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NHL 2004 Interview NHL 2004 NHL 2004
By James Chheng -- Managing Director
Published 8/11/2003

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1. Could you tell us what your role and how long you have been working with NHL 2004?

    My name is Kerry McGaffney and I am the Associate Producer for the NHL series. I have been working with the NHL series for 4 years.

2. What has the BlackBox team brought to the development of NHL 2004 that was not there before?

    The Black box team has brought a group of talented people to the NHL series. I think a fresh set of eyes on the game has made a big difference. We integrated the best people from our previous NHL team with the Black Box group, and it’s all come together seamlessly. We’ve been able to learn a lot from each other, like the different techniques we’ve used in making hockey games over the years. So we’ve incorporated all the best techniques and tools that the two teams were using in the past and created one “uber team”. And we think the end result of NHL 2004 will speak for itself.


3. What feature from NHL 2003 did you feel needed most improvement?

    Right from the start, the goal of NHL 2004 has been to get back to an authentic hockey simulation that is lots of fun to play. The biggest improvement needed from the NHL 2003 series was game play. There were too many breakaways last year, and it felt like there was too much up-and-down play, with pinpoint passes and no time to set up plays. Some of the major improvements for 2004 are defensive AI, player awareness, and game flow. With the new board tie-ups and a more controlled style of play, players will have time to set up plays behind the net and on the side boards. AI combined with Control of the player was a major focus.

4. Can you go into a little more detail as to what the Dynasty Mode will allow gamers to do in NHL 2004? Is the Dynasty Mode another name for last year's Franchise Mode, or is this a completely new mode?

    The 2004 Dynasty mode [tm] will take Franchise modes to the next level. The user becomes the GM of an NHL franchise for 20 years. The GM gets to choose how he wants to look and even gets to upgrade his office. There will be real player salaries and contracts that the GM has to deal with. GMs earn experience points based on how well they are doing. High profit margins, high attendance, Stanley Cups, winning percentage, and trading all earn experience points for the GM. When a GM gets enough experience points, the team owners give the GM upgrades. These upgrades include new facilities and more money to hire new staff. All of these upgrades affect players and teams in different ways. For example, hiring more trainers and doctors will help players come back from injuries faster. Buying a new plane will raise player attributes for road games. One thing we wanted to make sure of is that all of the moves a GM can make will show up in game as well. So, if you raise ticket prices to high, you will play your home games in front of a half empty building. If you upgrade your equipment room, you will feel your players skate and shoot better. On top of all that GMs will need to keep an eye on player ice time and player morale as well as set up the team practice schedule. For beginner players, many of these options can be handled by the CPU, but to be a top GM, a hands-on approach will work much better.

5. AI is always an issue in sports games these days. What changes to the computer offensive and defensive AIs will be made to the game?

    Our offensive and defensive AI has been totally rewritten this year. We felt as a team we needed to make sure the core game was solid for this year’s title. Strategies were rewritten and tuned so the CPU players will be in the right place at the right time depending on the strategy you choose. There are 3 offensive and 3 Defensive strategies. There are also 5 Offensive and 5 Defensive ‘Quick Plays’ to choose from. CPU Strategies will change during a game depending on the score and time of the game. If a team is down by a goal late in the game they will change their style of play to be more aggressive on their fore-check and defensive zone coverage to try and get a late goal where if they are up by a goal they will sit back and try to defend the lead.

6. In NHL 2003, users were not able to pull their goaltender with a single button as in previous versions of the game. I understand that it is not realistic for a team to have their goaltender go back and forth to the bench during the game, but shouldn't it be up to the user to set the option for something like that?

    With the new advanced controller configuration we’ve gone with this year, we’re using a lot more buttons – all of them actually. With control of the player on every button press, gamers could accidentally pull the goalie when they meant to do a block shot. This was a complaint we’d heard in the past. Our focus groups showed that gamers preferred to have actions that they used all the time mapped to the controller, instead of something that is done once per game.

7. Will the goaltenders have a wider range of motion while controlling them?

    For NHL 2004, we’ve improved the goalie logic and improved the controls. They’ll hug the post and smother loose pucks. And they’re a lot smarter about leaving the crease to get the puck. We’ve improved all the animations and included ‘desperation’ saves - if the goalie is caught out of position he may just throw himself in an attempt to make the save.


8. Can you go into a little about some of the newer animations in the game?

    This year we have added over 800 new animations. NHL 2004 features all new Motion Capture focusing on our core moves like skating, shooting and checking. On top of this we merged the two teams from Black Box and EA Canada to make a super team, and so we have some cool technological advances like our new ‘Player on Player’ collisions and ‘Core Skating’ animations with new momentum physics and our Right analog deking and checking systems.

9. Sometimes while trying to defend against a 2 or 3 on 1 break, as a defender; it is difficult maintaining my orientation facing the opposing players coming my way. Will we be able to skate backwards by holding down a button? If so, do you agree that the abilities of the player skating backwards should decrease in certain areas, such as agility and speed?

    You will be unable to skate backwards by holding down a button but we have made the controls very easy to use so it’s easy to orientate your player in the middle going backwards and have the ability to either step up on the play or lie down to block the shot or pass.

10. Could you explain a little more about the new "Hit Stick" feature?

    You can still use the traditional button press to throw a hit, but for this year we have added Bruise Control™ which is Right Analog checking. It allows you to control the direction you want to throw a check so if you see two opposing players and want to hit the one on the right then just move the Right Analog to the right and your player will throw a check in that direction. On top of this we have added the ability to power up your hit by pressing down on the Right Analog stick. When you do this your player will ‘Load’ up his hit, which increases the power of the hit. It’s like when Scott Stevens comes across the middle of the ice, loading up his hit to crunch an unsuspecting player. You can also use the R. Analog to poke check in any direction.

11.Are there any new camera views this year?

    This year we have done a lot of work on the camera system. We have made the classic, Action and Ice camera much easier to play in.

12. What International teams and leagues will be included?

    This year we have added 3 new International Elite Leagues into our game. DEL league (Germany), the Elitserien (Sweden) and the SM Liiga (Finland). These leagues consist of 39 teams, their actual players, uniforms, rules, and even the golden helmet for the SM-Liiga. We are also bringing back our International tournaments including 20 of the top hockey countries from around the world, all fighting for the Gold Medal.

13. Is the PS2 online play going to allow for online leagues and tournament play?

    This years PS2 online play will allow matchup games and tournaments. You will also be able to download roster updates this year. We have made it so gamers can chat live with Voice IP, they can even play online head to head with 4 people on each PS2.

14. Will we get a more variety in penalties called as well as better accuracy of what the penalty is?

    Yes. We have reworked the penalty system this year in NHL 2004. If you turn penalties on you will see more minor penalties and the right penalty will be called for the action. For example if you use the hook button for too long on a player you could get called for hooking.

15. The additions of sliders is really appreciated among gamers, will there be new sliders in this year's game?

    Yes. We have kept the standard sliders and have added some new ones. Some examples are the dump puck height and speed. The amount the glass will break during a game, hooking effectiveness, CPU dump and Hit Stick effectiveness to mention a few.

16. Will there be more minor injuries in the game?

    We have made some changes to how and when injuries occur, but it will be dependant on the style you play, and the random occurrences that can cause an injury.

17. Is there any reason why gamers can't simply just play a Shootout mode without playing a full game?

    Our focus this year was on the core gameplay experience and Dynasty Mode, we didn’t want to dilute that gameplay focus with another separate game mode like shootout. I think that's what really attracts big masses of people.

18. Will there be any changes made to the fights, such as allowing goalies to get into the act or have players come in from the bench? Will we have better control of the players? What would it take for a goalie to start a fight? Can we save clips of the fights?

    completely revamped the fighting engine to create the most realistic hockey fights on the market. We give you a lot more control over the fighting this year, starting with choosing if and when you want to fight. An overlay appears letting you know which 2 players want to fight. You can accept the fight, or wait for a more opportune time. This gets rid of the problem of you on a breakaway but one of your players off screen randomly decides to get in a fight and ruin your chance. Fights usually start with a grapple – which is how a real hockey fight works, and not just a boxing stance like in previous hockey games. For the moves, you’ll be able to punch high or low, block high or low and counter punch from each of your blocks. Goalies can get into the fray of things if they are provoked, which is a great addition this year. NHL rules stipulate that we can’t have players jump into a fight from the bench. Unfortunately saving clips won’t be available.

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19. How will the PC version differ between the PS2 & Xbox versions?

    The difference between the PC and the consoles this year is it’s PC interface and EA Sports Online. This is our online community. EA Sports online offers Clubs, Match play, tournaments and more. This year we are also featuring club vs. club tournaments.

20. What feature are you most excited about?

    Because this is such a different game from previous EA Hockey titles I am excited about it all, particularly gameplay. We put a great team together from Black Box and EA and have made great strides towards making this year’s hockey title a complete authentic hockey game. This version of the EA Sports NHL series will offer gamers a fun, brand new experience and I am really looking forward to seeing the response gamers have about our game.

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