The Glitch in the System: How Stephen Curry is Challenging Sports Simulators

The cool thing about video games, especially one that has to do with sports, is the amount of work that goes into to making each addition better. 15 years ago, the question was all about graphical improvement and making each one more lifelike than the last. But today, it’s all about AI, game play, and replicating real world mechanics. The NBA 2K series was no different; it fought the same battle.

Until Steph Curry came along.

A recent article for Forbes took a closer look at how the Golden State sharpshooter is changing how basketball games are being built, but it can easily be about how he’s disrupting the way that sports simulators are designed. For years, says 2K Gameplay Director Mike Wang, “Scoring in the paint and 3-point shooting have historically been the toughest areas to properly balance.” Developers have always been looking for ways to prevent users from outright dominating their competition with the rampant abuse of one of the best available players. Remember Madden ‘04 when you could just select the Atlanta Falcons and make quarterback Michael Vick a personal superman?

Same thing for basketball. It was too easy for an inexperienced player to select the Pacers and rain threes with Reggie Miller— so easy, that it took away from the overall enjoyment of the gameplay itself. I mean, would you really want to sit down and have a go with a friend who actually played like that? No. It was tantamount to cheating.

So 2K finally figured itself out. If you were used to playing basketball simulators in the late 90s on Playstation and picked up the sticks run the boards in a more modern incarnation, you’d be in for a wakeup call.

For starters, the game is so much harder. The old strategy of inbounding after a score, and using your point guard to rampage up the floor and into the paint just doesn’t work. Each squad is refined, and you have to play to their nuances. In fact, you need to know the plays. In what’s either the most frustrating or amazing thing about the recent editions of 2K— depending on who you’re asking, of course— the game is brutally unforgiving for players who don’t actually know the game of basketball.

Now, all those years of plugging gameplay leaks has been upended. Developers never, in their right minds, expected they’d see a player as consistently otherworldly like Steph Curry. Again, it’s not as simple as giving him the highest shot rating. Even the best players— real and digital, mind you— have to adhere to the rules of the game. LeBron can dominate the paint, but he won’t be taking these drives from one end of the floor to the other. So it makes sense that you won’t see that happen in a videogame. But LeBron can dominate once certain conditions are met. Granted, the better you are, the more lax those conditions can be, but they are still conditions.
Shooting the ball is no different. Even the best shooters in history have attempted and made some wild shots, and those shots have gone in. That’s part of being great. What holds it in check is that those shots aren’t necessarily consistently attempted. Chang loves talking about shots of the dribble, since it’s one of things that developers had to work hard on discouraging in game play. But Steph Curry does it pretty frequently.

Even if you’re a great 3 point shooter, you still won’t be jacking up 32 footers with such confidence. I mean, did you see that final shot against OKC on Friday night?

For what it’s worth, that game was played after this Forbes article came out. It’s almost like Curry went out there to prove that point. And it’s not like this was a desperation shot that was a lucky Hail Mary. Steph can make crazy shots like that whenever he pleases:

No, really:

All this is to say that Curry has sent these game designers back to the proverbial drawing board. And now, they’ve found themselves in a Curry-22. On one hand is the desire to make these games simulate real life. On the other is real life itself: Stephen Curry’s style of play isn’t supposed to exist. These developers have worked so hard against having a player you could button mash to victory, but Curry is doing that night after night. And that’s not ragging on him, it’s a testament to how good he is. He can’t be represented in a game without making the game unfair. For now, at least. And I can’t wait to see how this problem translates into other sports, when we see our next ascendent football or soccer player. Stephen is changing the way our sports games get designed, for better or for worse.

Curry is like a living cheat code. And until developers can figure out how to bring everything back into realistic equilibrium, maybe the Golden State Warriors are better off being a locked team. Maybe they’ll be the 2K17 boss fight, to be unlocked after you win in a best of seven series.

Or maybe, the rest of the league will get as good as the Chef.


Published by: Doug MacFaddin

Douglas Willis MacFaddin was born June 16, 1961 in the Miamisburg Hospital to Patricia Ann MacFaddin and Richard Willis MacFaddin. My mother’s maiden name is Morrison and she is the youngest of seven children who were raised in Lycippus, PA. My father was the second of four children and was a twin. He was raised in the town of Viola, DE. At the time of my birth, my father worked at the Mound Laboratories in Miamisburg, Ohio in research. Mound was an Atomic Energy Commission facility for nuclear weapon research during the Cold War. My mother made a home for our family. My father passed away in 1991 and my mother is currently living in Avon, CT. Doug MacFaddin is the oldest of five children (Doug, R. Stuart, Anne Marie, Megan and Mary (Heather)). I lived in Ohio for two years, spent the next seven years in Murrysville, PA (outside of Pittsburgh), moved to Little Silver, NJ and relocated my senior year in high school to Avon, CT. My four siblings currently live with their families in Avon, CT and are members of St. Ann’s Church. I attended Mother of Sorrows School in Murrysville, PA. In NJ, I attended Little Silver Point Road School, Markham Place School and Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in Lincroft, NJ for three years. My senior year, I attended Avon High School and I then spent the next four years at Union College, Schenectady, NY. I received a BS in Industrial Economics and graduated in June 1983. While at Salomon Brothers, I was asked to attend a two-week seminar for Public Finance at the University of Michigan in 1986. In Little Silver, I was involved in Troop 126 where I achieved the rank of Life Scout and was both a Patrol Leader and a Senior Patrol Leader. I also was an alter boy at St. James Catholic Church and spent summers a the Ship Ahoy Beach Club in Seabright, NJ and caddying at the Rumson Country Club. At Christian Brothers Academy, I wrestled for the varsity squad for three years. I took second in the districts my junior year and went on to the regionals. I also ran on their cross country team freshman year and was part of the CBA Colt team that hasn’t lost a duel meet since 1973. My senior year at Avon, I won the wrestling States (S). I went on to wrestle at Union College and qualified for the Div III nationals twice (1981, 1982) and was co-captain both years. My senior year at Avon, CT, I also won the States (S) in pole vaulting. It was the first time Avon High School had a state champ in two sports in the same year. During my four years, I earned nine varsity letters between wrestling, track and football. In 1979, I was accepted into The National Honor & Merit Scholars Society. Upon graduating from Union College, I accepted a position at Salomon Brothers Inc in August 1983. I was an analyst in their Public Finance department at One New York Plaza. I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn and spent the next four years working at Salomon Brothers. As a result of Black Monday, October 19, 1987 the Public Finance Department of Salomon Brothers was jettisoned to conserve capital. By November 1, 1987, I was working at Dean Witter Reynolds in the new Public Finance Department made up of many of my former Salomon Brother’s colleagues. The new Department was located on the 57th floor of 2 World Trade Center.

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