Jon's Basketball Game: Creating a sports video game has proven to be rather difficult

Inspired by video games such as NBA 2K14, Jon Bois decided to create a sports video game of his very own. It went terribly.

Even though a video game costs only $50 or $60 to purchase, it typically costs over $1,000 to make, and sometimes much more. Creating a game such as Madden 25 or NBA 2K14, in fact, requires an entire team of people:

- Computer programmer
- Person who looks through and checks whether any of the code is wrong
- Assistant for random stuff
- Boss

But making a great video game is just like making the next Facebook or Twitter: all you need is a computer, big dreams and a great attitude. By that logic, I decided to set about making my own video game, which I have called Jon's Basketball Game.

I created the game all by myself, thereby cutting out so much of the bloat that hampers big-budget enterprises. I felt as though the credentials I brought to the table were more than enough to get the job done:

- I'm a big sports fan who has watched lots of basketball games, some of which I watched from the very beginning until the very end
- I have a thorough grasp of BASIC, and once authored a variant of the TI calculator classic "DRUGWAR" in which you could do the drugs yourself and the numbers would add wrong
- I'm pretty good with my computer -- if you watched me use the computer, you'd admire how quickly I zip from page to page, and from application to application
- I care deeply

You need more Jon Bois

So this week, I set to work. I purchased Garry's Mod from the Steam store for $10. It's essentially a program that allows you to build your own 3D world. You fill it with buildings, objects and all sorts of different folks, and you can also set laws of physics for your world and build simple machines. I'd never used it before, but given my qualifications (see above), I didn't think I would have much trouble.

I feel that I need to temper your expectations just a bit. I know you're excited to see Jon's Basketball Game, but creating a basketball video game all by myself proved to be quite difficult, and I ran into a countless number of issues during development. In fact, you may not even think that it's a good game at all. Some elements of the game are so poor in appearance and function that I'm rather embarrassed to show them to you.

I will let you decide for yourself, though. Here, through a series of GIFs, is a preview of Jon's Basketball Game.

THE BASKETBALL

Constructing a pair of rudimentary baskets and backboards wasn't too difficult, but the ball was a whole different issue. Firstly, since Garry's Mod is based on the Half-Life universe, the player does not actually hold the ball; instead, the player uses the Gravity Gun to pick up and throw the ball. While it looks unnatural, it still does the trick.

More problematic was the lack of a basketball model in Garry's Mod. I had to run through a series of objects to determine which would work best as a basketball.

1. A large tire

Demo_medium

As you can see, I got pretty good with my tire-ball, but it was so dang large that I couldn't even attempt half-court shots. I had to look elsewhere.

2. A crate

Crate_medium

Finally, a video game with crates! Like a basketball, it was empty inside and relatively light, but it shattered to pieces every time I made a shot. To play an entire game under such circumstances would not have been feasible.

3. A crate which is on fire

Crateonfire_medium

I don't know why I thought this might work. I had just got done trying out the regular, not-on-fire crate, and that didn't work, so there was pretty much no chance that this would be a good basketball.

4. A guy

Manball_medium

While it's true that a guy was small enough to fit through my improvised hoop, and I could throw him quite far, dribbling him proved to be a fool's errand. Moreover, the spectacle was frankly a little too macabre for my tastes.

Part of the backboard is missing because it burned down during the "crate on fire" phase of development. I fixed it later.

5. A metal ball

Dead_medium

At first, I was loathe to use this as the basketball, because it's so heavy that I often died while trying to rebound a shot. However, its size, shape and behavior were closer to that of a real basketball than any other item I tested, so I decided to go with it.

THE GAMEPLAY

Unfortunately, I lacked the know-how to construct artificial-intelligence models for the computer-controlled players, so I had to rely solely upon what Garry's Mod made available. Many of the human models simply stood around and wouldn't do anything, but I did find one model -- the security guard -- who would at least follow me around while I ran upcourt.

I made four copies of him, but none of them demonstrated any degree of basketball I.Q. This kept happening whenever I tried to pass them the ball.

Pass_medium

You might be tempted to compare them to a terrible NBA team, such as the 76ers. But in fact, the 76ers are far better than the average basketball player, and would have run circles around these guys -- guys who had no idea of how to catch a pass, much less perform any more sophisticated basketball actions.

This was the stage of development in which I realized that Jon's Basketball Game was essentially unplayable as a traditional basketball simulator, and that I would have to get creative with the gameplay to establish anything of value. I spawned a dune buggy in the hope that a player could literally drive to the net.

Drive_medium

This feature was a dud, and I ultimately made the difficult decision to remove it from the game. It will, however, come in handy if I decide to produce Jon's F1 Racer. I think I might attempt that project at a later date. Though my technical skills as a developer are perhaps not what they could be, I think I've clearly demonstrated by this point that I am a hard worker who's determined to find tech solutions and bring them to the mass market. And when it comes to software development, that's really all you need.

For my next simulation, I created an opposing team of five nerdy scientist guys. They would just stand there as I dribbled around them. Their defensive game plan was exploitable in so many ways. Here is one way.

Train_medium

Features like this one led me to change the game's original slogan from

Jon's Basketball Game: Get in the game!

to

You never know what will happen when you play Jon's Basketball Game!

I will admit, though, that this slogan conceals my deep concerns regarding gameplay. Eventually, I decided to remove myself from the game, and allow two computer-controlled teams to play against one another. Since so few of the character models would actually do anything, I regrettably had to field one team of gun-wielding riot guards.

I set them all up (with a dozen or more players per side, because you never know what will happen when you play Jon's Basketball Game), placed two guys at center court, put the ball between them and turned on their AIs.

Playball_medium

This was thoroughly disheartening. After they racked up a dozen fouls, perhaps even more, they started opening fire on me, a bystander. I deleted all these characters, because this is not what Jon's Basketball Game is all about.

It was the latest of a wealth of well-intentioned game features I had to cancel. How could I hope to create a Career Mode or Franchise Mode if half the players couldn't go five seconds without dying? It would have been completely pointless.

In the end, there was nothing left for me to do but perform trick shots. I'm happy to report that in this effort, unlike all others, I did quite well. I had to practice this full-court, through-the-opposite-hoop shot for about 10 minutes before I finally made one:

Fullcourt_medium

The 400-foot-tall man, as well as the 20-foot-tall pigeons, were leftover elements from gameplay features that were abandoned at an early stage of development. The scientists have a boat, but I can't remember why. I was probably just joking around, since there's no reason to have a boat on a basketball court.

In all, I have little choice to assess Jon's Basketball Game as a categorical failure. The graphics are decent, but it suffers from unplayable AI, uneven gameplay, and a complete lack of replay value. Arriving at this assessment, frankly, is painful, since I spent many hours developing it.

If nothing else, though, it's a cautionary tale: if you want to design a video game, you will need to take computer programmer classes first.

Would YOU like to play Jon's Basketball Game? Well, you can't.

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