EA Sports embraces first-person fights, homer fans for NHL 10

Please recall last September in the NHL 09 review where we described the game as "video game crack rock." With the addition of the "Be-A-Pro" mode and improved game play and controls, NHL 09 brought the fun back to the legendary EA Sports series.

As we creep closer to the release date of NHL 10 in September, EA Sports has revealed that one part of the game that has been disappointing in the past just got a major upgrade.

In an interview with ESPN Videogames, EA Sports NHL 10 producer and Hockey News blogger David Littman explained how the goal for the coming edition is to bring the physicality back to the game. One of the highly debated aspects of the NHL series in the past has been the fighting engine. It was either completely useless or relatively easy to win a fight; basically a part of the game that should be fun, but instead made you want to turn your fighting sliders down.

In NHL 10, the fighting engine has been revamped. So please let's welcome the most glorious innovation for sports video gaming since the Nintendo Power Glove and/or Power Pad: first-person fighting.

From Littman:

"To us, we wanted the fighting in 'NHL 10' to be such a good feature, such a fun feature, that on its own it could be a fighting game. We want there to be strategy so if you're a big tough guy, you can stand in there and trade blows, but if you're a smaller guy, you might want to get out of the way of this big fist."

For the record, there is no button for a Jarkko Ruutu(notes) biting attack move in the game.

"So in our game, we reward you if you fight at the right times and we won't reward you -- we'll even penalize you -- if you fight at the wrong times. So if you're down 3-0 in a playoff series and you're getting killed, or if your team isn't playing well, you can start a fight and it gets all the energy back for your team. Your team's energy goes back to 100 percent. But if you fight at the wrong times, you won't get that bonus."

We've seen over and over again how a fight can influence the momentum in a game (see: Max Talbot(notes)-Daniel Carcillo) and to finally have that part of the NHL series is exciting. Gone should be the days when you're playing the CPU or a friend and Mathieu Garon(notes) is playing like the second coming of Patrick Roy. Now, all it could take to turn the tide are some fisticuffs.

"And this year, with our interactive crowds, getting them going is really important. So if you're in the playoffs and you fight, the home crowd is going to be waving towels and going nuts and if you fight near the boards you're going to see people banging on the glass trying to pump you up."

Hopefully EA follows through on this and the end result is positive. The crowds have been boring and non-influential over the year. Adding a livelier crowd will only improve the game play experience. The acceptance of glass bangers at games may be a subject still debatable, but throwing them into NHL 10 will add to the game's realism.

"And another thing is, when you're in an opposing building and you have a star like Pronger or somebody who has been a thorn in your side, your home crowd will boo every time that player touches the puck."

Huh. Chris Pronger(notes) really is one of the most hated men in hockey, eh? It would also be interesting to have certain former players hear it from the boo birds when they return to their old buildings. The volume would get a tad louder when Marian Hossa(notes) entered Mellon Arena or Claude Lemieux(notes) stepped onto the ice at Joe Louis Arena.

"The other big thing you can do is turtle if you don't want to fight. I can pick a fight with a superstar like Sidney Crosby(notes), and if there are no tough guys on the ice, Crosby will take the fight. But if I have Crosby in a fight, I might not want him to get hurt because you can get hurt in a fight, so I can turtle by pressing a button and he will just go down to the ice.

"On the other hand, if you have tough guys on the ice, to protect Sidney Crosby, a tough guy will jump in and fight for Crosby. That's a really cool feature and something that I've never seen in a hockey [video] game before. And it plays into our whole Team Toughness feature because you need to have tough guys on your team to protect your superstars."

Insert Sidney Crosby fighting joke here.

In the past, having an enforcer on your team might have been a waste of a roster spot if you weren't a fan of big, slow players whose shots hit more Plexiglas than net. Now, it sounds like having a team bodyguard could be a necessity if you want your NHL 10 team to be successful.

"Not only can you hit guys after the whistle, but now there are going to be penalties after the whistle if you go a bit too crazy like slashing a guy from behind into the boards. There are scrums after almost every play in the playoffs, so we wanted to add that in the game, and there is an effect for it.

"Another thing is that if you shoot the puck at my goalie after a whistle, my tough guy will come knock you on your ass."

My favorite part of Madden '96 was after a play when you could drill an opponent and not face a penalty. Sometime, if you hit them just right, you'd hear a crunching noise and in a patented monotone voice hear Pat Summerall say, "Oh, no."

Post-whistle action could be treacherous if you're playing against a hacker in a video game hockey sense. And again, the enforcer role is made prevalent in the protection department, further adding to the improved toughness aspect of the overall game.

"Another cool thing we added this year is line matching at the opening face-off. So for the first time, you can put out your fourth line to start a game to go against the first line of the away team in order to try and intimidate them right away. We're even giving a little bit of an advantage to the home team by enabling them to pick a line after the away team picks theirs."

Manual line changes have been in the game forever, but making it so it's just like the current set of NHL rules where the home team gets the final change is a sweet little addition hardcore players.

We're about five months away from the release of NHL 10, so there still might be time for some additions or changes from the '09 version.

What are some things you'd like to see in this next edition of the legendary NHL series?

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