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Producer David Littman Talks NHL 14
Operation Sports recently had a chance to get an early glimpse of NHL 14, and senior franchise producer David Littman was there to give us the the lowdown on where the series has been up until now and where it will be headed with NHL 14.

“For NHL this console generation, it's been all about quality and innovation. When you look back at the generation, the NHL franchise really stands with the best of them,” said Littman. “We're really proud of that.”

Littman feels that year after year his NHL dev team has been staffed by people who live and breathe hockey, either from having played it or by being die-hard fans of the sport. He cites the lockout this year being a problem for all fans of hockey, including his dev team, but he feels that the NHL 13 product showed that his group still has the touch even when interest in the sport may seem to be waning in the public eye.

“It really just shows the fanbase we've built up. If they couldn't get real-life NHL, they could get it through our game,” said Littman.

A couple of stats were given to contextualize this passionate NHL 13 fanbase:
  • Over 1 million HUT “teams” were created
  • Nearly 500,000 users have played NHL Moments Live

In looking towards NHL 14, Littman said that he, alongside NHL series producer Sean Ramjagsingh, sat down with the entire NHL team and thought about the reach that EA Sports has a company, particularly since they have a deep pool of resources and technology that can be leveraged. Littman says that his team loves to play other EA Sports games, like Madden and FIFA, and that they share technology with those groups. “Being able to share that technology gives EA an advantage over other sports company out there,” he said.

The goal, according to Littman, was to search through the technology that EA had accrued over years and years of development and find the best in class, regardless of the team it came from. The other justification for this approach is apparently to allow accessibility for new users who may pick up NHL late in this console generation (much of what Littman said focused on this being “late in the generation,” indicating that a next-gen product is likely in development for next year). He feels that showing all the best of EA's technology in this final game gives late adopters a fulsome picture of what the NHL product is all about, which, one would assume, serves as a bridge into the next generation. Still, he cautioned that this accessibility doesn't mean it won't be a deep product for core gamers. “You never want to lose that piece,” said Littman.

For NHL 14, the mantra seems to be: speed, skill and aggression. This is what Littman refers to as “the hockey trifecta.” According to Littman, balancing these features is the key to everything. The core systems that inform this philosophy are:
  • Collision-physics Hitting System
  • Enforcer Engine
  • True Performance Skating 2.0
  • One-touch Deke System

Collision-physics Hitting System

Littman feels that NHL 13's hitting “wasn't up to par” with everything else in the game. He says that it was something identified by many reviewers of the game as well as by his own dev team. The issue, he believes, was with the input on the right stick as well as the inconsistency of the physics when a hit was initiated. Examples were shown of this, where players of significant size (such as Dustin Byfuglien) were unable to generate the expected impact, or where vulnerable players were unable to be taken down, even when shooting.


Littman spoke of the drive-through on hits being a necessity, which can now be handled by simply skating towards someone with the left stick and having the physics take care of the impact. Animations of the past were unable to accommodate the diversity of hitting that they're now striving for, which Littman feels has been achieved with this new system. The goal is to ensure that every limb is involved in a hit and that every hit looks different. Littman showed some examples, demonstrating shoulder-to-shoulder hits and the impact of a larger player hitting a smaller one.

NHL 14 is using the player impact engine from FIFA 13, where the size and strength of each player factored into the play on the pitch. “For FIFA, once they do a feature, they do it right,” said Littman. “What we can do now — which we couldn't do last year — is predict where a hit is going to take place.” This was shown in practice, where hitters will now “brace” for the impact they are about to deliver, and near-misses will result in proper partial impact, leg-on-leg collisions, and wobbled skaters. Littman stressed that the team is still working really hard to make sure that none of this starts to look too ridiculous, as unbridled physics can definitely get carried away. The team is able to regulate these physics by controlling pressure and impact points on each player and factoring that into collisions. Littman even joked that three members of his team have been just spending eight hours a day for the last three months hitting each other (in the game, of course) in order to get it right. They'll be doing this for the next three months as well.

Enforcer Engine

Fighting is something that is definitely unique to hockey, and there are very specific reasons it happens during a game. Littman feels that this is an aspect his team has yet to get right, and it's something they're putting some focus into this year.

In NHL 13, as Littman describes, fighting was a minigame that took you out of the experience. It didn't happen organically during a game, especially such as in the final minute of a contest, and that made it seem even more like a gimmick. Littman even acknowledged the goofiness of the fights taking place at centre ice, with no one on the ice or in the stands (something that always has looked really strange). He admitted that technological limits are a factor in this respect, but NHL 14 is looking to change that. He summarized fighting in NHL 13 this way: “It's a one-off, and nothing really comes out of it.”

With NHL 14, fights happen organically. If Pavel Datsyuk is run by an opposing player, someone on the Red Wings is going to come over and defend him, all in real-time. It might be a bigger defender or power forward, but the player initiating the fight will make sense based on the situation, which is a big key for the development team.


The fighting itself borrows liberally from EA's Fight Night series, where strength, speed and size differential were factored into punches and defense. “We were able to add clinching, jostling, maintaining balance and spinning each other around and really make it a hockey fight,” said Littman. He described how they tested out the Fight Night engine by staging goofy contests between players who had a significant height difference, and yet the punch targeting still worked. Much like in real-life, fights can end quickly, with the player who falls on top of the other being declared the winner (by the home crowd). Sticks, gloves, and players will be around the ice as it's happening, and one-punch knockouts are a possibility with some of the stronger players.

True Performance Skating 2.0

While Littman feels last year's skating engine was very strong, the team wanted to take it a step further, particularly on defense. “When there's a one-on-one on a defenseman, he wants to keep his 'facing direction' up ice at all times, even while he's moving side to side,” he said. To this end, they're adding the ability to “strafe” while falling back on defense, increasing the mobility and focus of defenders when dealing with the speedy forwards who benefited from last year's skating engine overhaul.

“In NHL 13, we couldn't get to what we wanted,” said Littman. “So there's a defenseman backing up, and he's not strafing. He would get a bit too far backwards, and he'd have to pivot and skate forwards. He's done all these extra moves that he shouldn't have to do.” By adjusting the crossovers and adding the strafing system, the defenders in NHL 14 can keep their facing direction and still be mobile. Much of the core offensive skating has remained similar to last year, but Littman seemed confident that his team had made the right changes to address lingering concerns about the system.

One-touch Deke System

For deking, Littman said the team wanted to address the complexity of loose-puck dekes. The feedback they have been receiving claims that they loose-puck dekes against defenders are too hard to pull off. Littman says that in NHL 13, it takes too long to execute a loose-puck deke, and the concept of reading and reacting, as done in the NHL by people like Evgeni Malkin, is lost.

In this year's game, the fancier dekes can be pulled off with just one button press, making the game accessible to people who haven't fully explored the depths of the skill stick. Admittedly, this seems like something that could lead to spamming, but Littman seems confident that the core gamers will enjoy the change as well. Since all dekes are now handled by pressing the left bumper, it means that even core players who couldn't quite do what they wanted last year will now have the time to do it, as several inputs have been eliminated.

“We haven't taken away anything from the depth,” said Littman. “If anyone wants to use the old dekes, it's still there.”

More to Come

Littman said that the team is also really excited about the “Live the Life” mode, which is the enhancement to Be-A-Pro, as well as bringing in the “online seasons” concept from FIFA to both HUT and EASHL. Littman also assured that goalies' side-to-side movement would be adjusted to properly reward two players setting up a great-looking goal. These features, as well as an ambiguous tease of the 20th anniversary of NHL '94, were left on the vine for further reveals in the coming months.

 


NHL 14 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 murph17 @ 04/19/13 10:32 AM
"These features, as well as an ambiguous tease of the 20th anniversary of NHL '94, were left on the vine for further reveals in the coming months."

On disc or XBLA version of NHL 94??? That would rule.
 
# 2 mkharsh33 @ 04/19/13 10:33 AM
I no longer enjoy this game nor do I play it (traded it in). Going to take a lot to bring me back. This is the single most disappointing sports title of the major sports... They tout their HUT and Moments - well, that's nothing I care about. They need to make this look like actual hockey to get me back.
 
# 3 drog1602 @ 04/19/13 11:04 AM
So, basically the game is a patch that we needed for NHL 13! This is why they have started releasing video and notes, since they are basically finished with the game.

See you in NHL15...maybe!
 
# 4 addybojangles @ 04/19/13 11:11 AM
I'm convinced that David Littman has no real idea of how to improve the NHL franchise and is completely in la-la-land in what he thinks works and what doesn't in NHL 13.

The physics and true-performance skating are a mess. I've been watching hockey for 20 years. I've been PLAYING hockey for 1 year. I am by no means a hockey expert, but I think absolutely say that the skating is so unnatural it's goofy. I have less than one year of actual skating experience and can move more efficiently than anyone on the ice. Sometimes you do a huge curve when turning, usually you can rub against something to go faster; it's completely baffling what's going to happen one second from the next!

Nothing about goalies? The cross-crease goal was completely eliminated from this year's version of NHL. Not toned down, completely eliminated. A goal you see in hockey (a pass through somewhere close to the crease for a goal) is rarely seen in NHL 13. And how was this fixed? Spiderman goalies. Unnaturally quick goalies.

This leads to games usually turning into low-scoring affairs that end up getting won by fluke goals.

Good to hear about dekeing, I guess.

Fighting is something that will look good on the back of the box. Neat.

I am totally scared about the "Collision-physics Hitting System." FIFA was rough around the edges year one. NHL 13 has the weirdest collision detection in the franchises history (bump into someone at full speed and he barely moves, bump into someone away from the play and they completely lose their footing).

I really wish the team would focus on gameplay:

- Better skating and realistic physics.
- Improve the goalies, don't just make them animate faster.
- Awareness of penalties - EASHL has turned into an interference-fest with players rarely getting the interference penalty they deserve.

Fix the game ON THE ICE then focus on fighting and "live the life."
 
# 5 Al_Tito13 @ 04/19/13 11:22 AM
I really like the idea of having a collision physics overhaul, it was much needed, but I also have to say that goalies would need a lot of work too and I'm concerned about the fact it wasn't mentioned at all in the features.
 
# 6 Wiggy @ 04/19/13 12:45 PM
RE: goalies

Just to clarify guys: it wasn't a feature, but at the end of the piece, I did mention the goalies being tweaked. They're aware of the spiderman goalie stuff, and they're claiming that it will be addressed. Just thought I'd point that out.
 
# 7 Rhouston @ 04/19/13 12:55 PM
Man, I feel like I am alone in thinking that this year's version was a vast improvement over the previous editions...

I will admit that out-of-the-box, this did not play like REAL hockey and was uber frustrating. But with Cycloniac's sliders (http://www.operationsports.com/forums/ea-sports-nhl-sliders/594228-cycloniacs-truesim-nhl-13-sliders.html), this, to me, is the most realistic thing we've ever had. True, it's not perfect and doesn't completely play like the game we see in person, but if that was the case, it would definitely lose a lot of the "fun" factor.

Based on the improvements this year and what I've read so far, I am excited for NHL 14. I hope I'm not alone.
 
# 8 Al_Tito13 @ 04/19/13 01:14 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wiggy
RE: goalies

Just to clarify guys: it wasn't a feature, but at the end of the piece, I did mention the goalies being tweaked. They're aware of the spiderman goalie stuff, and they're claiming that it will be addressed. Just thought I'd point that out.
I have to admit that I didn't read the 'More to Come' section at the end of the article, so thanks for the clarification. It's really good to know that goalies will be tuned, as it was the most annoying thing to me in NHL 13.
 
# 9 canucksss @ 04/19/13 01:38 PM
one touch deke..... i'd say that troubles me....some gamers will spam it (EVEN EA DENY that it will be)...good thing i dont play online anymore. not excited about NHL 14 until i see drastic improvements in presentations, AI IQ etc. i cannot wait until more info to come in...but for now...im going to dodge NHL 14 on release date.
 
# 10 onac22 @ 04/19/13 01:49 PM
OH great so now any goomba, can spam deke's up and down the ice no thank you.
 
# 11 Money99 @ 04/19/13 02:05 PM
The fighting engine sounds like a lot of fun - very similar to 2K's fighting engine (which is still the best in the business by a long shot).

The rest sounds pretty good, but we've heard this before.
The biggest thing for me, AGAIN, is if these changes will be tied to attributes.
Will we still be able to pin Chara with Hudler?
Will players like Datsyuk drop the gloves and fair well against real tough guys?*
Will every player on the ice be able to pull off those one-button dekes? I'm of the opinion that unless your deke rating is above a certain value, the dekes wouldn't work at all.

We'll have to wait and see.

* Remember NHL93's fighting? I loved it! If a middleweight fought a Probie, they still had a chance, but Probie could take a massive amount of shots, and he had the ability to injure a player depending on their fighting rating. That was awesome.
 
# 12 jyoung @ 04/19/13 03:00 PM
Has anyone seen an injury occur from a fight in NHL 13? It used to happen frequently in NHL 12, but I can't recall ever seeing someone get hurt from fighting in NHL 13.

The same thing goes for blocked shot injuries in NHL 13, they were common in NHL 12 but seem to have been toned down significantly this year to where I can't remember ever seeing a blocked shot injury occur in NHL 13.

I guess they decided getting hurt by fights and blocked shots "wasn't fun" so they took it out of the game.
 
# 13 Rhouston @ 04/19/13 03:53 PM
I've seen injuries as a result from fighting and from block shots in NHL 13... man, maybe I just lucked out and got a "good" copy of the game!
 
# 14 Ryan97 @ 04/19/13 04:30 PM
I agree with some here, this series is by behind the best sports games on the market by far. Yes thats great you have the best hockey title....But that is not saying much...The show, NBA 2K13 (I hate basketball) still blow these titles out of the water as far as capturing the sport from a presentation and realism side, Its time to step it up to the next level already. There are some glaring issues in these games (I have played them all) that anyone who lived and breathed the game of hockey as they suggest their developers do, would have picked up on years ago. Living and breathing hockey comparatively speaking to who ?
 
# 15 enice128 @ 04/19/13 08:53 PM
They gotta do something HUGE for the next generation consoles coming the end of this year....wouldnt u think?
 
# 16 Fiddy @ 04/19/13 10:47 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by addybojangles
I'm convinced that David Littman has no real idea of how to improve the NHL franchise and is completely in la-la-land in what he thinks works and what doesn't in NHL 13.
well, you seen what he did to the NBA Live series right? makes ya wonder at times..
 
# 17 THESHAMISASHAME @ 04/20/13 01:42 AM
I thought NHL 13 was the best yet and really dont think alot know how to play the actually game of NHL Hockey for example most complained about no penalties BUT just like real NHL hockey most are drawn by puck control and thats how I got most of my power play opportunities .
The fighting is very weak so Im excited to see how the FN engine translates and the only other things this game is missing is more presentation , all real faces , real team introductions and new/more goalie mask designs !
All in All this is my favorite sports game with the show as its fun and sim and hu skill actually matters unlike like the show at times .
 
# 18 13whitebread @ 04/20/13 08:17 AM
New announcers and a total revamp of presentation more of a tv style to get me to bite
 
# 19 MizzouRah @ 04/20/13 09:20 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by THESHAMISASHAME
I thought NHL 13 was the best yet and really dont think alot know how to play the actually game of NHL Hockey for example most complained about no penalties BUT just like real NHL hockey most are drawn by puck control and thats how I got most of my power play opportunities .
The fighting is very weak so Im excited to see how the FN engine translates and the only other things this game is missing is more presentation , all real faces , real team introductions and new/more goalie mask designs !
All in All this is my favorite sports game with the show as its fun and sim and hu skill actually matters unlike like the show at times .
I'm with you.. NHL 13 has some issues, but it's fun to play and I've played more games than I've ever played in a hockey game before.
 
# 20 BlueNGold @ 04/20/13 09:27 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by mkharsh33
This is the single most disappointing sports title of the major sports...
 

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