It’s On FIRE – NBA JAM: On Fire Edition Interview With Cody Sawatsky

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Days away from its return to center stage, I got the chance to interview NBA JAM On Fire Edition producer, Cody Sawatsky. Given the state of the NBA these days, and with the upcoming release of the much anticipated NBA 2K12, it should be interesting to see what card does EA has up its sleeve.

Being the underdog, the upcoming edition of NBA JAM is pulling out all the stops. One of the key additions to the gameplay this year, is the implantation of a new AI (R.E.A.L AI), which was used in franchises like Fight Night and NHL.

Oren: NBA JAM: On Fire Edition is scheduled to feature the same tech (R.E.A.L AI), that was featured in the very popular Fight Night franchise, can you tell us what was done in order to implant a simulation based tech on an arcade environment such as NBA Jam, and how good does it feel?

Cody: REAL AI is totally adaptable to whatever game it is slotted into. It works by reading input sequences made by users, and evaluates their effectiveness.

Depending on a variety of factors; proximity to the ball, location on the court, score, skill level, and a bunch of others, REAL AI will evaluate the best sequence to play. By using this method, we can ensure the AI feels like a human, because it was taken from human input! To get a wide enough variety, we sorted through hundreds of thousands of games worth of sequences, ran simulations and only kept the best.

What’s really exciting is our hardest difficulty, called REAL AI in the game, will constantly evolve, taking your best moves, and the best moves of anyone you play with online, for a challenge that will grow organically.

Oren: Another aspect of the game is the different archetypes (Big Man, Point Guard, etc), which are supposed to create a diversity in style and capabilities, but according to the stats and the fast paced style of NBA JAM, won’t a small team (Jason Kidd and Jason Terry), be more efficient than a big team (Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer)?

Cody: A major gameplay target for us was to really show the range between different styles of play, and this is a great illustration.

Jason Kidd and Jason Terry are 3-point snipers and are fast, but they are smaller. That means they need to play from the outside to be the most effective. It makes guys like Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, who are big and can block and dunk, are a natural counter to small shooters. Kidd and Terry will have to be very crafty to get around those 2 defensive monsters.

There are many different styles of play, and each one has a counter to it, so pay attention to the ratings!

Aside from the NBA teams, NBA JAM is scheduled to feature for the first time ever the inclusion of 4 Euroleague teams, including my beloved Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Maccabi Electra). Growing up watching Euroleauge games being played in cities like Athens, Belgrade and Tel-Aviv, I was really intrigued to know if any of the European basketball atmosphere has made it into the game.

Oren: One of the surprises for the upcoming game is the inclusion of 4 Euroleague teams, will we see any specific arenas/atmosphere being integrated to the game, and how will the Euroleague teams be rated compared to the actual NBA teams?

Cody: The addition of the Euroleague Final 4 was really fun as it helps us get a more global flavor in the game. When playing with a Euroleague team against any non-NBA team, you will play with a specific Euroleague ball on a specially made Euroleague court, with unique Euroleague presentation. So it is something we took quite seriously.
Our ratings system is based on real-life stats and should hopefully be at least semi-representative of the real players, so while Euroleague teams won’t dominate the Miami Heat, they will be able to be competitive.

Being a phenomenon in the 90’s (under Midway’s production), NBA JAM was all about the competition and tournaments. In my opinion the most important feature in NBA JAM On Fire Edition is definitely its multiplayer capabilities.

Oren: Aside from Madden and fighting games, NBA JAM has a huge following, will we see an ability to create our own online/offline tournaments with different stipulations (no 3 pointers, only dunks, etc)?

Cody: Our online system is based around a weekly revolving ladder tournament. That means that every week, everyone starts again so reaching the top is never more than 7 days away. When playing in JAM Now with your friends, we give you the ability to customize a whole array of options, so you can implement the tweaks that you want. We have even more of these variants in our campaign called Road Trip, which you can play by yourself or with a buddy, either online or offline.

Oren: It’s not a secret that arcade basketball titles (both NBA JAM and NBA Street) have always been better than their football and soccer counterparts, do you see any reason behind it?

Cody: There have been a lot of great arcade football and soccer games, but I think that JAM is so iconic and huge; they get kind of lost in its shadow.

Emphasizing the most exciting parts of a sport, making the gameplay accessible while still retaining depth, and making cool stuff easy to do is always the key to making arcade sports fun.
It’s a thin line to walk but when you get it right, it’s pure magic.

Last but not least, I asked Cody about his experience with the voice of NBA JAM, Tim Kitzrow?

Cody: Kitzrow is always on. How he sounds in the game, is how he sounds all the time. We were out for dinner one night, and he started commentating on the bartender making drinks, and the waiters picking them up and delivering them! Needless to say when the bartender poured his third drink and got on fire, we were all in hysterics.

NBA JAM On Fire Edition is scheduled to be released in early October (XBLA for 1200 Microsoft Points and PSN $14.99).

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