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NHL 15: What the Ignite Engine Means

Now that we've seen a few games featuring the “Ignite” engine from EA Sports, it's a bit easier to understand where the NHL series may go with that technology and design philosophy powering its action. At the same time, the first batch of Ignite-powered games — NBA Live 14, Madden 25 and FIFA 14 — have all been rooted in the previous generation of consoles, showing glimpses of the next-gen gaming future while being firmly anchored to the past. The first “real” Ignite product will be EA UFC, and EA has put a lot of stock in how the sport of MMA — and the UFC brand, in particular — can help diversify their sports portfolio.

What can we take from the first Ignite games as well as EA UFC? Quite a lot, I think. From the design philosophy of those titles, it's possible to see what EA might have in store for the NHL brand, keeping in mind the fact that the folks in Burnaby working on NHL 15 only number in the dozens, not the hundreds that are found in other game studios.

Living Worlds

The most obvious benefit from the Ignite engine is its potential to create a better sense of atmosphere in and around the arena. FIFA 14 showcases this tenet of the Ignite moniker, with great looking external renders of certain stadiums, setting the mood for the match and time of day. There are also better camera cuts and replays, focusing (somewhat) more on star players and key plays. The crowd also gets buffed as well, with better 3D model work, unique animations and a better sense of frenzy after a goal is scored. EA UFC is supposedly going to use some of these same ideas, with raucous crowds and realistic lighting that helps enhance the emotion of the sport.


What could NHL 15 do in this regard? Well, it certainly stands to reason that the “living worlds” philosophy and tech would, at the very least, help the stadiums and crowds look a whole lot better. I'm expecting scoreboards and power rings to really “pop” off the screen, and the lighting during pre-game situations could look incredibly good. I'd suspect the ice would also degrade in a more realistic way, and the surface would look different depending on the intensity of the game. I'd hope EA doesn't go too crazy on the lighting, as that can actually become gimmicky if overused.

I've always thought the crowds in EA hockey games have been artistically well thought out in terms of waving towels, proper camera angles and the overall look, but the tech just hasn't been there to back it up. With better 3D models, more animation diversity and improved lighting, I don't see why the crowd can't look much more distinct in each arena across the league. A lot of this comes from the sound design, too, but the visual representation of the crowd could do wonders for picking up the emotion of an important game or capturing the fever pitch of a fight.

Realistic Movement

Another element that seems like a given for NHL 15 is increased animation fidelity, akin to the changes made for FIFA 14. The ability to show animations as they were initially conceived, with no technical limitations, opens up a lot of avenues for improved presentation of the on-ice action as well as the way the game actually feels when played.

My biggest revelation when playing FIFA 14 on Xbox One was that while the game had amazing animations that looked tremendous, especially in replays, those very same animations also changed the gameplay in a subtle but important way. Whether it was a player planting his feet properly to set up a shot or slowing his momentum when he was sprinting after a ball, these improved animations not only looked good but they made the whole game feel different. Just the same, the ability for multiple players to go after headers was an improvement to gameplay, and the animations when doing so looked great.


The most immediate area where this would apply to NHL 15 would be in the skating. It would be awesome to see a skater push off with a lot more effort when starting his acceleration, and crossovers and stops would hopefully demonstrate the skilled footwork that has already been afforded to the stick work. Still, the stickhandling would also presumably benefit, with finer moves in traffic (much like FIFA 14 demonstrated with Messi's fancy moves), and maybe we'll even see stick-on-stick contact... but maybe not.

Just like EA UFC is promising, one can imagine that NHL 15 may also feature better player-on-player contact, with enhanced collision detection being something that's apparently afforded by the new engine. This means that hits and glancing shots could animate a lot more believably, with the jersey contorting and a hitter's arm and shoulder driving through an opponent. I like a lot of what EA did this year to create some serious impact on the hits, but I'd like to see the animations and collision detection follow suit with the new engine.

Player Faces and Equipment

Another aspect where the Ignite engine could help would be player faces and equipment. If the EA UFC photos are any indication, it would be nice to see most if not all of the NHLPA rendered in NHL 15, but I recognize there are limits for the NHL dev team. Possible improvements might be better eyes for the players as well as accurate skin tone and facial hair. Might we finally see playoff beards? Even if the beards don't make it, there are a lot details that the new engine should provide. I would hope that EA at least has the resources to have better “face templates” so that if they can't render each player individually, they can do a better job of building them from pre-defined pieces.


As for equipment, we're likely to see improvement in visor reflection and helmet textures. Just the same, fabrics on jerseys should pop a lot more (with FIFA 14 showing some good stuff in this regard). It would also be neat to have jerseys showing small details like sweat or blood, and helmets could even have puck marks or wear and tear.

Enhanced Simulation

While there will undoubtedly be a knock-on effect to the added animation fidelity and atmosphere provided by the new engine, one would hope that some processing power and resources could be devoted to improving the specific gameplay systems of NHL 15 as well as the on-ice authenticity.

Some of this ties into the living worlds concept, but I hope to see all four officials on the ice, and full benches with players and staff should be doable. These items would also affect the feel of the game, as there would be a different dynamic with the line changes and with extra bodies on the ice in terms of the officials.


The biggest ask for a lot of users has been for individual players and teams to feel unique from one another. Now, some of this can definitely be achieved through enhanced animations and player detail, but I think most are hoping that the core AI powering the teams will be re-evalauted, with an eye to making each squad play to their distinct styles (speed, physicality, special teams, etc). This isn't going to be an overnight change, but it would be nice to see EA acknowledge that as a priority.

Seeing this revamped AI applied to the penalties and rule enforcement would also be good, with a particular eye to interference penalties, natural evolution of fights, more realistic post-whistle scrums and proper traffic in front of the net. Again, a lot of these issues could potentially be solved with the improved animation fidelity and collision detection, but those are only tools — tools that the AI systems will need to be built to utilize. As we often find, human versus human play is a lot of fun in almost any situation, but human versus CPU needs some work.

Outlook

There's not much info to go on for NHL 15 at this point, but it's interesting to speculate on where the Ignite engine might take this franchise. I feel this is a big moment for the NHL brand from EA, as the sales have flagged somewhat in recent years, making this next-gen entry crucial for keeping established fans and making new ones.

We'll likely see our first glimpse of the game at E3 2014, but that's not for 4 ½ months. For now, we can all look at this picture of Columbus Blue Jackets player Mark Letestu doing mocap for the new game.

 


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Member Comments
# 1 Honome @ 01/28/14 05:44 PM
For me the only thing that could save the future of EA Hockey game is competition. If 2K doesnīt ressurect their hockey game the EAīs NHL will become a new Madden, and thatīs really sad.
 
# 2 gopher_guy @ 01/28/14 06:24 PM
Hopefully this fancy new engine will allow for group hugs after goals!
 
# 3 TheFlamingWeazel @ 01/28/14 06:32 PM
Hard to believe EA buzzwords.
 
# 4 RUFFNREADY @ 01/28/14 06:43 PM
Can't wait for this game on, next-gen consoles! The Ignite engine should be in full affect, and produce something great for this storied franchise!
cheers
 
# 5 shutdown10 @ 01/28/14 06:57 PM
The Ignite Engine is all fluff at the current moment. Ea Sports needs to put up are shut up with all their titles, Sure we know Fifa, NHL, and maybe UFC will do find, but what about Nba Live or Madden. Ignite Engine is a bust until proven wrong.
 
# 6 Sycecg @ 01/28/14 07:11 PM
remember guys, the nhl development crew is not even close to the size as the other sports development teams. therefore, the NHL game will always be behind in terms of features.
 
# 7 karlos @ 01/29/14 06:15 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sycecg
remember guys, the nhl development crew is not even close to the size as the other sports development teams. therefore, the NHL game will always be behind in terms of features.
Yet NHL has an online franchise - GM connected that FIfa can only dream about !

Still enjoying an online franchise with Thatsportsgamer that Richard Grisham (from our own Press Row Podcast) was in until a week or so ago when new the season started. Most enjoyable sports experience for me last year. Ran a close second by Next Gen Fifa on the pitch though to be fair.

Genuinely looking forward to Next Gen NHL and what the power of the new console and the company wide EA tech can bring - that team punches well above it`s weight.
 
# 8 Sycecg @ 01/29/14 06:46 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by karlos
Yet NHL has an online franchise - GM connected that FIfa can only dream about !

Still enjoying an online franchise with Thatsportsgamer that Richard Grisham (from our own Press Row Podcast) was in until a week or so ago when new the season started. Most enjoyable sports experience for me last year. Ran a close second by Next Gen Fifa on the pitch though to be fair.

Genuinely looking forward to Next Gen NHL and what the power of the new console and the company wide EA tech can bring - that team punches well above it`s weight.
I really dont know any other sports games that would want NHLs version of GM Connected, it's as basic as it comes. all you can really do is play games, trade and contracts . thats it. you dont do your own drafting, or anything like that. majority of it, is just simmed.
 
# 9 karlos @ 01/29/14 06:59 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sycecg
I really dont know any other sports games that would want NHLs version of GM Connected, it's as basic as it comes. all you can really do is play games, trade and contracts . thats it. you dont do your own drafting, or anything like that. majority of it, is just simmed.
Agreed it's barebones to an extent but at least you can play games with / against others in a league. I would have taken it in preference to no online franchise for Fifa.

It must be at the top of the to-do list for EA sports flagship.

How great would even the same system be in Fifa with 8-10 human Managers playing against CPU and each other in an ongoing league with parallel cup competitions.

There is also the option to have a number of players in one team playing positions, just one player per team playing in a position or just one human per team controlling the whole team.

NHL and Madden leagues transform the game for many.
 
# 10 Fiddy @ 01/29/14 08:01 AM
im hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. crossing fingers!

heck, i honestly hope we get NHL 15 on next gen.

this game has so much potential under the hood already with the proper adjustments. its just a matter of those adjustments being made!
 
# 11 Qb @ 01/29/14 09:19 AM
I'm anxious to see what the future holds for the NHL series. They did the right thing in not porting 14, and some of the improvements seen in other early NG EA games could breathe some life into NHL (animations, atmosphere, RTP over cutscenes). For me, they need to nail down skating -- there are still too many awkward & unnatural movements -- and completely revamp collision/interaction between players/sticks/puck. It shouldn't be only either poke check or body check, we need to be able to use body and stick positioning more effectively.

Hopefully, the Ignite engine can be used to do this. FIFA made strides in similar weak areas, but FIFA to NHL isn't a fair comparison based on resources.
 
# 12 asu666 @ 01/29/14 09:23 AM
I'm loving NHL 14 and can't wait to see NHL 15 on my PS4.
 
# 13 GrandMaster B @ 01/29/14 10:18 AM
Still comes down to presentation and realism for me. Every arena has to be accurate and all of the things you see on and off the ice have to be there. More stat overlays and better announcing would be appreciated. They are close on the gameplay. Just need to tighten that up.
 
# 14 dlxsf18 @ 01/29/14 11:01 AM
Great write up. I'm really excited for what the Ignite Engine brings for presentation. I have FIFA on next gen and those outside shots of the stadium are awesome, really hoping to see that for NHL.
 
# 15 Segagendude @ 01/29/14 11:07 AM
For starters, more than one ref on the ice, and group celebrations would be nice....
 
# 16 loldillon @ 01/29/14 02:29 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fiddy
im hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. crossing fingers!

heck, i honestly hope we get NHL 15 on next gen.

this game has so much potential under the hood already with the proper adjustments. its just a matter of those adjustments being made!
Took the words right out of my mouth.
 
# 17 VinceJulien14 @ 01/29/14 03:29 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by gopher_guy
Hopefully this fancy new engine will allow for group hugs after goals!

I have been waiting for this every since I started playing EA. How is it not in the game.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
# 18 Simple Mathematics @ 01/29/14 08:11 PM
I hope the ignite engine means that 5-man group hug goal celebrations are in and user controlled Cup celebrations with no time limits are in.
 
# 19 VinceJulien14 @ 01/29/14 09:52 PM
I hope they get rid of user controlled goal celebrations, they've never looked natural in my opinion


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
# 20 Walbeb @ 01/30/14 06:05 AM
I was a huge fan of the next gen Madden 25 but I've spent the last 4 seasons being continuously disappointed by the NHL series, even more so then Madden.

I have no doubt this dev team works hard but I'd like to see a new team with new ideas, sadly this series doesn't sell enough to warrant a change. Time will tell, until they overhaul goalies and stop trying to make everyone a superstar the game will always be a shell of a once great series.
 

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