DUNKED ON FOR SCIENCE: How NBA 2K Keeps the Game Realistic

by May 10, 2019
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You know when there’s a 2-on-1 fast break at the park on NBA 2K and you’re the 1?

The ball exchanges hands and you twirl the joystick to get in position to block the shot. You mash the ‘Y’ button, but your virtual player gets bodied into oblivion anyways. It sucks.

It doesn’t suck as much when put into perspective, though: the first victim of that poster was a REAL PERSON at the NBA 2K Motion Capture Studio in Petaluma, CA.

At a first glance, the studio is just a grey court with hoopers wearing tight suits running around on it. Take a step back, though, and you see there are cameras everywhere (even the ceiling).

All together, NBA 2K utilizes 140 motion-capture cameras (MoCap, for short) that use infrared light to interact with the 60 markers attached to each hooper’s suit. Each camera takes pictures at a stunning rate of 120 frames per second.

“The dunks were definitely the best part,” says Kwintin Williams, one of the players flown in to suit up and have their dunks registered for the game. “Being a little kid growing up playing that game, it’s so cool to get some input.”

The MoCap technology is used for more than just recording jumpers and dunks, though, it’s also used to get realistic movement for fun off-court actions like dancing.

Dan Rue was brought in to help add more realistic, modern moves to the game.

“They made the game to where it’s not just a basketball game, you can create your own player and your own dance moves and be an expression of yourself,” says Rue, who’s played NBA 2K since the 2010 edition of the game. “It makes the game more exciting, it puts it on a different level.”

The purpose of adding as many personalized movements — basketball-related and not — is extremely important to the minds behind the game.

“It’s what I love the most about making this game,” says Alexandra Cristiani, 2K’s MoCap Associate Stage Manager. “We have kids and adults of all ages and identifications that can move and look the way they choose.

“Evolving the game every year and adding more elements makes it bigger for every type of person.”

So, when your MyPlayer hits the whoah in NBA 2K20, just know that someone wearing a MoCap suit hit it for science first.

Ian Pierno is an Associate Social Media Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Kareem Gedra. Follow him on Instagram.