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Puck Daddy chats with NHL 15 producer Sean Ramjagsingh about moving to next-gen, improved physics and living crowds

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy
EA Sports
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EA Sports

Q. You didn’t put out NHL 14 on the next-gen consoles last year. What did the extra time allow you to do for NHL 15?

RAMJAGSINGH: Not being on next-gen last year allowed us to really focus on NHL 14 and push how much we could do with 14. At the same time, not being on gen-4 for launch was a good thing for us because we could leverage a lot of the learning from the other games in the EA Sports family; so games like FIFA and Madden led the way. There’s new hardware that comes up, there’s new technological things, hurdles you need to overcome that don’t always necessarily benefit the end user. You need to spend time figuring out how to develop on those consoles before you can actually deliver the cool stuff. By not being there for Year 1 we were able to let the FIFAs and the Maddens of the world kind of figure out all of the technological hurdles so we can spend more time focusing on the features for NHL 15.

Were there one or two things that you either couldn’t get into NHL 14 or wanted to improve upon that you couldn’t get into NHL 15? 

As part of the process with a sports game that comes out every year we start with a massive list things. We start with the things that hit the cutting room floor the previous year; we take the feedback from the fans; and then we as producers and a development team push ourselves to try and innovate every year and think of bigger and better things that haven’t been thought of. So every year there’s stuff that we don’t get to. I’m not going to tell you what some of those things were because those will be in NHL 16. But obviously we have a finite amount of time, a finite amount of resources to put out a product any given year. Once we lock on what we can deliver, it’s our goal then to continue to push the boundaries to make things as good as they can be. One of the keys for us is trying not to go too wide and be very focused with what we do and try to execute upon.

With the new player and puck physics, will the deterioration of the ice as a period moves along have any affect on gameplay?

The puck physics already have a huge impact on gameplay. To be honest with you, we’re still evaluating how much we want the ice to impact the puck. It’s awesome puck behavior with the physics and the puck bouncing and being loose and creating the emergent gameplay, but it’s a fine line of having too much of that and having the ice impact that as well. It could lead to, and we’re doing testing around that, a frustrating gameplay experience with the puck bouncing all the time when the ice is bad. As part of the final stages of tuning and balancing, we’re still trying to assess where the sweet spot is in terms of fun factor and how much the ice may or may not impact the puck.

Can gamers expect with the living crowds a different atmosphere from rink to rink as far as the sounds and music in NHL15?

What we’ve done this year is really about differentiating with the crowd. We have full control over the dispersion of the crowd, meaning how many fans are wearing jerseys of the team, like if you’re Calgary with the “Sea of Red;” are you playing against a Toronto or Montreal at your home rink where you’ll have half Toronto or half Montreal fans. Then we have unique animation for the home team or away team superfans… unique stuff on his head, unique characteristics. The music piece is fairly generic across, so we have a new soundtrack in the game this year really focusing on bringing that arena to life, both between plays and after goals and things like that.

With Ray Ferraro living near you guys in Vancouver, how will his role in the game evolve over the course of a season?

Yeah, that’s TBD. We wanted to get Doc [Emrick] and Eddie [Olczyk], first and foremost, as the number one team for NBC. And then when I took a step back and I looked at where you see us as a company talking about about live servers and continuing to deliver content after the game has shipped. It was really important to me for a third commentator and trying to push the boundaries of speech where we had somebody local. [It’s] not confirmed whether or not we’re going to be adding speech thoughout the year, but it’s definitely a part of our long-term plan to get to a point where if a big trade happens, I can call Ray up, get him in here an hour later, record stuff and get that new content out there as soon as we can. TBD on whether that actually happens in 15 or for future years, but the thinking behind getting Ray as a local guy was undertanding where the future is going and where sports games are going with speech and being able to react to that when the time is right.

How have you guys improved teammate AI for NHL 15?

AI is one of those things, it can always be better and [with] good AI, you don’t notice good AI. You notice when your AI is not in the positions that it’s supposed to be in. Understanding how important AI is to the gameplay experience, this year what we’ve done is we’ve literally rebuilt our AI from the ground up. This is not like we did one year and this what you have and this is going to carry you through this entire generation. We rebuilt it. We really focused on the teammate AI, offensive zone play, positioning, reading and reacting to the puck carrier, getting yourself open. It’s a work in progress.

We’ve created some new tools this year that allow us to update plays almost in real time and add a large quanitity of new plays. So it’s a new dynamic system once you get your hands on it you’re going to see the AI using these plays. You’re going to see your teammates being more intelligent, reading and reacting to situations where you are on the ice. We’re starting to adapt this as well for our rush plays, so when you’re coming up the ice your teammates are reacting to you. So, fantastic results for this year. We’re really, really happy with where we got to. But the most exciting part for me is we have a solid foundation to continue to built upon and get better very quickly.

Other notes from talking with Ramjagsingh:

• Details on what features will be in the gen-3 consoles (PS3, Xbox 360) will be out in the next few weeks.

• There will be a new Stanley Cup celebration cut scene in the game. They’re currently making tweaks and re-shooting the end scene. 

• The Winter Classic venues will be playable only on gen-3 consoles (Michigan Stadium is not included). They will not be in the PS4/XBOX One games as the NHL team wanted to focus on building the unique arenas for all 30 teams in the game.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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