NHL 2K9 Conference Call Recap

Posted September 6th, 2008 at 12:37 pm

Bringing the fun back into hockey gaming has been the long publicly stated goal of the developers of NHL 2K9 and the importance of such continued to be stressed throughout a conference call held on Thursday. Producers Ben Bishop and Jay Iwahashi took on questions from various media outlets and got to talk about the game which is slated to release this coming week.

The most prevalent feedback 2K received in regards to 2K8 was that the game was too complicated, especially the controls. We’ve seen EA Sports take action on trying to make their titles more accessible and that is what 2K decided to do here. Accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean dumbing down, as the idea is to make the game easier to pick up and play for everyone but still offer a great deal of depth and a fully rewarding experience.

Much has been made about the studio move from Kush to Visual Concepts. This presented the opportunity to get a fresh perspective on the game and led to much of the game being built from the ground up. In addition to that working at VC makes it much easier to interact with the team that works on the NBA series so there will be more in the way of sharing technology and continuity between the titles. This can already be seen with the presentation, menus, and online features which will be similar in both.

Maybe not much of a surprise is that there were many questions that had to do with comparing and contrasting to EA’s NHL 09. Basically 2K believes that both titles offer something unique and that having two successful games can only help increase the hockey gaming market.

2K9 becomes the first hockey game for the Wii, and while lacking online play they were able to get a pretty full featured offering completed. It was interesting to hear that they felt overuse of motion controls would hamper the experience which is something I believe as well. So shooting, checking, and fighting will be controlled that way but that is about the extent to which it is utilized.

The online play for 2K9 has taken on a lot and could be a real strength especially in the league setup. They’ve completely redone the league website which now will included generated news, a trade analyzer, game track (basically a play-by-play recap of a completed game), and media uploads. That brings up the uploading of video highlights to the 2K website. You’ll be able to put together a 20 second clip of footage from a game. When the clip is from an online league game that will automatically be added to the league website. On the topic of roster updates they put expectations at having one a month.

They’ve added the six-on-six online mode which locks each individual in as a single player. The ranked games of this mode go up to only five-on-five as they felt the goalie would be too critical a position to randomly place someone in. In ranked games users get assigned to a team and player, they don’t have any choice in the matter. In unranked games those can go up to the full six-on-six and people can make their choice of who they control including goalies. There was a complete server overhaul for this year in order to handle the load that will be carried with multiple users in a single game.

After last year 2K had an uphill battle to fight. NHL 08 was so widely heralded and the complicated nature of 2K8 turned off a lot of gamers. The Kush studio was closed and the NHL series moved to Visual Concepts which should provide a more promising future. It would seem to be a big undertaking for a single year but it looks like they’ve achieved at least the goal of making the game more accessible while still adding some advanced online features and rewriting the franchise mode and sim engine.