Inside a first-floor conference room at the Burnaby headquarters of EA Sports, there’s a massive TV with Toronto Maple Leafs star forward Auston Matthews on the screen.
The NHL 20 cover athlete is shown as part of a new wave of NHL players that are changing the way hockey players act, think and express themselves, says the game’s creative director, William Ho.
On the screen, Matthews reflects on growing up in hockey-barren Arizona. “My friends asked me why I played hockey. And I said, ‘why not?’”
Cue the celebrations, the bravado, the highlights of Matthews and his young NHL counterparts sniping goals, fist-pumping, jumping against the glass.
“There’s been a culture change in the NHL. We’re seeing athletes like Matthews really express themselves,” says Ho. “Taunts, connecting with fans, making new fans. And standing shoulder-to-shoulder with athletes in other sports who aren’t afraid to be themselves—the Westbrooks, the McGregors, the Hardens of the world.”
It makes sense then, that one of the main additions to this version of the game is the introduction of “signature shots,” in which certain players are given shots that are unique to them. Think of P.K. Subban’s high-stick slapper, or Ovechkin’s one-timer blast.
So far, the game has given about 20 players signature shots. Ho couldn’t remember whether any Canucks players were given them, though. As the game undergoes updates, we have a couple suggestions: How about Elias Pettersson’s heavy wrist shot or Brock Boeser’s one-timer?
Here are some other things gamers can look forward to when NHL 20 hits the shelves on September 13.
There’s also “contextual shots”, which helps players take the right shots in the right situations.
It’s all part of revamped stick mechanics which uses the same Real Player Movement technology that changed skating in NHL 19 to create realistic stick play.
It’s also helped the goaltending, as goalies make contextual saves and covers that make sense in the situation. No longer will the ‘tender randomly revert to an animation that doesn’t work with what they are trying to do.
Presenting something completely different
For the first time in a number of years, the game has changed the voices that users will hear coming out of the TV.
Instead of NBC’s Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk narrating the action on the ice, Ray Ferraro will handle colour commentating duties, James Cybulski of Sportsnet takes the play-by-play role.
It’s a fresh set of voices for the franchise, and it allowed EA some creative freedom given that both Cybulski and Ferraro are based in Vancouver.
We had to go to Chicago to record with [Emerick and Olczyk]. Now we have two guys who can come in every week, sometimes multiple times a week,” notes Ho. They really developed a strong chemistry and rapport. We don’t even provide a script to them, they ad-lib every line. It’s intense work.”
There’s also a couple changes to the visual presentation, in that the scoreboard won’t be located in the top left of the screen, instead horizontally filling up the bottom of the display.
“Why does the score clock doesn’t have to be in the top left hand corner? It doesn’t,” says Ho. This frees up actual gameplay. We designed a whole system at the bottom, with a ticker system for all the different stats and updates for players.”
There’s also a brand new display for goals scored that emphasizes the experience of getting one past your opponent.
Finally, the game has taken some lessons from popular titles like Fortnite, with modes like “Eliminator”, in which players—either single or in threes—play online elimination contests to be the last player or team standing.
Those can be played at custom outdoor arenas, of which EA has added four more. There’s the Farm, a Prairie-inspired setting complete with a Crosby-style banged up drying machine; the Park, after Vancouver’s Trout Lake which froze completely a couple years ago; the Canal, a homage to the Rideau Canal; and one that takes players out into a glacier for the ultimate winter experience.
Critics of the franchise often say that it’s the same game repackaged every year with slightly new rosters. But at least when they ask you why you’re bothering to purchase this edition you have a built-in reply.