While playing NHL '94 recently (to pay tribute to its 20th anniversary), I was reminded how that was the one year where EA removed fighting from the game. Some of the decisions that year were at the behest of the NHL, including the removal of blood on injuries, but it's interesting to note that version of EA's product is remembered more fondly than any NHL game of the '90s. With that in mind, it begs the question: do hockey games still need to include fighting at all?
At this point the NHL itself is at a bit of a crossroads with fighting, as the mixed messaging from the league has never been more apparent. Violence is a selling point for the game -- no doubt -- but the league still insists on championing the instigator rule, suspending fighters who fight multiple times, and fining teams who send out goons late in games. The rub becomes that players overwhelmingly want fighting to stay, but they do support the instigator rule. However, to counter that, a recent poll shows that two-thirds of fans want fighting gone from the game. For what it's worth, put me in the camp of people that want it to stay. With these conflicted numbers, what are developers to do in regards to fighting in hockey games?
NHL '94 aside, fighting has been in hockey videogames for quite some time now. Its's been presented from top-down, side view, third person, first person and just about every other way you can think of. It's been done in a serious way, where EA brought in actual NHL tough guys to help with the first-person fighting, and it's been done in silly ways, like the stuff found in Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel. I personally always loved that your guy got dragged off for a penalty when he lost a fight in Blades of Steel.
Modern hockey games, obviously, have gone for a more realistic treatment. The NHL 2K series actually presented hockey fights really well in its last few iterations, with helmets flying off, various flailing punches being thrown, and the players awkwardly spinning around as they chucked the knuckles. As for EA, their fight engine has been pretty much garbage for a while now, whether the action is being presented in first person or third person. The fact that every player on the ice (and bench) has to disappear for the fight to even work is a bizarre technical hurdle, and the event itself doesn't look great -- and plays even worse.
If fights are going to stick around in hockey games, it would be nice if the development team would stick a couple of people on the job and make the fights more organic to the flow of play on the ice. There obviously need to be some checks and balances under the hood so that fights don't happen all the time, but the way EA does it now (first person, goalie fights, bad controls) isn't getting it done. I know many users don't seem to care about fights in hockey games, but if they're going to take up space in new products going forward, it would be nice if they were reflective of the actual nature of how they play out in real life.
What do you think, OS? Should fighting still be in hockey games? If so, how can it be better? If not, why should it be gone?