How EA Sports puts your favorite players — and their faces — in the game

Casey Ippolito
Nigel Nunn helps get the faces of your favorite players into EA Sports' NHL series. (Courtesy Nigel Nunn)

When the NHL draftees of 2015 picked up their first video game controllers around the turn of the millennium, the architects of EA Sports NHL were adding a revolutionary detail to the series: recognizable player faces. By today’s standards, the game-faces of the early 2000s looked ridiculous, but still, Lemieux looked like Lemieux, Sakic like Sakic, Pronger like Pronger. It was a start. Today’s budding stars were once wide-eyed, hockey-mad gamer kids, most of whom grew up as avid fans of the NHL series, and many of whom still are. So in addition to the checklist of cliché milestones every future pro daydreams about, the EA NHL generation also dreamed of playing as their authentic virtual selves.

Nigel Nunn helps this dream come true. He’s the digital imaging lead at The Capture Lab, a company that does the head scans for EA’s various sports titles, including FIFA and UFC. Nunn is a road warrior, darting from city to city with a portable camera setup capable of swiftly capturing the raw materials for what will become a nearly photo-realistic game face. As the quality and the volume of recognizable in-game faces has rapidly increased, fan expectations have risen as well. “I have people who find me on Facebook, give me a list of players that aren’t scanned, the clubs that I need to go to still, and give me contact names and addresses for the clubs,” Nunn said. “They know I’m on the road and what I’m up to. It’s really strange.” Read more

NHL 16 Review: EA bounces back big time after disappointing with NHL 15

Jared Clinton
Jonathan Toews will now grace the cover of EA Sports NHL 16 by himself. (via EA NHL Sports/Twitter)

Over the past several years, the second week of September has become one of the best for those whose favored hobbies and time-wasters include hockey and video games. As training camps get set to open and prospects hit the ice, EA’s annual NHL title lands on store shelves and into the ever-ready hands of gamers ready to chase the Stanley Cup in their own, personal digital NHL.

This year’s title, NHL 16, was considered by some to be the most important release in recent memory. Last season’s NHL 15 was disappointing and bereft of several popular game modes. It left some longtime fans wishing there was another major NHL title on the market. Understandably, EA Sports had a tall task in front of them and the pressure was on to win back some of the fans who were upset by the first iteration of the game available on next generation consoles Xbox One and Playstation 4.

With NHL 16, EA Sports stepped up in a big way and will win back the trust of some longtime players, yet there are still areas where the game could improve en route to once again becoming Sports Game of the Year. Read more

NHL 16 released. Who does the game say will win the Stanley Cup?

Jared Clinton
Phil Kessel as a Pittsburgh Penguin in NHL 16. (via EA Sports/YouTube)

New York Islanders fans can plan the parade, or at least NHL 16 seems to think so.

With the release of EA Sports’ NHL 16 Tuesday, we took it upon ourselves to see what the league could look like in 2015-16 — or at least what the game is projecting will happen in the campaign through a full-campaign simulation of its season mode. The results actually weren’t too far-fetched, so long as you can picture the Islanders taking home the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup. Read more

Is virtual reality the future of hockey video games?

Matt Larkin
Screenshot of NHL 16.

The Jetsons and Back to the Future II sure missed the mark depicting our future. Sassy robots don’t serve us breakfast, skateboards still have wheels and, for the love of God, cars do not fly.

Standing on the ice at Toronto’s MasterCard Centre last summer, however, could almost trick the mind into believing we’d realized popular fiction’s utopian future. Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly and Montreal Canadiens sniper Max Pacioretty darted around the ice clad in black suits, covered in reflective balls. As the players deked, shot and play-fought, cameras surrounding the rink bounced light off the balls, triangulating the visual information. Instantaneously, on a TV screen just behind the boards, video game avatars mimicked each player’s movement in real time. Voila, motion-capture technology, the lifeblood of EA Sports’ insanely realistic hockey video game series.

“It looks a lot more restrictive than it actually was,” Pacioretty said after removing his high-tech gear. “I was expecting to go out there and feel like I wasn’t a hockey player, but we felt pretty comfortable. The technology was amazing.”

Other video game genres, such as action or horror, have actors perform all the movements and dialogue in similar MoCap suits, creating a smooth, cinematic experience. Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of EA Sports’ NHL series, told THN a few years back the company’s goal was photorealism. He envisioned a console presentation virtually impossible to distinguish from a real-life broadcast on TV, so that people would have to stop and stare to realize it was a video game.

We’ve more or less achieved that feat today. Graphics will inch forward a bit each year, especially given the power of eighth-generation consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but it’s the law of diminishing returns now. These games look amazing already. What, then, will the future bring in hockey gaming – and all sports gaming for that matter – in 10, 20 or 50 years? How can we possibly advance any further?

Read more

Watch rookies guess their NHL 16 ratings in hilarious video

Jared Clinton
Mackenzie Skapski and Emile Poirier see their NHL 16 ratings. (via EA Sports/YouTube)

Before the 2015-16 season begins and a number of top prospects get their rookie campaigns underway, EA Sports will have released the latest instalment of their NHL game. New games come with new ratings, and sometimes its anyone’s guess what those overall rankings will be.

But when it comes to attempting to guess who could have what overall rating, why not go right to the source? No, not the developers or those in charge of ranking the players. Why not ask the rookies and prospects themselves? After all, who knows their own ability better than the players?

Even though some of the rookies are quite close — Emile Poirier and Mackenzie Skapski guess near 80 overall and both draw an 80 rating — there’s more than a few who are off on their estimations. Take a look: Read more

Patrick Kane will no longer appear on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL 16

Jared Clinton
Jonathan Toews will now grace the cover of EA Sports NHL 16 by himself. (via EA NHL Sports/Twitter)

Amid the allegations and investigation involving Patrick Kane, EA Sports announced Wednesday they will be removing the Chicago Blackhawks right winger from the cover of the latest instalment in their NHL video game series.

“In light of the ongoing investigation involving Patrick Kane, he will no longer be a spokesperson for the launch of EA Sports NHL 16,” the company said in a statement.

EA Sports adopted the slogan, “Play Together. Win Together,” for NHL 16, and as such the cover was originally slated to feature Kane and teammate Jonathan Toews hoisting the Stanley Cup following the Blackhawks 2015 victory. The announcement of Kane and Toews as cover athletes was made at the NHL Awards ceremony, but Wednesday’s statement and release of a redesigned cover leaves Toews as the sole representative for the upcoming release.
Read more

Whoops! EA Sports leaks San Diego Gulls jerseys in new NHL 16 video

Jared Clinton
EA Sports accidentally leaked the San Diego Gulls jerseys in a game trailer. (via EA Sports/YouTube)

Back in February, the Anaheim Ducks officially unveiled that their new San Diego-based AHL affiliate would take on the Gulls moniker that has been associated with hockey in the Southern Californian city for decades.

The name announcement came along with the unveiling of a logo, but fans have been waiting to get a glimpse of the jerseys since the Feb. 22 ceremony. Now, thanks to EA Sports and NHL 16, fans can get their first look at the Gulls’ new uniforms in a video hyping up the return of the NHL series’ famous EA Sports Hockey League game mode. Read more