It’s the holy grail of  NBA 2K16—the ever elusive, oh-so-satisfying, "green release" jump shot.

The slot machines in Vegas positively reinforce gambling through sensory stimuli, and in NBA 2K16, the green release jump shot creates the same sort of subconscious gratification. The shot meter beneath the player’s feet glows and pops out at the screen. And the meter continues glowing as the player gets back on defense—a lingering reminder of his or her fleeting perfection. Why can’t that happen every time?

It’s rare to hit the perfect, near-guaranteed shot in 2K16, but it’s still considerably easier now than it was two years ago when the developers released NBA 2K14. The developers’ goal has always been to keep the screen as uncluttered and broadcast-esque as possible, so back in those earlier days, there was no visible shot meter.

We were just trying to have the players understand what’s happening under the hood better.

This led to some confusion. Most people who played 2K14 knew that a shot’s likelihood was based on A) The player’s rating (which conformed to real life shooting percentages) and B) Whether the shot was contested. Those same people, however, may not have known how important the shot’s release timing was. 

For 2K15, the development team decided to add a shot meter beneath the player’s feet. The average, casual player may have thought that the entire concept was a newly developed game mechanic, but Mike Wang, the longtime Gameplay Director for NBA 2K franchise, corrects that assumption.

“We were just trying to have the players understand what’s happening under the hood better,” Wang says. “We didn’t really change the fundamental way the shot system worked. The shot meter was just a better way to visualize what was [already] happening.”

Prior to the shot meter’s debut, players would be penalized in ways they never saw, which gave them no guidance for improving their game. Now, everything is transparent and out on the table for scrutiny.

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This had obvious repercussions in the fan community. Most of the responses were positive—fans praised the developers for their forthcomingness, and the new mechanic added a measurable, skill-based element to every shot attempt.

“The shot meter was meant to open the game up to a broad range of people who are more casual or new to the series,” Wang says, “and don’t want to spend all the time learning all the shot [timings].”

A smaller portion of the fanbase, however, disliked the shot meter, and saw it as a crutch for gameplay. In 2K14, the perfect shot was learned behavior. A player would perform his or her shot hundreds and hundreds of times, and eventually, the "perfect release" became a part of the player’s muscle memory. In short, it worked in the same way one would learn to shoot in real life, by getting a "feel" for the ball.

The best players are the ones who don’t stare at the meter.

The shot meter, however, allowed new players to shortcut what other players had learned organically. It could also take their minds off of everything else happening on the court, sacrificing team strategy for shot timing. And lastly, it invited the audience into an internal discussion that developers had been having for years—to what degree should the players’ real life stats matter when it comes to the video game players’ shooting abilities? It’s a fluid dynamic that’s gone back and forth over the years, but with the addition of the shot meter, the debate is evident and out in the open. Each successive patch is scrutinized and analyzed for its buffs and nerfs, and the shot meter provides an objective measure of those quantities.

In NBA 2K16, the developers made some concessions to this small, but hardcore part of the fanbase. Players who find the meter distracting now have the option to turn it off. It’s easy to imagine that in a competitive gaming environment, the option to turn off the meter will be a stipulation that places every participant on an equal playing field.

The developers are even looking ahead to NBA 2K17. Not so much in regards to altering anything significant about the "under the hood" mechanics, but perhaps seriously editing the shot meter’s aesthetic appearance. 

“What’s the best way to construct it so that it’s a visual aid, and you don’t have to stare at it?” Wang wonders. 

Currently, in 2K16, the shot meter stops at the midpoint. Most likely, according to Wang, 2K17 will have a meter that moves from left to right or right to left.​

Additionally, he explains that there are two shot windows that a player must consider in order to make the perfect shot. The first window is the the main part of the meter, which grows and shrinks depending on the player’s distance from the basket. 

Many factors figure into how big or small this window is. The main factor: What is the player’s numerical rating on the 100-point scale? Wang states that a player’s numerical, in-game rating is directly tied to the player’s real-life stats. In fact, the developers formulated a direct conversion chart, and Wang gave Complex a peek at it. To clarify, the following numbers compare an NBA player’s shot rating in the game to the player’s percentage on an average contested shot in real life:

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In addition to this base number, there are multiple, mitigating factors that make each player unique and can affect a jump shot’s odds. Is the player standing still? Is he shooting off kilter or off the dribble? Does he have any badges that make him a threat from the outside arc? These factors impact the margin for error and are unique to each individual player.

And if the meter turns green? That’s the second timing window, according to Wang. It’s represented as a small white tic mark in the dead center of the meter. It’s only a few animated frames wide, but if you release the button and stop the meter within those frames, you have a green release shot. Better shooters have more frames of animation, and a higher margin for error.

In 2K15, the green release was a guaranteed shot 100 percent of the time. In 2K16, the shot is not always guaranteed; rather, the green release increases the shot’s likelihood by an approximate factor of two. For example, if a player, after all mitigating factors are considered, has a 40 percent chance of making the shot, the green release will give him an 80 percent chance. There is a tipping point, however—if a player is ranked under 30 percent for a shot, there are no "green frames" at all.

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So how, exactly, can a gamer hit a green release consistently? Wang recommends paying close attention to the different shot animations and using an elevated jump shot that is easy to read and obvious in its movements. Some of the specific jump shots that Wang recommends are Kobe Bryant’s, Michael Jordan’s, Ray Allen’s, LaMarcus Aldridge’s, and Jimmy Butler’s, all of which are telegraphed or iconic.

“Some animations are inherently easier to time, because they might have a little tell, a little hitch,” Wang says. “There’s something in the animation that cues them to let go of the shot at a certain time.”

Which brings us to Steph Curry, who functions, in real life, like an overpowered video game character. Obviously he’s one of the most selected guys in the game, but new players may find him harder to master. That’s because for the first time, the developers coded the game so that Curry shoots the ball on the way up—rather than at the apex of his jump—just as he does in real life.

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Thus, casual players, even those who have played using Curry in previous games, will find that many of their shot releases are late. But should a player manage to master Curry (or Kevin Durant, whose jump shot handles similarly in-game), that player will have an unquestionable advantage. More than other players in the game, Curry is able to get the ball off before anyone can react to it—again, art imitating life. It’s only a few frames of animation, but these small factors certainly make a difference when involved in competitive play.

Some animations are inherently easier to time, because they might have a little tell, a little hitch.

Wang points out that many competitive players prefer button shooting over stick shooting; they feel that the button allows for a higher degree of 1-to-1 accuracy whereas the stick is less precise. And although the shot stick may allow for a greater diversity of shots on the move, it’s true that the button might allow for the most accurate pull-up jumper.

Beyond that, jump shot mastery comes down to shooting a lot of balls in practice and playing a lot of games. Although the meter provides a simple access point for new players, one cannot use it to "cheat" to full mastery. Ironically, what many perceive as the easy method can actually hinder a player’s development in the long run. Muscle memory is still the best possible strategy; the shot meter is meant to be a learning guide, not an end-all mini-game.

“The best players are the ones who don’t stare at the meter,” Wang says. “When you stare at the meter, you’re going to lose sight of the context around you, and you’re going to be overthinking the game. If you can get down to the point where shooting is second nature and it’s got a feel to it, you’re going to find that rhythm.”

“It’s all about rhythm.”

Kevin is a freelance writer living in Queens, NY. You can follow him on Twitter @kevinjameswong.

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