Benjamin Franklin once said, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” However, if ol’ Benji was around today he would have added “…and EA sports games.” It’s that time of the year again when fans of real and virtual sports get to combine their passions in the realm of video games. On the plus side, that means the one consistently fantastic EA Sports game will also be seeing a new release, much to the pleasure of the majority of Canadian players. NHL 18 drops this Friday, and CGM was lucky enough to snag a quick chat with Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh, the Producer for EA’s NHL 18, to see what we can expect in this year’s version of the long running franchise.
CGM: When did you begin working on the EA NHL games?
Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: I’ve been working on NHL since 09. I’ve been on the franchise for a long time and we’ve been working on 18 for probably 18 months or so, it’s been a long time in the making.
CGM: Did you have any specific goals in mind for NHL 18, or did you mainly focus on building and improving elements that were already present in the series?
Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: For us with 18 we really wanted to capture the authenticity of the sport and the real shift towards that new generation of young talent, the McDavids, the Laines, the Mathews of the world and the speed and skill and creativity they bring to the game every night. That was our vision from the start for 18, trying to capture those characteristics. That’s why you’ll see the new moves and dekes you can pull off in the game this year. We’ve put a new Defensive skill section to counter all those offensive moves. The other thing for us was to create a really accessible experience that is arcade-inspired that really shows off that speed/skill/creativity in a fun and easy to pick up and play, hard-hitting, high goal scoring experience. That’s what NHL Threes is for us. You play in a rink that’s 75 per cent the size of a real rink, simplistic broadcast package and a bunch of different designs on the ice with very few faceoffs and stoppages in play. The concept of money-pucks where pucks are worth different values i.e. for each goal you score it will take away a goal from your opponent. Those are the key features for us, and continue to round out the depth and add Vegas in our new Expansion Draft feature for our Franchise Mode.
CGM: How do you guys keep things fresh after so many years?
Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: People ask that all the time. There’s no shortage of ideas, people always want more things to make the game more realistic, and to make the stuff already in the game better. It’s all great feedback for us and it’s our job as producers and designers to think outside the box, about things people aren’t already thinking about. That’s kind of where Threes came from when we thought about “how do we bring back in that more casual fan” that maybe is no longer as connected to the sport of hockey as they once were or feels like the complexity of sports games and controllers these days has maybe put them off a bit. How do we bring them back to just pick up the controller and have fun?
CGM: On that note, the analog control first featured in NHL 08 was hugely innovative. Will we ever see a similar leap in control? How does it get better than that?
Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: It’s tough. We’re using all the buttons right now in our default control scheme so when you want to add new stuff like we did this year, it’s a bit of a rejig, you have to move stuff around to make sure the moves aren’t super complex to pull off and that people have the opportunity to use them and get good at them as well. One of the things we talked about was, “should we allow fans to fully customize their controller,” put whatever they want on whatever button they want to. There were lots of complications with doing that in terms of the testing efforts to make sure every single combination out there works and some of the controls we have associated with moves in the game are sustain hold vs. taps and flicks. We’re always looking for ways to make the controls more accessible for people.
CGM: Are you guys working on or tinkering with a possible VR version of NHL?
Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: We’re not currently tinkering with any VR-related for NHL specifically, but it’s something we’ve definitely got our eyes on. It’s a technology of the future. When we think about for NHL, the experience that I’ve seen it’s always tough when the characters start moving around the screen and how you deal with the motion of the characters. We’ve always thought about the goalie being the right place to start, we said, “Let’s go down that path,” as the goalies don’t skate around that much and for the most part are confined to that small area. We’ll see how the technology pans out over the next couple years. It’s advancing very quickly so it’s definitely something we have our eyes on.
CGM: With the release of the Xbox One X and the PlayStation Pro are you guys really cranking up framerates and resolutions for NHL 18?
Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: Absolutely. We’re sitting in front of a 4K TV right now. We have enhanced ports for both consoles and it’s something we’re really excited about, it just makes the game that much more beautiful to watch on the screen, which is awesome.
CGM: You mentioned earlier that you guys are focusing on the modern game of hockey. In the real NHL, they’re trying to phase out things like fighting and overly aggressive hitting, is that something you guys took into account with NHL?
Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: Yeah, absolutely. For me, one of the best parts about hockey is the mix of speed, skill, and aggression. This year we’ve still got out hitting but a lot of our focus was on the speed and skill and capturing that aspect of it. As long as the hitting and the fighting are a part of hockey we’ll continue to have it in our game but this year’s focus is a lot more on showcasing the speed and skill you see in today’s NHL. With NHL Threes we’re going to show that off with 3-on-3 hockey, 3-on-3 overtime, more space on the ice for you as a player to show off, again, that speed and skill.
CGM: Anything else to add?
Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: The game comes out this Friday so go out and grab it!
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