Just when you thought the EA Sports NHL series couldn’t get any better, NHL 15 happened. With the new consoles (Xbox One, PS3) out and thriving, head producer Sean Ramjagsingh and his team of technicians were able to take their off-season advancements to a whole new level. Using the power of the new gaming format to revamp both game-play and presentation, NHL 15 is shaping up to be the best hockey game of all time. The E3 Game Critics Award winner in the Best Sports Category (for the second straight year)- beating out the likes of other EA favorites in Fifa 15 and Madden 15- NHL 15 looks like a champion of Stanley Cup proportions. In anticipation of this year’s release, I had the pleasure of interviewing head producer Sean Ramjagsingh to get an inside look at this year’s game.
Inside Hockey: What are the most noticeable game-play differences between NHL 14 and 15?
Sean Ramjagsingh: For us, it’s really exciting to be on the new consoles for the first time. The power of the consoles has allowed us to literally change everything with our game-play and presentation. With game-play specifically, one of the things you’ll notice right away is the new physics in the game. We’ve literally rebuilt our player model from the ground up- modeling the body, modeling the equipment and then modeling the jersey the cloth of the jersey on top of that, so we have dynamic cloth in the game.
Sean Ramjagsingh: We also redid our puck physics from the ground up. We had a professional come in and work on our puck physics. He modeled what happened in the real world with the puck and dropped that into our virtual world. So now when you’re seeing the puck, you’re seeing realistic bounces off the different tills of the game- whether it be the goalie pads, chest protector- you’re seeing the puck go places it hasn’t gone before because it can squeak through places it couldn’t squeak through before. You as a player who’s played our previous versions of it, you’re going see the puck going places it hasn’t gone before and goalies making saves they haven’t had to make before because the puck is just going to all these new places because of the new physics.
Inside Hockey: There were changes made to the collision physics too, yes?
Sean Ramjagsingh: With the new physics, we can now go from two players being in physics at any one time, to have the ability for all twelve players to be in physics. Again, this is leveraging the power of the new console, you can imagine how much math goes into having proper physics in our game and having physics run all the players at the same time, that’s another real game changer for us.
Now you’ll see a guy like Zdeno Chara be able hit one person, or sometimes even two people over at the same time. Or you could see Chara get hit, stumble but not fall over because he was hit by a smaller player, but then you’ll have another guy come over and hit him while he’s in physics, knocking him over to finish the check. Or you’ll see pileups in front of the net where there’s multiple hits happening, and guys piling up- three, four, five guys piling up in front of the net from multiple collisions like we’ve seen in the playoffs where it’s all desperation hockey. So it’s really primary collisions, multiplayer collisions, secondary collisions happening, and just really more natural behavior from all the hits in our game.
It better replicates the real world of hockey and the authenticity. Our additional vision for what we wanted from the physics was that playoff desperation, goalmouth scrambles, guys on the ice doing everything they can to get the puck in the net. That’s the type of situations that you’ll see in our game this year. The great thing about physics is you never really know what’s going to happen because it’s just physics doing what it’s going to do, it basically evolves based on the situation and what happens in the game based on how the users play.
Inside Hockey: What can we expect from the new Superstar Skill Stick?
Sean Ramjagsingh: With our superstar skill stick, we really focused on giving you more control than you’ve ever had before. Upper and lower body separation, you can hold the puck out, you can steer your character, and you can do moves while you hold the puck out. You can be in a protect puck position, see the defenseman over-commit and pull to the middle, so it’s really to give more and more tools to the user to create these many situations and get to places they couldn’t get to before.
Inside Hockey: How is the Vision A.I. being improved?
Sean Ramjagsingh: We went back to the drawing board with our Vision AI, and this is sort of a new foundation we’ve built, that will take us through this generation of consoles. We really started looking at formations in the offensive zone and the neutral zone, understanding movement, proper puck support, proper teammate support. You’ll see when you play the game this year, just more authentic, realistic behavior, better support from your teammates with guys getting open for you and reading the play for you. They’ll understanding where passing lanes are when the lanes are being taken away by defenders, situations where guys adjust on the fly as well. The results that we’ve seen so far with our Vision AI have been fantastic, and it’s something we’ll continue to build on for years to come.
Inside Hockey: What are the biggest visual differences we will experience on the new format?
Sean Ramjagsingh: The new format allows us to do more. More of everything. When it comes to the visuals, we can have higher resolution textures and do more of their lighting to make everything look better. We can run more physics and do more math under the hood, so that we can have up to 12 players in physics and have the puck always being in physics and following the laws of physics. You’ll literally see the puck this year get dumped down the ice, then get on its end sometimes and start rolling, and then take that kinda curb roll that you’ll see a rolling puck do. So really dynamic behaviors, the consoles just really allow us to do more.
They allow us to raise the resolution of all the visuals in our game. We’ve overhauled every single detail from our ice, to the boards, to modeling the authentic arenas for every team in the game. Nine-thousand new crowd models in each arena, so essentially every single person in the lower bowl is an authentic person. We have the home-team super fans, away-team super fans, we got the venders walking up and down, security guards, we’ve got families taking pictures, beer guys- lot’s of variation and variety to really bring those arenas to life and bring the atmosphere to a whole new level.
Inside Hockey: New broadcast team?
Sean Ramjagsingh: So this year what you see on NBC Sports Network is what you’re gonna see in our game- brand new presentation package and commentators. Doc Emrick and Eddy Olczyk as the top two commentators for NBC, and having Ray Ferraro as a third man in complimenting those two guys. We have over thirty-five thousand lines of new speech in the game which is something that’s really exciting for us and our fans.
Inside Hockey is once again very appreciative of Sean Ramjagsingh for doing another interview with us, and the rest of the EA staff for their hard, impressive work. NHL 15 hits the stores on September 9, 2014 and is a cant miss purchase for hockey fans worldwide.