The NHL ’12 developer blog had a couple of updates over the weekend. The first is from Games Modes Software Engineer Brian Krause about the rewriting of NHL’s sim engine. The second, authored by Games Modes Producer Gurn Sumal, is about improvements made to the game’s Be a GM mode. Sim engines are such a pivotal component to the long term viability of any sports game (if you play season or franchise modes) that it’s good to see NHL’s getting some love this time around. I’m not remotely qualified to judge what goes into a good sim engine, but I’m impressed with the details Krause provides…
Every statistic and result that the Sim Engine creates is based entirely on the ratings and playing styles of the 12 (or less, in the case of penalties) players on the ice at that time. Who takes a shot (or who gets Hit, or takes a penalty, etc) is based entirely on their attributes, which makes the results very dynamic, but also true to life. I’ll walk you through a simple scenario from a Face Off to a shot on net, and highlight the decision making that goes on ‘under the hood’ to ensure that the game flows in a logical manner.
The example that follows this bit is well worth clicking over to read as it’s a ridiculous level of detail; suffice it to say it’s so important for player ratings to matter in simulation results. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve simmed out a season in an NHL game to see just ridiculous results with regards to which teams made or missed the playoffs. The numbers, if you just looked at league leaders, were always in the ballpark, but the team results didn’t make sense. I remember a couple of years ago seeing a sim (this was right after the Wings/Penguins 7-game NHL Finals series) in which the Wings, Pens, and multiple other perennial playoff contenders missed the cut, while traditionally poor teams like the Islanders went deep into the playoffs. This is tricky. You want a sports game where anything can happen. Who saw the Rams going to and winning the Super Bowl back in 2000? Nobody. But bad rosters need to make for bad teams more often than not. Hopefully this new engine facilitates that.
The Be a GM Mode improvements aren’t as immediately enticing -retired jerseys, new sim interface, etc.- but then I simply can’t get into the GM parts of sports games when playing on a console. The UI, as I say so often, just isn’t capable of letting you run a team without wanting to bash your head into something heavy. It’d be lovely to see them come up with some browser integration stuff like the NCAA team is doing that would let you handle some of the Be a GM duties from the confines of your warm and fuzzy web browser, but if it happens it won’t be this year. Regardless, here’s a bit on how the new sim engine noted above lets you get a better sense of what’s going on with your team when you’re simulating games:
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With the new sim engine, we allow you to simulate the game at different speeds and let you pause the sim if want to check out stats at anytime. There is search functionality so that you can focus on particular player’s actions for that game. We even added a net chart to track where shots and goals are occurring on your goalie so you can potentially user player training to improve upon his weaknesses. This lets you guys play Be a GM like a real NHL GM (watching the game) without leaving you in the dark of what’s happening in a game like last year’s Sim Intervention did. If Your Team starts to get into trouble, you can now sim intervene at any point in time of a game (no more period chunks). This lets you be in control of the situation that is at hand whether you’re down by a goal or by 3. There’ll be more on the Action Tracker in the upcoming weeks.