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David Littman's Blog: Making a hockey video game

Getting the virtual Dion Phaneuf to play like the real one is no easy task.

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Getting the virtual Dion Phaneuf to play like the real one is no easy task.

Last week I discussed my personal road from playing hockey to the video game world. In this blog I’ll get into what goes into the making of a video game like NHL 09.

Although I had played hockey and played video games and had even been a game tester, I didn’t know anything about making one.

A video game development team at EA Sports is made up of producers, development directors, software engineers (SEs), animators and artists. Producers are in charge of the vision and design of the game along with the features that go into the game. They also lead the different groups that make up the team, such as gameplay, audio, online, game modes, etc. Producers are responsible for working with marketing, finance, PR, media and focus groups.

We also work very closely with the NHL and the NHLPA. They are terrific partners. We all want what’s best for the NHL, the sport of hockey and our game. I sometimes get asked why we don’t have certain NHL rookies in the game when we ship the game. It’s because we can’t add a player to a roster until he’s played at least one NHL game. But we update the rosters online for people to download so everyone gets to play with or against the rooks.

The goal of our game is to offer an enjoyable hockey video game experience, while being as authentic to the sport as possible. Here is the work we need to do for a player like Alex Ovechkin.

•    He needs a 3-D head that looks like him
•    He needs to have all of his authentic equipment
•    He needs all of his stats and bio information
•    He needs all of his attributes – speed, shot power, etc. – correct
•    He needs hundreds of thousands of lines of code to give him artificial intelligence telling him what to do 30 times a second
•    He needs thousands of animations for shooting, skating, deking, etc.
•    He needs to be hooked up to the controller so people can try doing what he does in reality
•    The puck needs real physics so after he shoots, he can score

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Now, multiply all of those by hundreds of players, teams and leagues and you start to see the difficulties of making it all come together, especially when deadlines are involved.

In the end, though, there is no place I would rather be. When I get fan letters from kids and parents telling me how much enjoyment they get from the game or that they learned about hockey through our game, it always puts a smile on my face.

Next week I will talk about how you or your child can get started in the video game industry.

A native of Flushing, N.Y., David Littman was drafted by the Sabres in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He spent four years at Boston College before turning pro in 1989. Over the next 10 years, Littman would play in the ECHL, IHL, AHL and NHL (with Buffalo and Tampa Bay). The 40-year-old currently works as a producer for the wildly popular EA Sports NHL series of video games. Read his other THN.com blogs HERE.

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