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NHL 17: Owner added, option to change cities, colours and challenges

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When your game has been around for two decades, reinvention can be a difficult thing.


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EA Sports’ latest effort in the National Hockey League series, NHL 17, launched this week. And Sean Ramjagsingh, lead producer for the new iteration of the hit game, admits to the challenges.

What he tells friends, who might already have last year’s version, is there’s really, now, “an experience for everyone.

“The feature set is the biggest thing, year-on-year, for us,” Ramjagsingh said. “Building on the solid foundation of ’16, we were able to build in experiences that haven’t been in the game before.”

Perhaps most intriguing, this year’s edition features a deeper franchise mode, which goes beyond the be-a-GM feature that has been an option for what seems like forever. Now there’s an owner who hassles you over budget. You can set marketing approaches — yes, you can choose to have bobblehead nights — change team colours and arena priorities, and yes, you can try to move your team to a new city. (The list there isn’t endless; it’s a handful of cities that have been thrown around in recent years.)


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“The game provides a fantasy world, that provides these sorts of things that you can’t do in real life,” Ramjagsingh said this week at EA’s Burnaby headquarters. The game, like so many in the world of EA Sports, has many built-in player incentives, which allow for new features to be unlocked.

“You want to keep people playing and reward them for playing,” he said. “It’s important to understand there’s lots of demand on time and playing NHL should be one of the best experiences possible.”

Building a modern game is about balancing the expectation of what Ramjagsingh calls “core fans” — those loyalists who expect a challenging game that takes advantage of the multitude of buttons on the modern controller — with those of people who haven’t played a game in a long time. And also with those who are brand new to the game, perhaps young parents who learned the game on the classic NHL 94 and now want to be able to play the new game with their kids.


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“Technology today allows us to do more,” Ramjagsingh, a Vancouver native, explained. They can serve the differing needs of their games and also have a top-end visual presentation. NHL 17 is the third title to run on what is now the fourth generation of gaming consoles. That means every player on the ice moves according to real physics; past versions of the game allowed for only two players at a time to be held to real-world rules.

Realism is important, but fun is also essential. The NHL’s decline rate of goal scoring is one Ramjagsingh and his team are keenly aware of, and it’s something they realize they can’t mimic too closely: gamers are looking to have fun after all and there’s nothing more fun than scoring.

Feedback from fans has told the designers over the years about little bits of realism which really only frustrated them in their game play. Like carrying the puck around opponents’ skates — which in real life would probably see a player lose the puck. In the game, it proved bothersome enough for gamers that EA chose to make it less of an issue.

“Authenticity is the foundation of EA Sports,” he said. “But we need to deliver the best experience possible. It’s a fine balance.

“It’s a piece of entertainment software; it has to have a fun factor.”



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