Mike Wang, NBA 2K Gameplay Director (@beluba)
Hello, 2K fans! It’s that time of year when we get to unpack all of the exciting gameplay enhancements and new features coming your way with NBA 2K22! The first year developing on new consoles always brings new challenges, such as... major code rewrites, new technical hurdles, and systems getting rebuilt. But with all that behind us, the gameplay team was laser-focused on one goal with NBA 2K22: making a GREAT gameplay experience!
We had an ambitious feature list that we wanted to tackle this year: faster-paced gameplay, tighter and more responsive movement, more skill-based offense, and big changes to the player builder. All of which we’re going to tackle in today’s blog. We also made a strong push to ensure that we were delivering the same quality gameplay upgrades on both current and new gen systems. So no matter which version you choose to go with this year, you’re going to get a brand new experience. But the one major focus for the team that we wanted to be priority one, was DEFENSE. So let’s get started.
The primary goal for defense was to give gamers the tools to be able to really change the outcome of the game on the floor and at the rim. If you were a great perimeter defender who anticipated well, we wanted you to be able to clamp up the dribbler and force a pass. If you were a rim protector, we wanted to give you the ability to send away weak shot attempts at will. Our engineers were determined to achieve those goals, and we’re extremely happy with the results!
The shot contest and blocking systems were completely rebuilt, leading to several new snatch blocks and volleyball spikes that never happened before. This also paved the way to reward basketball IQ much more in our shooting systems. The shot contest rewrite removed the “ghost contests” that many complained about, and this year being out of position or not getting a hand in the shooter’s face will lead to some easy buckets for the offense. On the other hand, properly crowding shooters with good contests will result in plenty of bricks and airballs, as they should.
For floor defenders, body-up rides and bumps feel much more rewarding as the motion team has dramatically improved the feel of on-ball defensive movement. Unwanted “bump steals” and snatchy body ups have been reduced in favor of giving both the ball handler and on-ball defender more freedom of movement and respected input. Shifts, launches, stops, and cuts all feel much tighter, and with even more new gen foot-planting improvements, you’ll see a lot less sliding on both ends of the floor.
Steals also received an upgrade with a greater emphasis placed on the steal attribute. Low-rated stealers get sluggish animations that punish them when they reach, while high-rated stealers (with good timing and opportunity) will be able to pick pockets at a much higher rate. Also be prepared to see more layup/dunk strips from high-rated stealers when slashers try to force their way to the rim in a crowd.
Great defense may not always be featured in real-life highlights, but all of these improvements are what I’m most excited about for NBA 2K22. They lead to much more balanced on-court battles and make the game much more fun to play!
Defense was also a major focus on the new gen AI front. Da Czar (our resident X’s and O’s expert) and the AI team wanted to create a strong foundation to build on for many years to come. A lot of legacy issues were addressed through complete and thorough rewrites of almost all of the major defensive systems in the game. New on-ball defensive positioning logic gives defenders more consistency in their positioning regardless of their distance from the basket. This enables a much less jittery defender who knows where they want to be in all phases of defensive positioning. This along with motion improvements allowed us to tighten up general defensive positioning, which means gamers will feel more defensive pressure on-ball than was present in last year’s game.
Brand new hedge defender logic and behaviors give the catch hedge defender a specific focus for how they react to the ball handler. In the past, the hedge defender's primary focus was their man which led to the AI actively abandoning the ball handler. This cascaded into several issues. The ball handler would have an open lane, which in turn would force help to come from the strong side, leaving easy, open jumpers in pick and roll situations. This year, our hedge defender can focus on the ball and play two offensive players intelligently covering the deepest threat. Our drive help was also built from scratch this year to give our AI help defenders more intelligence in their calculations for when to send help on the drive. We also increased help defender logic, controlling movement speeds requested in help situations. The AI will no longer send a defender to double a standing offensive player thirty feet from the basket when a user requests drive help in the defensive settings.
This year marks the most significant update to the fundamental defensive rotations we have ever done! We now have the ability to have both single and double rotations to take away the first or second passing lanes once help defense is triggered. This creates more opportunities for a second or third pass to find the open shooter. We also gave our AI the ability to anticipate certain play actions like floppy or down-screen actions. When the AI properly detects these situations the off-ball defender can now go into what we call, chase behavior. This helps AI defenders take the proper route around screens to put themselves in a better position to navigate and avoid screen contact. This helps with the overall flow and spacing on both sides of the ball. Lastly, we also added a brand new cutter help defensive system. This system helps to fill in defensive gaps and sends help anytime a player has a clear path to the rim. This system can pick up that cutter and send a rotation defender to cover the helper when possible.
The combination of all these systems in NBA 2K22 makes it our most significant defensive effort to date. One which we fully intend to build on for years to come.
Offense will obviously never be neglected in any 2K basketball game, and I’m thrilled with our offering for NBA 2K22! Dribbling is something I personally spend a lot of time working on and am extremely passionate about and can say, without a doubt, that playmakers are going to have a field day with this year’s game! The 1-to-1 Basic Size-ups have been removed and replaced by 1-to-1 Signature Size-ups. But what exactly does that mean? Flicking the Pro Stick in various directions last year gave you fairly generic-looking size-ups, while holding up on the stick gave you a nice-looking mo-capped dribble series. This year, the goal was to marry the two together and give each player a unique feel and rhythm when sizing up, while also giving the gamer complete control over how the series plays out. KD’s big hesi crosses, Harden’s around/thru the leg moves, Steph’s quick machine gun crosses, and Luka’s methodical rock back and forth dribbles are all now under the gamer’s direct control rather than a preset movie. The speed stick that we introduced on new gen last year also returns. So flicking the stick quickly results in quicker dribbles while slower flicks give you more rhythmic ones. There are around 50 unique signature size-up packages to choose from, each with its own distinct advantages. Make sure to give all of them a try to find out which one best suits the rhythm of how you like to play. Additionally, you can equip one of 32 unique dribble sequences (which I’ve dubbed Signature Combos) as well. These are quick, three or four- second dribble combos that you can trigger by simply holding Sprint and flicking the Pro Stick up. Mixing the Signature Size-ups and Signature Combos together gives you a limitless variety for how you want to break down your defender.
There are a ton of other new combos, cancels, and move chains you can pull off this year... drag dribble hesis and spin stepbacks being my personal favorites. But I’m not going to go into detail on each of these right now to save you from reading a novel on dribbling. In a nutshell, quickly sending multiple Pro Stick commands and/or attempting to move in various directions with the left stick just after performing a dribble move will open up a world of new combos that will stifle even the best defenders!
When it comes to dribble movement, you’ll notice a significantly faster overall pace and much tighter control over how you navigate the court. Each of the 28 unique dribble styles received a nice refresh with new content that accentuates the signature style of its given player. We’ve also added four new WNBA dribble styles: Seimone Augustus, Chelsea Gray, Arike Ogunbowale, and Gabby Williams. Another nice upgrade to dribble movement is height compensation. Last year, taller players could outpace shorter players with the same Speed with Ball rating. This has been resolved for NBA 2K22 to ensure that smaller players are no longer lagging behind. And everything that I just mentioned about dribbling, from the movement to the new moves and combos, are going to be identical between current and new gen! So if you’re a player who plans to play both, you won’t have to learn two different systems like last year.
Now a little treat for the bigs. We spent a lot of time upgrading post play with loads of new content, including new movement and a new arsenal of back-to-basket moves. Similar to face-up ball handling, many of the new moves are cancels and aborts. For example, start a post spin by twirling the Pro Stick, then immediately move the left stick in the opposite direction for a spin back. There are also new RT/R2 fakes that keep you engaged in post allowing you to chain multiple fakes together without disengaging. You can also take advantage of new disengage faceup moves, controls to help you avoid steals, new hop shots/fades/hooks, and a better pull chair mechanic. There’s a lot of great combinations and fakes once you’ve mastered the controls.
Shooting has undergone many changes for NBA 2K22. There’s a new shot meter with a dynamically resizing make window. This window will expand when you’re taking high-quality shots with good shooters, but will shrink when heavily contested, shooting with a low-rated shooter, or fatigued. The major emphasis for shooting success this year is Shot IQ. The teams that work for open looks and take smart shots are going to see much more success than the teams that force up bad shots. It sounds elementary, but it’s something we really keyed on this year as taking quality shots was more or less overshadowed by ratings and stick skills. Shot timing still plays a major role in the skill gap (and yes, you still get an additional boost for turning the meter off), but will only take you so far if you’re taking bad shots. We’ve heavily focus-group tested the new shooting mechanics with players of all skill levels and believe this is the best that shooting has ever felt in NBA 2K.
We also made a strong push to get more of a skill gap into finishing at the rim. As beautiful as our motion-captured dunks are, it was a shame that once you saw one fire off, you basically knew it was an automatic two points. With the revamped blocking system, we’re now giving rim protectors more tools to make great stops at the rim. On top of that, on new gen, we’ve added timing meters to both alley-oop and aggressive skill dunk attempts. When an alley pass is in the air, you’ll need to press the Shot Button at just the right time to finish off the oop. If you’re too early or late, you’ll either smoke the finish or miss the catch completely. (side note: you can force bounce pass alleys this year!) And on the dunking side, holding Sprint and pulling straight down on the Pro Stick will trigger the aggressive skill dunks. When you have a defender standing underneath the rim, using the aggressive skill dunk feature will let you basically force a dunk attempt on-demand as long as you have a strong dunker and you have a bit of a runway. It’s tough to hit the perfect timing for these high-risk, high-reward plays, but it’s so gratifying when you can pull it off.
We’ve also added dunk celebrations into the game this year that work very similarly to the green release jump shot landing celebrations. So not only can you throw down some nasty dunks in traffic with the new feature, you can now also equip your signature dance to show off a little bit afterward.
And the last thing I wanted to mention about dunks, in NBA 2K22, you’ll now have the ability to completely customize your dunk repertoire with an all-new Dunk Style Creator! This is a great feature that allows you to have detailed control over the exact style of your dunk packages and lets you equip more dunks on your player than ever before!
BUILDS, BADGES, and TAKEOVER
Player builds is another hot topic when it comes to 2K. In NBA 2K21, we debuted a brand new player builder on new gen that allowed you to set up your attribute caps however you saw fit. As with any new big developments, there are always growing pains. We’ve made a lot of adjustments to the system to create more balanced builds and give incentives for creating all different types of players. Smalls will see distinct advantages over bigs and vice versa. So expect to see a lot more variety when you hit the virtual streets of the City this year.
The amount of badge points at your disposal has been increased significantly giving you more options for how you badge out your MyPLAYER. The new detailed builder screen makes it much easier for gamers to identify the available badges, the cost at each tier, and the attribute thresholds required to hit each tier. You can also see how those numbers change in real-time as you adjust your attribute caps. Another cool addition is the ability to create Badge Loadouts! These allow you to quickly and easily toggle what badges you have equipped based on how you’re playing on a given day or even based on the matchups stepping up to the Got Next spots. Here are the new badges you can play around with in NBA 2K22:
- Fast Twitch - Ability to get off the floor quicker for standing layups and dunks
- Grace Under Pressure - Ability to convert standing layups more effectively
- Limitless Takeoff - Ability to soar from further away on driving dunk attempts
- Mouse in the House - Ability for bigs to finish over shorter players more efficiently
- Unstrippable - Ability to secure the ball better when gathering for a layup/dunk in traffic
- Chef - Ability to knock down Steph-like off-dribble deep 3’s
- Limitless Spot-up - Ability to hit logo-range 3’s off a catch and shoot
- Lucky #7 - Boosts your ability to score when shooting early in the clock
- Mismatch Expert - Ability to successfully shoot over taller defenders on a switch
- Glue Hands - Ability to make difficult catches and quicker branch out to a shot or dribble
- Hyperdrive - Boosts the speed and effectiveness of moving dribble moves
- Quick Chain - Boosts the ability to quickly chain dribble moves together
- Post Playmaker - Boosts the effectiveness of both shots and moves when playing in the post
- Triple Threat Juke - Increases the effectiveness of triple threat fakes, jabs, and go moves
- Ball Stripper - Ability to strip layup and dunk attempts more effectively
- Hustler - Ability to get to those scrappy 50/50 balls quicker than opponents
- Menace - Significantly drops the offensive ratings of opponents when you smother them
That brings our total badge count to 80 with a number of existing badges also getting some nice upgrades. There’s a lot to choose from and many ways to impact the game, so the Loadout feature is a welcomed addition. Last, but certainly not least, we’ve ported ALL 80 badges to current gen, a massive upgrade for our fan base!
One final MyPLAYER upgrade I wanted to call out is a new gen exclusive called Takeover Perks. These are modifiers that you can unlock and equip to strengthen your existing Takeover abilities! I’m not going to list them out because we want them to be a surprise, but it’s a great upgrade to the Takeover system that adds a layer of depth and strategy to how you compete online.
Those are the main features I wanted to highlight for this year’s Gameplay Courtside report. I feel like I’ve been typing too long already, but there’s so much more that goes into the nuts and bolts of 2K’s gameplay and this blog barely scrapes the surface. Huge shout out to each of the gameplay devs who work tirelessly each year to build the best sports gaming experience on the market! From the outset, our goal was to create fun and competitive gameplay and I think you all will agree when you get your hands on the sticks that the team has delivered that in spades. The community’s passion for 2K is what drives us, and many of our features come directly from you. In fact, we had the wonderful opportunity to bring in several respected community members and 2K Pros to “beta test” gameplay a few weeks ago. Their feedback was incredibly valuable to us and allowed us to put the finishing touches on gameplay to ensure the best possible launch experience! Big thanks to those guys and we look forward to hosting more of those types of events in the future!
So, have a great time with NBA 2K22, and we can’t wait to read your feedback, watch your videos/streams, and continue to work with you to mold the best basketball game on the planet!