Author’s Note: This review is long overdue. In full disclosure, I started writing this in December. It is now late February. These reviews are all labors of love for me; it is likely not a surprise, especially given the second sentence of this paragraph, that the only payment I receive for writing these is a free game. I don’t say that looking for a handout, but to say this:
Unfortunately, life offline, where I am an introverted Social Studies instructor at a first-year high school in a year that is terrible to be a first-year high school (because many realized how difficult and defeating it is to be a teacher in America and decided to leave…ha ha, jokes on you, more jobs for me!), and the burnout that comes from the energy expended from doing that have made getting this done extremely difficult. Seriously, after this review, I may be done for a while…I don’t like half-assing things, and the amount of time and energy I pour into these make it way more difficult for me to commit to doing these in the future. Compound that with a two-week illness that overtook me in January, from which I am still trying to recover my physical health and some of my mental stamina) has completely sabotaged my attempts to finish this in a timely fashion.
To Gary Gorski and Wolverine Studios, as well as those who were waiting for a review on this game, I wholeheartedly apologize for the delay. Hopefully, it does the game justice. -JCiv)
I have one question for anyone who opens this review. Even if you click this by accident, you’re at GM Games. I’m not even sure what Rule 34 thing you could consult the Google on that causes you to arrive at GM Games by accident.
(Nor do I want to know.)
So you’re at GM Games by choice, then. That should mean that you’re into sports games, at the very least. And it likely means that you’re also into the sim management genre.
So, fellow enthusiast, this question is for you:
Why haven’t we gotten the Football Manager of other sports already?
Seriously, why hasn’t anyone even attempted it? Is Football Manager really that far advanced that nobody dares to make an attempt?
Okay, that last question isn’t exactly fair. Yes, Football Manager really is that far advanced…in terms of what it brings. But some of these things, like the open world/sandbox format, the multilayered media and player interaction…these are things that, I would think, are attainable for many of our intrepid heroes at this stage. Many of the games at the forefront of this community and genre are several versions into their development. The foundation, for the most part, has been put down.
Yet, we somehow don’t get the full manager experience in Out of the Park, a company that was once under the development house of SI Games. How does OOTP not have more media interaction? How is there not a more dynamic coach/player relationship out there? I mean, OOTP has a…*checks notes*…Perfect Team system that…well…you see…
I am not a major football/soccer person. I really got into FM10, where a player out of my Derby County youth academy, Jack Slocombe, turned out to be a scoring machine and turned into a global icon. While watching Jack’s story, where he turned Derby into the greatest football club in the known universe (we’re currently living in the oppoverse of that, I guess), it was the interaction with the media, the players, and coaching staff that really drew me in.
I have brought this up to multiple developers since then. Remember, this was 2009-10. The one person I have brought this up to more than anyone else is Gary Gorski, owner of Wolverine Studios, and the creator of the Draft Day Sports Basketball (Pro and College) series. I tell Gary he should do a lot of things. That’s his fault, because he considers what I say…so I tell him things a lot. My typical argument, and it is a consistent one, is that generally anything I bring to him is in the interest of enhancing immersion.
So imagine my surprise and delight when the feature list for Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball ‘23 dropped.
- Media interaction?
- Enhanced player interaction??
- Daily fantasy???
My immersion sense is activated. (I was going to do a callback Rule 34 joke, but decided to do everyone a favor and just let that sit up there.) I am quite intrigued by this year’s offering.
So, just how close to FM does it get? Let’s find out!
(That’s an unfair question; I won’t compare DDSPB’s effort to FM’s with this. That would be ridiculous.)
(Also, in full transparency, I am taking sole credit for the arrival of daily fantasy into this game. I have been stumping for this for several versions now, and finally convinced Gary to put it in, even if it was just to get me to shut up about it. If you love it, you’re welcome. If you hate it, well, hate’s pretty strong for a tiny feature of a computer game that you can just ignore if it isn’t for you, right?)
Graphics / Interface
For the past several versions, the DDS games have had the same UI. The uniformity is nice, and you know what to expect. There are some design decisions that I disagree with, but I imagine that would be the same for anyone and any game ever created.
However, there is one giant change.
The in-game model has gotten a complete facelift, from the court to the players to the scoreboard. Out are just jerseys; in are actual players. Sure, they’re all bald are faceless. That’s irrelevant. It’s a big improvement over what was.
(The courts are also updated; I haven’t updated them within my game, but they are updated, as evidenced in this post.)
I like the thought that went into this new layout; the new stats layout, for instance…making it look like an actual scoreboard is a really nice touch. And I like that there’s a PBP recap in the bottom left-corner of the screen (with running shorthand PBP to go along with the (slightly) more detail in the middle of the screen).
I still think the game can better utilize the open space on the left; this is where offensive and defensive coaching adjustments can be made. I would think that box could be reduced to ¼ of what it is, and replaced with more information, or even a bigger PBP box.
One addition that would also be great would be to add the lineup stats for the lineup that is currently in the game, as well as the ability to toggle between ratings/stats in this screen. If an open gate enters the game at SF, maybe I bring in my microwave to take advantage of the matchup. Or if the other team puts someone in who isn’t a scoring threat, maybe I can steal a few more minutes for a player in foul trouble.
I can wax poetic for a page on this, but nobody wants that. You see the GIF above. You can decide for yourself if you like it or not.
One more thing to add about this screen: custom courts and jerseys are now a thing. That’s a good thing for the game, and for the community.
Elsewhere, players are now clickable from the trade screen. That’s great. Why aren’t they clickable ANYWHERE they’re found in the game? For instance:
I can click on those nonsensical, top-secret personality traits (which take me nowhere; you’ll see this rant later, as I make a point about something else). But I can’t click on the players, and go to their pages? That doesn’t compute.
I also think the Insights section, specifically the Team Rankings screen, should be totally revamped. To me, it’s ugly and a waste of space. The Team vs Opponent screen should have a pulldown menu where you can access any team in the league. Or any two teams in the league, and see how they stack up, along with player stats (maybe even player stats against that particular team). As it is, it’s a wasted opportunity.
The one addition I would love is for an in-game ticker. Gary knows this. Even if it’s just score recaps and something that’s parsing the news down at the bottom of the screen, that would be phenomenal. I advocated for League Pass (ie Real-Time simming) for the game, and was told that is nearly impossible. I would contend that can be circumvented by simming first, hiding the scores, and then doing a replay of the games in that format. That would, I think, be doable. At least, that’s how Front Office Football did it when they added this feature.
(I think where I lost Gary on this is discussing start times and such. I can totally see that being difficult to add in. I do think, however, that single-day replays would be awesome for the game, and add into the immersion. Actually, I think that would totally transform online leagues, if you had a commissioner who was into streaming sims once or twice a week. THAT would be AMAZING, especially in the weeks leading up to the playoffs. And in DDSCB, during Conference Tourney week?
Oh. My. God. Please, Gary, I know I ask for too much…I think this one’s doable. Make this one happen, please.)
Grade: 9. I like the new in-game screen. I think it’s an improvement, and a good foundation to build upon. In my opinion, there are still some basic inefficiencies on specific screens that prevent this from being a 10. I probably rated this a 10 before, because the game is clean, sharp, and generally consistent. It’s what makes those inconsistencies more jarring. For instance, and I’ll make this comment later, the game and the statistics are placed within columns. That makes it easy to follow. Why aren’t lineups in the lineup tracking screen? That’s the stuff, along with the other notes I’ve made above, that need to be cleaned up for full hoopsimgasm appreciation.
When you begin a universe, there are five modes:
The main differences here are simple.
In Challenge Mode, you have a fair amount of options here. For this review, I’m going with a real world fictional (ie real teams, fictional players) setup. It needs to be noted that the game does not ship with real players; however, a real world mod has been created and cultivated for many versions. I’m choosing fictional because I don’t wish for any potential disagreements over ratings to impact the review of the game. Also, I prefer fictional leagues in general.
ProTip: Because I’ve made this mistake twice already (and I’m a seasoned vet with DDSPB games), it is easy to skip the finer details of league creation. The bar atop all of the options within a screen is not just a bar. It’s a menu.
Click on each section to get the settings. If you just click the green CONTINUE button, thinking it will take you to the next section, it won’t; it will skip everything and go into coach creation.
Also in Challenge Mode that is not in Quick Start: You can be Head Coach, or both HC and GM. In Quick Start, you can only be GM. So, if you want the Pop experience, go with Challenge Mode. Note that, if you go this route, and decide to just be the Head Coach, you only have control over that position. You don’t have say in personnel decisions. In the past, I found this aspect to be monotonous, because you only had so much you could do as a head coach. But, with the additions added to the game that I’ll get to in the Gameplay section, that has changed for the better.
Customization for DDSPB has been pretty standard for several versions now. You can adjust the ratings, lottery style, the player base you pull from, etc. One thing that is missing, and Gorski is well aware of what I’m about to write: Euro leagues.
Gorski had Euro leagues several versions ago…but it tanked and he removed it. I admit to being one who didn’t play them then. He makes no bones about this game being a dedicated NBA/American basketball game. He has said that attempting to utilize nations outside the US is generally prohibitive from a time/coding standpoint, that implementing all of the rules, options, etc that goes along with Euro leagues (et al) would lead to the game having to handle an impossible number of options.
This, I can understand. Gary develops on an island. I actually don’t know if he has anybody like what Markus Heinsohn has with Matt Arnold at OOTP; I know he has nowhere close tow hat Markus had with SI Games. (Reviewers’ Wet Dream: Markus/Matt lend their coding assistant to Gary for this purpose.) So I write this not as a complaint, as it has been in the past. It is merely an observation and explanation.
(I will say this: I wouldn’t mind having unplayable leagues outside the NBA, for scouting purposes…as well as the potential for a World Cup/Olympic style competition. Yes, it would mean that Gary would need to code in FIBA rules…but it would spare him from having to go down the road of multiple sets of rules and options across the board.)
One thing that remains consistent is being able to link DDSPB with DDSCB, to create a full and immersive universe.
Forgive me, because I cannot remember this from past versions…but female coaches are available in this game. That’s pretty awesome, and something that should be commonplace in these games. Smooth-brained basic-thinkers, you can shut up and scroll on. Every major sport has women in decision-making roles, and pro basketball has driven that bus across the board. So it’s natural that you have the option to be a woman in this game. It makes not having them previously feel a bit more awkward, honestly. (As someone who routinely writes Gary about additions to the game, I fault myself for this blindspot.)
(Not gonna lie…wish there were more clothing styles for the females. And, while I’m at it, where are the salt-n-pepper dudes? Sigh…I’ve had some gray most of my life, but it’s become more self-aware the past couple of years. I feel underrepresented now.)
Overall, DDSPB is not as customizable as Basketball GM, but that’s also an unfair comparison; Basketball GM is web-based (and thus can be more wiry and flexible behind the scenes) and serves a different purpose than DDSPB. Where I’ll be curious (and I purposely haven’t begun playing this game yet, so that when I review it, it’s completely fresh and out of the box for me) is how it stacks up against International Basketball Manager ‘23, a Eurocentric game that opened up its sandbox this year. I have yet to play the IBM series, but I am very curious as to how the two stack up.
As it is…if you are into the DDSPB universe, you already know how it is operates. There are no surprises. If you’re new to it, you won’t be disappointed.
Grade: 10. As far as NBA games go, this has it all you should want and need. Given that this is a NBA sim, that is how I am grading it.
Gameplay / Sim Engine
Author’s Note: If you’re interested in an overview of what’s new in this year’s version, you can check out Wolverine’s DDSPB23 page. I’ll be highlighting the big things here, but not covering everything.
One thing I want to get out of the way here at the start: Why haven’t personality traits been defined or explained? This is a complaint with every game. On their own, you can kind of get what they are (for instance, for my GM, I chose “Visionary”). I have no idea just what the hell they do, or how they impact the game. Or even if they do. Nobody knows any of this.
All I could get out of anyone was when I was doing the CF review, and was told that this was something that was kept in house. This is something that shouldn’t be, honestly. We should have these defined, and what areas of the game this can impact.
The DDS games have remained pretty consistent for several versions: The user plays through the calendar year, trying to achieve whatever goal they want to achieve. Along the way, some issues will crop up. The user deals with them the way they feel best, and try to grow the franchise or program for long-term success.
To this, you can say consistent. You can also say stagnant. There are only so many “issues between Player X and Player Y” that one can go through (usually it’s the same players) without it feeling too repetitive. When you encounter it over several versions, the behavior management aspect of roster management becomes more of a boring chore.
That is not the case this year, as deeper, more meaningful interactions with the media–primarily through press conferences–have made their way into the game. It is an achievement that I, and I alone, deserve full credit for its inclusion.
(Okay, so it probably wasn’t just me. There was, I’m sure, at least one other person bugging Gary for years on this. And you know, I guess Gary deserves at least some credit for designing and implementing it. So I guess I can share a bit of that credit.)
The premise is simple: As Coach or GM, you now field questions from the press, with five options for different answers. Your answers, of course, have consequences, whether positive or negative. It is a simplistic system, one rooted in the Football Manager model of interaction (though it appears FM has expanded on their model, in a way I hope Wolverine patterns itself after in the future).
So, let’s see here…well, I like McKnight as our coach, sure. So I’ll pick the second option.
Hmmm. Great question.
(puts hand over mic, turns to aide) Revoke that reporter’s credential.
This opens up a whole new dimension to screw up running your franchise, which is fantastic for the game’s universe dynamic. Honestly, the more ways you have to screw up a franchise in a game like this, the better it is for all involved. Players should be pissed at you, or have suspicions that you have a favored son, based on your comments in the media.
Yes, I’m biased, because I actually have been pressing for this for a LONG time. But I think this is exactly what the game needed to turn a corner in its development as a well-rounded, full coaching/GM experience. This really takes flight in challenge mode, where your GM can level up through different interactions in the game. Having to actually navigate player interactions and how they react to not just your actions, but what you say publicly, is the kind of challenge necessary for that experience.
I think DDSPB23 lays an excellent foundation for this, not just for future basketball games, but ESPECIALLY the football games. The next step for this, I think, is what I saw in a FM screenshot, where your answer options are based on emotions, so you have really have 15-25 different answers, based on how you’re feeling about a particular topic. DDSPB23 will ask you about specific games. So if you think the refs jobbed you, or you’re pissed off at a particular team, well…go on in, young simmer. (I have told Gary that it would be great to have to react to things other coaches or GMs in the league say about your team, or things your own players say about your team or your management skills, or have your players react to things other players around the league say. I’m not sure he really took to my initial argument, but the NBA is, more than anything league, the League of Reactions. I think this is the perfect implementation of this system in a NBA sim. Hopefully, Gary comes around on that.
(In my opinion, it’s odd that press conferences, and the consequences of said press conferences, aren’t in ALL text sim games. The genre is a turn-based, choose-your-own-adventure format. As I said in the intro, Football Manager has had meaningful media interaction for decades now (though it appears some players approach press conferences the way I approach emails about players fighting over a video game). How Out of the Park, which was in the FM house for some time, doesn’t have press conferences, befuddles me. I get it with Wolverine, because the company didn’t have access to that kind of code or support structure. But now that it’s in, it’s just weird that it wasn’t in before.)
Something else that was added, and this one really was something I can claim suggestive credit for (and, yes, nagged Gary about for years on) is the daily fantasy draft. I refer you to the introduction to this review for my rationale. How many people become more educated about the NFL because of fantasy football? It’s more difficult to learn the players in a text-based league, especially if you go the fictional route. Sure, you can go about looking at all the rosters, studying league leaders, etc…but that’s all passive acquisition of knowledge. A fantasy draft at the beginning of a league can really help, but it’s also information overload.
The happy medium in this regard is daily fantasy. The game is simple: Draft the best team, statistically-speaking, within the given budget for any given day. Then reap the rewards; in this case, rewards are points that you can use to build your GM meter.
One other thing to highlight here: new ratings, specifically with midrange shooting and clutch scoring. I am in favor of any information that helps you play the game, so this is good to see. One thing I would be in favor of adding, and this goes back to an online league I was in a while back, is player archetypes. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate: things like Playmaker, Coach on the Floor, Help Defender, etc. (Ball Hog or Locker Room Cancer would also be a great one, but I’m trying to be positive here.) I would much rather see those than the myriad personality traits that seemingly have no definitive meaning in the game.
(Earlier Rant Alert: While I’m at it, why are these things clickable in a player profile? They don’t take you anywhere. And why aren’t other players clickable, taking you immediately to their profile? Now that I think about it, one other thing this online league had that would be great would be to expand on the relationships list to be league-wide, not just on your roster. It would be helpful to know what affinities and personality conflicts exist across the league, especially when free agency rolls around.)
The in-game experience remains generally unchanged, though there is one addition I don’t recall in past versions. In the defensive options, you now have four options of general team defense: Straight, Switch, Attack and Passive.
This is a great addition, because, well, coaching.
I would love for this kind of addition to be made on offense, specifically with scoring options and a primary playmaker on the floor, especially when trying out new lineups.
One note: Lineup tracking has moved to the depth chart screen. I wrote two paragraphs about how upsetting it was to see it go. I still want to see the lineups arranged better (COLUMNS ARE OUR FRIEND), and would love to see individual lineup stats (likely data overload for the file, though I would think parsing this screen to show just the lineups one player was in, via a pulldown menu, would be achievable enough), or a dedicated lineup section where you can plug in 2-3 individual players and see how they are doing together…but I’m happy it’s still here.
Grade: 10. DDSPB has played an effective game of basketball for years. Adding in features that create a more dynamic in-game experience, and doing so effectively, only continue to build on that foundation. I really like the added defensive options, too.
Multiplayer has existed for several versions. It isn’t the focus of this game. I feel like I say this every time I write this section, because writing this version is the textual version of making small talk to me. And I *hate* small talk; I’d prefer to be in silence than idly discuss the potential for a passing shower.
(I’d say I already know I’ll be a Get Off My Lawn person, but I think I already am. I teach teenagers all day, which means I listen to their complaints, which also come all day, and only some of which are valid. You think I want to hear about what you had for dinner? Outta here with that nonsense.)
Anyway, here’s the Commissioner screen. It’s functional, and seems to have everything available for proper running of a league.
Grade: 10? I never know how to grade this section. It either has it and it works, it doesn’t have it, or it has it and it’s broken. The latter two are a 0, the former is a 10, right? This should be a pass/fail course.
(Real Grade: PASS)
Replay & Fun Factor
You’ll love this section.
Grade: 10. The game was fun before. Adding in two major features–press conferences and daily fantasy–that add to the immersion, and greatly improving the in-game screen, only enhance the experience. I could reason that this game is the MOST fun version of the game, just based on press conferences alone. Seriously, you go have fun figuring out who you want to tick off with your well-crafted answer.
(I know, this section feels really short. Because it is. That mental stamina thing I wrote about at the beginning of this piece is starting to set in, and realistically, what else am I going to write here that I didn’t write above?)
I’ll also keep this short (ha), because I’m at 4,433 words. If you like basketball, and want the experience of running an NBA franchise, you should own this game. Really, you should do yourself another solid and get the college game, too, so you can have a completely immersive experience.
(Then do yourself a favor, and get active on the boards, and make your voice heard. The game is supported wonderfully, and how often do you have the ability to have an impact on a game you play?
Oh, and, um, if you like my suggestions, you can advocate for those, too. Okay, giddyup.)
Leave a comment for GM Games or John!