NBA 2K – Complexity Creep!

Believe the hype? Well, yeah, NBA 2K14 is super impressive. And I don’t even like sports. I mean, any of them, really. I’ve never really played sports; I’ve never really watched sports; sports, sports, sports is not me (and now I’ve typed sports so many times I’m no longer sure it’s a word. Auto correct sporks? Could be.)

I picked up NBA 2K14 because of the rave reviews the series has been receiving and, fittingly, I do get pretty into hype. I also picked it up because I bought an Xbox One on launch and couldn’t resist the temptation of a great living room game that I knew would look beautiful on the fresh system. These aren’t the greatest reasons, but gosh, NBA 2K14 hasn’t let me down even so.

NBA 2K14 is great. It’s also super hard. It’s hard by way of a particular concept, a concept with which I’ve mostly dealt in MOBAs and TCGs: Complexity creep.

So good. So hard.

Complexity creep is the gradual increase in difficulty that comes about when a system evolves new elements while retaining old ones. This expands the knowledge or skill required to navigate that system over time, and makes for a constantly elevating barrier to entry, which discourages potential new players.

League of Legends, for instance, launched with a few dozen champions, but has well over a hundred today. There’s a pretty big difference in learning those few dozen at release, and coming in as a new player to learn over a hundred today. Similarly, try Googling for keywords used in Magic the Gathering; the astounding lists to be found are a result of years and years of development and increase.

So, series of games tend to grow and become more complicated and therefore more difficult to learn and master.

Now, NBA 2K14 hasn’t invented new basketball, but it has grown to mimic the freedom of movement in real life – and real life sports – to such a degree that I felt, when starting my whole basketball existence with 2K14, that I was learning to operate a completely new, completely complete body. This is a testament to the skill and passion of the developers, but it’s also holy shit hard.

I’m flicking sticks for each of my hands, and tapping buttons for jump timing and fancy passes, and holding the triggers so that I can flick the sticks for new hand movements and new fancier passes, and it’s totally insane. It took me like ten games on easy as the Miami Heat against the Utah Jazz (which I’m told is a favorable match up) before I even won a game.

I am not the target audience for the NBA 2K series, which is admittedly a basketball simulation, aiming for the above, and not a game with blazing in flames players dunking from half court (though I still didn’t think dunking would be so hard – respect!). That said, the series could use some better instructional tools to get new players comfortably onto court a little more quickly. This just might be particularly important as gaming itself continues to grow and adopt a wider audience. I mean, I’m actually starting to get into basketball – I’ve even found myself at a few games – and this has mostly to do with my experience with 2K14.

I hope the 2K team will take a page from Riot and do what they can to involve new players – and maybe new fans – by including in-depth and accessible training features (that load quickly!) and do what they can to simulate on-court scenarios. There’s probably also work to be done refining the controls, maybe by way of adding new schemes selectable like difficulty levels, to give starters a starter toolset.

Whatever it may be, I hope to see some conversation of complexity creep in the sports game world, because they’ve got a passion for their games you’ll want to experience, but you’ve got to get past the Jazz first.