EA Answers The Hard Questions On NHL 19 Player Likenesses, Commentary Changes, EASHL Practice Mode, And Online Franchise
During a recent visit to EA headquarters, I got extensive hands-on time with NHL 19, and am happy to report the gameplay looks to be in great shape compared to years past. Both the Real Player Motion skating improvements and new collision system help the game take the dramatic step forward many fans expected the series to take back when it made the generational leap to PS4 and Xbox One. If you want to get your hands on it now, you can via the open beta.
In addition, I also sat down with creative director William Ho to discuss many of the questions hardcore franchise fans have been asking on social media and in the comments section of our first look. Read on to find out about the status of adding more player likenesses, EASHL practice mode, online franchise, and many other hot-button issues.
On Stretching Player Ratings
"We very deliberately didn't play with the player rating spread a lot this year. I think that's because we really wanted to focus on the effect of traits and specialties on players. Especially because we don't just have the traits and specialties in World of Chel. We also have them in Be A Pro, and we wanted to be very deliberate about what those boosts are when you are applying those traits, because that is additive and also subtractive on player ratings. You'll see swings like sometimes plus or minus five points on primary traits. That is where we get variability on the high end. If you max out your shooting abilities you can take a guy from 89 shooting to 96 shooting, which is getting pretty up there. ...You shouldn't be surprised if we do a recalibration of player ratings in the future, but we didn't want to tear down that house for NHL 19."
On New Commentary
"After last year, where there wasn't an update for certain reasons, this year we were adamant to get as much recording time and studio time with Doc and Eddie. What's nice is those guys are total pros. You may be aware that most of the material is actually ad-libbed by them. We provide very little and they are so pro about it; we're able to book a number of sessions in Chicago, get our crew down there. We were able to get several thousand new lines. It's mostly in what we call 'heavy traffic' areas. That's the most common place you're going to hear much more variety in those calls. And then there's a certain sort of 'low traffic' comments, the fringe context for VO, which we added a bit to but not as much as we added to the 'heavy traffic' areas. We hope fans will notice a difference."
On Adding More Player Likenesses
"There are a number of updates. I think we've gotten some of the younger players. I think Boeser – we have an update and there is a handful of other younger player's we've gotten in. We've spent considerable time and effort on some of the alumni teams we've added. We do have a new representation of Wayne Gretzky in there. Some of our players we have likenesses that are still okay from years past, but we don't have some of the players from the '80s and previous to that, so we spent some time and effort on lovingly recreating likenesses of those classic players.
"We can do it manually; there's nothing that a good video artist can't create from photo reference, from video reference. But we are looking at ways we can be more mobile so we can meet halfway with the athletes, or if they are passing through Vancouver we can get them into our head scanning room. But we're always looking for more ways that we can get more updated likenesses."
On Changes To Be A Pro Mode
"We haven't messed with the core of it, but we have added traits, so that as you level up your player, you earn points that you can spend on skills and work your way down several different skill trees. That's that extra layer of strategy, choice, and personalization that I think gives more choice but also doesn't violate the fantasy of it being a simulation mode."
"We know there are lots of fans of Be A Pro, myself included. We are looking at ways we can add to it and freshen it up in years to come."
On Why "Ones" Mode Doesn't Support Offline Play
"We originally envisioned it as a way to get more people to play online. People love 3v3 and 6v6 and EASHL, but it is a bit intimidating to some players, so we deliberately designed Ones to get people to play online and show that hey, it can be instantly fun instead of having that huge learning curve. I like to design features in phases, and I think this is just phase one of Ones."
On The Prospect Of Outdoor Rinks Coming To Other Modes
"We did design Ones as this tournament/festival out in the mountains on the lake. We're looking at ways we can have other modes outdoor because we know that aesthetic of having outdoor ponds, it's a sunny day, you have everyone in their casual gear, it's just a great vibe. We're definitely looking at ways to get it into other modes."
On The Lack Of An EASHL Practice Mode
"All of the features we hear about year over year, we don't deliberately just ignore them. We don't have EASHL Practice Mode in NHL 19, but it's not to say we didn't consider it. But there are lots of loud voices on our team campaigning for it, so hopefully we'll have better news sometime in the future.
On Why They Haven't Added Online Franchise Mode
"GM Connected is something we always evaluate, because we hear it too. We know there is a demand for fans who want that level of connectedness, that depth, and that realism. There's a lot of moving pieces that have to contribute to something that has so many dependencies. We want it, but I think it will have to happen at the right time. You mentioned it wasn't as satisfying as it could have been when it was in NHL, we don't want to do it that way again. It would have to be a full, top-notch experience for us to ship it."
On Improving A.I. Behavior
"This year was more of a consolidation and quality of life year. We've taken a lot of the feedback from the community and really focused on how we could take the existing A.I. and polish the heck out of it. A lot of the pain points, a lot of the things that players have noticed, particularly with goalie A.I. and player positioning. We've done a lot of polish there. With player switching, this is not "A.I." but there is logic there that affects your ability to play. We've done a lot of internal user testing on that to see how we could improve that. And for people who really want, "I need the left wing right now" or "I want a right defensemen" you can just hold down the right trigger and use the right stick to select the player you want. That sidesteps any edge cases in our logic."