Wait, before you ask it, he already knows your first question. “No,” says Sean Ramjagsingh, the producer of NHL 14, “you cannot make Gretzky’s head bleed.”
Actually, you never could make anyone’s head bleed in NHL ’94. (That was actually NHLPA ’93 you saw in Swingers). But everyone has conflated the two thanks to Jeremy Roenick, Vince Vaughn, one of the best games of the 16-bit or any other era, and 20 years of good memories that NHL 14 will celebrate with its “NHL ’94 Anniversary Mode” when the game arrives Sept. 10.
“The moment you go into it, you’ll hear the retro organ music from NHL ’94,” Ramjagsingh said, “then you’ll see the old blue ice. There will be NHL ’94 clips playing on the arena jumbotron and the power rings, during goals and during penalties. It’s awesome.”
It’s a throwback presentation mode, not just putting the NHL ’94 ROM on a disc and running it through an emulator, as the series did with NHL 06. “What we learned from that was the nostalgia around NHL ’94 was actually picking it up, putting it in, and pulling back on the couch with a friend more than playing it. People didn’t really love the overall gameplay, compared to the modern game. It’s not as good as we all remember it to be.”
Instead, they’re putting the old indicator star under the active player (with his number and position in that 16-bit font), nudging the action a little more toward over-the-top hits, goals and fights — and no rules, like icing or offsides — and moving it all around with the NHL ’94 control set that’s been part of the game since NHL 09. You can get a sense of it in that clip above.
“It’s the old NHL ’94-on-the-couch experience,” Ramjagsingh said, just with 20 years of improvement in overall gameplay and visuals supporting it. “You’ve got your buddy, you’re playing the game, cracking open a beer and talking a lot of smack to each other.”
Anniversary Mode will be offline multiplayer only, Ramjagsingh said. “We just wanted to get back to the roots of the game with it, and put people who wanted to play each other in the same room together,” he said. So the presentation will not carry over to any other mode. From that clip above, one can deduce that the franchises will be back in their 1994 sweaters, too
They could not use the complete NHL ’94 rosters, Ramjagsingh said, because the NHLPA does not offer a group licence for retired players. “We’d have to go out and sign everyone up individually,” he said. That’d be more than 650 players. So for that reason, Anniversary Mode must necessarily use modern rosters.
Ramjagsingh acknowledged that as the NHL series has deepened, adding in all sorts of features and controls, it’s jacked up the complexity and the level of strategy necessary to play a sound game. A player with years of familiarity with the series will be at a big advantage against someone who doesn’t. “What we wanted to do was make our game easy to pick up and play again,” without stupefying it or babying gamers. Ramjagsingh said. “So when this mode came together, all this strategy and stuff got tossed out the window, and people started playing it just for the fun factor. It’s really a throwback to that old-school gaming experience.”
Like NHL ’94, the Chicago Blackhawks should still be a favourite to play, coming off their second Stanley Cup championship in four years. Ramjagsingh said he and his roommates at Simon Fraser University settled their dorm chore duties according to who won or lost playing NHL ’94. “Our house rules were you could be anyone but Chicago,” Ramjagsingh said, “because of Roenick.”
Roenick, whose ’94 incarnation is up there with Tecmo Bo Jackson as one of the best video game athletes ever, will appear in the game, as will Wayne Gretzky. Both players have worked with EA Sports for many years and appeared as playable legends in past editions of the game. You can make Roenick beat the crap out of Gretzky if you want. “With the Enforcer Engine (that’s their new fight system) you’ll see real-time damage to the guy,” Ramjagsingh said. The camera focuses in on the player in the fight, and then in the penalty box, and you’ll see bruising or scarring. It’ll be different every time.”
But there will be no head-bleeding. “No. No blood. We’re Rated E-10+.”