Hockey is a fast-paced sport, and speed is a key factor in many of its most thrilling plays. Teams like the New York Rangers dominate with the stretch pass, with a player springing a teammate on a breakout to lead to an odd-man rush where the other team's defense is outnumbered.
That kind of playmaking creativity has been limited in hockey video games because of the way they've fudged the act of pass reception. NHL 16 developer EA Canada is seeking to eliminate that problem this year with a subtle gameplay tweak that could pay major dividends on the virtual ice.
Until this point, EA's NHL games have forced skaters into a glide as they receive a pass. Players will now be able to receive a pass while accelerating or turning. New puck pickups are designed to lead to smoother transitions to the player's next move.
"There's more control now," said producer Sean Ramjagsingh in an interview with Polygon. "In previous games you'd always have to go into a glide to receive the pass. Then you could accelerate or stop or whatever. Now, when you get a pass, you can say, 'OK, I want to stop and go the other way as I receive the pass.’ Or, 'I want to accelerate and take the pass while I'm accelerating.’ Or, 'I want to keep the puck.'
"There's more control. The system tries to anticipate what you want to do as you're picking the puck up, as opposed to always forcing you into a glide and then letting you do what you want to do after that."
Ramjagsingh said that this adds more realism to the game. "The old version was more of a video game mechanic that we had in there," he explained. "This is taking another step toward what you see in real hockey. It's more intuitive. It's more seamless. The end result is that your character is doing what you expect your character to do."
Other new additions include four-player couch co-op and online tournaments, which are being introduced with monthly playoffs at the end of seasons. EA Canada announced a full feature list earlier this year, looking to win back the favor of fans who were disappointed by NHL 15's depleted feature set last year.
Players can also create themselves inside the game, with an expanded personalization tool for the Be A Pro career mode. During careers, coaches are more likely to offer advice and direction, and new visualizations are in place to help new players through training.
In the Be A GM management mode, there are new concerns as player morale is being added as a factor. Players who wish to be traded play less effectively, while those who are teamed up with old friends are likely to excel.
"Like any sport, it's about managing the dressing room, managing the personalities, the interactions, understanding when a player isn't happy because, say, he didn't get as much playing time as he expected," said Ramjagsingh. "Or there's external factors that are bugging him. He's not playing well. He's in a slump. So he hasn't scored a goal in 10 games and his morale is down. It's all those things. If a guy is in a slump, you can give him a pep talk, or you might just say, 'you better start scoring some goals or you're out of here.' You see how he reacts to it. It's just managing the dressing room."
NHL 16 will be released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in September.