Several of the major players in the market have offered strong games this year, with a bounty of games coming out within the last two months. Wolverine Studios have been at the forefront, releasing several games (and with a couple of more in the pipeline, rumors say). Gary Gorski has positioned his company well as a one-stop shop for sports games going into 2017.
But his bread and butter, both for him and the company, is the basketball line. The Pro Basketball and College Basketball offerings of the Draft Day Sports line have been building with the times over the last decade. The Pro series took a turn last year, with a revamped approach to the game. It went from building a brand to building a team. It was a game-changer (though, unfortunately, not enough eyes get to see how great this game is).
The big question facing Gary for this version is…okay, now what?
Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 2017 offers some subtle advancements, and a couple of big features. In the end, you have an incremental improvement on a very solid foundation. But, is it enough to warrant your money in an environment that is suddenly flush with new products?
The same clean look exists from last year, with an added wrinkle. In this year’s version, a new menu exists along the top. A pulldown menu allows you to move throughout leagues, and clickable logos along the horizontal bar allow for easier movement throughout your experience. It adds a fresh touch. The game is sharp and vibrant, just as last year. The game offers very little change, and for good reason.
That said, I have two issues; one exists from last year, while another is new. The game still does not resize in windowed mode properly. I run on a Surface Pro 4; I have a larger-than 1080 (UHD) screen that, while offering sizable real estate, is still small. Windowing my games has become a staple for me; not only that, but several games have taken advantage of this feature. When I window a game in DDSPB, no matter where in the process of playing the game, it does not adjust.
Secondly, and this is a minor quibble, I would love if players were clickable all over the game. For instance, when perusing the league leaders, you can click on the player, but only in the specific category you are reviewing. There is an overview at the bottom of the screen; the players are not clickable there. Also, in the social media component, players are not clickable. It would benefit the gamer from having to navigate through multiple screens to view the player they want. The same holds true for teams, such as on the Team Statistics screen, or on the Team Standings screen.
Again, it is a small issue, but one that could streamline the experience.
The game remains the same as last year. It is supremely clean. The addition of the team navigation bar is a nice touch. However, the windowed issue still bothers me. Hopefully it gets fixed.
The game is essentially the same as last year, which is both good and bad. You get all of the NBA historical setups out of the box. Historical replay is tweaked a decent bit; in last year’s version, you could only start in 1976 and play from there. This year, you can start in any year after 1976. This year’s version also allows you to have random draft classes, which is a great feature made popular by Out of the Park. Could you imagine having a team with Ricky Davis, Nick Young, Gilbert Arenas, Greg Ostertag, and Metta World Peace in the starting lineup, with Roy Tarpley and Georghe Muresan coming off the bench?
It’s okay to shudder at that thought. The point is, such a monstrosity is possible.
That said, I have a couple of issues here.
Last year, I pointed out that other games (okay, Fast Break Pro Basketball) has the ability to replay all of history, going back to 1946. Yes, the game is not as complex as DDSPB. However, this feature is more complete in FBPB. Not only do you get all of the players back to that era, but you also get automatic expansion and relocation, as well as financial updating throughout history.
This leads me to a dynasty dilemma, as I mull a historical dynasty. I have played FBPB/FBCB for years in one particular dynasty (which, I have to say, is over 700 written pages in Word). I want to create a scout dynasty, in an attempt to make the perfect team. At the risk of being spoiler, DDSPB would be the better choice for such a dynasty. However, the amount of legwork to create a historical dynasty…well, I couldn’t do it here. Expansion is not an option for less than 22-team leagues. You can increase the salary cap, but the amount of work you’d have to do…my math game is strong, but the constant tweaking would be tedious.
So, perhaps this is a situation where I want my cake and eat it too. My argument is…this has existed in another game since 2013. Hopefully, the work is put in to make this game easier to become more immersed in this environment.
One other aspect I would like to see is accurate season schedules. The 1946 BAA season had 60 games. The DDSPB schedule had 72. Again, this is a nitpick, but as someone who likes to play historical, this defeats the purpose. I can find enjoyment elsewhere in the game (as you’ll see), but since this is the customization section, it has to be noted.
Now that the negative is out of the way…one of the biggest, if not the biggest, feature added to this year’s game is the Matchup Maker. Using the Historical Replay setup, you can pit any team against any other (going back to 1976). So those who want to see the 95-96 Bulls against the 15-16 Warriors? You can do that. I did that. They split a home-and-home.
There is one quibble here, and it’s understandable: The game doesn’t necessarily take into account jersey numbers for one particular team. According to Gary, the database has jersey numbers worn by player with his most famous choice first, then it goes on down the line. This leads to an embarrassing situation with the ’95 Bulls, where Bill Wennington can be seen wearing a rather famous number.
Really, it’s cosmetic. Jersey nerds will be somewhat upset, but it’s minor.
The one bit of fun I had was putting the 1997 Timberwolves against the 2008 Celtics. Seeing young KG get just-passed-his-peak KG into foul trouble within the first two minutes was really cool.
The feature is great for the ground floor. I would like to see it expanded to allow tournaments, leagues, fantasy drafts, etc. Out of the Park added this feature, then added to it by allowing era-specific parameters aimed at the home team. In DDSPB, everything is era-neutral; so, if you pitted the 2015 Warriors, or the Run TMC Warriors of the 90s, against the 2004 Detroit Pistons, there is no advantage gained for either team based on being home. I would love for this to change, and for us to see the style and system clash. Could a run-and-gun team win in a different era? Could the 1994 Rockets, or the Showtime Lakers, beat a team like the 2007 San Antonio Spurs, playing in 2007 standards?
There are ways to expand this, and make this more than a standalone feature. I hope Gary decides to go down this path, and not let it be.
It should also be noted, one of the more subtle changes to the game from last year is the ability to adjust injuries. You can be realistic, or turn them off completely. Or turn it up a notch. Your choice.
I don’t know where else to put this, but it requires mentioning: The History section of the game has been beefed up considerably in this version. Essentially every stat that collects itself in your universe can be found.
The game is virtually the same as last year, at least in terms of customization. The addition of Matchup Maker is a great wrinkle for the game. I would love the feature get expanded, and for the historical aspects of the game to get more love. I think Wolverine is underestimating the value of this feature to the community.
Gameplay & Sim Engine
The game was torn down and built up in the last version, which is where the game really took off. Instead of trying to build a team with the most talent, you are tasked with building the best actual team. This requires finding chemistry and finding pieces that best fit your philosophy and the other players on your team. This seems to be where the genre is going now; Front Office Football 8 is very much built on players fitting schemes and being able to be utilized by assistants. Out of the Park requires you to build for ballparks or players that complement one another.
This year, statheads are given a major resource to help you figure out what lineups are best to play. One particular screen, found in the Depth Charts within a team menu, allows you to see all of the different lineups you have tried over the course of the year. It also includes each lineup’s productivity.
I also want to highlight the sub-matrix, as it’s a very useful screen here. The ability to visualize your lineups is very helpful. I would like to see the above screen incorporated into the sub-matrix, showing you the efficiency of each lineup you put together, along with how many minutes they’ve played together. I think a marriage of these two screens would make for an incredible tool in setting your lineups. It would also be a boon for online leagues (more on that in a moment).
As usual, this game gets…I don’t want to say slighted, but at least overlooked. This isn’t Gary’s fault. This game, unfortunately, is much more of a solo venture than an online one. That’s disappointing, because this is THE game for an online league. Due to all of the different philosophies for building a basketball team, this should be vastly popular. Part of the reason for that is that the game isn’t known enough; part of the reason is that games like NBA2k garner up the attention, and the genre is much more niche than football, baseball, or soccer.
Part of it is that I simply don’t get it. Maybe Gary doesn’t, either. But an online league would be ideal. I really wish the community would build. But that’s all our faults, I guess.
I rated this incomplete last year. I don’t have any choice but to do so again. I gave it an official 8/10, which I guess I have to continue to do. It’s all there, and it works. It just lacks in numbers. Maybe someday…
Replay & Fun Factor
The best thing about games that don’t change much is, when they’re great, they stay great. Gary added a few things to the game to add to the immersion; the moves he made were the right ones.
I will spare you my long-windedness about them: You can read about them here: http://www.wolverinestudios.com/2016/10/19/dds-pro-basketball-sim-new-features/
The ability to analyze your team in this manner simply gives the basketball junkie an even better way to be a basketball junkie. I am amazed at the basketball junkie community, of which I am in the door, but like a Middle School boy: I’m looking around, nodding at people…but I’m fidgeting at the thought of getting in there and dancing. I listen to many podcasts, and am stunned at all the minutiae that gets analyzed. (Granted, I don’t know what I’m stunned, given at how overreactionary we are as a society, but that’s for a review of ‘Merica.)
Gary is a decided basketball junkie. And he allowed his fellow junkies to indulge themselves here. Specifically, the ability to analyze your lineups, as well as all of the advanced statistics, make this game a step above any other.
The one nitpick I have here…allow for us to print this out to a text file, or a spreadsheet. Also, allow for us to see the best lineups in the league. Add this to the league leader menus. I’d love to go in and investigate teams that employ their own Death Lineups, or see irregularities that are working, or not working.
The other thing that Gary added is the ability to create plays. He talks about that here: http://www.wolverinestudios.com/2016/11/04/dds-pro-basketball-sim-historical-replay/, and I don’t specifically feel the need to rehash what he wrote. Creating plays is fun and challenging. This is why online leagues are a necessity…you can own every single aspect of your team, and be a brilliant coach. Or an awful one who thinks they’re too smart, and get it handed to you. But that’s the point…you get to do things with this game that you don’t with mostly any other (FOF 8, which came out a few days later, allows you to create plays).
I won’t go through a whole season like I did last year (and make you sift through that); I can tell you this, though. In terms of what you can get out of a game, this does it as well as any. None do it better. I can safely assure you of that. You get the complete experience of building a team in your own vision, for better or worse. And you’re equipped with the ability to make those judgments based on how the game responds. You’re getting more complete information to help you.
That reminds me…less player fights and squabbling in the game this year! One of the biggest complaints with the constant in-fighting of your players. These are toned down in DDSPB17, but the impact of them is more severe. (Basically, they’re holding their feelings in more, and lashing out when they reach their Falling Down moment. This is not true, but it was fun to write.) Gary tweaked this for the better, as this was the biggest thing that bogged the game down in the past.
One of the best parts of the game, and one that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, is the draft. It was a revolutionary part of the genre when it was built years ago, and is still light years ahead of the competition. The only one I can compare to it is FOF (I have not played 8, though I have heard great things) and, of course, Wolverine’s football offering, Draft Day Sports: Pro Football. Front Office Football has a robust model that is smart and variable. Wrinkles can be thrown at you, and draft day trades are important. I can assume that DDSPF is along the same lines, though it’s still growing as a product.
Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball has been this way for years. But it also adds an on-the-fly analysis in the draft. You can hold the draft in real time, and have your picks praised or crushed in real time. Sure, the analysis gets repetitive after a while. This is the case in every game, and I cannot hold Wolverine negatively accountable for not being able to build a file of infinite analysis. The draft in this game is fun, variable, tricky, and difficult to navigate. It is the model by which other games should aspire to be.
You can play this a million different ways, try a million different philosophies, and get a million different outcomes. You can be brilliant or be dumb. But the point is, you can be those things. Wolverine allows you to see your vision through, for better or worse. And that’s the most fun to me. The game is infinitely replayable.
I remember, long ago, when the sim community as a whole began to shift in how a game should be played. It went from building a business to building a team. (For many, this never changed…but a decade ago, the financials were a much bigger part of the pie than building and running a team.) The current collection of games we have at our disposal with the various gaming companies reflect the current outlook and philosophy of the community. And it should.
Wolverine has, perhaps, done the best job out of any in this reflection. You won’t find a game that gives you more hands-on ability than DDSPB17. Really, the current round of all of the games we have are absolutely spectacular; we’re in a Golden Era of this genre, and Wolverine is, very much, at the forefront. They are driving innovation, and while the returns may not be as large as Gary wants (or deserves, frankly), hopefully the fruits of his labor are realized.
This is a delightful game. You should play it. You should encourage others to, too. Despite the boon this community has seen in products, I see a lot of the same faces on the message boards. The community needs growth; it deserves it.
That can start with this game (and the other products that have been released recently), a wonderful production that embodies basketball and the ability to see different philosophies understood and implemented. You can see your experiments and investigations validated or refuted. You can see The Beautiful Game, or see the New York Knicks.
Regardless, it’s your choice. It should also be your choice to make Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 2017 a part of your library.
Okay, since this is a basketball game review, I’m sure you want to see the gist of the season. I share two screens. Study the second one; imagine the meltdown if this truly occurred.