Wednesday, August 6, 2008

That was me.

If you were wondering what that girlish squeal was just now, it was me after reading the latest producer blog for NHL 09. Here is the thing. The guys who have been developing the NHL series over the last few years get it. They know hockey inside and out and they also know how to create a compelling video game counterpart to the real life game. Here are some things you can expect from this year's version:

David Littman
Electronic Arts

Hey guys, David Littman here, Just wanted to say hi and sneak a couple of features out to everyone.

This is the most realistic game of hockey I have ever played in a video game. Obviously you guys will have to judge it for yourselves (and talk amongst yourselves about how we say that every year), but there are so many moments that just feel like hockey. We have balanced offense vs. defense to a point where there are some games where you will get lots of great scoring chances, and there are some games where you will only get a few. It all depends upon how you play.

More than ever you have to change up your style. Some CPU (and user) teams will play more of a trap style where you will have to dump and chase just to get the puck over the blueline. It is not a game of "take the puck down the wing all the time and gain the zone every time". You will also notice CPU defensemen are much more aggressive in front of the net, especially on the two higher skill levels. Even on Pro (default skill level) you won't always feel like you are on a power play like last year.

The other realistic part of the game is that for the first time I can remember, it is tough to get the puck out of your own zone. With the more aggressive CPU AI and the new forecheck strategies you can actually forecheck and cause turnovers. CPU players block passing lanes and sweep their sticks (which users can do also) to block and intercept passes that also make it tougher to leave your defensive zone. You can create your own breakout strategies to counter this, or like real NHL defensemen use the net as an obstacle, make smarter passes and when in doubt...dump it out. When an opposing team goes into a 3-2 style forecheck (3 forwards attacking the puck) which the CPU teams will do when they are down a goal with a few minutes left, dump the puck out (so you won't complain about catch-up AI).

Here are some other bits of info:

1. The default defensive control setting is:

Right stick is checking
Right bumper (R1 on PS3) is poke
Holding down the right bumper/R1 is an auto poke sweep
Holding down the right bumper/R1 and using the right stick is manual poke sweep

You can switch (basically reverse of above) to a different defensive control setting:

Right stick is defaulted to poke and sweep
Hold right bumper/R1 plus right stick to check

With the choice of control you can default to the set up you will use most. Some users check a lot, and some poke a lot. Checking is NOT easier this year (as I joked with Brian on a recent podcast). It is actually harder, and that is why Brian could not throw a check. happy We got rid of the hip checks and the big warping checks. Basically checking is similar to when you have the puck. Your left stick is your skates and skating direction, while the right stick is your upper body. Last year the right stick controlled your direction when hitting, so it just did not feel right. This also makes clearing the front of the net easier. Your defensemen can stand still and just use their upper bodies to clear the slot, while they still stay in position.

2. Loose pucks and one on one battles

This is the first video hockey game where I have seen users with the puck slow down on odd man rushes to see what plays develop and to see if they can bait the D-man into being overly aggressive. It is the first hockey video game I have seen where players bump and battle as they try and get loose pucks (there are way more loose pucks this year with our much improved puck physics and bounces, and blocked passing lanes).

3. Passing

Passing is not always tape to tape like last year. Although if you have a clear passing lane and you are facing the receiver, most passes will be great passes. We tried to put error on passing (based on passing attributes), and believe me, it is frustrating (there is a bit, but probably not as much as the realism junkies want). We did put more of a penalty on passes behind your back, and there is a huge penalty when trying to pass out of the one handed protect puck.

4. You can set period times by intervals of one (from 4 minute periods to 20 minute periods).

5. Demo - Yes we are doing one, and we are looking at giving you a small taste of Be a Pro, and a harder skill level.

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