Games of the Old School

Publication Date: Monday, 20/12/2010

As a primary school student in the 80’s, my favourite computer game was One-On-One, a basketball game where you could play as Dr J or Larry Bird. Looking back on it now on Youtube brings back many a childhood memory: the way the ball would fly behind the scoreboard when you shot from the corner, the way that I’d laugh whenever someone smashed the backboard only for the referee to come and sweep up the debris, the way that I’d never use my timeouts to improve my player’s fatigue levels (I was bizarrely afraid to run out of them) but instead I’d just slow the game right down…

Of course, it also shows just how relatively primitive the technology was back then.

Since those heady days of the Apple IIC, every advance in basketball gaming has completely blown me away. Come the early 90’s, it was TV Sports Basketball – our first experience of 5-on-5, where we could enter the names of each of the NBA players and hold a complete season where statistics were kept. While the ball was at mid-court, the computer took over the action, but at the time it was wonderous – and the way that tired players would slouch over when you called a time-out seemed so very entertaining.

Soon, the arcade drew us to cult two-on-two classic NBA Jam, with its language (“He’s on fire!”, “Boom-shaka-laka”) becoming part of the lexicon and helping to create a genuine arcade game that non-basketball-fans would love.

And eventually, along came the NBA Live series, where we could do more than just name players, but we could change their height and appearance, rate their skills, and encourage our home crowd to madly wave their arms behind the basket when our opposition were taking a free throw.

Meanwhile, in 2010, the technology has advanced so much that my version of NBA 2K10 on the Playstation understands my game well enough for it to provide me with a scouting report on my own in-game tendencies.

Offensively, I:

  • Play a high-tempo game;
  • Prefer to play in the paint;
  • Isolate 85% of the time;
  • Tend to drive frequently;
  • Rarely look for offensive rebounds;
  • Take high percentage shots;
  • Pump-fake often;
  • Tend to shoot early in the clock, but only 3% of my shots are three-pointers (perhaps because I have a lifetime 20.6% success rate from behind the arc);
  • And my most common play is a quick post up or a quick pick & roll.

Defensively, I:

  • Like to double team big men;
  • Am an excellent shot blocker, while rarely committing shooting fouls;
  • Tend to play superstars straight up;
  • Stay out of passing lanes
  • Am good at ripping ballhandlers;
  • And I consistently play man-to-man defense, with the occasional half-court trap.

Not only can I create players, their appearance and their ratings, but I can manipulate rosters, hold my own fantasy draft and play as a select group of legends. Those with Internet connections to their Playstation can have their rosters updated automatically: if a player changes teams in the NBA while you’re asleep, they’ll be on a different team on your Playstation when you wake up. And in the not-too-distant future, it’s bound to follow in the footsteps of FIFA, where you can now go online and join a game of soccer being played in 22 different lounge rooms around the world by 22 different people who each have control of one player on the field.

All of this, and I don’t even have NBA 2K11 for the PS3. Looking at what this game can do, one wonders: can it really become more realistic in the future, or has the technology now come as far as it can go?

For the moment, though, the feature I love the most isn’t the realism of the stadium or the maintenance of detailed statistics on my team’s progression. No, I love the old-school inclusion of a “Street Ball” mode. Every so often, after a long day at work, I get the band back together and our aging limbs work their way up and down a back alley court after dark. My favourite legends all team up on my side of the ball – Magic, Dumars, Majerle, Robinson and Ewing – and they pair off against legends in their own right – Isiah, Drexler, Bird, O’Neal and Olajuwon. The games are perpetually close, their nature relaxed, unlike my usual style the wise legends won’t permit me to play as high a tempo as I might otherwise, and smart basketball rules the court.

And sometimes, I play a mode that’s far simpler. I open the gym, select Larry or the Doctor, and play a game of one-on-one. There are many more moves available to the two players than there were 25 years ago, and the graphics are incomparable…but the simplicity of two men, one ball, and a meaningless computer game can still return me to the carefree times of yore.

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