EA Sports NHL 24: The Year of Gameplay

Talking with Creative Director Mike Inglehart & Senior Producer Chris Haluke

EA Sports NHL 24: The Year of Gameplay

After a busy week at EA Sports NHL 24 Community Day, CGMagazine came away with a wealth of knowledge about the newest NHL title. We have already heard about our NHL 24 cover athlete, Cale Makar, but EA has even more up its sleeves. This year, EA Vancouver has decided that it is the right time to give NHL 24 a complete overhaul, introducing a Battle Pass, more vanity items, new colour commentators and plenty more.

Among those changes is a slew of gameplay choices that will change the NHL title you all know and love. From playable goalies to a brand-new exhaust system, NHL 24 will have even the most dedicated players on their toes. CGM got the chance to sit down with EA Sports NHL 24 Creative Director Mike Inglehart and Senior Producer Chris Haluke to find out more about the changes this year. Both are avid hockey fans and, more importantly, NHL game players, and it was very clear that the sport and the video game are near and dear to their hearts.

Ea Sports Nhl 24: The Year Of Gameplay

Are you an NHL fan outside of video games?

Chris Haluke: Absolutely. Grew up loving the franchise, loving the series. Played hockey all my life. Countless nights in university, in high school, more than I probably care to remember playing the series. So, yeah, it’s near and dear to my heart.

Did you play the NHL games themselves? How far back does that go?

Chris Haluke: NHL 94. Since the beginning.

So this year, we’ve got a Canadian on the cover. What about Cale Makar makes him the perfect choice for EA Sports NHL 24?

Mike Inglehart: I think how he represents himself and how he’s competed and won at every level is something that also connects to the history of this franchise. So we felt like he was the right fit. He is obviously a player too that, even if you’re not a fan of Colorado, it’s somebody that you can’t help but appreciate in terms of what he brings to the game [NHL 24].

Chris Haluke: We felt Cale truly embodies what we were trying to accomplish this year. If we think about ‘Gameplay is King,’ Cale is obviously an incredible athlete. He’s a champion in the NHL and on the world stage, considered arguably one of the best defensemen in the NHL, he’s physical, he’s fast. Those are some of the attributes that we are definitely trying to embody with the game that we’ve put together for NHL 24.

How does it feel being on this team making an all-Canadian game in Canada?

Mike Inglehart: I mean, working in games in general, playing them so much growing up and being in the industry for 25 years, it’s a huge privilege. But now, to be playing a game that I have sunk, I don’t even know how many years of my life into playing as a consumer, it’s a huge privilege to be here and a chance to take the series to new heights.

It’s exciting to get up every day knowing that there are kids out there coming to this game the same way I did when it first came out on the Genesis and being able to be part of the history of the franchise. It’s an unbelievable honour. And, you know, these are those life experiences you don’t expect to have when you’re growing up. And I couldn’t be more excited to be here.

Chris Haluke: It’s truly a dream come true for me. I’m in my first development year, so NHL 24 will be my first full year in this role. In this position, I feel I’m incredibly blessed to be even here speaking to yourself, talking to the community. It’s a wonderful opportunity to work on a franchise again that I’ve played since I was a kid. It was a dream to come and work on NHL, and that dream became a reality just over a year ago.

Ea Sports Nhl 24: The Year Of Gameplay

As a Canadian studio, do you think there’s more pressure for EA Vancouver to put Canadians on the cover of EA Sports games?

Mike Inglehart: No, I don’t think so. I think you want to pick relevant players that best represent the sport, the league and also what connects them to the game. I mean, obviously, Canada is a huge hotbed for hockey. It always has been. But it’s fair to say as well that hockey is also balancing out across the globe. And now, when you watch the Olympics or the international tournaments, it’s becoming the kind of tournament where it’s anybody’s cup to win.

Chris Haluke: No, I don’t. I think if we think about it, like just looking at what is the right choice for any given year, I think that’s the way that I would like to think about it. And this year, gameplay is king. That’s our goal.

Chris, Do you ever find, like as a hockey player, that your hockey bias maybe gets in the way sometimes, like you want it to be a little too true to life at all?

Chris Haluke: No. Do you know what I think? I’ve been around long enough, I definitely try to think about it at a higher level and what our players want, what they need. I think I learned that a long time ago. It’s not my game. It’s the community’s game. It’s what our players want.

And you never know who’s on the team, whether they’re Canadian or American or otherwise. You can’t really just go Team Canada anymore, eh?

Mike Inglehart: Although some people do, right? Whenever the playoffs come around—my sister especially—she’ll cheer for the Canadian teams if the Leafs get knocked out. I’m on the other side. To your point, that team could be full of non-Canadians, even though it’s in Calgary or Edmonton. But you know, I think people have a right to choose.

Canadians get overlooked a lot when compared to the U.S. just in sheer size. But EA Vancouver is doing something massive here. How does it feel to be a part of that team that’s really taking the lead in sports games?

Mike Inglehart: It’s a huge responsibility to be part of such a big company and make sure that you’re representing it properly. But as well, it’s exciting because at EA, there’s a lot of empowerment for us to really take a game like this and guide it to what we think is best. There’s actually a ton of autonomy.

Obviously, it comes with responsibility and delivering on those expectations, but I couldn’t be happier to work for a big company that really makes it feel intimate. We have this empowerment and ability to make the best game that we think is going to resonate with the market.

Chris Haluke: I feel fully backed. I know EA is committed to NHL. I know our team is deeply committed. I’m committed. Again, it’s an honour to work on something that was such a huge part of my upbringing and my growing up.

Ea Sports Nhl 24: The Year Of Gameplay

EA Vancouver showed us a slew of changes you have made to EA Sports NHL 24. Do you think there’s an immense amount of pressure to keep things fresh in a game that comes out yearly? Will there be a cap to the things you can change going forward?

Mike Inglehart: Well, I think any time you’re asking people to buy something year after year, you want to deliver enough new that they feel it’s worth the money that they’re spending. And again, being a gamer my entire life, that $80 you’re spending here in Canada, it’s a hefty price tag.

I haven’t been here that long, but we’re finding ways to say how we can add enough value every year for players. NHL is a big game. There are a ton of modes and a ton of places to touch. And to your point, coming out year after year doesn’t leave a ton of time to do things. But I think we’ll continue to look at ways to add more value.

This year’s big in terms of the feature set that’s there. But I think when you’re coming back to the series, we want to make sure you’re coming back for the right reasons and that you feel that the money you spent has brought value at the end of the day.

Chris Haluke: I think for us, from the development standpoint, we always want to ensure that we’re putting out a product that provides our players the value that they’re seeking and that they deserve. Looking at that year over year, differentiation is certainly something that we have to consider each and every year to ensure that the product not only plays differently but feels different and looks different. So there’s definitely a lot that goes into it.

And why is NHL 24 the year to make all these big changes?

Chris Haluke: When we think about our 3 to 5-year strategic roadmap, 24 was that opportunity for us to start to make some of the longer-term initiatives, the longer-term feature updates and changes. And it all came together. I know that, again, this is definitely a testament to the team upstairs, who has worked deliberately and very, very hard on all of the features that we have in this game. If it weren’t for them, we would not be in this position today.

What features do you think EA Sports NHL 24 is bringing that is really going to hit the mark?

Mike Inglehart: Gameplay is king. If you don’t have great gameplay in a video game, nothing else matters. You can have the best graphics in the world, but if the game doesn’t play well, I think it’s easily overlooked. So, we put a lot of focus on gameplay. The goal would be to get gameplay to a spot where people actually say, “Hey, this is great, maybe focus elsewhere and don’t ruin what really works.”

Kind of like your favourite dish at your favourite restaurant—don’t play with the recipe, I’m really enjoying it. I would say we set out this year to make sure this feels like a new game with NHL 24 from the first puck drop, and a lot of time and effort has gone into that, and we think it’s there, and we’re really looking forward to people playing it.

Chris Haluke: The sustained pressure system, that’s the forefront. That is what is the linchpin around all of this subset of features, physics-based contact, the goalie fatigue system. Those are all different features that ultimately play into that game-changing meta.

Ea Sports Nhl 24: The Year Of Gameplay

Do you have any fears about past players—being them yourselves—alienating them by changing too much too fast?

Mike Inglehart: It’s always that balance, right? Sometimes you have the counterargument that there’s not enough change, or then you’re going to change things there inevitably will be some different comments that are out there. But I think the changes that we made overall take what was there and make it more hockey at the end of the day, and they create a more compelling game,

I think, especially with sports games, the reason we come back to real-world sports time after time is we don’t know what the next game has in store. And I think what we’ve added this year creates a ton of replay value. Not everybody’s going to like everything, but we think, in general, the changes we’ve made have really propelled the game [NHL 24] into a new era where it should feel fresh, familiar, but also very new and cool.

Chris Haluke: No, we definitely want to ensure that the product that we’re making still satisfies the needs of our veteran players. That’s first and foremost. We want to make sure that we’re keeping them engaged with our product, all the while trying to think of ways that we can reintroduce and provide accessible options for players who perhaps may not be familiar with the franchise or the series. And that’s what we feel we’ve done this year.

Last year we had two people on the cover, one of them a woman. This year we’re back down to one. What is EA Vancouver doing to make sure that you stay ahead of the game with NHL 24, including women in sports and in our sports games?

Mike Inglehart: Definitely, Cheryl Pounder being in the colour commentary booth this year is great. She is very justified in being there. She’s a fantastic colour commentator on the networks that she’s on. We went through a lot of people in terms of replacing Ray Ferraro and she stood out amongst the rest. I think we’re going at things with equal opportunity. We’re just getting the right people in the room and seeing who can fulfill those roles.

I know we still are looking at ways to expand inclusivity across the game. The women’s League right now is still trying to figure out how to get off the ground, and that might be an opportunity in the future that we look at bringing in. We obviously have brought them in in Hockey Ultimate in the last couple of years and with Sarah Nurse being on the cover last year.

It’s a continuous effort. We have a mixture of culture and gender with officials that we put in the game last year, which I think was a good stride forward. We are just looking at all opportunities to be inclusive.

Chris Haluke: It’s obviously something that’s first and foremost when we think about hockey and diversity inclusion. There are a few things that I can’t talk about today. And as I said back in the Community Day presentation, there are a lot more features that we’re going to be revealing in the coming weeks and days, and there are a few that will embody what we just discussed.

Ea Sports Nhl 24: The Year Of Gameplay

How do you deal with any backlash from things like that? We all know there are people on both sides of the coin, right?

Mike Inglehart: I think we just make the right pushes forward to make this game for everybody. And there are audiences out there who play hockey from all different walks of life, and that includes the video game. I think we’re just trying to welcome everybody in, and that’s really what we’re concerned with. We’re not really worried about the noise that’s out there.

What kind of challenges do you face translating a live sport into a game like EA Sports NHL 24?

Mike Inglehart: I use the term gamify. There’s a real hockey game—you’re at the rink for 2.5 to 3 hours. It takes around 15 to 20 minutes to play our game [EA Sports NHL 24] the way it’s set up right now. And so the frequency in which events happens needs to happen more often and faster compared to real life. But there’s also the balance of you have to be careful not to make things too gratuitous to where you’re having that high-end exciting thing happen too much to where the game only becomes about that one moment.

Especially with a game like NHL, where it’s trying to represent real life, it’s finding that balance between having all the right moments in there but making sure they’re not happening too frequently so that you’re getting that representation of what you see in the real world happening on your screen.

Chris Haluke: Development has its challenges, and I think something for me, I’ve never worked on an annual title. I’ve never worked on something that has such a compressed development timeline. So there are a lot of challenges that go into the game. 

That’s why, again, I feel so privileged to work with the team upstairs. They’ve done this. They’re veterans. All the while, we have to ask questions about why we are doing things the way that we’re doing. How can we become more efficient or effective in how we’re developing these products year after year?

Ea Sports Nhl 24: The Year Of Gameplay

Do you find yourself asking hockey questions like, why can’t we do this? 

Chris Haluke: Again, I’ve been fortunate that I can play the new guy card.  I’m in that position where I can I ask a lot of questions and try to challenge some of the conventions and norms of the historical past.

There’s been talk about NHL 24 being on last-gen and current-gen consoles. What differences are we going to see between the two generations of consoles?

Mike Inglehart: There’s nothing really specific between them. The features are available for all players on both generations. We’ve continued to treat NHL 24 equally across both platforms.

Chris Haluke: The way that cross-play works, it would be current gen versus current gen and then last gen versus last gen.

Why keep up with the last generation and not just push forward with NHL 24?

Mike Inglehart: It’s more of from a business perspective, but you’re looking at sort of how many PlayStation 4 and Xbox Ones are still being interacted with out there. Obviously, with the next-gen of consoles out there and supply starting to increase, that market share is starting to change slowly. But when generation four becomes less of a component of the business, it may disappear.

How do you see sports games changing as our consoles and our technology get stronger?

Mike Inglehart: I’ll start with technology. I think you’re going to start seeing more AI-driven, data-driven components in the game. So being able to link into the real world, like in hockey, it’d be great to link into real-world skating data and be able to pull that into the game. Can we get likenesses of skating? Can we get positional stuff?

We’re linking into team strategies, but there’s a lot of data being driven in all the major professional sports and seeing that as sort of a next step in to benefit a video game will, I think, be something we see in the near future.

Chris Haluke: Very good question. If I think about it from our standpoint, a lot that we’re starting to think about strategically begins with that “Gameplay is King” pillar. If I think about that, that’s going to be where we’re going to see a lot of the advancements from a technical standpoint in the coming years. That’s something that I’m really excited about. 

What’s EA doing right now to tap into that as it grows?

Mike Inglehart: Our soccer product [EA Sports FC] is already using something like that. So, they’ve been connecting and using real data, and so that’s been a catalyst for the company thinking about it. I think it’s just a question of all the other sports getting to the same level as where professional soccer is at, and I think it starts to become more of a reality.

Ea Sports Nhl 24: The Year Of Gameplay

Just for fun, what has you the most excited about EA Sports NHL 24?

Mike Inglehart: Oh, honestly, I’m a gameplay guy, so I’m super excited to just get people to sample the gameplay and see how different it is. Again, it’s the most important part of a game, and I know people have been critical of it in the last few years, saying it hasn’t changed and we’ve changed a lot this year. I really do think it’s for the better, so I’m excited to see the feedback.

Chris Haluke: Goalie and goalie control. Being a goalie myself, I found it extremely challenging from a control standpoint, whereas now I feel that we really have something that’s going to be accessible for people who maybe aren’t goalies to want to try to play goalie in World of Chel. So to me, that brings a smile to my face.

How does it feel to be a goalie and now be able to play goalie in NHL 24

Chris Haluke: It’s great. It’s fantastic. The instinct system itself, it allows me to, again, use my instincts if I think the shot’s going to go high glove side, then I make that anticipation. And if I guess right, then I will definitely get a boost, and I’ll make that big save. So it reminds me a lot of playing goalie in real life.

Do you ever beat yourself up a little bit while you’re playing NHL 24? Like, “Oh, I should have known better!” 

Chris Haluke: Yea, all the time. “It’s blocker side!”

EA Sports NHL 24 releases on October 6, 2023. You can pre-order the digital X-Factor edition to gain special in-game bonuses. While you’re waiting, feel free to check out our EA Sports NHL 24 preview now!

Dayna Eileen
Dayna Eileen

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