Arcade promotional flyer
|Release date(s)||NBA Jam
|Mode(s)||Up to 4 players simultaneously|
|Arcade system||Midway T Unit|
|Display||Raster, horizontal orientation, 400x254 resolution|
NBA Jam is a basketball arcade game published and developed by Midway in 1993. It is the first entry in the NBA Jam series. The main designer and programmer for this game was Mark Turmell. Midway had previously released such sports games as Arch Rivals in 1989, High Impact in 1990, and Super High Impact in 1991. The gameplay of NBA Jam is based on Arch Rivals, another 2-on-2 basketball video game. However, it was the release of NBA Jam that brought mainstream success to the genre.
The game became exceptionally popular, and generated a significant amount of money for arcades after its release, creating revenue of $1 billion in quarters. In early 1994, the Amusement & Music Operators Association reported that NBA Jam had become the highest-earning arcade game of all time.
The release of NBA Jam gave rise to a new genre of sports games which were based around fast, action-packed gameplay and exaggerated realism, a formula which Midway would also later apply to the sports of football (NFL Blitz), and hockey (2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge).
NBA Jam, which featured 2-on-2 basketball, is one of the first real playable basketball arcade games, and is also one of the first sports games to feature NBA-licensed teams and players, and their real digitized likenesses.
A key feature of NBA Jam is the exaggerated nature of the play - players jump many times their own height, making slam dunks that defy both human capabilities and the laws of physics. There are no fouls, free throws, or violations except goaltending and 24-second violations. This means the player is able to freely shove or elbow his opponent out of the way. Additionally, if a player makes three baskets in a row, he becomes "on fire" and has unlimited turbo and increased shooting precision. The "on fire" mode continues until the other team scores, or until the player who is "on fire" scores 4 additional consecutive baskets while "on fire."
The game is filled with easter eggs, special features and players activated by initials or button/joystick combinations. For example, pressing A five times and right five times on any Sega Genesis controller would activate "Super Clean Floors". This feature would cause characters to fall if they ran too fast or changed direction too quickly. And players can enter special codes to unlock hidden players, ranging from US President Bill Clinton to Hugo the Charlotte Hornets mascot. On the arcade machine, there is also a hidden 'tank' game that allows the player to run around a 3D wireframe field. In order to access this mode, however, the player must be able to toggle the on/off switch located behind the machine. While the game was powering back on, the player holds Up and all buttons on player 1 and Down and all buttons on player 2.
Featured teams and players
The original arcade version of NBA Jam features team rosters from the 1992-93 NBA season and the console versions use rosters from the 1993-94 NBA season. More up-to-date rosters were available in subsequent ports released for the Sega CD, Game Boy, and Game Gear in 1994. Midway did not secure the license to use Michael Jordan's name or likeness (as Jordan himself owns the rights to his name and likeness, and not the NBA), and as such he was not available as a player for the Chicago Bulls or any other team. Another notable absence from the home versions is Shaquille O'Neal, who was in the arcade version as a member of the Orlando Magic. New Jersey Nets guard Dražen Petrović and Boston Celtics forward Reggie Lewis, both of whom died after the release of the arcade version, were also removed from the home versions.
Some home console versions of NBA Jam were coded later than others, and as a result of real-life roster changes or in the cases of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal, legal reasons, some rosters differ from version to version.
The game was devised after Midway's previous arcade release Total Carnage failed to meet sales expectations. Lead designer and programmer Turmell wanted to develop a game with a wider appeal and decided to mix the digitized graphics of some of Midway's previous titles to create a title similar to Midway's previous basketball game Arch Rivals. Midway was able to procure a license from the NBA, paying royalties of $100 for each unit sold. In Midway's original pitch video to the NBA, they stated that they planned on including various additional features. These included different camera angles, tips from coaches, instant replays and a first-person view on fast breaks. None of these features were included in the final game. The graphics for the NBA players were created from digitized video footage of several amateur basketball players, including future NBA player Stephen Howard. These players were available as secret characters in certain versions of the game.
Turmell recounted, "My big ideas in NBA Jam were to do the spectacular dunks and two-on-two basketball, but the whole game was very much a team effort. For instance, someone else came up with the idea of attributes, giving different players different abilities."
In 2008, Turmell confirmed a long held suspicion that the game had a bias against the Chicago Bulls. According to Turmell, a Detroit Pistons fan, the game was programmed such that the Bulls would miss last-second shots in close games against the Pistons.
Iguana Entertainment handled the conversion of the game to home consoles. According to Iguana president Jeff Spangenberg, including the time spent on learning the then-new PlayStation hardware, the PlayStation version took six months to develop. The Saturn version took longer to develop, in part because of the greater complexity of the hardware, but also because Iguana Entertainment did not have access to the Sega Graphics Library operating system (which was used to facilitate the Saturn versions of Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtua Cop, among other games).
NBA Jam Tournament Edition
An update named NBA Jam Tournament Edition (commonly referred to as NBA Jam T.E.) featured updated rosters, new features and easter eggs combined with the same gameplay of the original. Jon Hey created new music specifically for NBA Jam T.E. to replace the original NBA Jam music. Teams now consisted of three players (though only two could be on court at any time), with the exception of the new "Rookies" team, which consists of five players, all picked in the 1994 NBA Draft, and players could be substituted into the game between quarters. The game also featured new hidden teams and hidden playable characters. Early versions of the game included characters from Midway's Mortal Kombat games. Players were also assigned more attributes, including clutch and fatigue levels. In addition, the game also introduced features such as a "Tournament" mode that turned off computer assistance and on-court hot spots that allowed for additional points or special slam dunks.
The test version of NBA Jam Tournament Edition included six hidden characters which were taken out of the final version at the request of the NBA: Elviscious, Grim Reaper, Kong, Raiden, Reptile, and Sub-Zero. Midway also stated they would update all test version cabinets to remove these characters.
Ports and follow-ups
The NBA Jam games were ported to many home video game consoles as well as PC, beginning with the original's debut on the highly publicized Jam Day (March 4, 1994). Console versions were well known for featuring many new secret characters; the home versions of Jam T.E. even allowed the player to use then President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Atari's Vice President of Software Development Leonard Tramiel on the Atari Jaguar version. Acclaim published the console versions and later ended up winning the exclusive rights to use the NBA Jam name.
Acclaim used the name on NBA Jam Extreme in 1996, a 3D version of Jam which featured Marv Albert doing commentary. The game was a flop in comparison to Midway's version released that same year, rechristened NBA Hangtime. Hangtime added a create-a-player option to the usual batch of new features combined with classic, but refined NBA Jam gameplay. An update called NBA Maximum Hangtime was subsequently released.
In 1995, Acclaim released a collegiate version of NBA Jam for home consoles entitled College Slam. Although the game was created to capitalize on the popularity of March Madness and the subsequent Final Four, it did not enjoy the popularity of the earlier NBA Jam games.
However, the idea was not quite dead as Midway passed it to their other sports games. This included the hockey games 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge and Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey, as well as NFL Blitz and WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game. Midway produced successors to the series with 3-D graphics, NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC and NBA Hoopz. Acclaim continued to keep the NBA Jam name alive with its console games, although the games were only mildly popular.
After making the switch to develop console games exclusively, Midway used Jam's idea on several other sports, with NFL Blitz, NHL Hitz, MLB Slugfest, and RedCard 20-03. Many of Jam's influences remained in their games including the NBA Ballers series.
On October 5, 2010, EA Sports released a new version of NBA Jam for the Wii. The game was later ported to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in November 2010. Original NBA Jam creator Mark Turmell was hired to work on this new version in conjunction with EA Vancouver. Following the game's critical and commercial success, a follow-up, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition was released on October 4, 2011 on PSN and XBLA on October 5, 2011.
The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the Super NES version a unanimous score of 9 out of 10 and their "Game of the Month" award. They praised its graphics, sounds, and the four player mode, and remarked that the gameplay is easy to pick up and incredibly fun even for people who don't like sports games. They gave the Genesis version a 7.6 out of 10, commenting that "The voices are fuzzy and the colors are a bit bland", but that the game is still very fun. They rated the Game Gear version as weaker than either the SNES or Genesis versions, chiefly due to the removal of most of the jams, but said it is still worthwhile for Game Gear owners.
GamePro praised the Sega CD version's updated roster, more intuitive controls, and improved audio with "more voice samples, more music, and more sound effects than any other home version." However, they criticized the graphics as much worse than in the Super NES and arcade versions, complained of long load times, and concluded that the improvements were not enough to make the game worthwhile for those who already had a home version of NBA Jam. Reviewing the 32X version, they opined that people who already own the Genesis version should not bother with the 32X one, but summarized that "Despite some sloppy rough edges, Jam's classic run-n-gun gameplay brings much-needed excitement to the cart-starved 32X."
GamePro commented of the Game Boy version, "Obviously the GB is far too limited a system to capture more than a fraction of what made NBA Jam an arcade smash, but at least it has that fraction." A different GamePro critic covered the Tournament Edition release and was less forgiving of the Game Boy version's technical flaws, complaining of sprites with too little detail to discern which player is which during play, and summarizing the conversion as "a pale imitation of an otherwise great game."
Electronic Gaming Monthly's two sports reviewers highly praised the PlayStation version as a precise conversion with good enhancements.
Steve Merrett of Sega Saturn Magazine gave the Saturn version an 89%, declaring it "A perfect conversion of one of the most original coin-ops around." He particularly praised the reliance on timing and precision over complex button combinations, and the game's high playability in general, saying it "ensures a return for late-night rematches whilst the graphically-stunning games are gradually coated in dust." Both Sega Saturn Magazine and Maximum were impressed with the Saturn version's retention of all the considerable content of the arcade version. However, the reviewer for Maximum added that it nonetheless failed to offer any game-changing features that would make buying it worthwhile to anyone who already owned the game on the Genesis or Super Nintendo, and scored it 3 out of 5 stars.
GamePro commented that the Jaguar version is competent but far inferior to the PlayStation version. The two sports reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly were slightly more pleased with the conversion but felt it to be pointless since there had already been so many versions of the game, and the Jaguar release fails to offer anything new.
In popular culture
In popular sports culture, the phrases "He's heating up", "He's on fire", and "Boomshakalaka!" are identified with NBA Jam. In the game these catch-phrases describe when a player hit two or three shots in a row. When a player is "on fire", the ball literally catches fire and singes the net. Voiced by Tim Kitzrow, the announcer is reminiscent of Marv Albert and has contributed numerous memorable lines to the basketball lexicon. The NBA Jam script was written solely by Jon Hey.
NBA Jam also incorporated a slogan from Spike Lee's alter-ego in his 1986 film She's Gotta Have It, Mars Blackmon, who was also featured in a Nike basketball shoe television commercial at the time. The NBA Jam commentator asked, "Is it the shoes?" after a player performed spectacularly.
The upbeat, funky music written by Jon Hey was inspired by sports music themes and has been compared to George Clinton's P-Funk All Stars. Funkadelic's 1979 "(Not Just) Knee Deep" shares the most similarity with the music of NBA Jam but was recorded more than a decade before NBA Jam's music was written. The likeness of George Clinton was used as the character "P. Funk" in the console versions of NBA Jam: Tournament Edition. The original NBA Jam arcade release and the NBA Jam T.E. arcade release had different music for the title screen and for each quarter.
In NBA 2K14 Blacktop mode, the announcer can occasionally be heard saying "boomshakalaka!" when a spectacular dunk is achieved.
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