Feature Article
NHL 13: Five Items That Still Need Improvement
As much as I loved the subtle additions to NHL 13, as well as the more meaningful stuff like the True Skating engine and GM Connected, there are still some outstanding issues with the game in terms of its AI performance on the ice. The team at EA Vancouver has really brought the series along over the years, addressing some bothersome exploits and annoying holdover issues from previous versions. However, in doing so, it has underlined a few pesky problems that remain, and it's also introduced a few new ones. These are five AI issues that I believe still need some work, and I think there are solutions for each one of them. I'll start from the goalie on out.

1) Goalie Save Animations

Unfortunately, the goalies in NHL 13 still have problems. Don't misunderstand, as I think they've been improved drastically over what they were in the past. It's great that MOST silly, unrealistic garbage goals don't go in, and I initially liked that CPU goalies could fly across and make all sorts of acrobatic saves. It's also cool that they keep adding fun new animations to create all sorts of ridiculous saves.

The problem comes from the law of unintended consequences, where the plethora of goalie desperation animations ends up creating some frustrating situations where the netminder is either getting to a puck he shouldn't or is outright missing a simple shot because he's gone into a crazy save animation when there is really no need for desperation.

The amount of one-timers that goalies are stopping this year is pretty insane, as they seem to cheat before the puck has even been passed from one player to the other. When you've seen the same cross-body save over and over again in one game, and then your goalie is letting in a goofy shot from the half-boards or from an in-close sharp angle, it gets pretty maddening. I'm glad that EA has improved the goalies so they don't just get hosed on every one-timer, but there needs to be a realistic balance. Just the same, these goofy no-angle shots shouldn't be a regular thing. I have seen some teams in the EASHL adapting to this by executing one-timers that make the goalie go into desperation early and be way out of position on a short-side one-timer. This is a problem as well.

What Needs to Change: Find a way to adjust the goalie sliders so that cross crease animations aren't as dominant on clear-cut one-timers from a 2-on-0 breakaway. Also, adjust the aggressiveness and positioning of goalies on the short side so that goofy wristers from the half-boards or from in close have a very low chance of going in (and so that goalies don't use crazy animations on easy shots, as in the picture).

2) Puck Support Behind the Net

While I've truly enjoyed the addition of board play the last couple of years, it has brought on one annoying issue when you're playing with CPU teammates. More often than not, it seems that teammates on the ice refuse to provide adequate puck support when you're engaged along the boards behind your goalie. It can be doubly frustrating when you're trying to handle two opposing players, as they are almost certainly going to get the puck from you before you can kick it along or escape with it.

The crazy thing is that it would only require a small bit of adjustment to have one of the wingers not play so far up the half-boards. It's really deflating to have a situation develop into a goal that had no business even being an offensive chance for the other team. It seems that the AI teammates are waiting for that big outlet pass — amusing, as well, since they never seem to take that outlet in stride — and don't want to float down and provide proper support for the puck. They almost never get right into the dirty areas in order to help poke the puck loose, either.

What Needs to Change: Adjust the winger behavior pattern so that they recognize when a second AI attacker has moved in to forecheck your human-controlled player. Either have them get aggressive with poke checks or make them wait in an intelligent location for the kick pass along the boards.

3) Gap Control

One area that could still use some slight adjustment is gap control. When an opposing team has gained possession in your zone, it still doesn't seem to matter what strategy you have selected, as forwards and defenders will sometimes find themselves admiring passes and not really deterring offensive chances. I think some of this has to do with the momentum engine and revised backskating, but a lot also has to do with CPU teammates' unwillingness to really get poke checks going or get up in someone's face.

Of course, you don't want your AI companions to start wildly stick checking and going for ill-advised hits, but a bit of stick sweeping on the ice to disrupt passing lanes and a closer proximity to the players at the point would be helpful. Defenders will occasionally step up for a hit when a player tries to cross the blue line, but they usually just seem content to shadow the offensive player while slowly backskating (more on this later).

What Needs to Change: Since poke-checking has become a big thing this year, it would be nice to see more CPU teammates stick sweep while closing the gap on attacking players. Also, retreating players should more aggressively shadow streaking forwards and go for the occasional disruption rather than just basic containment.

4) Going to the Net

One of the more annoying issues on offense is when you're cycling the puck and waiting for teammates to either go to the net for a one-timer chance or just stand in the slot. It's great that the cycle game is much more effective than it used to be in previous years, but when the opposing team is giving you a wide berth in front of the net, and your AI teammates don't go there (or stay there very long), it forces you to settle for perimeter shots or rush a pass into a dangerous area.

It's really quite baffling to me why CPU wingers don't go to the front of the net and just stay there while you're trying to develop a cycle. Sure, they may post-up when you're blasting a slap shot from the point, but they'll be out of there pretty quickly. I can't even count how many times the other team, even on high difficulty, has yielded the front of the net, and yet my teammates choose to not go there. Even worse, sometimes they do start to make a motion in that direction, but by the time a pass reaches them, they're already turning towards the corner, requiring them to take an awkward shot or turn back towards the net.

What Needs to Change: This issue could be addressed by reinforcing certain player behavior, particularly when it comes to power forwards and checkers. If two forwards are developing a cycle along the boards and behind the net, the other forward needs to be buzzing through the slot or posting up in front of the net for an extended period of time. They should only be turning away from the front of the net when it seems like a defender is returning or if you're about to lose the puck on the other side.

5) Getting Back on Defense

Something that you'll routinely see online is human players blasting past CPU defenders. It happens so often on innocuous breakouts that it's become a running joke when my friends and I play EASHL. This issue can be mitigated by having one or two people play on defense, which is fine, but there really needs to be an improvement to the CPU defenders in this regard.

It almost seems like the adjusted backskating as well as the momentum engine for this year have affected the behavior of defenders when heading back into their own zone. More often than not, they seem to get caught flat-footed, refusing to turn around and power-skate (until it's too late) so that they might have a chance of being in position. Once a human player has turned the corner on them, their ability to poke check seems non-existent, and they almost never are able to catch up and do anything meaningful to prevent a scoring chance. In general, their positioning on defense is often questionable when certain breakouts occur, and many human users just seem to be able to power past an AI defender without getting much of a rough ride.

What Needs to Change: I feel that CPU defenders need to actually turn around and power-skate (before it's too late) more often in order to stay with the play. It would also be nice to see them actually poke check or use some body position to edge out players when someone is trying to turn the corner. Honestly, EA talked about anticipation AI, and yet it seems to me that defenders often can't anticipate an obvious breakaway developing around them.

Final Thoughts

To me, these kinds of AI issues are annoying, but they aren't deal-breakers. I'd like some or all of this stuff tightened up in future version of the game, as I think a few new animations and some adjusted sliders could help mitigate some of this. It would also be great to see individual teams and players compete with more specific behavior, which would translate into more complex interactions on the ice.


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Member Comments
# 1 asu666 @ 01/29/13 11:41 AM
You've made some really nice gameplay observations. I'd love to see all of the pre-game introductions and penalty sliders working right out of the box too.
# 2 wildhockey19 @ 01/29/13 12:15 PM
EASHL lag issues......enough said.
# 3 w_unit_17 @ 01/29/13 12:39 PM
EASHL lag issues are not the problem.

My brother and I play Be a gm mode offline and experience every single one of these issues. We find that #5 is the most annoying. We have tried adjusting the sliders countless times to prevent the constant breakaways for both us and the cpu that have resulted from the new skating system coming to the conclusion that it's simply a computer AI issue. Hopefully it will be resolved
# 4 Al_Tito13 @ 01/29/13 01:29 PM
Great points! I agree with mostly everything you said. I love NHL 13, but it still need work and having all these gameplay items improved in NHL 14 is a must.
# 5 JohnMcClaneTW @ 01/29/13 01:35 PM
I agree with pretty much everything here.

Your points about the CPU are why I find playing Online Vs or HUT or anything one on one with another player to be borderline unplayable. I'm tired of the constant awful positioning by my CPU teammates on both offense and defense. I regularly find myself needing a pass to an open winger and that winger is just not in position for some reason. Things like that bother me a great deal.

It's for these reasons why I mostly stick to EASHL. Sure, the lobby and drop-in games can be frustrating with bad teammates, but those can be fun. The real fun is to be had on club teams with a full 6 on 6 (all human players) game. That's where teamwork can be seen at its best and if someone is out of position, it's your own fault instead of the fault of some crappy AI decisions.
# 6 Tonic @ 01/29/13 01:50 PM
Great article. I definitely agree. I made a post last night about some of these things as well.

You can read it here!
# 7 Steven547 @ 01/29/13 02:30 PM
Let's not forget Goalie Fatigue and goalie confidence. If I'm correct, awhile ago, there was something with the goalies. When they were scored on a lot in one game, or let in a lot of goals in a short span of time, their confidence went down.

And for the Goalie fatigue, it can't just be "Goalie is tired", and you sit him. His stats needs to be affected as he progresses into exhaustion. This would force the user AND CPU to make goalie changes throughout the season.
# 8 Cletus @ 01/29/13 02:58 PM
The cpu crashes the net fine, the problem is, the cpu vacuum tie up. They try to crash the net and if the aggressiveness is set to 5 or higher then they defenders automatically tie up anyone in the vicinity. One thing that needs to be changed in EASHL are the buttons. Make Y (or Triangle) the tie up button. I hate when playing EASHL and trying to stop a cross crease as a forward and getting a penalty because I'm one centimeter out of where the tie up animation is. If the defense could pick of passes or poke them to safety (instead of to the offensive teammate across the ice) then this wouldn't be as big of an issue either.

Also, please fix the puck physics and make it so people can't hold down poke check and skate and become unbeatable.
# 9 half-fast @ 01/29/13 03:40 PM
Originally Posted by wildhockey19
EASHL lag issues......enough said.
I wouldnt say "enough said", but surely it must be embarrassing for EA when I can play FIFA online team play with almost a full compliment of human players per side and very little to no noticeable lag, then we play NHL otp 4v4 and there can be so much lag that its no fun.
# 10 KleShreen @ 01/29/13 03:52 PM
I don't understand how people can complain about lag. It was way worse in NHL 12. This year, I've logged over 300 EASHL games at various combinations between 3v3 and 6v6 and MAYBE five times has the game lagged at all. Maybe you guys should be looking at your ISP or equipment for your internet. There is not a lag problem in EASHL. Unless you are talking about there being too much time between periods for things to get off the "Please Wait" page, then yes, that needs some help.

FWIW, I might even have more validity by saying that I run my internet through a wireless router with an ethernet cord going to my 360 and an ethernet cord going to my laptop, and I'm actively surfing the web (during stoppages) and streaming pandora at the same time I'm playing EASHL games. So if anyone should have lag problems, it would be me.
# 11 MizzouRah @ 01/29/13 10:39 PM
Nice writeup.
# 12 gsize19 @ 01/29/13 11:12 PM
some GREAT point!!! but to some of the commenters, do you guys plat defense at all? i see very few breawaways a game, lest than 1 a game really, maybe 2... If you play with your defender you can get in pointion and stop a lot of this... it is all about defense, and having that mentality first. Scoring is awesome, but defence wins games... work on your de, the breakaways go away rather quickly!!!!
# 13 actionhank @ 01/29/13 11:23 PM
I feel like no matter what my settings are at, there's just no passing game in NHL13. What i mean is, that while watching NHL games, or even just tonight, highlights from other games around the league, what i see is a lot of passing. On the powerplay especially, the teams are sometimes hurling the puck across the ice just above the slot, right through a few of the defending forwards. But in NHL13, it's damn near impossible to do anything but pass the puck between your D-men, or maybe down the boards to your forwards. In the real NHL they will frequently throw the puck from one side to the other, or from the Dmen down to the man at the top of the circle, or the side of the face-off circle, who launches a one-timer on net. But in this game that's almost immediately picked up by the AI, then cleared almost instantly out of the zone (It's a bit better than last year, but it's still ridiculous how easily the AI can get that puck down ice.)
Passing in general is tough. I feel like the skating engine made things a bit better, but things like skating along the blueline with your defensemen seems to be tougher to get right. They seem to always want to pivot and take the put out of the zone and end up offsides.
# 14 Dougie_G_93 @ 01/31/13 01:40 PM
There will always be some tweaks in gameplay and presentation every year so EA can justify the next game as being "new" However, my main mode I play is be a gm. For the last few years this mode has been completely neglected along with accurate rosters.
# 15 kerosene31 @ 02/01/13 03:14 PM
I agree with all of those. The AI really hurts the game offline. #5 shows the big flaw in the game - the AI doesn't know how to use the new skating engine.

I know if I have my slower d-men out there against speedy forwards, I have to pull them back sooner. The AI doesn't seem to realize this until a moment too late. It is so easy to exploit. Faster skaters can easily get too much space on the wings. Then, just make a couple spins with an agile player and the slower d-men will be lost in space.

For my team, it forces me to not play in the neutral zone and instead manually control the D and make sure someone is back properly.
# 16 @legendm0de @ 02/01/13 07:46 PM
those are nice observations, I have been thinking more freedom puck handling, I think they'll give us more arsenal stick handling in next edition. Maybe an overhaul of the entire puck carrying system

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