‘NHL 18’ video game looks to capture skills, imagination of league’s young guns

TORONTO — A new generation of talent led by Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine has not only energized the NHL, it has forced video game developers to up their game.

“NHL 18,” the made-in-Vancouver hockey title out Friday, features an array of slick moves including one-handed dekes, puck flips and between-the-leg shots and passes.

“Our goal this year is really to capture the speed, the skill and the creativity that you’re seeing in the new NHL with all those young player coming in,” game producer Sean Ramjagsingh said in an interview.

It’s not just a tribute to the young guns. Ramjagsingh reels off a list of moves including the (Peter) Forsberg tuck and the (Pavel) Datsyuk flip.

In the past, Ramjagsingh had been reluctant to include such glitz because he felt hard-core fans would think they were too rare or arcade-like. The new generation of player has changed that.

“But now you’re seeing those kids pulling those moves off at high speeds strategically to create new passing lanes or to get shots off in traffic. So they’re part of the sport, you see them every night as part of the highlight package.

“So for us, we saw that and used it as an inspiration for ‘NHL 18,’ bringing those moves into the game.”

Ramjagsingh says the special moves are “easy to learn how to pull off, but difficult to master in the right situation at game-speed.”

You can also change the control system if you want an easier way to do some of the fancier moves.

To balance out the offence, the game also features a new defensive skill stick, which allows defenders to use their sticks to better combat attacks.

The new version of the game boasts improved artificial intelligence for your virtual teammates and a three-on-three “arcade-inspired, hard-hitting, high goal-scoring” mode.

Ramjagsingh says the new mode is a good way to get into the game.

“Just pick it up with your buddy on the couch and start just having some fun,” he said.

“NHL 18” features the fledgling Las Vegas Golden Knights. You can play as the real team or build it from scratch yourself. You can also create a 32nd team in another city — your own expansion franchise, complete with logo, name and everything else associated with a new franchise.

The arrival of the Knights forced developers to revamp some of the game framework.

“The way our game was developed, the code itself wasn’t meant to handle more than 30 teams,” said Ramjagsingh, who has been with EA Sports since 2000 and was first involved with the franchise with ’NHL 09.’

Developers headed down to Las Vegas to take pictures of T-Mobile Arena from just about every angle to be able to recreate the Knights’ new home. Edmonton’s Rogers Place had previously got the same treatment.

“For us building an arena in the game is almost like building an arena in real life, in terms of the way that we build it — looking at the schematics of it, building the geometry out and then putting the textures in to make it look (like) the right colour, the right fabrics inside the arena.”

NHL gaming newbies can also get help via the new Training Camp mode, created in partnership with Hockey Canada. It teaches you everything from a simple pass to between-the-legs deke via videos.

When you’re playing a game, video suggestions will appear if you’re having trouble mastering a skill.

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