NBA Jam is a 1993 arcade basketball video game developed and published by Midway. It is the first instalment in the NBA Jam franchise, and Mark Turmell was the game’s project manager.
After TV Basketball (1974) and Arch Rivals (1975), NBA Jam was Midway’s third basketball video game (1989).
Midway has previously published sports video games such as High Impact (1990) and Super High Impact (1991) for American football (1991). NBA Jam’s gameplay is inspired by Arch Rivals, another 2-on-2 basketball game. The advent of NBA Jam, on the other hand, was responsible for the genre’s mainstream success.
NBA Jam popularised a subgenre of basketball games based on fast, action-packed gameplay and exaggerated realism, a formula that Midway would later apply to football (NFL Blitz), hockey (2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge, later NHL Hitz), and baseball (MLB Slugfest).
What’s it like to play?
The player dunked from superhuman heights, demonstrating the game’s exaggerated, over-the-top attitude.
NBA Jam is a two-on-two basketball arcade game that was one of the first to incorporate NBA-licensed teams and players and their accurate digital likenesses.
The exaggerated nature of the play in NBA Jam is a crucial feature – players can jump incredibly high and make slam dunks that defy both human capabilities and physics.
Except for goaltending and 24-second violations, there are no fouls, free throws, or violations. This indicates that the player is free to push or elbow opponents out of the way. Furthermore, if a player makes three consecutive baskets, the character becomes “on fire,” with an infinite turbo and improved shooting precision. The “on fire” option continues until the other team scores or the “on fire” player scores four more consecutive baskets while “on fire.”
Easter eggs, secret features, and players activated by initials or button/joystick combinations abound in the game. “Super Clean Floors” can be activated by pressing A five times and right five times on any Mega Drive controller; however, a free bets promotions feature was not included. Characters who run too fast or change directions too quickly will fall due to this feature. Players can also use unique codes to reveal hidden characters, such as US President Bill Clinton and Charlotte Hornets mascot Hugo. There is also a secret “tank” game on the original arcade machine that allows the user to drive a tank and shoot the enemy tanks for a minute. Joysticks one and two must be moved down, and all six of their buttons held down just before the court is visible at the start of a game.
Who can you play as?
NBA Jam uses team lineups from the 1992–93 NBA season in the arcade version, while the console versions use the team lineups from the 1993–94 NBA season. In 1994, ports for the Sega CD, Game Boy, and Game Gear were produced with more up-to-date rosters. Midway was unable to obtain a licence to use Michael Jordan’s name or likeness (since Jordan, not the NBA, controls the rights to his name and likeness). As a result, he was unavailable to play for the Chicago Bulls or any other team. Shaquille O’Neal, who appeared in the arcade version as a member of the Orlando Magic (and later followed in Jordan’s footsteps by purchasing his name and likeness from the NBA), is also missing from the home versions. Draen Petrovi of the New Jersey Nets and Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics, who died after the arcade version’s debut, were likewise deleted from the home versions.
For Jordan and Payton’s personal usage, a limited edition version of the game with an additional squad comprised of Gary Payton and Michael Jordan was made. Some consumer console versions of NBA Jam were developed later than others, and some lineups alter from version to version due to real-life roster changes or, in the cases of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, legal reasons.
Fun fact, Godzilla and Bart Simpson were supposed to be hidden characters throughout production, but they were scrapped.
How was it made?
Midway’s previous arcade game, Total Carnage, failed to reach sales projections, the game was created. Turmell, the game’s lead designer and programmer, wanted to make a game that would appeal to a wider audience, so he combined the digitised graphics of some of Midway’s prior titles to make a game that was comparable to Midway’s previous basketball game Arch Rivals. Midway was able to secure a licence from the NBA in exchange for $100 in royalties per unit sold. The NBA was first sceptical of the game, believing that an arcade game would be inappropriate for the brand, but, following a second pitch, they were convinced of its potential. Midway mentioned in one of their first NBA pitch films that they planned to provide a variety of other features. Different camera angles, coaching suggestions, immediate replays, and a first-person view on fast breaks were among them. None of these features made it into the finished game. The graphics for the NBA players were developed using digitised video footage of many amateur basketball players, including Stephen Howard, a future NBA player. In some versions of the game, these players were available as hidden characters. Turmell narrated, “In NBA Jam, my main goals were to perform incredible dunks and play two-on-two basketball, but the entire game was a team effort. Someone else, for example, came up with the concept of attributes, which allows various players to have distinct talents.”
Turmell verified a long-held belief that the game was biassed against the Chicago Bulls in 2008. The game was rigged, according to Turmell, a Detroit Pistons fan, so that the Chicago Bulls would miss last-second shots in close games against the Pistons. Iguana Entertainment was in charge of the game’s transfer to home consoles. According to Iguana president Jeff Spangenberg, the PlayStation version took six months to build, including time spent mastering the then-new PlayStation hardware. The Saturn version took longer to produce, partly due to the hardware’s greater complexity, but also because Iguana Entertainment didn’t 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). Chris Kirby of Iguana UK worked on the Game Gear and PlayStation ports, while Darren Tunnicliff worked on the Sega Saturn version. The 32X version was created by Steve Snake, who would later go on to build the Mega Drive emulator Kega Fusion.
The entire game was written in assembly code. The game had a $10 million marketing budget!