30 July 2010
Today I had the honour of speaking with the Joe Nickolls, senior producer of EA's new NHL Slapshot for the Nintendo Wii.
Before we begin I want to say thanks to him and EA for setting up this interview. I know they're hard at work completing the game, set to release on September 7th, so taking time out to speak with me is greatly appreciated.
I'll be honest, when the first details of Slapshot were released, I instantly wondered if this was going to be another cutesie, fluffy, sports title trying to take advantage of the family-friendly niche the Wii has carved out. However, after speaking with Joe, it became abundantly clear NHL Slapshot is aimed not only to the young gamer, but also to hardcore hockey fans.
Lets start with the career mode, or as it's called “Peewee to Pro”. Joe assured me this could very well be the deepest career mode EA has ever created in any of their sports titles. You begin by creating your Peewee superstar. Choose your name, jersey, likeness, and team to begin your journey. If you'd prefer to play as a current NHL player, or as cover athlete Wayne Gretzky, go for it. (For those wondering, Wayne can only be used in the career mode. If you don't elect to use him as your Pro, he'll take on the role of coach to help guide you to superstardom).
One of the first things you'll notice when you first hit the ice as a pint-sized superstar, is that your skating motions will mimic that of actual children. For those that have never watched young kids skate, most of them will take 100 strides and travel a total of 6 feet on the ice. Thanks to motion capturing technology, EA used actual kids on blades to capture this perfectly.
Another touch added by EA that I absolutely love was putting the kids in caged helmets. My 7-year-old son immediately connected with this bellowing, “They look just like me!”. Taking to the ice in a 3-on-3 format, you will earn points from the actions you perform on the ice. Shoot a lot and you'll earn boosts angled towards that skill. If you fancy yourself a playmaker like The Great One, the more passes you make the more points you'll receive to increase your needle-threading skills. The same will ring true for those that love the physical aspect of the sport. Dish out body checks and your inner goon will blossom.
After a handful of games, you'll have the choice to either continue your Peewee career or progress to the Bantam level where the games will played outside in an evening setting. Along with growing in ability your player will also mature physically. Not only will you become taller but your short choppy movements will transform into long smooth strides. Because EA has exclusive rights to the Canadian Hockey League, when you're Bantam career has wrapped up, you'll be drafted into one of the three Canadian junior leagues; the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, or Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The developers of NHL Slapshot really want to capture all the glitz and glamor that comes from moving up the ranks so you'll actually see your player sitting at home watching TV as a general manager from a CHL suitor calls out your name. Continue to play through the juniors, building up your player and eventually an NHL team will be calling your name in their annual draft. From here you'll experience the high's and low's that most pro's face; trying to make the big club, being traded and possible demotions to the AHL.
If 'Peewee to Pro' isn't your thing, Slapshot includes all the regular modes you'd expect from any NHL game by EA. This includes, playoffs, Dynasty or Exhibition. You can even fast-forward straight to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals if you like. One thing that was made very clear to me is that this is not a fluff game featuring nothing but over-the-top gameplay. Portions of NHL11's new physics engine along with AI and animations from NHL10 & 11 and NHL Arcade were all implemented to make Slapshot an authentic and fun hockey experience.
If you're wondering about the controls I suggest checking out the following video: http://www.ea.com/videos/1a4aa8f998be9210VgnVCM1000001065140aRCRD
NHL Slapshot includes a Wii controller shaped like a hockey stick so the gamer experiences the feeling of actually being on the ice. Deking and checking can be done with Wii motions, skating with the analog stick, while passing, shooting and blocking shots will be handled with buttons.
One of the things I wondered about is how the game handles controlling a player who is off-handed from myself. Being a right-handed shooter, how would it adapt if I was controlling a left-handed player such as Sidney Crosby? Joe assured me that the game adapts to this situation and will map the controls to accommodate. The same can be said when skating down on the screen. I was assured it's all seamless and very smooth. While Joe wanted it clear that this wasn't just another fluff Wii sports title, provisions were made so even the most gamer-challenged individual can enjoy this title.
You can play Slapshot with the custom Wii hockey stick or just the Nunchuck or Wii Remote if you like. The AI will recognize you're only using a two-button controller so it will do most of the legwork for you, with the user only having to press the buttons for passing or shooting. This is also true for the Stick controller. Take your thumbs off the analog sticks, and eventually the CPU will recognize that the user is no longer controlling the skating movements. You can still use the controller for stickhandling, shooting, checking or passing, but the burden of skating is now in the AI's hands. Not only will this allow younger or more inexperienced gamers to enjoy Slapshot, but it enables anyone with a controller, Wii Remote or Nunchuck, to jump in and play with their friends or family. When the Wii first hit stores hockey and motion controls appeared to be natural bed fellows. EA believes they have combined the power and fun of the Wii with an engaging and realistic simulation of the fastest game on earth.
On September 7th, get off the couch, grab a stick and get into the game. I know I will.
Article by Henry Dyck
Senior Hockey Writer