No matter what system you had back in the day, there was one fact that no fanboy could refute: NHL 94 was freaking awesome.
It is arguably one of the best sports video games of all time, and even today we get some inspiration from it from time to time. For hockey fans, the series has defined the progression of the video game industry from underground passion to mainstream appeal.
At the time of its release, the NHL was in it’s heyday. The Rangers were winning the Stanley Cup and countless gamers were deciding which line combination could stop Alexander Mogilny in pixelated blue and gold. In many ways that game and that year would be the apex of the league’s popularity, and since then we have only seen a decline in quality of both its video games and pop culture appeal.
That being said, NHL video games still get people pretty excited. Our own Chris has torn through the last incarnation of the series and is already getting excited about NHL 09. Take a look for yourself:
Personally, I think Phaneuf is a good pick for the cover. Anything is better than Rick Nash. However, the screenshot below is what I found far more interesting than imaginary Sidney Crosby breakaway goals.
Yes, that’s Zedeno Chara and Steve Bernier getting ready to awkwardly fight for the puck. Obviously EA Sports has great faith in Darcy Regier’s ability to keep restricted free agents, so I guess that’s a good sign.
You won’t see any new jersey mock ups because it is still fairly early in development, but I would expect later in the summer the game once again reveals some new designs. This fall will see the return of third jerseys to the wardrobe, and every team looking to make a buck (read: all of them except Phoenix) will have a shiny new model for fans to spend $150 bucks on.
But I digress.
One of the cooler things about that screenshot has a lot to do with jerseys, but not the ones on the players. In the first row next to Bernier’s left shoulder is a guy in a goathead Sabres jersey. It may seem like an insignificant point, but to those of you who grew up on crowds wearing the same 3 shirt colors it’s a pretty snazzy tweak.
To get all code-nerd on you, it’s a fairly simple algorithm to make it happen. All you have to do is assign a fan a random model of jersey available to that designated team and make sure they are spaced out far enough to avoid repetition. However, consider the era of “stand up, sit down” fans from the 2K series as an example of just how far video games have come in the past few years.
The point really is that EA seems to be giving the NHL series a good shot to be great again. Hockey video games aren’t for everyone, but making a good video game can help a league’s image just as much as a crappy Mike Myers vehicle. Even today people reminisce about NHL 94 and how great it was. There are even people who use the “NHL 08 Theory” when analyzing real life hockey players.
For example, last year Dan Paille was ranked higher overall than Drew Stafford in NHL 08. Before the season that would seem completely ridiculous, but sitting here today you have to think the EA code wizards were on to something. Stafford struggled while Dan Paille went 19/16/35 in 77 games, completely shedding the nickname “Fat Crosby.” Who knew?
Somewhere in all that lack of sleep is a theory about what the NHL video game franchise has done to the popularity of the sport, but for now try to convince yourself not to make this your background for the summer: