It was between periods at Amalie Arena in Tampa when the PA announcer asked the crowd if they were ready to play “Bolts of Steel.”
Suddenly, everything on the ice became … digitized. Like an 8-bit video game from the Nintendo Entertainment System days. Familiar music started playing on the loudspeakers.
It was “Blades of Steel.”
For the uninitiated, “Blades of Steel” was the “other” prominent NES hockey game. Made by Konami, it opted for a more realistic take on the game than Nintendo’s “Ice Hockey,” which featured international teams and the still-famous option of creating a lineup based on body type.
“Blades of Steel” featured real NHL cities, if not real NHL uniforms and team names. It had announcer declaring “HIT THE PASS” on every connected offensive play. It had fighting that looked like actual fighting!
As the music played, a menu came on the Jumbotron screen showing team names. Two were selected, and then digitized players filled the ice, skating around before coming together for a faceoff.
Here’s a look from the press box:
From that point on, it was just … awesome. A full-size, full-scale “Blades of Steel” game being played on NHL rink.
The idea sprung from the mind of Scott Sleder. He interned with the Lightning and then joined their graphics staff this season.
Projections on the ice had become the norm for NHL opening game ceremonies, with everything from game highlights to the rink being consumed with fire.
Last season, the Lightning used their rink during intermission to project a giant game of PONG on the ice, that classic lo-fi video game. When the call was put out for new ideas on how to use the tech, Sleder suggested they use "Blades of Steel."
"It was one of my favorite games growing up," said Sleder, who loved the old school games despite being part of Generation xBox.
In reality, the intermission game is a combination of "Blades" and "Ice Hockey," as the "Blades of Steel" players were too small to render on big ice. So he opted to make the players a bit more like the "medium" build ones from "Ice Hockey."
Sleder had to animate every player on the ice along with the digital rink. It was a process, for sure, and this was only the second time the "Bolts of Steel" game was used during a Lightning game.
But it only took two times for it to become a sensation for hockey fans, something for which Sleder is grateful and flattered over.
He'd also like to fine-tune it, of course.
"I'd love to get fighting in the game," said Sleder.
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