LOS ANGELES — “NBA 2K16” will be a Spike Lee joint.
2K Games announced Thursday that it recruited the acclaimed filmmaker — and die-hard New York Knicks fan — to write and direct the single-player campaign for the interactive basketball franchise’s next edition.
What did it take for the creator of such landmark films as “Do the Right Thing” and “He Got Game” to sign on to produce a video game?
Spike Lee, a noted Knicks fan, wrote and directed the single-player campaign for “NBA 2K16.” James Devaney/GC Images
“They asked me,” Lee matter-of-factly noted during a recent phone interview from Chicago, where he’s in production on his next project, “Chiraq.”
Lee said the game’s story centers on a basketball player named Frequency Vibrations, whose personal exploits off the court are just as chaotic as the game on it.
“It’s about the trials and tribulations of life on a big stage with the money, fame, temptations, family members, the press, fans, all that stuff,” Lee said.
While the game is a basketball simulation at its heart, “NBA 2K” developer Visual Concepts has integrated cinematic elements into the single-player mode over the past five years. For the latest round, the game makers passed that task on to Lee in hopes of achieving a slam dunk with gamers.
“It wasn’t a hard sell,” said Jeff Thomas, vice president of sports development at Visual Concepts. “Spike was really receptive when I first met with him. He actually said to us, ‘It’s about time I worked with 2K.’ He loves basketball, and this is a new frontier for him.”
The “Malcolm X” and “She Hate Me” filmmaker focused on drawing out realistic performances from actors, whose voices and movements were all digitally recorded. Lee, whose teenage son Jackson is an avid gamer, said he actually felt liberated working on a motion-capture stage for the first time in his career.
“I didn’t really realize how quick it was going to be,” Lee said. “We didn’t have to do costumes, makeup or hair. We didn’t have to move props around. We didn’t have to move from location to location. Everything was just there.”
Despite the writer-director’s penchant for gritty storytelling, “NBA 2K16” won’t be aimed only at adults. Lee worked within creative parameters set forth by the NBA and 2K Games.
“We make an E-rated game,” Thomas said. “It’s an NBA-licensed project, and obviously the NBA cares a lot about their brand and makes sure we stick within those boundaries. Spike understood that from the get-go, but he didn’t take his foot off the gas because of that. He still brought the drama.”
The series’ previous installment, “NBA 2K15,” has sold more than 5.5 million copies since its release last October, according to 2K Games’ parent company, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.
“NBA 2K16” will feature Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis on three separate covers. It isn’t the first time 2K Games has sunk such star power into the successful sports series. The publisher tapped Jay Z to curate the soundtrack for “NBA 2K13,” which also featured three cover athletes.