“NBA Jam” is one of the most famous basketball games of all time. Players literally caught fire, there were no fouls, and the arcade gameplay was nothing short of excellent. Sports Illustrated published an oral history of the game’s creation and it’s a great look at just how “NBA Jam” came to be.
Much of the game’s development seemed to happen by chance, but the result was a classic game many still look back on with fondness today. For example, the development team just sort of went to watch guys playing pickup basketball to help develop how the game would look.
Stephen Howard was a player the creators of the game found in a park to do some motion capture for the game’s players. He went on to play in the NBA himself, and described how he had to tumble and do some of the things you see the players in “NBA Jam” do in the game. It’s pretty hilarious how they made that happen.
You know how when you’re on fire and you tumble over and spin when you dunk? To film that they set me on a picnic bench; there was a mat on the floor and I would just tumble over, like stunt work. We did that for about five days. It was pretty monotonous work.
In case you forgot what it looks like when you’re ON FIRE in NBA Jam, here you go.
The oral history is full of fun moments like that. How they make video games is just so different these days, but the innovations in that came came from a special kind of inventiveness. And the people who made it were very good at looking out for players and their special quirks. Here’s what John Carlton, a Midway developer, had to say about their player design.
I said, “But we can’t have John Stockton taking off from the top of the key and jamming it over [Dikembe] Mutombo. Nobody’s going to want to play that. How about each player gets certain specialties—if it’s Stockton, he never gets the ball stolen from him, and so on. I really wanted to protect the individual players’ identities.”
SI managed to talk to almost everyone involved with the game, including the announcer. They even reveal where the term “Boomshakalaka” comes from: a funk phase from one of the game’s developers. The piece is enough to make you want to break out one of your old consoles and play a few games. It’s like reading the “trivia” section of an IMBD page and rewatching a movie to find all the easter eggs.
(Via Sports Illustrated)