If shinier, more realistic sweat on Steph Curry's brow isn't enough to sell you on the next-gen versions of NBA 2K21, maybe a technical deep dive on its new animation systems and how it uses the PS5's controller will. That's what we got today, courtesy of NBA 2K Gameplay Director Mike Wang, and some of what 2K has in store for next-gen basketball does sound legitimately impressive.
On behalf of Visual Concepts, Wang wrote a post for the Official PlayStation Blog that runs down a long list of changes and improvements made for 2K21's next-gen version. It's chock full of demonstrative GIFs, too—Wang's words are backed up with some pretty lifelike scenes pulled from the game.
Making digital basketball look like the real thing requires a lot of bespoke animations and fine-tuned logic that lets human-controlled and AI players alike go from one action to another smoothly. When it doesn't quite come together, one of the most common results is sliding, where players just sort of warp from one position to another without the animation matching up.
Sliding is one of the issues that Wang says 2K21 on next-gen looks to address the most. On top of "improved pathing, cuts, and stops [to] make defenders feel more grounded," engineers at Visual Concepts also rebuilt 2K21's foot planting tech from the ground up. Little movements that might've been fudged with sliding a player's position a tad should now (at least, more often than before) be depicted with realistic foot work.
Contact with the maple wood underfoot isn't the only kind of collision Visual Concepts has worked on. Further down the post, Wang talks in detail about what the team calls the Impact Engine, a new system for in-air contact shots. Illustrated by a nasty Lakers play with Dwight Howard and LeBron James, the Impact Engine tech lets 2K21 do realistic contact alley-oops and putback dunk-ons.
Specific to the PS5's new DualSense controller, some familiar 2K21 gameplay will literally feel a bit different in players' hands. The improved haptics are being mapped to every conceivable player collision there is, but the adaptive triggers will also factor into sprinting and post play: sprint with a tired player and the trigger will be harder to pull, or feel less resistance when playing against a weaker post player.
It remains to be seen whether or not all these new features and the graphics improvements will coalesce into an NBA 2K package that truly feels worth it, but at the very least it looks like Visual Concepts is trying to break some new ground with the next-gen iteration. Costing $10 more than the Xbox One and PS4 version, NBA 2K21 will arrive for the Xbox Series S/X and PS5 on the respective launch days of those consoles, Nov. 10 and Nov. 12.