With a new NHL season comes a new NHL video game. Similarly to the real NHL landscape where fans are sure to see things they’ve never seen before during the 2018-19 season, the new NHL 19 video game that’s set to release on Sept. 14, 2018 should provide that same unique feeling relative to years past.
Related: NHL 19 Beta Review
I was granted a sit-down meeting with NHL 19 creative director William Ho that provided me a look at the new features of the latest installment of the popular NHL video game series as well as some hands-on playing of the game itself.
My first takeaway from my play-test of the game was that this was the most revolutionary and advanced version of the game that we’ve seen to date. While the franchise has produced a very fun set of games each and every year that has kept fans coming back for more, NHL 19’s new skating and collision technology have led to a whole new level of realism that is guaranteed to blow any prior experience of the franchise out of the water.
While playing through the new NHL ONES game mode, I quickly got emersed in the skating mechanics and rather than looking to score goals, I found myself enamored with how smooth everything felt. In that same playtest, I also got a first-hand look at how the new collision system works and it was simply night-and-day from previous iterations of the game – a change for the better.
Realistic Skating and Contact Making the Difference
While a new technology that can allow more realism and authenticity in a video game relative to its real-life counterpart, it’s easy to get excited and anxious about what possibilities could be in store. As someone who has extensive experience in this field, however, there were some hesitations from Ho on how this new technology would work.
“When I first saw the tech in FIFA, I was a little bit skeptical because nothing can be that easy. When we did our new mocap (motion capture) shoot, we started getting that early data in and we did an early test of it and we immediately saw the benefits. To see a skater, like [Connor] McDavid, in NHL 18, he would just sort of pivot when he wanted to do a crossover, to actually doing crossovers [in NHL 19]. To see that foot-speed in a game was really exciting.”
It was actually game tape of McDavid’s skating in-game that was helpful for Ho and his team to truly get the skating experience in NHL 19 correct.
“The moment for me was, we didn’t actually change any of what we call the motion model (essentially how the input through the controller governs acceleration, deceleration, friction, etc.) We didn’t make any changes to that but then even just the new animations and transitions between animations, there was the perception that all the players were faster.”
For the realistic motion and contact, Ho mentioned that his team had auditioned several dozen skaters for motion capture, some of which were actually former NHL players. From there, the animation director worked hard with them to apply the data collected to their new physics engine.
Story Mode Still Missing
While the game feels better than it’s ever felt before, there’s still a distinct lack of a story mode in NHL 19. Failing to capture the success of other EA sports titles such as Madden with “Longshot,” FIFA with “The Journey” and NBA Live with “The One,” Ho and his team are very much aware of how important immersing the player is when it comes to sports titles.
“It’s something that we think about a lot,” Ho said of a potential story or campaign mode. “We want to be able to enable people to live through a hockey fantasy – to live through a character. We realized right now that’s actually kind of possible through Be a Pro, through Franchise mode, even through World of Chel; you can sort of tell a story, you can weave your own narrative. So there’s that right now and we’re looking at ways that we can add narrative but I don’t think it will resemble “The Journey” or “Longshot” but it will be its own thing.”
Though there isn’t a distinct story mode quite like the ones mentioned above, NHL 19 does promise to create an immersive environment that’s jam-packed with creative options and incentive to play daily.
The World of CHEL
With the EA Sports Hockey League being such a success, NHL 19 will deliver its evolution with The World of CHEL. In this new feature, players can take their create-a-characters across modes both new and old, such as NHL THREES Drop-in, NHL ONES, Pro-Am and EASHL.
In NHL ONES, there will be a gauntlet system that will allow players to compete daily to move up tiers of rinks. Wins advance players to the next tier of outdoor rinks while consecutive losses will ultimately relegate them. At the end of each day, the player who wins the most games at the top-tier rink will be rewarded with their name on the leaderboard as well as a prize that is earmarked for those who work their way to the top of the hill.
If NHL 19’s revolutionary feel wasn’t enough to keep players coming back daily, their impressive amount of customization should do the trick. With over 900 all-new customization options for created characters, including hoodies, jackets, parkas, knits and more, NHL 19 allows the player to truly take control of their character and mold however they see fit.
Because NHL 19 puts so much emphasis on creativity both on and off the ice, it’s no surprise then that P.K. Subban was named the cover athlete for the game.
“It was a pretty obvious choice for [NHL] 19 with the self-expression, the charisma he exhibits,” Ho would explain. “He is an amazing performer on the ice and he’s being a great spokesperson for [NHL] 19; he just embodies all those qualities. It was a pretty natural choice. We had a shortlist but the obvious candidate was Subban.”
How Much Input Do NHL Players Have on the Game?
When it comes down to making NHL video games, there almost has to be a direct stream of dialogue between game creators and NHL players. While there aren’t players actually directly working with EA, there are still a plethora of NHL players who will communicate their thoughts on the game.
“Sometimes [players] fill our ear when we get it, in their perception, wrong. If we get their ratings wrong, if their likeness is wrong. We always reach out to them because we’re prospectively looking out for next year’s cover athlete, so we have lines with partner teams and athletes that we contact [with ideas]. They’re not embedded in our team but we do reach out to these athletes.”
When it comes down to actually using active NHL players for the creation of the game, it’s typically limited to dialogue rather than actual actions such as motion capture.
“The thing that even we fight up against is that NHL players are extremely busy during the course of the season and then to have them come into the studio to do motion capture is kind of prohibitive because they don’t want to risk fatigue or injury. If we wanted to put the motion capture gear on McDavid, we push our motion capture talent pretty hard, what if the Oilers miss the playoffs because of something we did, so that’s why we sort of keep it to a talking stage.”
NHL Legends in NHL 19
While new is good in some cases, there’s nothing like nostalgia. For that reason, NHL 19 will bring 200 legends from multiple eras of hockey into the game. From alumni teams featuring the legends of yesteryear to Hero Teams that feature a combination of the best players from the past and present, players will get a chance to play with the best while bridging generations.
The inclusion of so many hockey greats in itself is impressive. When players get a chance to delve into the game and see how accurate these legends look relative to their real-life counterparts is when the real excitement should arise, however. Whether it’s Wayne Gretzky’s smile or Bobby Clarke’s legendary flow, NHL 19 will introduce new and returning hockey legends to the mix to allow users to play the game their own way.
Final Thoughts on NHL 19
The NHL video game franchise has always been an enjoyable one for hockey fans, players and everybody in between. With that said, there have been obvious obstacles in making the game feel as authentic as possible; this is true for all games and not just those in the NHL series.
With updates in technology and a hard-working team, though, Ho and the rest of the crew over at EA outdid themselves with NHL 19 and made a video game that stays true to the feel of being a hockey player, not just an NHL player.
With so much customization available to the player coupled with these advancements in skating technology and hitting mechanics and animations, NHL 19 promises to give players a hockey experience like no other.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.