reasons you went for XBLA and PSN rather than the Wii? Because Nintendoís online service was lacking perhaps?
For us, it was really... Iíve been pushing to try and get into this digital distribution space, on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. For me, as a gamer, I play every trial version of every single XBLA game out there. I love discovering new stuff, and the platform as a whole is awesome. You get to rent every game that comes out, and three new games come out every week! Iíve been able to try games that Iíd never have thought of playing before.
I always saw NBA Jam
as an impulse game. You can have your friends over, start downloading it and within ten minutes youíre playing the game. I love the price point that weíre at, under £10 or Ä13, in the US itís $15... thatís a drop in the bucket. Thatís a movie ticket. Knowing just how much fun weíve had playing this in the office - how many hours - itís my hope and the teamís hope that at the end of this year and with all the big games coming out, people will look back and think Ďyou know, that £10 I spent on NBA Jam
was probably the best gaming spend I made all year.í Thatís the goal for us.
SPOnG: I remember the Wii version coming out last year and having lots of fun with it, but... maybe this is a third party issue, but it didnít seem to be a very high profile release on the console. Did the game sell particularly well for you guys?
I think we learned a lot that first time round, and itís not often that you bring a game back after almost 20 years and hope that it picks up the exact same audience. It was never meant to be an iterative title. I know that was the fear of a lot of people when EA picked up the license - that we were going to continue to bring out NBA Jam
every year. There was even some hesitation over bringing it back this year.
But I think we had enough in terms of features, as well as stuff gained from fan feedback, to warrant a true sequel - an enhanced version that brought it all back. The AI for instance - you remember playing against the AI on the Wii... I watched people play that game, and it hurt because your AI teammate would just take the ball and score for you. If you werenít doing it, heíd snatch it! The opposing AI was pretty punishing too, especially for new users, when the AI would just keep shoving you into the ground.
We tried the boss battles and the half-court stuff in the Wii version too - some people liked some of it, others not so much. So making a new version this year was an opportunity for us to grab that 2-on-2 court experience and refine it. There isnít an animation in the game that we didnít touch and massage a little bit. The spin move, that you can use to counter a shove, nobody was using it. So what we did was we extended it by about six frames, so now youíre invulnerable to the shove for longer. Now people are starting to use it more.
The fans give us plenty of feedback. Especially when it comes to online functionality, boy will they show you. I was happy that there werenít any major exploits online - a lot of times you play some of our sports titles and youíre just like, ďreally?Ē - so that was good, although we have learned a lot from the online features in the last version we made for Xbox 360 and PS3.
There were places in the game where you could rage quit without punished for it. Unfortunately if something like that gets out there, then everyone starts doing it. That was really hard and really frustrating to endure. You couldnít finish a game online because if someone was losing, theyíd just quit and were able to slip past the penalty that we put in there. A lot of our work was focusing on making sure stuff like that never happens again.
SPOnG: And that was the same for the Wii version?
That was the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, there. For the Wii, it was all about that Ďfour people on a coachí play and motion controls. I was big on responsiveness, actually. If the controls arenít there and the actions youíre doing donít match up in a game like NBA Jam
, itís game over.