It’s official: EASHL, GM Connected, OTP, and Live the Life will not be in NHL 15.
The modes which will be in the game, will include play now, Be A Pro, Be a GM, Online Vs, Hockey Ultimate Team, and NHL Moments Live. The plan, as of right now, is to deliver Online Team Play via a patch after launch.
We sat down with Producer Sean Ramjagsingh to discuss why those modes were not included and to talk about the modes which are in the game. The discussion also turns to how to the team deals with community reactions and plans for the future of the franchise, which admittedly are quite exciting. See for yourself after the jump!
Update: After realizing we had no quotes from Sean on GM Connected we reached out to EA for a comment. Here is an official response from EA on why it was excluded: "GM Connected was one of our lowest played modes. We’ll be looking to see how we can bring a better online GM experience to the franchise in future iterations"
Operation Sports: Tell us about what modes are in NHL 15 and why users should be excited about them. What's new with modes shipping in NHL 15 for XB1 and PS4?
Sean Ramjagsingh: First of all with the move to the new console for us, it was about creating a great gameplay and presentation experience. Really it was about getting into that space and settings us up with a foundation for development on this generation of consoles. What we’ve done with gameplay and presentation this year, we are very, very, proud of.
We truly changed the gameplay experience and have delivered a brand new presentation. With the modes themselves, we are offering a suite of modes which will offer different ways to play our game on Gen-4.
We have Be a GM, Be a Pro, Online Versus, Hockey Ultimate Team and NHL Moments Live, which is a scenario mode where we will continuously update with moments from the real world.
OS: With five modes failing to make the transition to next-gen (Live the Life, NHL 94, OTP, EASHL, GM Connected), do you think the enhanced visuals and gameplay of NHL 15 are enough of a reason to justify users buying the next-gen version?
SR: The big one which most people have been asking about is about OTP and EASHL. The reality there is, we had to start with the core and we had to get the online up and running. The team has been pushing as hard as we can to get OTP in for launch.
As of today, which is our beta date looking to get the game in the package-goods product for consumers to pick up on the first day, we had to make the decision that OTP will not be in the game for launch. It was a very tough decision for us. Obviously we recognize that OTP and EASHL are huge modes for us. Our fans, our community are very invested in those modes, so it was a very tough decision and tough day for us. But the reality is, its not going to get there for launch.
We are however, committed to releasing post-launch patches like you’ve seen in EA Sports UFC — where we continue to update content and get OTP in as part of one of the patches we release post launch.
OS: What would be the timeline for the OTP patch?
SR: We’ve been pushing hard to get OTP. So if you would’ve asked me last month, I would’ve told you our goal was to get OTP in at launch. It’s a very complex mode. You have, at any one time, up to 12 user controlled players playing the game at the same time from different screen perspectives.
To be completely transparent, with screen perspectives it’s not overly complex. The complexities come within the gameplay itself, and coordinating the 12 user controlled players in their different living rooms. Balancing with the servers to make sure there’s no glitches. The gameplay, which is different because its all user controlled, is very tight.
So we’re pushing as fast as we can. I can’t commit to an exact date right now, but what I can tell you right now is that we are committed to being transparent around the development of OTP. As we make progress with OTP we’ll be speaking to fans and the community about that.
OS: What development challenges led to the removal of key modes? How long ago was the decision made to remove these features?
SR: If you go back a little bit, we weren’t there for the first year of the new consoles. The team was focused on delivering the best possible experience we could, really maxing it out on Gen-3 (PS3/360) with NHL 14. The reality is that we had 12 months to develop NHL 15 itself.
Again, we started with the core. We started with the gameplay and the presentation to ensure we truly innovated in that space and took our game to another level and setting us up for the future.
The next part about developing on the new consoles for us was that it was exciting with new opportunities to discover new things. As you overcome new development hurdles you would unlock new things you could do, so we had to make design decisions on the fly. The downside of that is because of some of the roadblocks you hit developing on the new consoles, despite learning from other games within EA Sports, bringing our codebase over and trying to rebuild it to set it up for the future had its own set of challenges.
As we hit each one of those challenges, to be honest, they were just very time consuming to overcome. They sucked up a lot of our resources, so there were just some significant challenges there on the development part of it. As we hit those challenges and tried to overcome them, it just minimized the time we had to devote to other modes in NHL 15.
OS: Are steps being taken to prevent this kind of scenario next year? What steps are being taken to ensure all of the modes from Gen-3 are in next year’s NHL?
SR: When we kicked off NHL 15, we literally had nothing up and running. So it was about taking eight years of development on the previous generation of consoles and bringing the best parts over to the new generation. So just getting the game up and running was a challenge in NHL 15, as it was on all of the sports titles on the new consoles.
The different next year is that we will have a game foundation set up and running that we are extremely proud. We set it up from a tech perspective so that we can deliver bigger and better things in our modes, gameplay and presentation in the future. We’re set up very well for the future and we have a game that is up and running that we can continue to build on. The most exciting thing for us is that we’ve overcome the hurdle of getting a quality game up and running.
Yes we acknowledge we’ve lost some of the depth we had with OTP and EASHL, however we are very excited about the foundation we’ve built. With the gameplay, presentation, and the modes and what we can do with the modes going forward and specifically what we can do with OTP and EASHL which I know our fans are very passionate about.
OS: What does the dev team think of all of the feedback this omission has gotten and will be getting? I assume the feedback is being heard.
SR: With social media and two-way communication, the NHL franchise and myself take pride in communicating with our fans and having that one to one communication. So yes, I have seen the negativity around the rumors about whether EASHL was going to be in the game or not. For us, I understand it, I understand the confusion. We didn’t want to create more confusion by putting out a message without all of the information until literally today, when we made the final call on whether OTP or EASHL are going to be in the game.
Announcing anything earlier than today would have created more questions than solving answers for us. It’s tough to see all of the speculation and not be able to reply to it, but the team here has been really focused on pushing forward and delivering as much as we possibly could for launch and for the patches coming for NHL 15.
OS: What would you say to the folks who've enjoyed the team and co-op aspects of the NHL series at this point? What do they have to look forward to, considering all of the time and effort they've dedicated to team and online modes in the past 5+ years?
SR: First and foremost, once they get their hands on the demo and start experiencing the gameplay, it’s a truly different experience. We tried to innovate and rebuild our gameplay and presentation from the ground up and the core to EASHL and OTP is a great gameplay experience. So first and foremost, I think our fans will appreciate the great gameplay.
What they have to look forward to is leveraging that foundation we’ve built on the technical side to allow us to do bigger and better things. I’m committed to EASHL, the franchise is committed to EASHL. Our goal is not to just bring over the EASHL you knew from Gen-3, but to do it bigger and better. We want to engage the community and get their feedback, and have them help build that experience with us.
OS: What about the modes in the game, what is Be-a-Pro bringing to the table?
SR: In Be-A-Pro, you’ll be able to play with a character in BAP, play in the NHL. It’ll be the same as before, the depth is there. With regards to setting us up for the future, the one piece that is not there is the Life the Life piece. Looking at the bar being set by other sports games, and us wanting to set ourselves up for the future and be better with all of our modes, so Live the Life is not there this year.
As a development team, we’re going to go back, and create a new strategy for creating a bigger and better Be-A-Pro experience.
OS: What about Be-A-GM?
SR: In Be-A-GM, you have the opportunity to control your own franchise and guide them to a Stanley Cup. All of the basics of the mode are there: there’s free agency, trading, and the rookie draft. You can play up to 25 seasons as well. The core of that mode is there.
We’re continuing as part of our updates to bring back some of that depth in different ways. We’ll have more details on what the patch plans for Be-A-GM specifically at a later date. The goal was to create a solid foundation to continue to build upon and to bring back things our fans have been asking for which we haven’t been able to in the past because of other technical limitations we’ve had.
OS: How much work went into the current-gen version of NHL 15? Why should someone buy the current-gen version? What is being added?
SR: The full suite of modes from last year’s PS3/Xbox 360 version of NHL are in NHL 15 on the same consoles. We’ve added some multiplayer physics to the game while changing the gameplay experience by taking some of what we did from the new consoles. We obviously couldn’t do everything because of the difference of the power of the consoles.
One of the requests fans have had for years is replacing the commentators, our new commentary team (Mike "Doc" Emrick and Eddie Olczyk) is also present in the PS3 and 360 versions of NHL 15.
OS: With how everything has really gone down on social media, is there anything you would like to do different in communicating with fans?
SR: We were pushing as hard as we could for as long as we could to get OTP and EASHL in the game. And today is the day we kind of had to make the final decision. The team was driving as hard as they could to get as much in as possible for launch.
It’s tough because we pride ourselves in that two-way communication but the community doesn’t have that visibility to see what we’re doing day in and day out. They don’t see how we’re pushing, the late nights we’re putting in to get as much in as possible. It’s really about delivering a clear message when we communicate with our fans, and communicating anything before today would have probably led to more questions than answers.
That’s why today is so important to us, we officially made the decision on what will be in there at launch. Now that we have the information and want to make sure we answer those questions with the right amount of information.
OS: Last question, what is the one thing fans should be truly excited about with NHL 15?
SR: We’re extremely proud of the package we’re delivering this year. It’s a truly next-gen experience when you start with our gameplay. With what we’ve done with the next-gen player models and characters, being built from the ground up, having cloth on the players for the first time, the brand new A.I. system which will really be a foundation for our A.I. system moving forward.
We’ve rebuilt our gameplay from the ground up, with our new multi-player and puck physics. What you see on TV is what you’re going to see in our game, with brand new commentators done in a way you’ve never seen in a sports game before — we’re actually taking the real commentators and putting them in the game. We’re trying to innovate with everything that we do.
We’re trying to set the bar with our visuals, with over 9000 new crowd models. You’ll see the home team fans, the away team fans, the super fans, the vendors. We really brought the arena to life and captured every detail. The backend experience is really second to none, we’re extremely proud of that.
On the game modes side of things, we’re bringing over the key modes in a way that sets us up for the future. The tech is set up now to do things in a bigger and better way. We’re in the process of building OTP right now, which we’re going to be transparent about, and OTP is basically the foundation of the EASHL experience. So that foundation is there for us to deliver an EASHL experience that is bigger and better than anything anyone could have imagined when we originally did the mode in NHL 09.
The future is bright. With NHL 15, we’re extremely proud of the package we’re delivering this year. It truly is a next-gen experience with a changed gameplay and presentation while bringing over our key modes, and we’re set up for OTP in EA Sports Hockey in the future.