The past the editions of EA's NHL franchise has faced very little change over the course of the last 3-4 years. While gameplay has taken gradual steps to improve a realistic feel to the game of hockey, the quality of atmosphere has flatlined where it has stayed consistent and nearly the same every year. A number of posts on Twitter, Youtube, and various gaming blogs have pleaded their cases for a change in atmosphere. Will EA hear our cries? NHL 12 is looking at a release date in September as always, and the hockey world has been calling for a number of changes to the video game that represents our great sport.
Bill Clement and Gary Thorne are currently the announcers for the franchise. While they were magnificent commentators in their hayday up until the lockout, they no longer call actual NHL games. The lockout was seven years ago. ESPN also has not broadcasted an NHL game since the lockout. So it's rather curious that EA would sign a contract with them. This seems like such a minor detail, but for the hundreds of thousands, millions of hockey fans in North America, it takes away a great deal from the overall experience.
Mike "Doc" Emerick and Eddie Olczyk are by far the most beloved commentators presently in the game, with Pierre McGuire inside the glass between the two opposing benches giving analysis on emotions and shifts on play on the ice. This franchise would absolutely, positively kill with the addition of these guys. Doc Emerick recently won an Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality for his telecasts on NBC and Versus. This guy is that good. EA, it is worth the money. You will benefit from this.
For those of you that have not had the pleasure of hearing Doc during a broadcast, here are the highlights of my Flyers against the Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, courtesy of the NHL and Versus.
Even if the NBC/Versus crew isn't included, get the CBC crew back with Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson. Get Jim Bowen so we can hear "Holy Mackinaw" after the most incredible, unbelieveable plays. Bottomline, the fans want commentators that presently cover NHL games.
While that aspect and issue of the game sticks in such a large manner, there are another of other details that can be tweaked the enhance the overall experience of playing the game.
When the home team scores, all but maybe three teams play the same song after each goal. It's all for the fans to get them into the game, and it kind of gives the team a soundtrack and a personality. Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis is synonymous with the Chicago Blackhawks. When people that have watched just a little bit of hockey hear that song, they associate it with that team. Goal songs mean a lot to the fans, and should be highly considered.
Hang on EA, I haven't covered intro songs. Intro songs are played for the purpose to get the fans jacked up and ready for the game. Stanglehold by Ted Nugent is a big deal in Chicago as well. Fans in my hometown of Philly quickly get dialed into the game by hearing that opening riff of Du Hast by Rammstein and seeing the Orange and Black take the ice. This all seems very simple to add in these details, right? Much easier than it is to make sure that every player looks similar to what they do in real life.
Again, I just want to point out that I'm not being nit picky. This is one of my favorite gaming franchises and I just want to see it hit its peak as soon as possible.
On New Year's day, there is one event that stands out over even the All Star Weekend, the Winter Classic. It all started in 2008, when the league decided to broadcast one game of the year between two American teams outdoors in a large venue, used largely as a marketing tool for the suffering NHL following the lockout. None of EA's games have featured this event. This might be a stretch, but it would be an incredible feature to have in the game. And not just that particular year's event, include all of the previous years' games. Like the inaugural game in Ralph Wilson Stadium, the first overtime game in Fenway Park, the night game at Heinz Field, and the high scoring affair at Wrigley Field.
This addition might be the most unrealistic. Normally the venue for the Winter Classic is announced in June, and it might be safe to say that it's too much to ask for EA to jam pack the game in such a short time frame. That doesn't mean the previous Classics should be neglected, right?
The Heritage Classic in Canada is completely unrealistic since that venue was picked out this year in the middle of the season.
A few other pleas that were mentioned involving the atmosphere of the game included appropiateness to fan reactions. I do agree that maybe too much emotion was elicited by the fans during insignificant goals in regular season games, when the game is being lead by a large margin. That same emotion is shown in the playoffs when an overtime goal is scored. All in all, there should be a decent range in emotion.
Fans of the series also would like to hear fan commotion during breakaways or build up of big plays. Home buildings are almost silent until a shot is taken.
Gameplay is very solid on a technical standpoint. Skating motions are very accurate, sounds and postioning from every move is on spot. Strategy to every game needs to be thought through. If one approach to your game isn't working, erase the white board and start a new gameplan. Goalie movements are very technical and realistic as opposed to how they were just a few years ago.
Nobody has many complaints on gameplay, just patch up the glitches and make sure the puck cant magically slide into the net from behind once a blue moon. That doesn't mean other aspects of the game don't need a little patching up.
The same penalties are called every or every other game. Tripping, interference, high sticking, elbowing, boarding, and charging. While they may be the most frequently called penalties in hockey, that doesn't mean to say other penalites cannot be added. I have never seen an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, roughing, goalie interference, boarding majors, or high sticking double minors. With the addition of high sticking double minors would probably cause the game to get a T rating, since blood is needed for that penalty to be called.
I don't want the flow of the game to get slowed down, I feel like there are a number of occasions whether I've been online or offline where those penalties could have and should have been called against my opponents.
The fighting engine with the franchise has always been very clunky. After changing the appearance and feel to it nearly annually, they can't just seem to get it right. Probably one of the most realistic fighting engines I've seen was in NHL 04. They nearly got it right, it was just a little to stationary for my liking. And maybe fights shouldn't won or lost on the amount of "health" your combatant has remaining. Most fights in the NHL are lost due to loss of balance. My suggestion is to come up with some sort of balance meter, the more blows you take, the more likely you are to fall. It is RARE that somebody gets knocked out cold like they do in the franchise. The screen turns gray, sound slows down, your vision is blurred. You would swear to god you were getting shot down in Black Ops.
Along with the notion of fights, I can get into the goalies face with two other teammates and the opposing defense skates around casually. EA, get the defense in there to clear the porch. Have them gently take them away from the goalie. If necessary, have a brawl, none of this shoving crap either that doesn't end. A dog pile is realistic. Might it be a while for this to happen, probably. It would be a great and exciting feature.
While I love the series, there are a few things to modify. I feel like each issue I've brought up are relatively minor issues, and if some of the suggestions I've made were in the game, nobody would be bellyaching over it. However, they do seem to add up. Fans want the most real experience they can possibly get from a game, and if any game industry can do it, it's EA. They have the capability to easily do all of these points I've mentioned. No other company is loved more than EA Sports, the hockey world relies on you.
EA does a good job every year of keeping every hushed until a few weeks up until their release dates. EA's forum did something they have not done in the past and asked for suggestions of improvements to their game. Nobody should expect any drastic changes in NHL 12, but if they head the advice of their dedicated fan base, then we should expect this franchise to be in high demand annually within the next few years.