"NHL 08 Producer Blog: Gameplay Improvements " Hi David Littman here. I'm the producer of NHL 08, and am specifically responsible for gameplay.
From now until we ship, the NHL 08 producers will be keeping you updated on the progress of NHL 08. I would like to start by thanking everyone who played NHL 07. After reading your forum feedback, reviews, and sales numbers from around the world, there is no doubt that NHL 07 was a huge success. That said, we know what you want improved for NHL 08, and we are aiming to deliver exactly that...plus much more. The Skill Stick was only the beginning. When we look on YouTube and see thousands of moves and goals that you created, we knew that we wanted that to permeate into each and every area of the game. We don't want to give you canned moves or only one way to score goals. As you will start to see over the next few months, stickhandling, shooting, and skating are not the only areas we are doing this.
For this first post, I will talk mainly about the improvements that we are making to specifically to gameplay. We will delve into new features etc in future posts from the producers that oversee each particular area for all areas of the game.
Overall, our goal is to create the tools and the brain of an NHL player, input them into our game, and the leave the rest to you. One way we have accomplished this is through skating. We have implemented a new skating engine for NHL 08 that addresses all of your NHL 07 skating issues. You will have 100% control of your players. If you move your left stick 10%, your player will move at 10% speed. If you tap the left stick quickly, your player will quickly move a few feet. If you hold the left stick 100%, your player will skate at 100% effort. In other words, your player will move exactly when and where you want him to, at the effort level you want him to. Not only will the game now look and feel more authentic to the sport, this will also really help you to play defense more effectively.
Last year, if you tapped your left stick, your player would shoot off in one direction and you would be left completely out of position. These issues also affected the CPU controlled players and your CPU teammates would get caught forechecking and/or going the wrong way, leaving you no help in the defensive zone. The first time you play NHL 08, you will immediately notice how smooth the skating [along with everything else] looks and feels compared to 07.
Our new skating engine will also feature adds a bunch of new animations that compliment the control. For example, your defensemen at the point in the offensive zone will strafe the blueline and keep their upper bodies facing the puck so you can pass back to them at any point, and they will be ready for the pass or one-timer. If you tap the left stick the opposite way that you are skating, the time it takes your player to stop will be based on how long you tap or hold the stick. For example, after skating over the offensive blueline, you can tap back on the stick to initiate a stop, and as soon as you draw the defender in, move the stick forward again for a burst of speed to blow by the D. There are so many examples of what the new skating engine can do, that we expect to be hearing new ways to use it by you guys months after the game is released.
Another big change is changing direction. Now when you want to keep your speed up, but still change direction, you can gently roll your stick around for cross-over turns. When you want to change direction very quickly, but not lose all of your speed, roll the stick around quickly for a tight turn. Finally, when you want to go the opposite direction really quickly [maybe a loose puck behind you, or on the PK, etc.] move the stick directly in the opposite direction to stop and go the other way - however in this instance you will lose your speed.
We were really proud of our innovation last year in the Skill Stick. However we didn't make it all the way there. Last year, the Skill Stick gave you an intuitive feel to win the 1:0 match up against the goalie. However, we felt we didn't get all the way on the 1:1 match-up with the defenders. Here are a couple of things that really stuck out for me last year and are a big part of our development upgrades for the Skill Stick in NHL 08:
1) NHL players can do it
As I said before we want to give you the tools an NHL player has and let you decide how to use them. These are not big, canned sequences that give you zero percent creativity. They are simply the step-by-step mechanics that an NHL player would use to get by a defender 1:1First, he would tap the puck in a direction [between the defenders legs, under his stick, by his skate, or anywhere else he wants]. Then, he would avoid the defender. Then, he picks the puck up on the other side of the defender. Simple...right? Well there are a couple of things that are key in making this happen:
a) Obviously in real hockey, the puck is loose from the player's stick - this is key in making a move of this nature - the same has to apply in a videogame to reach the same result.
cool.gif It is also likely that a defender will try and hit you or poke the puck if you don't time your move correctly - just like in real life.
c) Many players do not have the skills to pull these off very well. Improvements to the Skill Stick are authentic to the sport. Therefore it will not make Donald Brashear become Alex Ovechkin. It will still be easier to pull this off with a skilled player like Ovechkin.
2) When I play NHL 07 online against many of you, the best way to play defense is to switch to the closest player to the puck, and then check the puck carrier. There was no counter in NHL 07 to this except to pass or dump it in.
Just like it takes NHL players years of practice to be good at 1:1 deking, it will take a lot of practice to get good at this feature. But, once someone masters the controls, the opposing team will start having to play real defense, not video game defense. We are making sure our defensive AI plays smart and will not get beat, and anyone playing online will have to play the same way. In real life, when Jagr goes in on the D, do you notice how much room he has to work with? The D back up and play a wider gap because they don't want to get burned one-on-one. Jagr can then stop, circle, or take a wrist shot because he has earned this room through his high level of skill. That is what this feature brings to the game.
Today's post was intended to give you some insight on what we have up our sleeves for skating and the Skill Stick. This just scratches the surface. I'll give you a little teaser on some other things that bothered me in NHL 07 that we are fixing for 08.
1) I am sick of goals that trickle in past the goalie. That will be fixed, so no worries.
2) We are doing huge improvements in the AI department. Much of our work has been focused on team play and some of our biggest features this year are AI related. It's actually so big that I have to hold on to it for now until we officially break it, so stay tuned.
3) You will be able to set up in the offensive zone and work the puck around. Because of the much tougher defensive AI in the slot [just try carrying the puck into the slot...we dare you], you will actually need to do this in order to get scoring chances.
4) In the defensive zone, you CPU teammates will also play better positional hockey and because of the new 1:1 Skill Stick feature, you might want to play positional defense too and not step up on the puck carrier every time. We have also added new defensive controls and actions, which the CPU players will also be using.
5) Our goal is for online play to look, feel and play exactly the same as offline play. So there's no need to worry about NHL 08's online play. Again - I can't break these features yet - but we will have a blog dedicated to this stuff down the road.