Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NCAA 10 -- Some Evaluation

Today the embargo lifts so I can talk a bit more about NCAA Basketball 10.

My overall feeling thus far is that the series continues to make some steps with this release but it's still not a prime time ready franchise. There are a few things that I think a basketball game needs to model reasonably well in order for it to have staying power.

  • You need fouls. Fouls need to matter, and you need to see a reasonable amount of free throws, particularly if the penetration/low post game is a big part of a team's game plan. If all you do is shoot 3's you won't see the line very much.

  • AI substitution patterns need to make sense. Subbing when players get tired or into foul trouble. (Assume the above is working properly)

  • When playing the AI, it needs to run a competent offense, taking advantage of opportunities given to it by the human player. When games get predictable, players get bored. I have said this before and I truly believe it to be true -- gameplay predictability is the absolute bane of a sports game.

  • The same play cannot work everytime down the floor. This is otherwise known as the Kevin Garnett NBA 2K9 syndrome.

  • And the AI better damn well know the game situation

  • Finally, things need to look "right". By that I don't mean the Buckeyes need to have the proper shoes or the Schott needs to be modeled to the letter. That's all window dressing. I'm also not the type of player who needs a basketball game to provide 15 different post moves. I'm too damn old to worry about button combos and stick combos anyway. A few basic moves is all I need. I just want the games to look -- believable. Not perfect, and not an exact simulation, but silly things absolutely cannot be the norm, otherwise it blows up the gameplay.
How does all of this relate to NCAA 10? There's some give and take here.

Fouls: Yep, you'll see them, but not nearly enough of them. What strikes me as odd is that in nearly every game I have played -- with foul settings bumped to around 75 or 80 I see a fair share of fouls in the 1st half, then almost zero in the 2nd unless a team is hacking late. But I have seen some GREAT foul calls. Off the ball fouls, over the back fouls, obvious blocking fouls, etc. But then it just sort of...stops.

Still tinkering with fatigue levels as on default your starters will play damn near every minute. The AI does sub for players in early foul trouble, though.

I have yet to find a money play, and I have tried. :)

The AI offense. Before I get too critical with this I need to play at a higher level because on the mid level game the AI is frustrating. I started a Dynasty with Indiana State, trying the small school to the bigs approach and started off on the road against Louisville (who is not rated very highly in the game for some reason..the starters for ISU and UL are pretty even - mid 70s rated players) playing on 16 minute halves. I shot around 21 3's in that game -- Louisville shot ...four, making zero. The college game is almost synonymous with the 3 -- and the AI doesn't shoot them nearly enough. This wasn't a one time thing. It's a pattern. Unless a guy is GREAT at shooting them the AI almost refuses to take the open 3 pointer. I was daring the Louisville SG to shoot. Backing off 5 feet. No dice. And I cannot find a shooting tendency slider anywhere. Is this an issue with the game level or the general AI? I don't know yet. But how many 3's did Louisville shoot in its real opener against Arkansas? 38.

Despite this, I had a very fun game against the Cardinals, battling back and forth with my scrappy Sycamores. With :25 seconds left my SG nailed a deep 3 to give me the lead 59-56. Louisville called time out. Your options here if you are Louisville are to shoot a 3 (the likely choice) OR try for a quick two and foul. Of course with the weird lack of fouls called in the 2nd half they'd need to foul me 6 times before I went to the line.

Louisville does neither. They their offense. Tick, tick, tick. The ball moves around the perimeter, then down low, then back out, tick, tick tick, and finally the PF shoots a running 5-footer which misses, I grab the rebound. Game Over. Ouch. This was a battle back and forth despite some of the inherent gameplay issues in NCAA, I had a good time. But that final :25 seconds was a fun killer.

Do the games look believable? Sort of. At times it looks great as teams run their offense -- that new motion control stuff is pretty cool. But when the AI shoots a layup from underneath the basket and it smacks into the backside of the backboard causing a turnover, which is something I thought died in basketball games a long time ago, it's understandably annoying. I guess if I did that it wouldn't be so bad, but damn shouldn't the AI know better? Or when I catch an in bound pass and the player's weird momentum carries them out of bounds even though no defender was near them. (Seriously watch out for the sideline monster in this game)

I don't think the game is a total loss, despite my complaints listed here, but stuff like this keeps it from being the sort of game I think college hoop fans want. At least long term.

We'll see how it plays on the higher difficulty levels.