Click: So Sean, you were telling me earlier that EA Sports have some big changes coming for NHL 13 – what can you tell us about them? Sean Ramjagsingh of EA Canada Enlarge
SR: Yeah, so we’re extremely excited about NHL 13. It’s going to be the biggest leap for the franchise on this generation of console. To do that we’ve focussed on two things; the first is innovating on our core gameplay experience with True Performance Skating and our EA Sports Hockey IQ which has led to an AI overhaul, and then also we’ll extend the gameplay experience with our Get Connected modes. They both use Online Dynasty mode, which will allow up to 750 people to take part in a single dynasty. And then there’s NHL Moments Live, but we’re going to be talking about that stuff later on in the weeks to come, and we’re going to focus on gameplay here at E3.
In the past few years the NHL franchise has had a history of innovating, starting with the Skill Stick where we took the shackles off your hands and gave you full control of your upper body, and then with EA Sports Hockey League where ever player on the ice could be used and controlled by the players’ own living rooms, and we were also the first team sports game to have real-time physics. With NHL 13 we’ve again raised the bar with True Performance Skating and EA Sports Hockey IQ that’ll really play the way you change hockey games from now on. It helps capture the speed, creativity and strategy of today’s NHL.Click: Physics is obviously more important in hockey than it is in any other sport, so can you explain to use how the changes that have been made to the engine will affect the gameplay?
SR: When we talk about speed we’re talking about three things; explosiveness, top-end speed and momentum physics. We wanted to capture the explosiveness of the players, which means the how fast they can accelerate and how quickly they can get to top-end speed. When they get to top-end speed they don’t have the mobility or agility that they have at a more controlled pace, so when you’re skating at top-end speed, because of our real-time physics, if you try to cut in towards the net sharply you’re going to get feedback.
You’re skating against your pace and going up against the real-time physics. That makes it you a little more predictable, so it’s a risk versus reward gameplay mechanic. The faster you go the harder it is to turn, and the easier it’s going to be for the defenders to read your moves based on physics. If you see a guy coming towards you in a one handed skate animation you know he’s going as fast as he can, so you’re going to be able to cut him off rather than trying to chase him around.
The last part that’s really going to change the game is the creativity part. We’ve got over a thousand new animations added to the skating engine. Just pressing the left trigger or L2 on the PS3 puts you in a back skate. What we’ve done here is taken the shackles off your feet. In NHL 07 we took them off your hands, and now we’ve taken them off your feet. This unleashes a whole new world of creativity which combines what you can do with your skill stick as well as with your feet. From playing this in the office every day we’re seeing new stuff from our developers and we can’t wait until we get this out in the real world and we start seeing videos being uploaded of stuff we never even thought of. It’s something we’re really excited about. It’s a completely different experience – it’s more authentic and it’s more accessible than it’s ever been before.Click: How important is it to open the game up to newcomers as well as seasoned players?
SR: That’s extremely important. A lot of people consider that sports games have a high barrier of entry because of all the buttons and controls you need to master before you can have fun with it, so we thought about innovating with our True Performance Skating and adding more control, but we wanted to add that control without adding complexity to the experience. That’s why just the left stick and the left trigger can let people jump right in, offering complete creative freedom. We want people to be able to play. NHL is a great sports game and even if you’re not a hockey fan we wanted everyone who enjoys sports to jump right in and have success.Click: You mentioned earlier while we were playing that you’ve added lots of new goalie animations, how does that affect the gameplay?SR
: As part of our EA Sports Hockey IQ we spent more time this year working on our player AI to balance out the True Performance Skating than we did in the past two years combined, so we now have five times as many strategies and the players on the ice are more aware. They don’t just know where the puck and the puck carrier is, they have a much better understanding of what’s going on off the puck. They know where the threats are and where the potential dangers will come from, so they can now anticipate things.
The goalies are the same. The goalies will now anticipate – they don’t just know where the puck and the puck carrier is, they can now identify threats on the other side of the goal too. The great thing is that because they can anticipate, the fact that each individual limb is controllable by the goalie, if he’s diving one way he can still reach back. In the past, if the puck was to hit his arm he would make a save and you’d have an easy shot to score, but now he’s got full mobility and new animations for every eventuality so even after a desperation save he’s still got the potential to save everything that follows.Click: When it comes down to player statistics for a game like NHL, how much time and research goes into getting them right and are there many arguments in the office about who should be better or worse?
SR: Yeah there are lots of arguments in the office for sure. We actually have a pro scout whose job it is to scout all the North American leagues. He’s the one who helps us with our ratings and statistics in the game. He delivers the ratings to us and we look at tweaks here and there, but it’s mostly down to the pro scout to deliver on that side of things.Click: This year’s game looks fantastic, have you made major changes to the graphics engine?
SR: We’ve overhauled the presentation too. There’s a lot more broadcast presentation and, for the most part, we’ve done away with the non-interactive sequences during stoppages in play. Early on we talked about making our AI intelligent whistle to whistle, doing the right thing all the time, and we wanted to carry that on after the whistle blows so that it continues to be intelligent. So if you put the puck over the boards the AI in the opposing team will put their hands in the air to appeal for penalty.
We really wanted to focus on the details too. We wanted to make sure that every skate, every cloth, every sock tape, every pad, every helmet, and every visor – everything – looked right, so we did a huge amount of visual upgrades, particularly when it came to lighting maps.You’ll be able to check out just how well the team has done when the game hits stores on 11th September in North America, and 14th September in Europe.