Exclusive Interview with NBA Live 13 Creative Director – Jason Barnes
Back in April, I got to attend the first trip to Orlando to get a hands-on look at NBA Live 13 as part of EA’s Advisory Council. While I was down there, I got a chance to meet Jason Barnes – who is the creative director and mastermind behind NBA Live’s return. Jason has worked on numerous titles in the past, including NFL Street and EA’s MMA. As Owen Good pointed out in his article on Kotaku, Jason was hoping to get a chance to work on NBA Live long before being handed the keys. Meeting Jason first hand was exciting due to the fact that his passion was clear and evident on NBA Live’s future moving forward. Jason was eager to have the community in for a visit to get our thoughts on the team’s direction and plans.
Recently, I got a chance to talk to Jason regarding NBA Live’s direction, the authenticity they’re trying to capture with NBA Live 13, ESPN integration and his experiences at Tiburon Studios in Orlando, Florida. He even drops a few new tidbits of info – right here on MyNBALivePad.com
COREY - When we talk authenticity, where do you see NBA titles moving in the future?
JASON - My belief is that the video game industry as a whole is just scratching the surface of what’s possible and more amazing experiences are just around the corner. My team is always looking for ways to push the limits to offer new and exciting experiences, whether it is through ESPN integration, incredibly detailed modeling of arenas and players or leveraging technologies that put us in the best place for the future. We want to blur the lines between actually watching an NBA broadcast and playing our game.
Authenticity has been the single most important tenet of EA SPORTS. That’s how it has been, and how it will continue to be in the future.
COREY - When Tiburon received the rights to development, what were your team’s first key goals when it came to recreating an authentic NBA experience?
JASON - For me it started with a statement, a philosophy, that we could measure our gameplay experience against, which was “move with a purpose.” My dad was a basketball coach and actually played under John Wooden at UCLA in the 50’s, so this was a common phrase to hear at practices. I have taken this same attitude and applied it to our game. NBA players in video games should move and react like real NBA players. By this I mean we are designing our players with the right basketball IQ to get open, or help you get open, by setting picks, spreading the floor or playing help-side defense and acting like you would expect them to; they will move with a purpose. The goal is to have your CPU teammates react dynamically to your actions on the court. We want to remove the constant need for the user to initiate the offense or call a play. In real NBA basketball situations, players aren’t always standing around waiting for the coach or point guard to tell them what to do. They know how to get themselves or another teammate open. The goal is to still to give you total control of your team, but eliminate the frustration when you see a teammate not doing the right things on the court.
Player’s signature styles are a big part of what makes the sets the NBA apart from the other major sports. The NBA athlete isn’t covered up with pads or a mask, so fans can get up close and personal with the players; they can see their emotion and feel their intensity at a level that not many other sports can
replicate. So to properly reproduce these experiences, every detail counts, from player gear and tattoos to the way the arena lighting is set to create ambiance on the court. All of these components work together to produce and authentic NBA experience.
COREY – There has been concern in the community that when NBA LIVE returned, that the goal would be to create a more ‘arcade’ type of experience instead of basing it on true, authentic simulation brand of basketball. What type of direction is Tiburon taking NBA LIVE 13?
JASON - Let there be no misunderstanding, NBA LIVE 13 is a basketball sim. My driving creative force for developing an EA SPORTS game was embedded in authentic simulations. We have an obsessed team trying to produce a simulation basketball experience. Gamers looking for an arcade experience, should check out NBA JAM: On Fire Edition (which is GREAT by the way).
But make no mistake; creating authentic basketball is a difficult challenge. I have an unrelenting desire to continually improve on what we’ve built, and I know when can deliver because of the passion and dedication of our team. We want to make sure that the gameplay is as organic and fluid as possible.
COREY - In Owen Good’s article in April, we learned that NBA LIVE 13 will feature Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen as commentators and integrate ESPN into its presentation model. How do you think ESPN will add to the NBA LIVE experience and can we expect a fully featured authentic ESPN system or will it just be bells and whistles?
JASON - First off, Jeff Van Gundy is one of my favorite announcers. He calls the game like he sees it. I personally love his take on flopping.
The great thing about having Mike Breen and Van Gundy is that we are not starting from ground zero. We inherited a ton of quality commentary, but wanted to take it a step further, so we actually had two full days of additional recording sessions with both Breen and Van Gundy. Both of these guys are true professionals in the booth and the chemistry that they have really shines through. No one does a better job than ESPN at presenting sports and we wanted to be as true possible to their broadcast. ESPN has been an incredible partner for us. We regularly have them in studio to check out the progress and work with us on the broadcast presentation.
COREY - For people that don’t know your background personally, you previously worked on a slew of additional EA SPORTS titles before NBA LIVE. Are there any systems or details that you take from previous titles moving onto newer IP’s or different projects?
JASON - I have learned lessons from every game I have worked on, and I have some design philosophies and principles that I apply to each game I work on. My EA SPORTS career started with work on Madden and one of my design focuses was animation and presentation variety. We wanted to make sure that there was enough diversity to keep things fresh. We have taken this approach and applied it to NBA LIVE by incorporating signature style, from player equipment to accessories.
While working on the NFL Street series, I learned the importance of making the digital player come ‘alive’. To execute this we added a slew of post play reactions, which added a layer of depth that was not present before. This is another philosophy that I have taken and applied to NBA LIVE. The action that takes place before and after the whistle blows (player emotion, timeout huddles and exuberant celebrations) is just as important as the gameplay itself.
So from my previous experiences with other titles, it was paramount that every move, every action you do on a basketball court is done with intent. Every animation that triggers is done for a reason. And that every move the AI makes is on purpose.
COREY - Growing up in a basketball heavy environment, do you feel your knowledge of the game will help your vision for NBA LIVE moving forward?
JASON - I grew up eating, sleeping and playing basketball. I love basketball and I am confident my love for the game, and the passion that our team has for the sport, will be represented in our final product. I have never stopped playing basketball. In fact we’ve been playing every Tuesday and Thursday morning at Tiburon for over 7 years straight. I have a sickness, an unhealthy obsession for the sport I am working on. I can no longer just watch a basketball game. I am constantly breaking down how we can translate the real-life NBA product to a video game…all of which drives my wife crazy when we watch a game together.
COREY - How do you feel basketball games should be represented in an authentic way? Make you feel as if you are the player? Watching a game on TV?
JASON - I think that games should be experienced from the perspective of the player, the coach and a TV spectator. The game mode itself or the camera angle can change the presentation of a game. We did a lot of consumer research about how they want to experience the game and one item stood out- ESPN.
That being said, we met with ESPN and got unprecedented access to their producers, directors and camera men to insure that we replicate and authentic ESPN broadcast. This includes their graphics packages, camera wipes and some of ESPN exclusive technologies that I can’t talk about just yet.
COREY - Are there things you have learned from 2K and its authenticity in areas such as Presentation and Gameplay (play-calling, depth of controls), and are there areas you feel you can compete/out-do 2K in areas of authenticity?
JASON - I have the utmost respect for the 2K team but we will deliver a different experience than them. And that is a huge motivator for us. We are eager to get back on the court and compete, but we are confident that we have the tools and team in place to make a great game basketball fans will love.
I’d like to thank Jason for taking the time to do this interview and hopefully in doing so, has shed some light on NBA Live 13′s direction and it’s focus on authenticity as we move towards E3. Please feel free to leave your comments below, or share some discussion in our forums!