NBA 2K21 – Interview with Executive Producer Erick Boenisch on the power of next-gen

NBA 2K21 launched for last-gen on September 4 and while it was as good as it ever is the true game-changing features and additions to the franchise were being held back for the current-gen release. Both the PS5 and Xbox Series X received NBA 2K21 at launch and players were treated to a whole lot of new content, new technology, and a much-improved basketball game.

If you have access to one of the new consoles and you are an NBA fan, there’s no excuse not to check out NBA 2K21. It truly is an evolution of the franchise, something Executive Producer Erick Boenisch told PowerUp! is all down to the power of the Ps5 and Xbox Series X.

“The power of next-gen hardware gave us the chance to bring it [The City] to fruition,” he says, “It’s kind of become its own game. In many ways, it’s like an open-world game. We have a huge city, it’s populated with four rival factions who are all competing with each other. We also have single-player content in there. There are NPC quest givers and it’s going to keep growing. We plan to continue growing The City for years to come.”

NBA 2K21 – Next-Gen

The City is the latest evolution of The Park which became The Neighborhood in more recent years. Here, players take their created MyPLAYER online, to play against and with other NBA 2K21 gamers, level up, and partake in exclusive and special events and content. Boenisch explains that The Neighborhood in NBA 2K21 is pushing the absolute limits of what the team could achieve on last-gen hardware.

With the PS5 and Xbox Series X, Boenisch says “We just could draw a bigger city, in more detail, in real-time and the next-gen hardware gave us a much bigger memory footprint to store a much bigger city.” The size of The City, thanks to new hardware, has enabled Visual Concepts to reintroduce Affiliations. The City is split into four sections, each governed by one of the four Affiliations. With the size of The Neighborhood, this just wasn’t possible Boenisch says.

“If you look at our current-gen neighbourhoods, they’re only so big. You can’t have more than one Affiliation in each. Like could you imagine having four Affiliations in this tiny little environment? The City needs to be big. It needs room to breathe, to have distance in between each court area to make it feel like its own unique identity. That’s the primary reason we’ve been waiting for this console generation to unveil this feature.”

So we know The City is big. Big enough to house all four Affiliations and to feature multiple neighbourhoods with distinct looks but just how big is it? Boenisch wasn’t exactly sure. When I asked how big The City was in square kilometres he said, “I don’t know. I knew I was going to be asked this and I never really took the time to try and measure it out.

“It’s many, many, many times bigger than our current Neighborhood, I can say that much. The actual size never matters. We just designed it until it felt right.” It’s become a staple of open-world games to reference the size of the map as compared other games and even real-world geographical locations. However, it’s a nice change to hear Boenisch talk about designed The City until it felt right, rather than focusing on size. Oftentimes, despite a map being enormous, there’s not all that much to do within the space so the size of the map is simply for the sake of size instead of serving the gameplay experience.

He adds, “It’s not so big that you’re like ‘OK. I need to get to the other courts. It’s gonna be 9-minutes to get there.’ If you’re on a bike, you can get between each court area in 20-25 seconds.”

Riding BMX and skateboarding are mechanics players have access to in The City, in addition to playing basketball. Both bikes and skateboards have tricks so players have an extra level of gameplay depth just when exploring The City. It’s not just a space for players to go online and play, rather, it’s an additional game within NBA 2K21.

Affiliations are central to The City and while playing basketball, riding BMX or skateboarding are things players can participate in, Affiliations are really the driving force behind the mode. Affiliations have been absent from the franchise for a few years and Boenisch says fans have been clamouring for them to come back. “We wanted to bring them back in a new meaningful and impactful way,” he explains, “and next-gen hardware gave us the opportunity to deliver The City which we’ve been talking about for years now.”

By extension, having this large space meant players could join one of the four Affiliations and it’s Boenisch’s hope that players will feel a part of that group. “The Mayors were an evolution for that. We thought, ‘We need someone to run each Affiliation section of The City.’ Someone to make decisions for how the courts are designed, the backboards, we even have chain nets this year that they can put up. They can change the murals and music. There’s so much they can do for us.”

Visual Concepts recognises the Mayor positions are extremely important within The City and for each Affiliation so wanted to choose players to be the first Mayors who are plugged into the game and in tune with the fans. Boenisch says, “We could have gone out and gotten Travis Scott and Jay-Z to be in there but they’re just not in touch with the players.

“We picked people who are very popular in our community. People who resonate with our community and people who are actually engaged.”

Being plugged in to the community is incredibly important when it comes to being Mayor as anyone can be elected to the position, theoretically. Elections will occur for each Affiliation and players will be nominated and will have to win enough votes to win the election. Boenisch told me Visual Concepts has big plans for Mayoral Elections in the future, including debates where players will get on Zoom. “They’ll argue with each other about who’s better for the next version of The City. It’s going to be a good time for the community. There’s going to be entertainment in and out of the game.”

The Event Centre is an example of something within the game promising to deliver a lot of entertainment to players. I asked Boenisch if this would be a space similar to the way Fortnite handles single releases and events. He told me Visual Concepts has big plans. In the trailer for The City, the end of the video shows a space called Club 2K. “That’s when the guy goes for a dunk and the whole ground underneath shatters. The Event Centre has a lot of new technology in it,” Boesnich says. “There are animated floors than can animate with the movement of the ball dribbles. You’ll see bubble bounces on the ground.”

He explains that Club 2K is a mini-event but every time it happens, new music will be debuted in the game. “This is music you don’t hear while out walking in The City,” he says. “That’s a small scale example but it’s an example of what’s possible inside the Event Centre.”

The space is also going to be a place where players from all four boroughs of The City come together to play against and with each other. But to join one of the Affiliations and call one of The City’s boroughs home, you have to earn your way in. When you first log in to The City, you’ll be in Rookieville and you’ll need to play a few games to make your way into an Affiliation. It’s Visual Concepts’ hope players will feel a connection to their Affiliation and come together at the Event Centre to make their team number one.

Each borough has its own vibe, Boenisch tells me, rather then The City being based on any real location. The South City Vipers are based in the industrial area while the Western Wildcats has a commercial, downtown vibe and the Northern Knights have a residential feel. “It’s not based on any one city, it’s just built to give different vibes in each part of The City,” Boenisch explains.

Finally, I asked Boenisch about the potential for bringing WNBA MyPLAYERs into The City. Unfortunately, it’s not possible.

“I’m not sure how much you’ve kept up with our WNBA progress this year,” he said, “In NBA 2K21 for next-gen we have The W which is a career mode, a standalone mode for all of our female players to create a female MyPLAYER.

“We have MyWNBA which is a super robust franchise mode experience and your MyPLAYERs are contained to those realms right there.”

Pressing Boenisch further, I asked if they are separate MyPLAYERs, in order to confirm if the WNBA MyPLAYERs were prevented from entering the city. He told me, “It’s separate. The W has its own online component to it, where you go online and play against other WNBA created MyPLAYERS.”

NBA 2K21 on PS5 and Xbox Series X is a real evolution of the franchise and, as Erick Boenisch says, wouldn’t be possible without the power of these new consoles.

NBA 2K21 is available now and if you’re a fan of NBA you definitely need to check this game out.

Thanks to Erick Boenisch for his time.

Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

━ more like this

Resident Evil 4 Remake Review (PS5) | Ganado She Better Don’t

Let's get it out of the way right off the bat; Resident Evil 4 Remake is phenomenal. Every bit as amazing as you remember...

Frostpunk: The Board Game Review – Punishingly Intricate

Yes, that subtitle is a reference to The Cones of Dunshire from Parks and Recreation. In learning, setting up and finally playing Frostpunk: The...

Win: 1 of 5 Diablo IV early access codes

The wait is almost over. Diablo IV is only a few short months away and to help with that agonising wait, Blizzard is giving...

Solium Infernum – Interview with Principal Designer Anthony Sweet

‘Crafting inspiring video games and enthralling worlds with exceptional people’ isn’t the worst job description one could have. At least, the League of Geeks...

Dead Island 2 – Interview with Technical Art Director Dan Evans-Lawes

Recently we were able to go hands-on with an extended preview of Dead Island 2 and you can read more about that here. We...