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NBA 2K19's Gameplay Directors Explain Why You Play On Rookie Mode

Growing up, I liked to hoop. I was relatively good at it. But in suburban New Orleans, finding nine guys who wanted to run in 95 degrees of oppressive heat and humidity was a struggle. Rides to the gym were in short supply.

However, finding guys who wanted to run games on Madden NFL Football and NBA 2K were plentiful. Yet, I wasn’t good at either of those games, relativity be damned. The only video game I’m objectively nice in is Guitar Hero, which did me no favors in this community.

As I got older, I begged for a Playstation. I was too competitive. My mother told me video games were for kids and a waste of time and money.

“No one will ever pay you to play Playstation” was a favorite phrase of moms.

This is what I was thinking as I pulled up to a recent event hosted by NBA 2K ahead of their upcoming release of NBA 2K19, located in a palatial estate in the Hollywood Hills. That, and I hope my boss gave me the right address because someone like me is not knocking on doors of houses that look like THAT.

I was met at the door by a tall and attractive dark-haired woman in an assertive pantsuit, who gave me a tour of the surroundings. The open bar was to the left. The hors doeuvres were to the right. Then I saw it, my source of pain and childhood ridicule, NBA 2K, was front and center. I turned left.

While sipping a Modelo, I struck up a conversation with Mike Wang, 2K’s gameplay director. Since I didn’t own 2K18, I didn’t have a frame of reference for new additions to this year’s version of the franchise. But since I’ve been getting killed in sports video games since Tecmo Bowl, I had a ton of questions for the man indirectly responsible.

According to Mike, people only really play on Rookie or Hall-of-Fame mode. Reason being most players either want to just pick up the game and achieve success or they want to become more skilled at the highest level. Also, some players only play the single-player modes, some play dynasty mode, while some only play online vs live opponents...but most people stick to one or two aspects of gameplay.

Moreover, Mike confirmed that the game never “cheats” as adolescent Martin would have sworn, but there are some chance plays that happen too frequently. Alley-oops were too easy in years past. Last year, defense in the paint was a concern. Essentially, the professional/people who log hours on hours of gameplay can exploit these chance plays and it takes the spirit of the game away. While this didn’t massage away any lamenting memories of “HOW didn’t he make that?!”, his acknowledgement that these games have glitches was a silver lining.

This year, the game will have “Takeover”, which Mike described as a combination of all the power-ups from years past. It highlights the unique talents each player has as well as their reactions. Essentially, you’ll be more likely to see LeBron do his push-the-floor celebration post fast-break dunk, Durant mean mug after a hesi pull-up jimbo or Carmelo poke his headband with three fingers extended (in the event Carmelo hits consecutive threes again).

Bill, another writer covering the event, challenged me to a game while assuring me that he was no good at video games. We split our series 1-1, rotating the two demo mode teams: Warriors and Lakers.

I was trailing by one in the closing seconds of the game when I saw LeBron streaking towards the rim on a fast break. Pushing the ball up the floor with Rondo (the auto-substitution patterns had Lonzo on the bench in crunch time), I threw an alley-oop to LeBron. He jumped, cradled the ball in his right hand, and promptly missed the dunk. I threw my hands up in despair, channeling an adolescent flashbacks of “The game cheated! This isn’t fair!”

Behind me, I heard Mike say, “He should have made that.” And in that moment, a lifetime of sucking at video games was vindicated.

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