Jun 24, 2010

NHL 11 Cover Athlete Unveiled

By Josh Moore

EA Sports has unveiled the cover athlete for the upcoming game in their NHL Franchise: Jonathon Toews. Toews has had a monster year, winning a gold medal and tournament MVP at the Olympics, and also nabbing a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs. Toews joined Top NHL prospect Tyler Seguin to announce the arrival of EA Sports NHL 11, expected to be released this September. Despite having their beloved Vancouver Canucks eliminated from the playoffs two years in a row at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, the development team at EA Vancouver has once again selected a Blackhawk for the cover. “I told Jonathon the first day I saw him that he had ousted my team two years in a row” said Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of the game. “Choosing him was still a no-brainer though.”

The game boasts an all new faceoff engine, full Canadian Hockey League rosters, and has added broken sticks - apparently the most requested feature from fans. If your player breaks his stick in the game, you will need to either get one from another player on the ice, or go to the bench to grab a new one. It also features a brand-new physics engine, which alleviates the use of canned animations, giving the game a more realistic feel. “We were at E3 and we saw about 25 different things in the demo that we had never seen before” said Brent Nielsen, the Executive Producer of NHL 11, on the topic of the organic nature of the new engine.

The franchise is also celebrating its 20th year developing hockey games. I asked Brent about whether the team had channelled any of the mid 90’s hockey games while reworking its franchise. “Absolutely. I grew up on the old NHL games. We looked at those and tried to figure out what made them so great. We also had to ask what we were capable of doing with the hardware.” The franchise went through a major overhaul when they released NHL 07; it introduced a new shot stick feature which used the right analog stick on the controller to shoot the puck. The move worked out nicely for them, as they have received immense critical acclaim, and 22 Sports Game of the Year awards. “We are so competitive that we are not allowed to just rest on our laurels, and that’s why we reinvented the game in the first place.” Said Nielsen. “We aren’t just competing with the 2K hockey series, we are competing with Madden, FIFA, and every other sports game on the market. We want to be the best sports game period.” There were no mentions of any special features for the 20th anniversary of the game, but it’s likely that some announcements will be made in the months leading up to the release.

During the playthrough, Paul Hunter and I both agreed that the game feels more organic and accurate than its predecessors, and that the physics are hugely improved upon. You can no longer simply skate around the ice like Bobby Orr on a power play; you actually need to move the puck well and play intelligently. It's slower and feels well-paced. According to Ramjagsingh, “It’s a game that we wanted to be accurate and challenging for hockey fans, but also one that is fun and accessible for people looking to get into the series. We have met so many people who got into hockey in the first place because of games like NHL 94, and I think we’ve done a good job of balancing the game.”

Last year’s iteration of the game was really strong: it felt like they had taken the foundation they'd built and really refined it. It’s tough when a game hits that point because it can be difficult to move beyond that – but with the new physics engine and overall obsessive attention to detail, the guys at EA Sports Vancouver might just once again reign supreme atop the sports game food chain.

Jun 15, 2010

NextGen Player Review: MLB 10: The Show

By Josh Moore

Sony’s MLB Franchise has been receiving some pretty huge buzz in the last couple of years. It’s been featured through extremely popular commercials and has also received a huge amount of critical praise. Everyone I’ve talked to is blown away with how realistic the game is, and critics all across the board have praised the game for how well it captures the sport. It’s regarded as one of the highest rated sports games of all time. I remember my cousin telling me that he wished that the development team at SCE San Diego would just drop the ball so that he didn’t have to buy the game every year. I’ve yet to really find anyone at all who doesn’t like MLB 10: The Show. Except for me.      

It’s not from lack of trying - I’ve given the game a very fair chance to win me over. My two favourite things in the world are baseball and video games.  I remember the off-the-charts reviews that last year’s iteration of the game was getting. I remember running to the game store near my house the day it was released to buy it. I remember wanting to tear the plastic wrap off of the game and play the damn thing the second it touched my hands. And then a funny thing happened that curbed my excitement quite effectively – I finally PLAYED the game.
My brother and I both played the hell out of MLB 10 the Show. We both admired the beautiful graphics and detail in the ballparks and players faces – how well they captured Kevin Youkilis’s grizzled, ugly scowl, Derek Jeter’s pretty boy-child face. We were both amazed by the in-depth and detailed Franchise and Road to the Show Modes. We both marvelled at the smooth in game animations and general attention to detail that went in to the game. But the longer we played it, the less we liked it - once the initial allure and enchantment wore off, we realized how little fun we were having.

It can be a very infuriating game. For one that prides itself on realism, it has some gaps in logic. The pitching system works by choosing your pitch, aiming it, and then inducing a golf meter a la the MVP Baseball series of a few years back. You have to try and build up the meter for power, and then release it on the way back as close to the little black target as possible. The irritating thing about it, though, is that when you nail the meter, the pitch very rarely goes where you aimed it. I realize that throwing a pitch exactly where you want to is a very difficult thing, but if Roy Halladay is pitching and uses perfect pitching mechanics, he should be able to throw his fastball exactly where he wants to. The same inconsistencies happen when you are hitting. You will call a pitch, think you have it perfectly timed and then ground out weakly to second base.
I understand that this game is meant to be unforgiving. I get that it’s supposed to be realistic and that hitting a curveball is a difficult thing to do. I played little league baseball. I know that I can’t hit a curveball. I don’t want to be tortured by the fact any more. I just want to have fun playing this game.
The Road to the Show mode is also very in-depth but very frustrating. It can be a lot of fun to lead a player you created through the minor leagues all the way through to the hall of fame, but often the fun is derailed by stupid unnecessary stuff. I had a pitcher who was 12 – 0 and had an era under 1.00 in double – A and the manager decided that it would be a good decision to demote me from the starting rotation and put me as a mop up reliever in the bullpen. Clearly any time you have a pitcher putting up legendary numbers in your starting rotation, the only wise move is to take him from that role and place him in your bullpen so that he can pitch once a week when your team is down by eight runs. That’s just a move you’ve gotta make every time.
The longer my brother and I played, the more our true opinions of the game surfaced:
“What do you think of The Show, Daniel?”
“Oh, it seems pretty amazing.”
“Yeah the attention to detail is ridiculous, it’s pretty incredible.”
“You still enjoying MLB 10?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty good, I guess.”
“I just threw a fastball in on his hands! Why did he just hit a homerun?”
“That’s so stupid.”
“This game is stupid.”
“Want to play MVP Baseball 2005?”
I truly appreciate the work that has gone into this game. I think the team at SCE San Diego is incredibly talented, and I think they love baseball and have made some really impressive steps to making a really great baseball game. I just refuse to buy into the hype that has been thrown at this game and this series for the last couple of years. I spent more of my time being frustrated while playing it rather than having fun.
I just want a game to capture my love of baseball, not question why I liked the sport in the first place. Is MLB 10: The Show the “greatest” baseball game ever made? Maybe. Is it the most fun? Not even close.