We have just posted an interview with David Littman, Associate Producer of NHL 07.
What is the biggest gameplay innovation in this year’s game?
Definitely the Skill Stick Revolution. These controls are something that will change the way hockey games are played. We didn’t make the change just for the sake of change. We made it to give people the same skating and stick control that an NHL player has. Think of the left analog as your skates and the right as your hockey stick - tap it forward to shoot, pull it back to wind up, move it side to side to deke. If you have ever played hockey in real life, this is the closest thing to that experience without actually lacing up the skates. It allows for a player to hold the puck to the outside while driving wide past a defenseman, fake a slapshot and walk around a defender trying to block the shot, or to deke the goalie and let the puck roll off the end of the blade into the net.
How will dual analog control change the way I play a hockey video game?
Hockey is mainly a game of one-on-one experiences. I think this is one area that no hockey video game has ever got right. Beating a defenseman one-on-one or deking a goalie out of his jockstrap are exhilarating experiences. The dual analog controls give you this. Instead of canned animations or scripted sequences we have put the power in the user’s hands…go do what you want.
Does it actually help to have true hockey playing experience being that the analog control system is so realistic?
NHL 07 for the 360 was designed from the ground up to be the most authentic hockey game ever made. Three producers on the team are ex pro or division 1 college hockey players. The controls were designed with hockey players in mind. So yes, there is no doubt that having real life experience will help you in the game. Here are some examples:
- Deking the goalie, knowing he will have to open up to move, and sliding the puck 5-hole
- Protecting the puck by holding the right stick to the side when a defender is near
- Knowing which situations to wind up for a shot [roll back wrist shot or slapshot] vs. when to take a quick snapper
- Dumping the puck [soft cross corner or hard around using the right stick] when a streaking winger could beat the D into the zone
What tips can you give us to master the new skill stick?
practice, practice. Just like in real life, there is a learning curve when
playing hockey. Start with the basics like skating and shooting in the shootout
mode. Then start trying to deke the goalie. Once you have mastered most the
offensive skills, go into a full game and start passing and checking. Even if
you have been playing the NHL series for a long time, this is a whole new
experience and you will need to practice to be the best.
One-timers have been pretty much the only way to score in hockey videogames, is this still true?
10 years, hockey video gamers have used the one-timer to score many if not most
of their goals. But, if you watch an NHL game, one-timers are only one part of
an offense. Watch people play hockey video games and you will mostly see them
speed bursting down the wing then pass and shoot a one-timer. Or, if there is no
one open for a one-timer, they circle back towards the blueline and look for
another one. One-timers in NHL 07 are a skill. The accuracy is a lower than a
regular shot [the shooter’s attributes play a part also] and the speed of the
shot is determined by the facing angle of the shooter. So if you pass the puck
to a player who is moving away from the net or facing away from you, the shot is
much weaker. Also, players can miss a one-timer altogether if the passer is too
close to the shooter, the shooter is really bad at one-timers, or the pass
deflects off of something. Deking defenders and goalies one-on-one is a better
way to score. However [and I know the forum posters will be happy to read this]
the CPU defense is way tougher this year than last year. It is tougher to take
the puck to the net, especially if the player is not skilled. Your best bet in
these situations is to set up and get the puck back to your defenseman. Wait
until there are players in front of the net, and take a slapshot. If the goalie
is screened, he will try to find the puck and may even paddledown. There have
been some awesome goals around the office from screen shots from the point over
the goalie’s shoulder.
Passes seem much more arbitrary in NHL 07. Does this have to do with the new puck physics?
Passing is also more true-to-life than ever before. With 100% real puck physics, you have to find an open lane in order to complete a pass. This is also a good tip for defenders, since just getting players in the passing lanes can break up offensive rushes and scoring chances. My favorite part of the new controls is that you can move your hockey stick to the extreme left or right with the right stick and then make a pass. This opens up new passing lanes and really separates the great players from the good players. The pass is made as soon as you press the right trigger. So if you hold down the trigger even after it reaches the pass receiver, a one touch pass will be made. You can work the puck around on the power play very nicely with this ability. Even more control is possible with the through pass. This is an extra pass button [right bumper] that does not choose a receiver for you. Instead, the puck is passed in the exact direction of you left analog and the speed is based on how long you hold down the button. A quick tap is a slow pass, while holding it down a bit before releasing is a harder pass. You can then take control of another player near the puck and skate to the puck yourself.
Fighting is a part of hockey, but each developer treats it differently. What is your philosophy/approach to fighting in NHL 07?
is part of hockey, but it is not nearly important as it used to be. We work
closely with the NHL to make sure that ‘when and how’ fights happen, stay
authentic to the sport. You can try to start fights in the game, but a fight can
only happen if there are 2 players on the ice that are allowed to fight. Not all
players can fight, and there can only be a maximum of 3 fights per game. We have
found that most people get so wrapped up in the actual games that they don’t
really think much about fighting. If a fight does start, you can now use the
skill stick to throw punches [jabs and roundhouses] a la Fight Night.
Will NHL 07 lack depth because it is the first year on this new engine?
We really made a concerted effort to retain the depth from last years NHL 06 current gen game. NHL 07 will have Dynasty Mode, Create Player, Shootout Mode as well as Online play. The Dynasty mode has the salary cap and a host of other new features. On the ice, the gameplay has more features than ever, from new features like the innovative controls, vision control [your player will always face up ice even with the puck], and player type behaviors to features brought from current gen like chemistry, line strategies, and on the fly aggression strategies.
What are the elements you added to make this game authentic?
The control system is just one part of the gameplay that has been designed specifically to give the user the most authentic hockey experience possible. Another huge area was our goalies. Alex Auld now of the Florida Panthers did our goalie mocap this year, so we really put some time into it. Goalies will come out and challenge and then back in on breakaways making saves that depend on their real life playing style. When a goalie butterflies, his pads move independent of his legs, so they will stay facing the puck instead of the ice for more realistic saves and rebounds. I particularly like that goalies have to close their hand on the puck to catch it or cover it and you will actually see the goalie look into their glove.
In terms of presentation, how does the next gen console change what you can create?
With the next gen console we are able to push higher polygon models as well as higher res textures, making the players, equipment, ice surfaces and arenas look that much better.
You will notice the different things on the jerseys like the perforations and stitching and on the equipment the different types of leathers and nylons. In the arenas we have modeled everything from the penalty box phones to the little screws along the boards. It's all the little things that current gen just could not do, that change the way we present our next gen games.
What are the different player types and behaviors in NHL 07 and how do they differ?
grinders, snipers, power forwards, playmakers, danglers, offensive defensemen
and defensive defensemen. Past games have had different player types, however,
the key difference here are that their behaviors, both good and bad, will
directly affect how your team plays. The player type behavior is separate from
the player’s attributes. For example when attacking a puck carrier, grinders
will finish their checks even after the pass or shot, while dangler type players
will circle away without a thought of contact. When chasing down a dump in,
defensive defensemen will ring the puck around the glass, while offensive
defensemen might skate the puck up ice and join the rush. Snipers will look to
shoot on a 2 on 1 while playmakers will look to sauce the puck to a teammate.
The cool part is that you are the coach so if you want to change a player’s
style, you can. If you want a defensive team, make all your D-men defensive, and
tell a few of your danglers and playmakers to toughen up and finish their
checks. If you want an offensive team, tell grinder Tie Domi to be offensive
tonight instead and look for breakaways. Of course certain players are more
suited for certain types than others.
What are the enhancements to the dynasty mode this year? Will it be CBA compliant with Salary Caps?
This year’s dynasty mode will be fully CBA compliant with the NHL salary cap and will let a user get a full taste of what it’s like to be a GM in the “new” NHL. We have also added a feature called Player Leveling which is a player’s development based on their game experience and success allowing the user to mold their young players into the superstars of tomorrow and maintains the spirit of your older veterans. Player confidence is another feature that we have for this year. Putting players in the right role will instill confidence in your team and players who feel they are being misused will tell you by asking the user to be traded and showing their displeasure with the team.