In this ongoing look at significant moments in the history of video game design, we have already taken a look at Nintendo’s Kid Icarus, Electronic Arts’ Mirror’s Edge, Raven Software’s Soldier of Fortune 2 and several others. The goal of this series is to go beyond simple gaming magazines and iPhone Apps, and take a closer look at what defines memorability and quality in game design. In this twenty-sixth part of the series we will examine some more of those classic moments where video game designers undoubtedly got it right and delivered a memorable, enduring and progressive gaming experience.
NBA JAM (Arcade) – Developed by Midway and released to arcades in 1993, NBA Jam forever changed people’s expectations of sports games. Before NBA Jam, the players in basketball games were clunky, robotic, poorly animated characters that bared less than even a passing resemblance to their real life counterparts. With the introduction of NBA Jam’s digitized representations of real life figures (a technology also utilized with great success in Midway’s other monster title of that year, Mortal Kombat), along with higher CPU and memory that allowed for more fluid animations, NBA Jam was by far the most playable basketball game of all time upon its release. But, beyond mere playability, NBA Jam had plenty to offer arcade goers of the time.
For starters, NBA Jam made a significant physical footprint in arcades across the world. Its cabinet was absolutely huge, a necessity considering that it allowed for four players to participate in 2-on-2 matchups. It also had a much larger screen than most arcade machines of the time, and its ‘attract mode’ sounds were seemingly always set near the maximum volume levels. While all of these lures proved successful at initiating trial among gamers, it was the actual gameplay and the bonus features that kept players coming back for more.
Very tightly coded, the gameplay in NBA Jam is demonstrative of the phrase ‘a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.’ Not at all difficult to play, the fine balance of knowing when to pass, shoot and how to play perfect defense presented a balancing act that very few players were able to master, yet all who attempted enjoyed. Phrases from NBA Jam such as “He’s on Fire!” (players who had sunk three unanswered shots in a row would become so ‘hot’ that the ball would literally burst into flames”) and “Boom-Shakka-Lakka” remain a part of pop culture to this very day. An often forgotten feature of the game was its ability to store player records. By entering their birthdates and initials, players could maintain win-loss records, and attempt to defeat all of the teams in the game over the course of several weeks or months, rather than in a single sitting.
Featuring every NBA team of the time, Jam was a fully licensed product. Still, that did not stop the developers from loading the game up with secret characters that could be chosen by entering a specific combination of birthday and initials. Hidden characters ranging from Mortal Kombat’s Raiden to then President Bill Clinton were buried within the game’s code. These hidden characters added humor to the game’s already over the top gameplay style, and helped keep gamers buzzing as newly discovered character codes would leak out.
NBA Jam ushered in a new era of sports video games. It showed that more realistic graphics were possible, and that over the top gameplay had a place in the genre. The game allowed friends to play together, provided many months of character discoveries and proved beyond a doubt that sports games could translate to mainstream video game success. For being the greatest arcade basketball game of all time, NBA Jam deserves its place in this series.
Frank Taylor writes on behalf of AppsPatrol. He recommends you visit AppsPatrol for info on newly released iPhone Apps, iPhone Game Reviews and iPhone App Reviews.
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