Q. What were some of the more consistent pieces of feedback you received on the beta?
RAMJAGSINGH: “Really positive feedback. I would say nothing major, nothing game-changing for us. The biggest thing was lot of feedback in the EA Sports Hockey League around the balancing of the different classes; so we worked closely with our game-changers, the group nominated by the fans to represent them working with us closely, to really interpret the feedback that we’re getting around the balance amongst the player classes in the EA Sports Hockey League. Just minor, minor things with gameplay that we’ve been tuning and tweaking and creating a new tuner set for so we have that experience dialed in for when the game launches [on Sept. 13.].
“People really enjoyed the customization that we made available. For people that play in the EA Sports Hockey League and leveraging the customization of the progression mechanics, lots of great feedback as to other stuff that people want see for customization down the road added to the suite of customization assets that we have added to the game right now, which is great.”
FIFA is introducing a story mode this year based on a player coming through Manchester United. When can we expect something like that in the NHL series?
“It’s fantastic what FIFA’s doing right now. I say this all the time but I think every year we get better and better at just sharing within EA SPORTS ourselves, working closely with the FIFA team, working closely with the MADDEN team. For us, we’re sort of taking a back seat right now, watching FIFA and seeing how the story mode resonates with their fans, seeing what we learn are from them on the creative, on the development, on the fan side of things and then we’ll evaluate for the future. It’s something we have our eyes on, but no firm commitment or date we’re going to commit to quite yet, but it’s something we’re definitely watching closely.”
Will the create-an-arena tool also be available in career mode when you move a franchise?
“Yeah. That’s one of the reasons why we went really big with customization this year. We wanted to go big and figure out how to leverage it throughout as many parts of the game as possible. As you move from the beta, we’ll leverage it with the progression mechanics; for Be-a-Pro you can use it for the customization of your character; and then for franchise mode, when you relocate your franchise we wanted to make it so that you can truly start fresh in a brand new city and rebuild your brand from the ground up.”
“We’re excited to see what fans come up with once the game is out there in the wild. I know our testers in-house here have come up with some pretty elaborate designs that are cool in terms of flexing the system and showing how much you can leverage the assets that we made available.”
Will fans be able to create their own logos and upload them into the game?
“Not for this year. It’s something that other games have done that we’ll look at. The challenge associated with that, with the Internet these days, it’s just tough to moderate what actually gets uploaded into the game and we’d have to monitor every asset based on our E10+ rating. So we’d have to oversee every single asset that goes into the game or be able to react really, really quickly when people flag stuff as inappropriate.”
(Ed. Note: Since vintage NHL logos and jerseys are already in the game, you can bring back teams like the Hartford Whalers or Quebec Nordiques in modes like Franchise where you can move to various cities.)
I’m curious about goaltending this year and the Reactionary Save Intelligence you’re promoting for NHL 17. Compared to NHL 16, how are goalies going to be different this year?
“When we looked at our gameplay as a whole there’s a couple things that we focused on. One was just really just continuing to focus on the precision control and the balance of the entire gameplay experience and that forced us to touch base with every system that we had within our gameplay. Then when we looked at the real world of hockey versus our game and took an objective view of the differences, we looked at the way goalies play today, and so many of today’s goalies are 6’4, 6’5, 6’6, 6’7, in some cases, the way the goaltending position’s evolved over the last 15-20 years some of the big guys now today are just so positionally sound and take up so much space in the net that they’re less frequently having to scramble because of desperation, big limb saves with their arms or their legs and are just more positionally sound and making shorter movements, little shoulder shrugs and things like that. So, a lot more efficient movement and for us we wanted to make sure that we replicated that. Last year we had Eddie Lack come in here and do some motion capture for us, which really helped being a big goalie himself in terms of just nailing that technique.
“What it means for fans playing the game is you’re going to see the goalies with different behavior. They have more tools in their toolbox now, more differentiation in the way that they can make saves. As a by-product of the new goalie saves that we put into the game, because our puck is 100 percent physics-based, we’re seeing a whole bunch of new goals going in and getting saved and also a whole bunch of new rebounds just based on the goalie behind in different positions, the puck bouncing off different parts of his body; so we’re seeing different scrambles in front of the net that we’ve never seen before. That was a by-product that we hadn’t planned for as a result of the new goalie saves that we put in the game.”
Will there be a noticeable difference in the feel of controlling a player like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin compared to a lower-rated player?
“What we’ve done this year with the ratings themselves and then all the work we’ve done with gameplay to really focus on the control that you have when you’re controlling one of those guys, the changes that we’ve made are everything from trimming frames off animations so players feel more responsive depending on who they are to rewriting parts of the core systems like puck pickups as an example. All of those combined with some of the new ratings that we have in the game this year make the players feel more responsive, feel more like themselves and should feel like there’s more variation. The challenge for us in terms of the variation itself is our NHL players [ratings] are sort of squished between high 70s to low-to-mid 90s and because we have 11 leagues in the game we need to balance all the players, not just the NHL players relative to one another. So if you take a player from the CHL, if you take a player from one of the European leagues and you bring them into the NHL, those players feel like you’d expect them to feel relative to the NHL caliber players.
“That’s something we look for our game changers and look for our fans to give us feedback on the ratings themselves and that’s stuff that we can tune and tweak and dial in based on the feedback that we get. The way we have it tuned right now since the beta for launch we’re pretty happy with in terms of differentiation; so we look at the data around the players that are scoring the goals and where they’re scoring from, we’re seeing the rank distribution.”
MADDEN is going to have regular updates to its game commentary, like the announcers dropping in lines about the Colin Kaepernick controversy this week. How often are you able to get Ray Ferraro in to add lines into the game depending on how the NHL season goes?
“That’s still to be determined. This year we went pretty big with the amount of speech that we put in prior to the game being finished. It’s something we’ll evaluate. I think for us it’s how much is happening in the world of hockey, how much things change, what’s the impact of taking time to bring those guys into update the speech for NHL 17 versus trying to get more speech for NHL 18. Those are all the factors that we weigh in determining whether or not we bring guys back in and try and update speech throughout the year.”
How many legends will be in NHL 17?
“Final number is still to be determined. One of the things we’ve added this year is Hockey Heroes. [Ed. Note: only available through Hockey Ultimate Team and Draft Champions.] It’s really a focus on guys that were relevant in each of the hockey markets as part of our new sets feature. For Vancouver, Trevor Linden is a good example, a guy who’s not in the Hall of Fame but very important to Vancouver Canucks hockey. We tried to get 30 of those types of guys for each of the markets and then also going after some more of the Hall of Famers, some more of the better known legends out there. So the actually number is still TBD, and we can also add more after launch as well.”
Will there be a Winter Classic/outdoor game mode at all in NHL 17?
“Not for launch for NHL 17 but the one new mode that we did add was the World Cup of Hockey this year. When I mentioned the feedback we got coming out of the beta itself, I think people saw the progression mechanic that we had and they saw the amount of customization elements that we had in there in the past. When we got this question in the past and we talked about it, what we saw is that people would go in there and play the Winter Classic for a game or two and it looked visually stunning, but there was never a reason to go back into the Winter Classic and play because it wasn’t incorporated in any other mode. Now when we start thinking about customization/progression in the EA Sports Hockey League, it’d be pretty cool to eventually work your way up and unlock a Winter Classic arena or an outdoor rink or something like that.
“So there’s a lot more opportunity there now with the new system that we have around the progression of the EA Sports Hockey League and that’s some of the feedback that we got coming out of the beta is it’d be great to see some of those Winter Classic environments come back as part of maybe your home arena for EA Sports Hockey League or even some of the unique outdoor arenas that we’re seeing today. It’s definitely something we’re going to look at.”
You patched in 3-on-3 overtime last year after launch. Will we ever see coaches challenge in the NHL game?
“It’s an authentic part of the sport now so we’re looking at it. When we looked at the coaches challenge you’d almost have to fabricate a situation, you’d have to recognize that the player’s really, really close to an offside or was offside and then ignore the computer calling the offside and let it go to sort of fabricate that situation where a player can then throw a flag or have them recognize that situation and then throw a challenge out there to make that feature come to life. It’s a little bit of artificial fabrication that’d have to happen to make it work in the game. It’s something we’ll look at when we brainstorm different ways to design the feature to replicate it because it is part of the sport.”
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