NHL 19 Interview -- Creative Director Discusses World of CHEL, Ones, and More

NHL 19 Creative Director William Ho discusses PS4 and Xbox One game's new online features, the possibility of switching to Frostbite, and more.

EA is poised to release NHL 19 on PS4 and Xbox One this September, with this year’s entry bringing notable improvements to both the animations and multiplayer experience. World of CHEL gives players a hub where they can access modes like EASHL, Online Threes, and two brand new modes – NHL Pro Am and Ones. Real Player Motion (RPM) tech has also been implemented, so the game’s animation has vastly improved.

Last week I attended an EA Sports event and tried out a feature-complete build of NHL 19. Afterward, I talked to William Ho, NHL 19’s Creative Director over at EA Vancouver, and we discussed the game’s new features, why the series hasn’t made the jump to the Frostbite engine yet, and the possibility of the NHL series coming to platforms like PC and Nintendo Switch.

Tomas: How does RPM tech impact NHL 19?

William Ho: RPM tech is something that we took on this year, and is our goal was to make the most realistic skating, and also to make skating feel more athletic to reflect today’s NHL stars. We also wanted to make gameplay much more responsive. We captured all-new motion capture moves for all the skating. We had multiple sizes of skaters and styles of skaters, and what RPM tech lets us do is seamlessly match between the right animations for any context.

Speaking to the athleticism, if you were to make a hard cut or a hard carve in NHL 18, the animation wasn’t very realistic, and it didn’t seem like these were great athletes. So in NHL 19 RPM tech has let us show skaters like Conner McDavid and Patrick Kane really cutting and carving, really exploding out of turns or corners on hard stops. The end result for anyone who plays NHL 19 is that you’re going to feel like you are them and not fighting the animation.

The players are responsive, and some of the feedback that we’ve gotten is that people used to have to use a special button combination to do a deke, and now I can just use the left stick. It has really made the controls and the responsiveness of the players much better.

T: With Ones, what inspired you guys to bring NHL outside and change things up so drastically.

WH: We always had our fans love the outdoor vibe, and we really wanted to build something around that isn’t just a single-day event like the Winter Classic. We wanted something that people could go to, live in, and play for more than one day, so we came up with this pond hockey tournament called Ones. They are 1v1v1 tournaments with three human players in a half-rink against an AI goalie. You promote yourself through four different ranks.

You start off in the morning in the daytime in a parking lot, then we advance you through different rinks all the way up to what we call the diamond rink, and that one has big crowds under the moonlight with music pumping. That’s where the best players are going to play Ones. Whoever wins the most matches on a given day is declared the daily champion so there’s a bit of depth there and that tension of if you’re going to win the match and be promoted or lose and be relegated?

T: So are there any plans for an offline version of Ones in NHL 19?

WH: We really wanted to introduce Ones as an online mode. It’s something meant to be for people who want to play online because they heard how much fun it is to get to an experience where it’s just you practicing your skills and showing off your skills. You don’t have to co-operate with any teammates or learn a position, you’re just scoring goals and getting big hits on the open ice. I think people are really going to like Ones online, and then we’ll see where we take it in the future.

T: NHL 19 also features a lot of customization options, and with things like that, were you trying to entice the more casual audience? 

WH: One of the cool things about playing on the pond in real life is that you can play in equipment but you also have a bunch of players that can just show up on the ice who are wearing a hoodie or a parka. So it is a realistic part of hockey culture on ponds. Also, it lets our players be more expressive, be more personal, and wear something that they might already have in their closet.

Taking that out on the ice helps those players old and new have a place where they have not necessarily an NHL star they can relate to, but a more representative avatar of themselves on the ice. If they are to take themselves on the ice and play through these modes like Ones and Threes or up to EASHL, we’ve made a new hockey fan.

Tomas: Why did the developers at EA Vancouver decide to create a multiplayer hub like World of CHEL?

WH: It really comes down to the fact that our most devoted fans of NHL really love playing online cooperative hockey. There’s no feeling like that, playing a particular position or role and coming together with your friends in other roles and cooperating. There’s that buzz of beating another team because you’ve just got your act together as a team. I think that hockey is especially position for that kind of thrill because every player on the ice is involved with play at all times.

Opposed to something like soccer where there are 22 guys on the field and someone is going to be left doing nothing for most of the game, hockey have everyone involved all the time so there’s a real intensity to it and you have to communicate, you have to cooperate, and you have to really play it as a squad. So World of CHEL is really meant to get more people online to experience that thrill that our EASHL hockey fans get every night.

T: The NHL series still hasn’t made the jump to the Frostbite engine like other EA Sports franchises. Are there any plans to switch engines in the future? 

WH: It’s something we always evaluate, but we don’t want to disappoint our fans with not including our favorite modes. With all of the modes and content we currently have, we really want to make sure that they are of the best quality on the code and engine we are on right now. We always evaluate if we should make a change, but right now I think it serves our fans best to stay on our current game engine.

T: On that note, fellow EA Sports franchises like Madden and FIFA are expanding to platforms like PC and Nintendo Switch, respectively. Are there any fans to do that as well?

WH: That’s a very good question (chuckles). I’m a fan of both of those platforms and we’ll see what the future brings.

T: Will the game be enhanced by PS4 Pro and Xbox One X?

WH: Yeah. On PS4 Pro and Xbox One X we are running in 4K and 60 frames per second.

T: Is there anything else you’d like DualShockers’ audience to know before NHL 19 releases on September 14? 

WH: I think that if you are already a hockey fan, there are more modes and more polish in the game than ever before, so come on back to NHL 19. If you’ve ever wondered what hockey is about, we have more modes that really on-board you and bring you into this hockey culture and today’s NHL. With the ability for self-expression in these new modes like Ones and Threes, you can come and find what hockey is all about.

NHL 19 is poised to launch for PS4 and Xbox One on September 14, and can be pre-orderd on Amazon. If you want to check out DualShockers’ thoughts on the game’s new features, you can see our preview of NHL 19.

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Tomas Franzese

Tomas Franzese is a News Editor at DualShockers, writing a variety of reviews and shedding light on upcoming games for both PC and consoles. While he has been a gamer most of his life, he began writing for DualShockers in 2016 and has almost never put his computer or a controller down since.

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