Are simulation style video games such as NHL '11 too complicated?

1 Comment

nhl11toewscover.jpgI haven’t written a review of NHL ’11 just yet for a simple reason: it’s enormous. From the tweaks EA Sports made to the team building aspects of its old modes to the changes in physics and gameplay to the newly added Hockey Ultimate League and its wacky trading card system, there’s a lot to digest. In fact, I might just include a gallery of reviews like I did with NHL 2K11 for the simple reason that there’s a lot to wrap one’s head around.

(If you want a snapshot review, though: it’s really, really good. There will always be minor quibbles, but it feels better than any of the previous titles. If you’re a hardcore hockey fan, it’s worthy of an upgrade even if you own NHL ’10.)

As much as I enjoy NHL ’11 and other sports games that aim to be realistic and fun at the same time, there’s a part of my gaming heart that aches for the days of cartoonish, reality-bending arcade sports games. From hockey’s NHL Hitz series and Wayne Gretzky hockey to the fantastic NBA Jam and NBA Street games all the way through to robots swinging baseball bats and Mutant League Football, previous consoles featured some incredibly fun titles. It’s clear that the gross maturity of people can’t help but focus on the “That would never happen” aspect instead of lingering on the sheer awesomeness of making a basketball hoop catch on fire.

That saddens me.

When EA Sports made a big move to change its control scheme with NHL ’07, they introduced a new level of immersion to hockey video games. Instead of the strength of a shot being determined by how hard (or long) you press down on a button, now your aim (360 degrees worth) and timing are what really matter. One of the things I love about the scheme is that to simply play the game without getting into the subtle nuances, it’s actually quite simple: the left joystick moves your player, the right joystick acts as your stick and guides your body checks, the right trigger passes and changes players while the right bumper poke checks.

Of course, there’s a big difference between being able to do the simple things and showing enough skill to score goals against and inhibit the offense of an experienced opponent.

Owen Sound of Kotaku asserts that NHL ’11 is “harder than its hardcore fans” and ultimately asks if modern sports games are too complicated for casual gamers or casual fans of a sport to pick up.

The deepening complexity of sports video games is more than tolerable, its marketable, because millions of sports fans have a deep, first-hand association with the sport in question, if not as players then at least as lifelong fans. Unfortunately, it’s also a prerequisite.

There is no such prerequisite in a shooter. Mafia II’s instruction manual is two pages: Here’s how to kill someone before he kills you, basically. Part of that has to do with the lawless context of the game. But it’s also because, unlike the subtleties of defending someone in basketball, there are few gamers out there familiar with the subtleties of being a mafioso, and certainly not enough demanding simulation-quality organized crime gaming.

Analysts have asserted that sports gamers are not buying more sports games, but they are spending more money on a single game. The economy may be a big part of that, but it’s only a part of it, I think. As features and different contextual control sets are are added and – especially – as multiplayer communities mature and become more competitive, fans may find themselves without the time or the wherewithal to keep up in the sports they follow more casually than their favorite.

Sports games that try to simplify themselves typically get brushed off as babying the product for people who don’t have sports fan bonafides. Let’s not be so quick to judge things that way. These games may be simplifying themselves to be more accessible to hardcore sports fans who, lacking exposure, can’t yet make that mental connection between what they want their player or team to do and how to execute it on the controller.

There are, however, options out there for people who want to play arcade-style games on modern consoles. Unfortunately, sometimes that requires a certain level of tolerance for outdated rosters (or even imaginary teams stocked with fake players). For one thing, you can play quite a few PS2/original X-Box era games on the newer consoles if they are “backwards compatible.” While $60/full-priced games rarely feature arcade gameplay, it seems like download services are filling the gap. For example, a new edition of the revered NES pigskin game Tecmo Super Bowl was released this year. I’m a big fan of the ridiculously simple soccer game Sensible World of Soccer; in the X-Box 360 version the “A” button controls passing, shooting and attempts to retrieve the ball. Yes, that’s right, passing and shooting on the same button. Another interesting development is that the Nintendo Wii will feature the re-birth of the NBA Live series, complete with an NBA license.

So arcade style video games aren’t dead all together, but simulations demand the biggest budgets and largest audiences. Still, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: EA Sports is crazy not to release an NHL ’94-style X-Box Live game. Wouldn’t you want to use Alex Ovechkin like the next coming of Jeremy “Going to make Gretzky’s head bleed” Roenick? Get on it, EA.

Nugent-Hopkins’ injury: blessing in disguise for Oilers

Getty
1 Comment

In the short term, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being sidelined for five-to-six weeks with cracked ribs is awful news for the Edmonton Oilers, especially since the initial outlook was more positive.

Let’s be honest, though: only the most delusional Oilers observers really give them much of hope of salvaging the 2017-18 season. They’re basically in “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” territory by just about every measure.

So, allow me to be optimistic about the bigger picture while burying the current: RNH’s injury could be a blessing in disguise, at least if the Oilers receive the bat signal about their lost season.

This would be how it could be beneficial.

The Oilers probably won’t be able to bungle an RNH trade

Look, it’s plausible that Nugent-Hopkins could be part of a trade that helps the Oilers at some point. They can’t totally disregard that notion, not when they’ve made some cap mistakes and the solid center carries a $6 million cap hit.

That said, does anyone trust GM Peter Chiarelli with an RNH trade at this point? (We might need to hide your car keys if you do.)

It almost feels like every day or so is another slap in the face for Chiarelli, as Mathew Barzal tears it up for the Islanders and Taylor Hall is enjoying an All-Star season for the Devils. RNH being out might just save the Oilers from themselves, especially if Edmonton sees front office changes this summer. Might as well hit the “pause” button on trading actual core pieces after losing that game over and over, right?

Inflate Ryan Strome?

OK, this category might give the Oilers too much credit, but maybe they’d consider it.

It seems like Ryan Strome might be the beneficiary of RNH’s lost opportunities, particularly on the power play. As a pending RFA, there’s concern that this might actually hurt Edmonton.

What if the Oilers do a “pump and dump” with Strome, instead, driving up his value and then trading him to a contender? If Strome went on a hot streak, maybe a team would want him as a rental considering his cheap $2.5 million cap hit would be even cheaper at the deadline (he’s already down to about $1M according to Cap Friendly).

Get the memo: you’re a seller

Maybe RNH’s injury stands as that final push for the Oilers to sell at the trade deadline.

Chiarelli’s track record of player for player trades is … not great. That said, he’s done OK with smaller deals, buying low on the likes of Cam Talbot.

The Strome example might be too outside of the box, but moving an affordable, productive player like Patrick Maroon is very conceivable. Mark Letestu is another expiring contract that might bring at least moderate interest from around the NHL.

***

As bad as things are for the Oilers, they don’t necessarily need to panic and blow everything up. If this eliminates the chance of RNH being moved, it might not be such a bad thing, as the franchise might as well get its ducks in a row before they make that decision.

In the meantime, they can undergo less of a rebuild and more of a spring cleaning.

With the right moves on the peripheral, they might just be glad that RNH is still around. By not dodging an injury, the Oilers may have just dodged another bullet.

After all, they keep shooting themselves in the foot.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kings’ Dustin Brown earns hearing for boarding Justin Schultz (Video)

10 Comments

Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings will speak with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Friday following his game misconduct for boarding Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz.

The hit occurred midway through the third period of the Penguins’ 3-1 win Thursday night. Brown was handed a major for boarding and ejected from the game.

“I’m going to close on him. He stumbles, toe picks. I don’t drive him into the wall or anything,” Brown said afterward via LA Kings Insider. “Also, closing on the play, at the most it’s probably a two, I think. I mean, who knows because of the protocol and all that, but it’s one of those plays where I’m going to close and he’s in an unfortunate spot.”

Schultz did not return to the game but head coach Mike Sullivan said he was in the locker room afterward and it seemed like he was going to be fine.

Brown sees Schultz is on his knees by the boards and it isn’t like the Kings forward’s momentum takes him into the Penguins defender. He gets his hands raised as he cross-checks Schultz into the boards. As Jim Fox said during the broadcast, the DoPS wants players to avoid or minimize contact along the boards. This hit was completely avoidable.

“I fell, I’m facing the wall and then all of a sudden my face gets driven into the dasher there,” Schultz said via the Post-Gazette. “I don’t know why. There was plenty of time to not do that.”

The NHL has suspended Brown only once in his career, so he’s not considered a repeat offender here. Still, he’s going to be sitting for at least one game, possibly two, beginning Friday night in Anaheim.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Surgery for Shattenkirk after playing with pain for Rangers

Getty
1 Comment

Now we might know why Kevin Shattenkirk‘s had such a disappointing debut season for the New York Rangers.

After playing with pain for months, Shattenkirk decided to undergo knee surgery, sidelining the defenseman indefinitely. To be specific, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton explained that Shattenkirk, 28, was dealing with a meniscus tear.

As you can see in this dour press conference, Shattenkirk said that he’s been dealing with knee issues all season.

While Shattenkirk has his critics even on his best day, it truly seemed like something dynamic was missing for the high-scoring blueliner. That’s been especially true lately; Shattenkirk was mired in a seven-game pointless streak heading into the surgery, and had just one assist in his past 13 contests. Even with those limitations, Shattenkirk managed a point every other game overall this season (23 points in 46 games).

It’s only natural to wonder how much more effective he might have been if not addled by injury. His possession stats took a big hit, and even if some of that might come from the Rangers’ counterpunching system, it’s reasonable to project better numbers if he was healthy.

One could definitely second-guess the Rangers for not pushing Shattenkirk to take care of the problem sooner instead of later, yet knee issues can often be tough to judge. No doubt about it, management likely wanted an immediate return on their considerable investment in Shattenkirk, too.

Shattenkirk’s absence opens the door for another polarizing offensive defenseman in Anthony Deangelo, not to mention other Rangers likely getting more reps on the power play and other situations.

It will be interesting to see if this injury loss represents that extra push for the Rangers to lean more toward being sellers at the trade deadline, as that was already being rumored lately by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, TSN’s Frank Seravalli, and others.

This is a real bummer either way for Shattenkirk, who certainly would have preferred to make a better first impression for a team he dreamed of playing for. Hopefully he’ll be more “himself” when he returns, whether that means late in 2017-18 or in 2018-19.

After holding off the Sabres for a win last night, the Rangers are on a small upward trend and currently hold the first wild-card spot in the East. That said, it’s a skin-tight race with Metropolitan Division rivals nipping at the Rangers’ heels, so they don’t have a lot of room for error.

Maybe the Rangers will be better off playing without a hampered Shattenkirk, but they’ll need to hit the ground running without him. It’s the latest bump in the road for what’s been a challenging season for New York.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Senators GM: ‘Priority’ to re-sign Erik Karlsson, ‘no rash decisions’ coming

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As he stood at the podium on Thursday with the Ottawa Senators’ bye week over, general manager Pierre Dorion said he still had hope for the playoffs.

He also laid out the scenarios for the second half that would potentially get the Senators into the postseason. In looking at the last four seasons and the point totals of the teams that grabbed the final spot in the East, Ottawa would need 57 points in their final 39 games to hit that number of 95 points.

That’s a tall ask for this Senators team. Dorion noted they would have to go 28-11-1, 27-10-3, 26-9-5 or 25-8-7 to have a shot. But then it hit him. “We have to be patient, and I can tell you that no rash decisions will be made,” he said. “We have to be realistic and understand our situation. If we don’t make the playoffs we have to start planning for the future, and that might me to take one step backwards to take two steps forward.”

Do you see this Senators team getting 57 points from 39 games when they’ve only managed 39 points in their first 43 games? They’re a negative possession team that is bottom-five on both the power play and penalty kill and their goaltenders have combined for a .907 even strength save percentage. Doing a complete 180-degree turn would be a monstrous accomplishment. It’s time to look forward.

Mark Stone and Cody Ceci are restricted free agents this summer, and there are a couple of players making big money who will be looking for a raise in 2019 — Matt Duchene, Derick Brassard and, of course, Erik Karlsson.

[Karlsson deserves every penny he can get, and he knows it]

Brassard’s name has been out there and flipping Duchene a few months after trading away Kyle Turris for him would be an interesting development. The big one will be Karlsson, who’s already stated publicly that he’s going to get what he feels he’s worth in his next contract. That’s something that could prove tricky for a Senators franchise whose owner isn’t known for shelling out the big bucks for players.

“Our first priority with Erik is to sign him. He’s a special player, but Wayne Gretzky got traded,” Dorion said. “If a team offers you an offer you can’t turn down, you listen. But our first priority is to sign Erik Karlsson and Erik Karlsson to be a Senator for life.”

After coming within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season, it’s all come crashing down hard for the Senators. If the slide continues and Dorion starts selling off assets with an eye toward the future, how Will Karlsson feel about that? He won’t want to be a part of a sinking ship, not at 27, and not with a monster contract coming his way within a year’s time.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.