NHL 15 was supposed to be the iteration when the highly popular franchise went into the new-generation of gaming with flash and style. While the game did impress with its stellar visuals and unique presentation elements, the foundation of what NHL 15 was turned out to be thin at best.
A new year has arrived and so have a new set of expectations that include a full helping of features people are used to from an NHL game. NHL 16 is coming in with big hopes, especially when you look at some of the modes the game will feature. Those range from 6 v. 6 Online Team Play to Online Couch Co-op, and you cannot forget the “re-imagined” EA SPORTS Hockey League (EASHL).
EA Sports took a fan-first approach as they wanted to try and regain some of the trust that was lost with last year’s iteration. NHL 16 Producer Sean Ramjagsingh told atombash.com that the team focused on bringing back the depth and breadth fans have come to expect from an NHL game and one of those key features is EASHL.
“It’s a big feature we didn’t put into the game last year. To bring it back we needed to discuss what it would be. We did persona testing to find out what each group of our fan base wanted. There was a 12-man team that flew up to Vancouver once in a while to help us tune and discuss ideas we had for EASHL,” Ramjagsingh said.
The 12-man team was made up of NHL community members and they had a firsthand opportunity to contribute feedback directly to the development team. EA Sports took some of what they had to say to heart and it has resulted in some changes to how EASHL will work in NHL 16.
“We’ve actually changed our mechanism that was going from Rookie to Legend, which is a basic way to grind to get attribute points. The problem they mentioned was [the difficulty is] great the first week because most people are fairly level, but once one tier breaks off, it starts to stretch out the level of game and it isn’t as fun anymore. We decided to do what shooters do a bit and go with classes and then that way a Power Forward is a type of player that’s different from a Sniper,” Ramjagsingh said.
EA Sports believes that assigning players a certain persona or play style will help keep things level and more consistent, as players progress. EASHL is delivering a new type of skill for all players and it is one that people will need to learn about. Ramjagsingh talked about how this should make for a more team-focused environment.
“This way, when you choose a player type, you’ll learn there is a certain skill he has and you need to play it to the best of your ability with those skills. This means that when the six players go on the ice, they’re talking about what play styles they want to go with. People will be playing a lot more strategic and fun game,” Ramjagsingh said.
Creating a system that rewards players for working as a team, with unique and individualized roles, will add a new dimension to EASHL. It’ll be interesting to see how the mode evolves as players become more familiar with each of the roles and play styles that each position brings.
Be A GM mode is one of the most popular modes in NHL and this year, EA Sports has added a new level of realism and authenticity to the game’s AI. Like in real-life, a bad trade or a poor signing can infect the chemistry of a team that is winning or worsen the blend of a team that is already struggling. NHL 16 is embracing this with how players will react to a GM’s moves.
“We think that with the way hockey is, with 20 guys on a team, it’s a large group of guys. There are egos and personalities that all have to work with each other and our goal was to bring out that fact in Be A GM. If you make [negative] trades, that locker room is going to be on edge all of the time, thinking ‘when are we going to get a group of guys we can do something with,’ so that will cause some fluctuation.
“If you have a bunch of core leaders on the team and you trade one, all of a sudden players will think ‘hey, you traded a leader, you’re screwing up our chemistry.’ Bringing out all of those aspects, in addition to ice time and players who get called up from the minors, will force players to manage their roster a little bit differently and you’re going to feel like that guy is bringing something to that [locker] room,” Ramjagsingh said.
Be A Pro is another aspect of NHL 16 that wants to assign more value to a player’s actions. What a gamer does with their Pro on the ice will have a direct impact on their progression. Their actions will impact overall attributes, eventually resulting in a player that reflects the type of person you have been on the ice.
Goaltending has been a bit of an unattractive option for gamers for a while, unless you are talking about a shootout. EA Sports went back to the drawing board and revamped the controls for those who will assume the essential role of a goaltender. Ramjagsingh talked about the work they did to make playing in the net as fun as any other position.
“For goaltending, we rewrote how we did the manual controls. We brought in Eddie Lack from the Vancouver Canucks to do mo-cap for us and focused on finite movement and how the goalie moves around the net. In the past, you could play goalie but it was a little loose in how he moved. We wanted the user to be able to focus on either a long-stride or a nice short, quick-stride like a real NHL goalie. The new controls will be in EASHL and Be A Pro and it’ll give players more tools to make saves and be in the game,” Ramjagsingh said.
EA Sports has embellished upon the presentation elements that we saw in last year’s game. Pre-game, real-life shots of the home team’s city are back once again, as are a slew of other theatrical elements that will help players become more immersed with NHL 16’s experience. Whatever team is your favorite, you’ll notice some arena actions that happen as they would in a real game at that arena.
NHL 16 is looking to redeem what last year’s iteration lost and from what we have learned about the game so far, fans could be in for a great ride. NHL 16 will be launched on PS4 and Xbox One on Sept. 15.