NBA 2K20: Gameplay Blog From Mike Wang

August 5th, 2019

NBA 2K developer Mike Wang released a blog post with information and updates on some of the changes in NBA 2K20. It was originally posted on Facebook, you can read the blog here:


Hey there, 2K basketball fans! It’s that time of year where I finally get to pause for a minute and talk about some of the amazing work that the gameplay team has put into this year’s installment. NBA 2K20 is a huge leap forward for on-court play and there’s plenty to reveal so let’s get into it.

NBA 2K20 - Andre Drummond

Motion Engine Upgrade

Proper footwork is a core foundation of basketball, and replicating that properly is vital to balancing the interplay between offense and defense. Without realistic movement, everything else falls apart.

In NBA 2K18 we introduced a new motion engine that moved away from the “animation-driven” systems of earlier 2K games. The improvements to feel and responsiveness were immediately apparent when we made the switch, but the new tech surfaced some challenges that caused us to lose some of the control that we had over animation selection, sacrificing some of the authenticity of the motion. In short, some aspects of movement looked and felt way better, some took a step back.

Our motion team spent the past couple of years developing an upgraded motion engine with the aim of finding a happy medium. And thanks to their hard work, movement in this year’s game has taken a huge leap forward. Some of the advances that you’ll immediately see and feel when you pick up NBA 2K20 are better foot planting, momentum modeling, and motion style variation. Players have a much better sense of weight and plant their feet properly when cutting or exploding from a stand. And thanks to the addition of motion styles, you’ll quickly feel the difference between a lumbering big vs. a quick, explosive guard. The motion team spent a lot of time researching and analyzing sprint speeds and acceleration times of real NBA players. This helped us tune our player speeds to more accurately depict the speed of the NBA game, especially in the open court. This research also led us to re-design how sprinting works. We really wanted sprinting to be a valuable resource and not something that everybody automatically does everywhere they go. This year, you’ll notice a flashing yellow effect around the Stamina bar when your energy level drops below a certain threshold. Once hit, you’ll quickly ramp down to a run speed and get tired much faster. So it’s important this year to pick and choose when you want to explode with your first step and not abuse the Sprint trigger all game long.

NBA 2K20 - Donovan Mitchell

Handles and Sauce

Ball handlers now have contextual awareness of specific situations on the court that they didn’t have before. Pick and Roll wraps/splits, situational cuts, and backcourt vs. frontcourt movement are a few examples of where we made the ball handler aware of his surroundings. Signature Dribble Styles were another key focus for the motion system upgrade, allowing us to accurately portray the myriad of movement styles across the league. We added new concepts such as stop variation – dead leg/punches, hesi lifts, inverts, etc. Cuts and first steps also vary greatly from one style to the next, allowing us to differentiate speedsters (De'Aaron Fox, John Wall) from players like DeMar DeRozan who move with more “wiggle.” Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, and legends such as Kobe Bryant and Tim Hardaway have signature dribble idle stands. Magic Johnson and John Stockton set up their offenses with their unique movement bringing the ball up court, while open floor players like Russell Westbrook and Giannis Antetokounmpo get different sprint acceleration animations in transition. There are 27 different styles that you’ll see across the league that you’ll also have access to in MyCAREER to create the type of ball handler you want.

Here’s the list of styles: Base, Big, Power, Fundamental, Quick, Slasher, Shifty, James Harden, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, Dennis Johnson, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Tim Hardaway, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Isiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Stephen Curry, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard.

Being a successful ball handler is so much about rhythm and change of pace. The new system gives you many tools to do that, just by using the left stick. But if you want to make your defender look bad in the process, you’re going to need some “sauce.”

This year, we’re introducing a new size-up mechanic that allows you to chain standing dribble moves together in a cleaner and more realistic way. Every move is performed one to one by flicking the Pro Stick and there are no pre-scripted sequences this year. Players have full control over whether they want to lull defenders to sleep with a slow rocking crossover or pound the ball hard with quick machine gun style crosses. James Harden has his patented between legs setup moves, Kyrie Irving has an array of streetball handles, Allen Iverson has his big hesi cross, and the list goes on. The new size-ups really give you the freedom to create your own unique rhythm. When mastered, you’ll be able to break off even the best on-ball defenders. But when over-dribbling or trying to perform the wrong moves at the wrong time, you’ll see players fumbling the ball or easily getting ripped by their defenders.

We’re also giving players access to new advanced moves including behind back wrap escapes, Luka Doncic’s fake stepback, stutter chop steps, new shammgods, and the fake sham hesi that Will Bynum pulled out at the Big Three. And even before you put the ball down, triple threat offense has been expanded as well, with a plethora of new moves including: directional jabs, mid-stepovers, shimmies, and new first steps. I’m excited to see how creative the community gets with all the new ball handling tools at their disposal. Ankles beware.

NBA 2K20 - Serge Ibaka

Read & React

But don’t worry, we didn’t neglect the defensive end of the floor. On-ball defenders will be happy to hear that we’re providing more tools to help them lockdown their checks as well. Internally, we’ve been calling this Read & React Defense. When guarding the ball, defensive players will see a small arrow under the ball handler, indicating where they’re leaning or attempting to go. The arrow shows up at different times based on the defender’s abilities, modeling the different reaction times between a poor defender and a great one. Anticipating the ball handler’s movement properly and cutting off their attack will yield much more predictable outcomes such as stonewalling the dribbler, forcing a pickup, or causing a fumble. Thanks to the motion engine upgrade and its improved defensive footwork, as well as a greatly improved body-up ride system, 1-on-1 battles now resolve in a much more predictable way, showcasing the differences between attacking a flat-footed defender vs. highly skilled Lockdown.

Under the ball handler, you’ll also notice the indicator ring change from a solid circle to broken up lines as the ball handler moves around the court or performs moves. The more broken up the circle, the more vulnerable the ball handler is to losing the ball. To further emphasize this, we re-tuned on-ball steals to be much more predictable. So for NBA 2K20, it’s more important to read what the ball handler’s doing and reaching at the right times rather than running around randomly spamming the Steal button.

NBA 2K20 - Montrezl Harrell

Shot Solutions & Paint D

Attacking and defending the rim was another area of focus for the gameplay team. I talked about the concept of Shot Solutions a few years back. The basic idea in real life is that good slashers can find unique solutions to get through the defense when attacking the rim. For NBA 2K20, we’ve completely re-architected layups and dunks to be a fully branch-able mechanic. Last year we introduced the ability to branch from certain layup gathers to dunk finishes… but for layups, once you hit the button you mostly just watched a sequence play out from ground to air. The new gather feature allows you to kick off an advanced gather on the floor, read the defense, and select how you want to finish that gather by re-deflecting the Pro Stick as you takeoff. Say, for example, if you started a euro gather but saw the defense close in, you could re-deflect the Pro Stick down to branch to a floater finish to avoid contact. This also allowed us to introduce the concept of gather resolutions. Forcing a gather into heavy traffic or directly into a defender will lead to jam ups, but choosing the correct gathers in open spaces will let you knife right through traffic. In addition to the euro-step, cradle, hop step, and spin gathers you had access to before, you can now also perform half-spin and cross-spin gathers to get past your defender.

Just like the floor game, playing above the rim is also accompanied by a beefed up defensive counterpart. This year, we captured hundreds of new in-air collisions, hard fouls, grab blocks, and swats to let the rim protectors have their presence felt. Paint defenders who have good timing and decision making will be a force to reckon with and you’ll definitely have to think twice when going head to head against them inside. Zion Williamson, welcome to Team 2K!

Post scorers can also look forward to a refreshed post game with new fakes, backdowns, and moves… while post defenders will have access to an expanded post body-up system that will help them lock down spins, drives, dropsteps, and hopsteps on the other end.

Working Off-ball

A couple of months ago in the “Ask a Dev” segment on 2KTV, I teased that an upgrade to off-ball play was coming. Players spend 90% of the time on the floor without the ball, so we wanted to make sure that aspect of our game was fully featured.

On the offensive side, NBA 2K20 brings back an old beloved feature… off-ball juke moves. We really wanted these moves to mirror the functionality of the ball handler, so not only have they returned, they’ve also improved. With simple Pro Stick gestures, players have access to fake first steps, spins, and stutters that you can chain together or immediately branch out of to perform flare cuts, dive to the hoop, or spot up for open J’s. The moves are also broken down into three levels to separate elite off-ball players from the rest. The combo of new moves and off-ball movement make playing away from the ball much more of a skill game and let you re-create the epic battles we saw Klay Thompson and Steph Curry have against the Raptors in the playoffs.

Defensively, off-ball collisions were reworked from the ground up to take advantage of the technical advancements we’ve made to our body-up system over the past couple years. If you can read where your off-ball offensive opponents are trying to go, you can cut them off and put them in a box, making them work extra hard for every look.

Screens, both on-ball and away from the ball, were also rebuilt and feature much better interactions between screeners and screen defenders. The new content offers complete control to help defenders navigate around screeners much more effectively and get into better position without getting stuck on other players. We’re also introducing the concept of quick screens, performed by tapping the Set Screen button. It carries a high risk/reward and must be used sparingly, but can be a great tool to quickly rub your cutting teammate’s defender and slow him down just enough to help your teammate get open. You’ll see loads of additional new content, including better roll/fade transitions, screen rejects, slips, screen blowups and hard hitting brick wall screens. And for you simheads, we’re also giving you manual switch controls. Simply hold the Swap Player button or double flick the right stick to call for a switch and manually override your coach’s screen defense strategy. You’ll also notice that AI teammates have the capability to dynamically roll/fade to open space, whereas before they were always sent to a static location.

The Next Step in AI

Our team prides itself on having the best AI in any sports game, and NBA 2K20 continues to push the envelope in that area.

On the offensive side, check out the new Dynamic Freelance engine. Your teammates will create intelligent off-ball motion without ever having to call a play. Look for them to automatically run smart offensive actions for your best players (driven by the Adaptive Coaching Engine or On-the-Fly Coaching), including off-ball screens and cuts, to create scoring opportunities for themselves. This new system, in conjunction with the continuing evolution of ACE, makes running a structured offense much simpler for the masses.

Savvy strategists can also take advantage of the new play action buttons. These are quick-to-access mini actions that can be called to create your own offense: Floppy, Receive Screen, Isolation, etc. And if you want to go even deeper, you can also create a “Favorite Plays” list in place of the play action buttons – assigning up to 8 of your favorite go-to plays. Last year, we introduced Series Actions, which were a big hit with the sim community. Their one request for this year was user-created series, which we heard and are bringing to NBA 2K20. Now you can turn your favorite plays into your own personal series action, and even control how that series is run (repeat on success, run through, called in order, dynamic, etc.)

AI defense is stepping up its game as well. The transition defense module has been re-written and introduces some new options, including “Protect the Perimeter” and “Wall up” (the transition positioning used against elite downhill players.) Also look out for new team-specific and player-specific adjustments in ACE, including:

  • Utah’s on ball adjustments to Harden in the playoffs

  • Toronto’s top lock deny scheme against Curry

  • Player-specific Takeover awareness

  • Legendary team and player adjustment adds and improvements

And one last note on the AI. In past 2K’s, the AI has always used Real Player % when it came down to determining makes and misses. This could often lead to robotic, predictable outcomes. This year, we’ve implemented the same shot timing mechanics for the AI that players use. The result is a much more human-like opponent and a more even playing field. So while you can gap shooters more often when playing on Rookie or Pro and see them brick some open shots due to bad timing, you’ll definitely want to hug up on shooters when playing on the higher difficulty levels to avoid getting lit up with “green lights.” Speaking of greens, you can now customize your shot meter to have a green flash, splash, or splat effect. I know how much you guys love customization.

Badges & Takeover

Badges have become one of the main ways a player can set themselves apart from another. We know how important they are to the game and to the community, so one of the first things we did this dev cycle was sit down (in many meetings) to re-imagine what badges we should have in the game and how they should work. We came away with an impressive list of around 80 badges that allow players to express different strengths in various areas of the game. We put in a ton of work to ensure that each badge was valuable and unique enough to cater to just about any imaginable playstyle. We even added Neighborhood-specific badges that enhance the physicality and flashy play of the Playground. Takeover returns in NBA 2K20 with more content and new features, and thanks to all the feedback from the community and another year of testing under our belts, we’ve tuned the Takeover abilities to be much more balanced across positions and playstyles.

There’s tons more to talk about when it comes to badges, attributes, Takeover, and the improvements to player builds, so look forward to more info on that soon. We’re very confident that you guys are going to love the direction we’re taking with it.

Closing Thoughts

Hope you enjoyed the blog and got a sense of what to expect when you pick up the game next month. I think I’ve highlighted most of the big ticket gameplay items but there are plenty more goodies to share as we get closer to launch. Just want to give a big thanks and shout out to all the gameplay engineers and producers who worked tirelessly to make NBA 2K20 the best playing basketball game on the planet. And believe me, this is just the beginning. I can’t say enough about the entire dev team at Visual Concepts who always manage to pull off (in one year) what most teams wouldn’t even attempt in a multi-year cycle. So stay tuned in the coming weeks as we roll out more info on all the modes and features packed into this year’s game! We can’t wait till you get your hands on it and we’ll be lurking in the virtual streets scouring for feedback! We couldn’t do what we do without all of the 2K fans around the globe, so on behalf of the team, thank you for all your support! - Mike Wang (@Beluba), NBA 2K Gameplay Director

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