Puck Daddy chats with NHL 16 producer Sean Ramjagsingh about EA Sports Hockey League, playoff beards

EA Sports

Q. We’re about a month and a half from the game’s release (Sept. 15). As a development team, where are you in the process? Are you done with just some testing and tweaking left or are there still a lot of things to work on?

RAMJAGSINGH: From a disc perspective, our disc that will go to consumers is sitting with first party; so Sony and Microsoft do a final certification of the disc before it goes live. From a tuning perspective, the great thing about being connected to the Internet is we can always update the experience; so on this Thursday (today), we have the limited access EA Sports Hockey League beta going live. The purpose of that date is to get the game into the hands of our fans to experience the EA Sports Hockey League, the first time it’s back in the game on this generation console.

It’s also an opportunity for us to get feedback on the game, take that feedback, dial in the gameplay experience, tune the different player classes that we have as part of the EA Sports Hockey League experience and react to it.

[Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football: Sign up and join a league today!]

Q. With the return of the EASHL, what are the NHL team’s hopes for the mode in its first year on next-gen consoles?

The EA Sports Hockey League has been an interesting ride for us. When NHL 15 came out and the EA Sports Hockey League wasn’t there, our core fans especially weren’t happy about that; so it was important for us to really work with them during the early design phase of the project. We worked with them closer than we probably ever have in the past. [It was] really just understanding from the guys who play that mode, what they wanted to see from the mode.

When you move to a new generation of console, unfortunately it’s not just copy and paste of everything that you’ve done the previous seven years on the old generation. It was an opportunity to start fresh. Because it was an opportunity to start fresh, we wanted to make sure that we were delivering an experience that our fans wanted, so the feedback was really important.

Early on they told us three things: One was we talked about was do you want to play as Crosby or Ovechkin or is it important that’s your name is on the back of the jersey and they wanted created characters. The second thing they wanted was an even playing field. They wanted their ability and communicate and play as a team with their buddies, their teammates that they’re playing with within the EA Sports Hockey League to be the determing factor in more games than not. So really making it skill-based and even that playing field.

On Gen-3, we had a progression system on micro transactions and you could grind and level up your character. What we found was people would immediately go in and put in their $10 or $12 to level up their character, and the reason why they were doing was to level the playing field. That’s why leveling the playing field in this new version of the EA Sports Hockey League was so important from the outset.

So what you’ll see with the EA Sports Hockey League this year to even that playing field is first of all, a lot of work on gameplay to make it fun to play from every position on the ice, making sure whether you’re playing as a forward or d-man or goalie you feel like you have a fair chance in every situation. And also the introduction of the new player classes. We have a sniper player class, a power forward, a two-way forward, grinder. If you’re playing D, we have offensive and defensive defensemen. If you’re a goalie, we have a hybrid, a standup and more of a butterfly goalie.

The third piece that was really important that came out of the feedback was just the customization. Because the created characers are so important, allowing them to really customize their character, whether it’s how you tape your stick, the color of your tape, how you tape the shaft of your stick, the top of your stick, how you tape your socks, how glossy or matte the tape is that you tape your socks with, the coloring of your skates… so really just lots of customization so you can look unique out there on the ice or you can choose to look a little more formal and uniform as a team when you’re out there.

Q. Going back to NHL 15 and its release… a lot of fans were upset with the missing modes upon release. Some were put into the game during an update, but do you wish things had gone differently last year or was just how things needed to go as you debuted on next-gen?

It’s always challenging going to a new console. For us, it was really important that we nailed the gameplay and presentation and ensuring that we’re setup for the future. Without great gameplay, nothing else matters, and that was the most important piece. It’s clear that we would have liked to have more of a depth and breadth there for launch and some of the modes that we we added post-launch. We understand [the fan’s] disappointment. It was also an opportunity for us to engage our fans and really understand what they want moving forward and build NHL 16 and future iterations of NHL with our fans.

Q. Player morale is a new feature for users in Be a GM mode. How will that affect my team and players over the course of a season?

It was really important when we talked about the pros and cons of different situations that would impact morale it was important that it had an impact on the gameplay experience itself. That focus for balancing gameplay forced us to make sure that all of our ratings had an impact when it came to the gameplay experience itself, so that when we manipulate ratings as part of the player morale feature we can manipulate those in a way that you’re going to feel when you’re on the ice. People will have a second line guy that has his ratings drop and is performing like a fourth-line guy, so now the decisions the Be a GMs are making are do I go with that second-line guy who’s playing as a fourth-line guy for me right now or do I bring up the first-line guy from my AHL affiliate. Those are the kinds of situations and decisons you need to make as part of the morale feature this year.

[Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football: Sign up and join a league today!]

Some of the scenarios that will impact morale is if you’re an Alex Ovechkin top line guy and you’re getting fourth-line minutes, obviously you can expect morale to go down. We have a concept of “buddies on the team,” as well. So if you’re a Sedin and your brother gets traded away, your morale’s going to go down and vice versa, if you have a friend from around the league and that’s traded to your team, your morale’s going to go up. Then you as the GM have opportunities to understand what’s impacting the morale of each of the players, they will tell you, and you have the opportunity as the GM to take action and see how the decison you make impacts morale. It’s not always if I do this answer based on the situation I’m going to get the same result because as we know in real life all personalities are different and react differently to different types of feedback.

Q. Playoff beards! They’re in the game this year. Are they going to grow differently for different players? If I have the Penguin and Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final can I expect Sidney Crosby and Brent Burns to have two wildly different beards in terms of growth?

The depth that we have with our beards is actually pretty unbelievable. To answer your question, yeah. We have over nine different beard styles. We also have the ability to put in start lengths and end lengths, so Crosby will never get a Brent Burns beard. There’s lots and lots of variety with the beards.

Q. FIFA 16 will feature 12 women’s national teams. The NHL series has had individual women’s players in the past as Legends. Do you see women’s teams, whether national ones or ones from the CWHL/NWHL, in the game in the near future?

I think it’s something we’re definitely going to look at moving forward. With the promise of women’s hockey in North America and around the world, with more teams becoming competitive it’s something that we’ll definitely look at. I’m interested when FIFA launches and see how many people actually play it and what the useage looks like. We’re getting more and more female fans playing our game and I think it’s something we’re definitely going to look at.

Three final quick notes from our chat with Ramjagsingh:

• No Stadium Series/Winter Classic mode will be in NHL 16. “We’ll see what the future holds."

• On new NHL rules (3-on-3 OT, coaches challenge, etc.) in the game: “Not for launch, but that’s something that we will look at it. It’s part of the new rules of the NHL, so it’s something we’ll look to potentially add post-launch.”

• No traditional demo. Only the EASHL limited access beta, which goes live Thursday. Developers wanted an in-depth week-long look at the game rather the usual one period or so that you traditionally get with a demo.