In its first year, can "NBA Elite" really contend with the juggernaut that is "NBA 2K11"? If EA Sports hopes to make a dent, they need multiple gameplay modes to really breakthrough and become hits, both online and offline.
Luckily for EA, the producer of "Elite" think they have those hits (and the gameplay to match) with online leagues known as the EASBA (EA Sports Basketball Association) and an offline single-player experience called Become Legendary.
"The whole concept behind Become Legendary is that you take a unique path in order to become a unique type of NBA legend," explains producer Sean Campbell. "We're trying to capture the feeling of working your way into the NBA and being able to create your own type of legendary NBA career, not based on expectation of tradition. If you're a point guard, you don't necessarily have to play like a traditional point guard. You don't have to get assists, steals, and be a good free throw shooter to progress through the mode. If you want to be a legendary point guard who wins the scoring title and rebounding title, you can do that. If you want to be a center who focuses on three-point shooting, offensive rebounding, and steals, you can do that. It's the idea of becoming a legend in your own way."
The mode starts out in a game called The Jordan Brand Draft Showcase where your created character gets to play alongside and against some of this years best rookies. It's a single-game event, and based on your performance, you're given an ESPN projected mock draft position. This game will also be available in "Elite's" demo, and if you play the demo, you will be able to carry over your draft position and your created character into "Elite" once you purchase the game.
"Based on your performance, you're drafted into the NBA, then you start out playing as a rookie in the league," says Campbell. "It's full customization from your face, tattoos, accessories, and shoes to your jump shot style and dunk package. And the one thing to mention with the shoes is you start off only being able to use the generic version, but as you progress through the mode, there are 23 legend levels that you progress through, and there are three levels that let you unlock packages of Jordan shoes. Level 5, for example, you become a member of the Brand Jordan team and are given some shoes. As you progress through the mode, you unlock more of the classic Jordan shoes that you can then put on your character."
As you play through the mode, your character is rated every game on his offense, defense, and team play. Adds Campbell: "So while you're free to play whatever style you want, like a shoot-first point guard, the team play grade holds you accountable to your team and forces you to play good basketball. Then every time you reach a specific statistical threshold, like collect 10 assists, you gain a statistical level. So you can try to be the next Dennis Rodman and try to fill out all of your rebounding levels if you want, or you can spread out your stats and try to be more versatile. Hopefully this encourages users to create their own type of player as nothing is based purely by position. There are also points given for awards like end of season championships and winning stat categories as well as individual game performance like a triple double (this is called leaving your fingerprints on the game). For example, to reach Level 22, you're going to need around 2,000 award points. So if you want to be like Allen Iverson and win the scoring title but not win any championships, you can do that. Or you can be the role player who just hits threes but wins nine championships and still become a legend. The idea is you can combine your statistics and your awards in infinite ways in order to progress through the mode."
The mode enables you to play up to 25 seasons as you try to attain legendary status (and shoes), but it shouldn't take that long in order to become a top star (besides, who wants to be the old man of the NBA). After each season, your player will go through the offseason, and there will be trade offers as well as contract signings. "We've also added bounce backs and setbacks into the mode," adds Campbell. "If you have a bad game and maybe shoot only 33-percent from the field and commit 9 turnovers, in your next game, you get a bounce back objective that says: Shoot 45-percent and commit less than 5 turnovers. If you do that, you're given bounce back points that help grow your character. We just feel like these are true to life components of life and basketball and trying to become a legend. You can't let bad performances get you down and you can't erase them. This is your chance to grow."
Aside from Become Legendary mode, "NBA Elite" also offers the exciting EASBA online league where you create a separate character outside of your single-player legend, and play alongside other gamers similar to the Be a Pro mode in EA's "NHL" series.
"We separated it into two modes in order to keep gamers from creating these monsters offline and then bringing them online," Campbell explains. "We don't want any cheesing."
The EASBA is an online league where you create a player, but this time EA starts you off in the 70-range. Throughout the mode, you work your way up the 23 levels similar to Become Legendary, but according to producer Garreth Reeder, characters in the EASBA will be capped around the 90 area in order to keep games competitive. "That way, no matter how high you get, it's not like player skill will jump from a rookie with a 30 rating to somebody who has maxed out his character at 99," he explains.
"After creating your player, if you don't know anybody online, you can play pickup games with your player and try to level him up," Reeder continues. "At the same time, you will be scouted by other players and teams who might see your stats and grades on the leaderboards. Then, once you get on a team, or create your own team, it's up to you to show up to your games. Games can be played with as few as 2 users up to playing with 5 users per team, and once you get on a team, it's all about increasing your pro level through grades, games played, and wins. After each level, you gain XP to build your character."
On a team level, your squad starts off in a little high-school sized gym with not much fan support, but then the more wins you get, you start getting more fan support and you move up into bigger and better arenas. "There are four arenas total that you unlock as you get better," adds Reeder, "then whatever team is the home team during that battle, you get to see their court.
"It's really cool when you start off because you don't have commentary and you have maybe 50-percent fan support and a tiny gym. But if I match up against a really good team, you're going to hear the ESPN commentating crew talking about the EA Sports Basketball Association, and you're going to be playing in a nice gym. It's a great way to make it feel like the progression of your team actually means something."
The other big thing associated with the EASBA is the addition of seasonal play and playoffs to the mode. "Each season is a month, and there will be three divisions -- Elite, Pro, and Amateur," Reeder explains. "So as you play your games throughout the month, you're trying to get into the best division you can. Then once the season ends, we start the playoffs and whatever division you qualify for at the end of the season, you enter that playoff bracket."
Playoffs are a 16 team knockout tournament. Think March Madness on a smaller scale.
Adds Reeder: "You need to win four in a row to essentially win your playoff, then we have a ton of awards and trophies for teams that finish with a good regular season record and win the playoffs. Just a lot of cool stuff to showoff how good your squad is.
"Then the next month, it's another free-for-all as everyone tries to qualify for the next set of playoffs. We've been having a blast playing and watching each other create characters. Some people like to create the slow seven-footer who can rebound and other guys like to create point guards and move the ball. There's a lot of yelling and screaming and passing the ball around as everyone is working to get those good grades. Gamers are really going to have a lot of fun with this."
As we learned with "NHL's" Be a Pro, it's one thing to score the game-winner against the computer, but it's something entirely different when you're the one who elevates your team of friends to that next level of greatness.
And that's what being an elite player is truly all about.