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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Rondina

Behind the Scenes with NHL 24 at EA Vancouver

EA Sports invited me for an exclusive look at NHL 24 and their biggest development complex in EA Vancouver, here are all the details.

I had the opportunity to attend NHL 24 Community Day at EA Vancouver. There, I got an early look at the upcoming game, talked to the developers, watched NHL players perform in a motion capture session and more. I was amazed by the talent and technology that go into making EA NHL hockey every year.

Here are some of the highlights from the event, my impressions of the gameplay, and some other surprises. Let's hop over the boards and check out all the new features coming to NHL 24.

(Photo credit: Electronic Arts)


EA Sports NHL series is made in Canada

EA Vancouver is located in Burnaby, British Columbia, and it is the main studio behind the EA Sports NHL series. It is also the largest and most important studio in Electronic Arts’ network, as it is responsible for other franchises such as EA SPORTS FC, UFC, Plants Vs. Zombies and Need for Speed. The campus has a state-of-the-art motion capture facility, a huge play test lab, gyms, arcades, dozens of video/audio editing bays and its own soccer field.

A sneak peek at NHL 24

After arriving at EA Vancouver, we were ushered into a theatre where we saw a presentation of what NHL 24 has to offer. Chris Haluke, senior producer and Mike Inglehart, senior creative director at EA Vancouver gave us a detailed overview of all the features.

The main additions to the game this year are the Exhaust Engine, Total Control Skills moves, upgraded checking mechanics, and Human Goalie Controls. These features aim to create more realistic and exciting hockey action with big hits and high intensity play.

“One thing we want players to notice is gameplay, that’s where we put an incredible amount of focus. So that is something we hope and know people will certainly feel and acknowledge.” said Haluke.


NHL 24 is driven by the Exhaust Engine

The Exhaust Engine is a new system that rewards sustained offensive pressure in the attacking zone. A new meter shows how much pressure you are applying when you are in your opponent’s zone. Haluke explained how it adds more strategy to the game: “Now with the sustained pressure system, you need think about, ‘do I need to get that whistle (stop in play) to help my team recover?’ It also forces players to the outside a little bit, so you need to make those choice passes.” When you fill up that meter, you gain momentum and increase your chances of scoring. This new system makes NHL 24 more authentic and thrilling like the real life sport.

Pull off more big moves in NHL 24

The team has completely revamped the control setup, adding “Total Control Skill Moves” to make it easier for you to execute “highlight reel” goals. “So even for the new controller mapping if you want to do the lacrosse goal from behind the net, while you can execute the move more readily, you’re still going to have to master the positioning, when to execute it, what frame you need to be in order to have a chance to put the puck in the net, so we are going to give players a chance to enjoy more things,” added Inglehart.


Precision passing

You will also have more control over passing with the Vision Passing System which assigns controller face buttons to teammates. This allows for more precise passing, giving you more freedom to pass anywhere on the ice at any time. There will be fewer controller errors that ruin big plays. You will be able to set up great plays more easily with the Vision Passing System, which lets you assign controller face buttons to specific teammates. This gives you more accuracy and flexibility in passing, as you can pass to any spot on the ice at any moment.

A new level of truculence

The game will also feature greater physicality with revamped checking mechanics. The game uses a physics-based contact system and new animations to make body checks more realistic and impactful. Haluke says, “If you think about the sustained pressure system that is kind of the linchpin under all of the gameplay advancements, hitting plays a critical role in that gameplay meta.” The new system will make you feel every hit and collision on the ice.

More intuitive goaltending with NHL 24

The game will also make goaltending more intuitive and authentic with Human Goalie Controls. The game introduces a new Goalie Fatigue System that affects the goalie’s reaction time and performance, as well as a new Tethered Control System that allows for more precise movements within the crease. These changes will make playing as a goalie a more immersive and rewarding experience.

Inglehart explains, “There’s been a real concerted effort this year to make things a bit more accessible in net, a bit more intuitive, which should invite more types of players into the experience.”

Hands-on with an early build NHL 24

I had the chance to play the latest build of the game and I was impressed by the gameplay and presentation. The menus and user interface looked sleek and modern, with a new “dark mode” style that was easy on the eyes. The menus were also fast and responsive, and I was able to jump into the game quickly. Here are other elements that were present in the preview build:

New crowd reactions and colour commentary

The game also had a lot of improvements to the pre-game anthems and crowd reactions. The game felt more lively and atmospheric, with fans cheering and waving. The game also had a new commentary team, with Canadian Olympic gold medallist Cheryl Pounder joining James Cybulski in the broadcast booth. They sounded great together and provided insightful and dynamic commentary on the game.


First Impressions: Goalie Controls

I wanted to test the new Human Goalie Controls in my first game and see how they felt. I was pleasantly surprised by how natural they were. They enhanced the on-ice action instead of feeling awkward. The new goalie systems include the “Tethered Control System” that automatically positions you in the center of the net when you release the D-stick. There is also the “Goalie Instinct System” that allows you to anticipate shots and predict where the puck will go. If you make the right guess, you get a bonus to your save attempt and make a spectacular save.

An Olympic face-off

While I was playing NHL 24, I had the chance to meet Emily Clark, a Canadian women’s team olympic gold medalist. She came to try out the game herself and we ended up facing off. She chose Team Canada, of course, and I picked Team Finland. It was amazing to see Clark face off against herself in the game. She told me that playing EA Sports NHL was a family tradition and a team bonding activity during big tournaments. “We actually travel with a system with chel, some of us get that going.” She said she and her teammate Emerance Maschmeyer are big fans of the series.

A star studded motion capture session

After playing the game, we got to see how EA Vancouver’s motion capture facility works. Matt Moreau, the motion capture stage manager, showed us how they use hundreds of tiny cameras to capture the movements of the athletes wearing sensors. The data is then sent to the animation team who refine it and make it look more realistic in the game. The facility can also change depending on the game they are working on. For grass-based sports like FIFA or NFL, they roll out artificial turf. For NHL sessions, they use synthetic ice panels that let the athletes skate more naturally. We got to watch NHL players Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres and Adam Fantilli of the Columbus Blue Jackets perform their goal celebrations. They had some fun and creative ways to celebrate their goals, and it was awesome to see how they were captured.

The creative and technical teams behind NHL 24

Once the motion capture process is done, the data goes to the animation department. I met Rohd Santos, senior animator, who walked me through the process. Santos has been working on the NHL series since 2017 and his passion and excitement was infectious, “I always wanted to work on NHL, ever since I started playing on the SEGA Genesis,” Santos told me. This year he worked on improving the body checking system, making both big and subtle changes. He uses the motion capture data as a base and then edits it to make it look more natural.

Under the hood of the Exhaust System

The new Exhaust System is one of the biggest features that makes NHL 24 more realistic and immersive. It has a lot of complex physics calculations going on behind the scenes that affect the gameplay. You won’t see these numbers when you play, but you will notice how they influence your performance. Matt McTavish, principal game designer, showed me some of these calculations in action.They affect things like how much pressure you have in the offensive zone and how tired your goalie gets. You will see your goalie slump or recover slower if they are exhausted.

Digitizing Players and Arenas

Our journey through the creation process of NHL 24 culminated in an exciting visit to a sprawling video editing hub, where we got an insider's glimpse into the intricate construction of player and arena models. Guiding us through this fascinating process were Carl Jarrett, the principal art director, and Erin Gillgannon, another key art director. Modern NHL players are meticulously digitized into the game, a process that involves careful addition of many elements like hair texture and distinct facial features. This labor-intensive process is a testament to the team's commitment to deliver an authentic gaming experience. Moreover, when it comes to legacy players, for whom data might be scarce or non-existent, the team pulls out all the stops. They embark on a comprehensive asset hunt, gathering photographs and other resources to ensure these iconic figures are accurately brought back to life within the virtual world of NHL 24.

Final thoughts on NHL Community Day

NHL 24 Community Day was an amazing experience that gave me a sneak peek into how one of Canada’s most popular video game franchises is made. The event was not only about playing NHL 24, but also about celebrating the hockey community. I enjoyed meeting and talking with some of the developers behind the game, who shared their passion and insights with me. I am excited for the future of the franchise and was amazed by the skill and technology that goes into making the game every year. NHL 24 itself is very impressive, offering many new features and improvements that make it more fun and realistic than ever. I can’t wait to play more of the game when it launches this Fall.


 

About the Author - Matthew "Dapper Tux" Rondina


Matthew has been involved in all things gaming since the 8-bit era. He is a veteran of the video game and tech industry who has been passionate about technology and gaming for over 20 years. Along with being the Managing Editor of dappertux.com, he has bylines with Best Buy, Cineplex Entertainment, Mobile Syrup and Walmart. Follow Matthew’s gaming + tech adventures on multiple social platforms with the handle @dapper_tux via "X", Instagram, Threads, TikTok and join in on the fun!

 

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