Following the announcement of the upcoming EA Sports Hockey League Beta, we spoke to Ben Ross, Associate Producer on NHL 16 to talk about the returning EASHL mode, including what’s new, what we can expect from the beta and of course where he keeps his ketchup.
Firstly could you give us a quick overview of EASHL?
We brought it into existence in NHL 09 and the goal then was a virtual league, so trying to bring you and five of your other buddies to play together on the same team. It was all about the quest to move up the ranks and at the same time you were earning XP over time. We had the opportunity to work your way through and earn XP or you could pay $10-12 and upgrade your character right away for people that didn’t want to go through that progression and it turned out that people in order to compete right away ended up doing that so that’s important just in terms of the direction we have taken this year.
When we looked to bring back EASHL we sent out a really big survey and got over 5000 responses from a lot of the core community and other people that had played EASHL in the past. It went through a lot of things in terms of what people expect from the mode, what they loved from the mode before and where they wanted to see it go in the future. Three things really rang clear above the rest and they were that people defiantly like the idea of customising their character and being able to play as themselves or as a created character. They didn’t necessarily, in that mode, want to play as our licensed players they didn’t want to play as a Sidney Crosby or a Alexander Ovechkin or something like that, they wanted to play as their created character. The other thing that was really strong was that they wanted a really balanced playing field and beyond that they wanted customisation so that within their created character they wanted to be able to customise as much as possible to be able to have a unique identity on the ice.
So when we looked at that information that is sort of what whet into the re-imagining of the mode and what we are doing now is looking at balance the player classes across the board. Making sure that we have all of the styles and player classes that people want to play as similar to the kind of roles where they were trying to earn XP before but removing some of that grind. But because it is such as big community mode where people are inviting their friends not necessarily from day one, we are making sure that a new member of the team isn’t behind the curve or forced to have to pay to get XP to climb the ranks faster. So at anytime people can come in and play through any of our player classes and it doesn’t necessarily matter how many games you have played. It’s more about trying to pick the right player class to complement the team that they are playing with, to complement their skills and the way that you want to attack that particular game either because of the way your team is playing or because of the opponent that you are up against.
One more thing is that we have a program called the games changers. So on top of that survey we actually invited 12 people from the community in that are influential in the community (some of them were even voted in by their respective communities) to give us some hands on feedback as early as pre-production. We have had them into the studio on three separate occasions for a few days each and they were just here for the last time a couple days ago with their hands on the build. They have had the opportunity to tune and polish things up in preparation for the beta so it’s in a pretty good spot at least in terms of a high level because of that. The group is bringing in a lot of recommendations from the community in terms of their speculation in terms of how things will work based on how they knew it worked in the past. Because we released some information to the community already they have made sure that the game changers are armed with their questions so they have come in and we have tried to resolve as many of those thing as we can even before the beta.
What exactly are you going to be looking for in terms of feedback from the beta?
So I guess the biggest thing is that because it is such as big community mode we are looking for the balanced experience, we want to see what kind of teams you can put on the ice. Our overall goal I guess also reflecting back on where the hockey league was before because people could put XP in different classes we found in the end that people were trying to game the game, they were trying to find the perfect build that they could then put certain XP into attributes such as speed and wrist shot accuracy and things like that to try and build the perfect player. With that we did not necessarily get to the point where people were putting a balanced lineup on the ice so our goal this time around.
What we have seen so far with the gamechangers program is that people are putting more balanced teams on the ice. So it’s not necessarily a full line of snipers out there, people are making sure that they do have a power forward and another player is playing as a sniper and somebody else in in there maybe as a two way forward to play more of a checking style. Then do they have a complement on defense where they have a defensive defense-man and an offensive defense-man to sort of help both sides of the puck and to make sure that they can move the puck quickly when they transfer to offense.
So when we get it out into the community’s hands for the beta we want to see if that rings true and iron things out. We want to make sure that players can experiment a lot during the beta and get to the point where it’s a balanced as possible so that when it goes live at launch that we are in a really good spot and that we are making a balanced experience.
Last year one of the criticisms that people had was that the game modes were lacking. Is EASHL the one answer to that criticism?
No.It’s a big answer because it’s definitely one of the biggest modes in the game in terms of the biggest community mode so it was definitely the one where we hear the most about it. But we’ve actually put more more breadth and depth into the game across all modes as well as brought a bunch of them back. Within our GM mode we have added a lot of depth there again, you can go play with the NHL affiliate teams and bring players up and down through the minors. Within our HUT modes we have expanded on the single player and the online modes there as well and added in single player offline seasons.
Within GM mode we have added an all new player moral system so that’s something really brand new to GM mode that virtual owners haven’t had to experience before. It was always sort of about the chase to see if you can bamboozle the other GM’s in the league to give you all of the star talent but at this point much like the real world there aren’t many star players that are going to be happy sort of getting 3rd and 4th line minutes. Now you are going to start hearing about that and you’re going to have to start thinking about the moral side of things and what teammates you match up with each other and the amount of Ice time they are going to get and whether you are putting them in key situations whether players like to play in the power play or the penalty kill and the roles you are asking them to play. So you will be balancing that side of things as well as the on ice play.
Is this a mode the more casual fans will enjoy or is it just for the super hardcore?
We have a pretty cool progression there because within our be a pro modes we have added back in some favourite stuff in there too such as a feature called sim the next shift so you can actually play as a single player and work your way all the way through from junior leagues all the way up to pro. So for those that see the online side as a bit more of a daunting experience it’s a great progression to work through be a pro.
That gives us a good opportunity to talk about our all new on ice visualisations which are essentially like a tutorial in terms of bringing new people into the game itself and also people into the game of hockey. As your progress through that mode you are learning the controls, right from the first face off it’s telling you how to take a face-off, it’s telling you how to pass the puck, how to shoot the puck and it’s even teaching some of the rules of hockey and some of the things to be aware of on the ice. That’s done through a bunch of different visualisations to show you which players are open and suggestions for when you should and shouldn’t be making a pass. When we suggest to shoot there is even a visualisation on the net to show you which areas of the net are more open, because we found that a lot of people playing the game for the first time are often looking down at their player and the puck. One of the biggest things they are telling you in any sport but in hockey especially as it’s so fast is to keep your head up and obviously be looking for that next option, whether that’s for the pass or the shot. So we feel like the new on ice visualisations gets people to the point where they are looking at the visualisations they start looking for that open spot as opposed to just looking for little bits of room on either side of the goalie with the net sort of lighting up in the areas that you should be aiming at. So thats a great progression whether you go through the whole progression or if you have just done some of that to learn the controls before jumping online.
We have heard from a lot of people that find a team to play with is that the great thing about building a balanced team and making sure that XP isn’t a differential is that you’re in there and your player is ready to compete right away. You might have people on your team who have played for years or maybe they have played a bunch of games within NHL 16 already but as soon as you jump in you have some great teammates to play with and the XP isn’t a divide. Quite often you can jump into a team and feel right at home because of the players around you and at the same time you are going to be matching up against teams of the same skills because there is a whole division system that is how you progress through the mode. So your team if they are division 1 or division 10 team you will be matching up against other division 1 and division 10 teams to make sure that the playing field is not only equal in terms of the XP of the player on the ice but also in terms of the competition you are playing against.
Finally, where do you keep your ketchup, in the cupboard or in the fridge?
Fridge for me.
Thanks to Ben for his time.