The Beat

Holm_crash1.jpg POSTED BY EA SPORTS ON Jun 15, 2011

Producer Blog - Gameplay Enhancements

Original entry posted on Operation Sports.

Producer Sean Ramjagsingh here to give you a look at the improvements we’ve made to gameplay and AI in NHL 12. We’ve made a ton of improvements over last year’s game that we know our fans will appreciate and that will make NHL 12 the most authentic hockey videogame yet. Before we dive in, don’t forget to check out our first producer blog for NHL 12 which focused on goalie improvements.

The first thing you’ll notice when you play NHL 12 is what the new Full Contact Physics Engine brings to gameplay. Gone is the ‘A + B always equals C formula’ or in hockey terms, if you hit someone, they’re going to fall down. Size and physicality really do make a difference in the game as the physics engine uses these and other player attributes to produce a variety of unique outcomes with every hit or jostle for the puck.  The Full Contact Physics Engine will also factor in player speeds, balance at the time of impact and facing. Contact won’t always knock players down, it can also cause a player to stumble or fall to his knees, forcing a player to slow down to recover and regain balance.  You will now also see collisions where both players fall down after a hit. Where size difference is a factor, smaller players are more likely to be knocked off their skates while delivering a hit – think Daniel Briere trying to hit Zdeno Chara on the forecheck.  In a nutshell, we let real world physics do what it would do!

Shooting has also been refined this year adding the ability to redirect one-timers and take one-knee shots with skilled players, as well as the addition of even greater realism for scoring plays in the slot and around the net. You’re now able to roof shots in tight and tuck pucks around the goalie, which means that battling for space in front of the net has never been more important.

Net battles are a huge part of NHL 12. This brand new mechanic will change the way the action unfolds in front of the net. Forwards and defensemen will now engage with each other in front of the net to battle for space in the toughest area on the ice. Forwards will fight to create screens or for room to pop in garbage goals off rebounds. Defensemen will push players away from the net to help their goalie fight through screens. Bigger players will likely be at the advantage if they use their strength to create space, while smaller players will be most effective if they use their agility and finesse to swing off checkers to get open. Goalies will visibly fight through screens or in the case of more aggressive goalies (think Tim Thomas) shove and slash to clear their crease.

 Before we move into Offensive and Defensive AI, let’s take a quick look at other gameplay improvements in NHL 12:

• Improved puck physics – the puck will roll on end from rebounds, saves and dump-ins; players with lower puck control ratings will need a split second extra to corral the puck
• Smoother cycling down low – players working in the corners can curl and grab the puck without losing speed
• Skate with intent logic – players will automatically skate quicker breaking through the neutral zone towards open ice
• New hustle/fatigue skating animations – skaters will pump their legs faster but will also drop their head and skate slower if tired
• Line changes – Forwards and defenseman will enter and exit through the appropriate door; defenseman using the door closest to their own end and forwards the door further up ice
• Authentic helmet rules – If a player loses their helmet in an NHL game they will keep playing; in the CHL they will automatically leave the ice

Quite possibly the most exciting and game-changing improvements in NHL 12 have come from overhauling the offensive and defensive AI to build a stronger, more realistic gameplay experience. New this year, skaters will have traits assigned to them which will influence their actions and positioning on the ice. Watch Joe Thorton or Henrik Sedin setup down low or Stamkos, position himself in the slot for his deadly, one-knee one timer. For those of you with a sharp eye and knowledge of NHL player characteristics you’ll notice players playing to their individual strengths, while adding variety and another dimension to the offensive AI. Here are some of the player traits:

• One-knee specialists – snipers; sharp-shooters; you can find these players shooting one-timers from one-knee on the off-wing, e.g. Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry
• Setup man – playmaker; loves to distribute the puck and is great at it, e.g. Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton
• Net agitators – kings of the front of the net; live for the tough areas and banging in garbage goals, e.g. Tomas Holmstrom
• Drives the net – goes hard to the net to create rebounds, e.g. Ryan Kesler
• Shoots on the rush – over the blueline, quick move then snipe, e.g. Alexander Ovechkin
• Dump and chaser – your text-book 3rd and 4th line grinder; persistent and strong board play, e.g. Chris Neil, Aaron Asham

Although these designated player traits can influence how a player will behave in specific situations, these traits are only one aspect of the improved offensive AI behaviors.

In NHL 12, CPU players are smarter both with and without the puck. With the puck you’ll notice CPU players no longer have a tendency to ‘over-pass’ the puck and will be more inclined to shoot when the opportunity arises. New this year is an improved analysis system for CPU players, creating quicker, smarter decision-making that allows the AI to move from scripted plays towards more unique and creative playmaking.

Without the puck, the improved analysis system means that the offensive AI is more intelligent and anticipates the play more effectively. Players without the puck will move with intent to open space in both the offensive and neutral zones in order to do a better job of supporting the puck carrier. Forwards will have the ability to anticipate breakouts in the defensive zone and look for space to receive the outlet pass, hoping to catch the defense off-guard. This AI anticipation will open up more space in the neutral zone for transition play, improving the speed and flow of the game.

In and around the offensive zone, the first thing you’ll be glad to see is that CPU players now have improved  ‘Stay Onside Logic’, which will lead to less offsides as players will now drag their leg at the blue line to ensure they don’t jump ahead of the play and cause a whistle. In the offensive zone, CPU players will be more responsive to your actions: if you drive the net or shoot from outside, they’ll crash the net looking for a rebound; if you swing wide and hang out the puck, your teammates will move with greater intensity to open space looking for a pass or to support you.

Transitioning to defensive AI, because of the improved AI analysis system, players will do a better job of reading and reacting to the play. You’ll notice CPU defensemen anticipating being caught and backing off the blueline or defensive forwards back-checking harder and getting deeper in the defensive zone to support their defensemen who is in trouble. Most importantly, you’ll realize that the AI no longer plays exclusively to an “I’m on offense” or “I’m on defense” mentality, but will be more fluid and responsive, ready to adapt to quick changes in possession and gameplay.  This allows for players like Zdeno Chara to anticipate the opposition getting possession and then being in position to intercept a pass or break up the rush.

We’ve worked very hard to make sure NHL 12 is the best hockey game you’ve ever played. We love our community’s passion for the EA SPORTS NHL series and have incorporated the feedback you’ve given us through community day sessions and the EA SPORTS NHL forums into the game. On top of that, every member of the NHL dev team is a huge hockey fan and we’ve used examples from the real-world of hockey to inspire what we put into the game each year. We can’t wait for September and we hope you’re as excited as we are for NHL 12!
 

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