After a somewhat-sloppy transition to the current generation, EA’s NHL series has been recovering for last few entries, adding back missing features, and even introducing some new ones. Last year’s entry was solid, but EA is looking to up the bar again with NHL 18 by adding an in-depth training mode made through a partnership with Hockey Canada, mascots, and Threes, a new mode where only three players go onto the ice with lesser penalties and some special modifiers to matches.
At a recent EA Sports event, DualShockers got the chance to sit down with NHL 18 Producer Clement Kwong, and discuss the new Threes mode, why they brought mascots to the game, and how they are making the title more accessible for new players.
Tomas Franzese: What inspired you guys to add Threes to NHL 18?
Clement Kwong: One of the things that we were talking about, especially as we were trying to concept and design new experiences for NHL 18, was that we want to create a brand new experience that can differentiate itself from the authentic 5v5 gameplay, and make something that was very shareable, very accessible in terms of couch co-op the way that games like NHL 94 and NBA Jam did.
How they transcended the sport was really cool. I’m not necessarily a basketball fan, but I love playing NBA Jam, especially in college with my buddies. I spent a lot of hours on that game, and that was really something where we said “let’s explore that.” We’re really fortunate, both as developers and as hockey fans, where guys like Matthews were lighting it up, and all of sudden that’s an opportunity for us to showcase people’s creativity.
When you pair that with what we’ve done with creative attack dekes in a smaller ice, with goal stipulations, things became very chaotic with big hits and big goals everywhere. That just fit the bill for it.
TF: Why did you also decide to add an offline mode for Threes, and not just leave it as a online experience?
CK: One of the things were were looking for was obviously not only a way to play with NHL Teams in Play Now, but we wanted to add online as well. The Circuit Mode part was really focused around the co-op journey. So imagine very similarly to how you can play shooters in the story mode or campaign mode in co-op, that is where we were drawing inspiration from. It was definitely something that we wanted to add as a progression mechanic. It really is a way for us to keep users engaged with the mode.
TF: Why were mascots brought back in full force, and especially highlighted in Threes?
CK: Mascots really aligned well overall with the feel and goal for the mode. In terms of we wanted the mode (Threes) to be a spectacle, we wanted it to be over the top, and that’s why we got a new presentation package, new commentary, etc. The mascot piece, talking to the producers back home, just landed in a really sweet spot for us, where it’s accessible, it’s silly, people don’t have to play with it if they don’t want to. And I get some will say that mascots aren’t really hardcore, but when you play with the Eastern and Western mascots and you let the chaos unfold, it’s a good experience.
TF: Do you see any eSports potential with NHL 18’s Threes mode?
CK: To be honest, the original goal, when we designed the mode, wasn’t to say “you know what, let’s design a mode for eSports.” That wasn’t at the forefront, but definitely as the development cycle went on, and we had more hands-on time, it definitely felt like it was a good competitive experience with multiplayer.
Any time you have more hits, faster gameplay that will resonate with people, that could become a good competitive experience. We were never really planning on it from the get-go, but seeing a lot of the feedback from our community around the beta, it definitely seems like it has the early potential to be that.
TF: So you have been taking a lot of fan feedback throughout development?
CK: For sure. Even way before the beta, we have our Game Changers program where select members of the community come in, help give us feedback with what’s already there, and help tune the experience. That’s been a great asset for myself and the development team. Also, we do a lot of user testing throughout the cycle as well.
TF: Overall, how are you making NHL 18 accessible for newer players or those who have never picked up a hockey game before?
CK: Threes is one that we’ve talked about for that, and with you having the hands-on today, hopefully that goes to show what a more over-the-top arcade inspired experience feels like and shows the potential there. With a mode like that, we’ll potentially have more casual users coming in. Casual users meaning they may have not picked up an NHL game before or may not have picked up NHL for the last few years.
That’s where the Training Camp really comes in. Continuing the work that we do year-over-year with on-boarding and making sure that we do a good job of informing our fans and teaching our fans how to play the game, this year I think was the biggest step we took in terms of partnering with Hockey Canada, having the training camp drills in the first time user experience float, I think that helps a lot.
Even something as simple as face-offs, which we’ve had in our franchise forever, we get questions all the time asking how you win a face-off. Well, now you have training camp to teach you. Not only the new advanced creative dekes, but also things like passing, shooting, and rules. The Hockey Canada videos are teaching users about the rules of the game, and how or when you should use a slapshot or wrist shot. It’s really informative, it’s not just about mechanics in the game, but we are going to teach fans more about the sport as well.
TF: Are there any plans to bring the NHL series to the Switch?
CK: While we always continue to assess opportunities, so it’s not to say that’s a hard no, it’s not on our radar at this time.
TF: Will NHL 18 be enhanced by PS4 Pro and Xbox One X?
CK: Yes NHL 18 will be enhanced.
If you want to learn more about Threes, you can check out some of our gameplay videos, and our preview of the mode. NHL 18 is set to release on PS4 and Xbox One September 15.