With the next generation of gaming upon the masses, the development team at EA Sports Vancouver knew they had to come out swinging when the time came to release the first NHL game of the new generation.
That’s a big reason why Sean Ramjagsingh, lead producer of NHL, and his team decided not to release a game at launch on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but instead, wait until NHL 15 to make their next-gen debut.
In development for the last two years, NHL 15 aims to take a franchise that has widely been regarded as one of the best sports games on the market, and make it even better. One way that the people behind the game are hoping to do that is with an overhaul of the game’s broadcast presentation.
Since its launch on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2006 and 2007, respectively, fans of the NHL series have had Gary Thorne and Bill Clement as the main commentary team. And while they no doubt provided solid work during their tenure, their commentary had become dull and repetitive to the point that fans would rather mute the broadcast than continuing to hear the same calls over and over and over again. It became obvious of the past couple of seasons that it was time to end.
“We’ve been hearing the exact same feedback [about commentary] from our fans,” Ramjagsingh said. “We’ve known that for a while, when we got to gen 4, we wanted to go big with the commentators and a new broadcast package as well.”
Go big they did as the NHL games will now feature NBCSN broadcast presentation as well as the A-team in the broadcast booth in the United States, Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk.
“We knew we wanted to go big and our fans wanted us to overhaul our presentation and get new commentators, so we’ve engaged NBC for a couple years now leading up to the launch of NHL 15 to deliver that experience that fans have been asking for,” Ramjagsingh said.
In total, EA Sports Vancouver has been working with NBC for the last three years to prepare for the new broadcast features coming to the NHL franchise. The team has recorded over 35,000 lines of brand new commentary that will aim to make the presentation sound like that of something you would see during a marquee matchup on NBC on Sunday afternoon.
To help make sure the presentation is on point, Ramjagsingh sent some developers and engineers to help with the new EA Sports UFC title to learn how the new software will work when developing for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
This process lead to EA Sports leaving the idea of digitally recreating Emrick and Olczyk in the game behind, and instead, put their actual selves into NHL 15.
“We started brainstorming different ways to do it, and coming up with an innovative way that had never been seen before,” Ramjagsingh said. “Seeing UFC, seeing the quality of the visuals, seeing the quality of the arena and the presentation that they are going to achieve and knowing that was going to come over to NHL later on, we did some tests to see what if we actually put Doc and Eddie, the real versions, in the game.
“We did some early tests and we’re like, ‘This is going to work.’ This is something fans have never seen before. And now we don’t need to worry about lip syncing or hiding their mouth with a microphone.”
And not only will Emrick and Olyczyk be in the game, they will be a part of a presentation that will feel exactly like it would if you were watching a real life NHL broadcast.
From pre-game introduction videos to arena flyovers to branded graphics, NHL 15 will feature a full television like broadcast that has never been seen before in a video game. Even the third man of the commentary team is someone that fans have never seen before, other than on the ice, in a video game.
TSN analyst Ray Ferraro will be joining the two men in the booth, giving an “ice level” perspective to the fans during games. From information about a player’s history to recapping a major milestone the star rookie recently achieved, Ferraro will be the man to pull everything together when it comes to the game’s commentary.
Ferraro was added as a way to make sure the commentary can be fresh throughout the season. By having someone local – Ferraro lives in the Vancouver area – Ramjagsingh has a many who he can call up to come in and record some audio for near immediate inclusion into the game.
“That’s the future I’m working on,” Ramjagsingh said. “That’s what this new hardware and software allows us to do.”
Of course, as with any sports game, there is always the risk of commentary sounding too robotic, and not feeling as dynamic as fans would hope it would be. EA Sports has completely changed how the commentary is not only added to the game, but how it is recorded as well.
Gone are the days of handing the commentators a pile of lines to read. Instead, all three men were given context regarding certain situations, and were then told to come up with a number of variations in how they would call a certain situation.
“We spent a lot of time studying Doc and Eddie, how they interact with one another and how they interact with a third man so that we can completely overhaul our speech design,” Ramjagsingh said. “This year, we captured various ways of having the commentators capture the players’ names. For the first time for us, the color commentators address players by name, specifically.”
An example that was given for how commentary will change is that instead of it always being situations like, “Steen shoots the puck”, calls can now sound like, “A nice shot by Steen just misses.” It’s a subtle change that should go a long way in making NHL 15 the best game in terms of broadcasting on the market.
There is more to find out regarding NHL 15, and Ramjagsingh promises that the public will get to see these new presentation changes in action soon enough. Until then, however, fans will just have to imagine how the A team from NBC will look and sound in the long-running hockey franchise.
NHL 15 will launch this fall on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Keep it locked to FanSided.com for more as the release date gets closer.