Hockey may not be rocket science but that didn't stop EA Sports from recruiting a scientist who worked on the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, the world's largest particle collider, to revamp puck physics for NHL 15.
Producer Sean Ramjagsingh said they thought the video game puck overhaul would take two to four years. The physicist they hired did it in 10 months, making the puck react more realistically.
"Literally real-world math being dropped into our game," Ramjagsingh explained at a recent demo at the Toronto Maple Leafs' suburban practice facility.
A bad bounce can mean a pass back to the blueline turns into a breakaway.
"Which is something that would never happen in our game before," he said.
Combine that with improved player models, jerseys and equipment, when a puck in the game hits a goalie or other player, it will cause the jersey to move. Then it hits the equipment below and reacts accordingly, depending on the puck speed and the surface it is hitting.
The result is more realistic to look at, while showing goalie saves that game designers had never seen before.
"Now we're seeing pucks squeak through places it could never go before," Ramjagsingh said, "because it's real puck physics."
NHL 15, available Sept. 9 on Xbox One and 360 and PlayStation 3 and 4, marks the first time EA Sports' hit title has come to next-generation consoles. The game, developed at EA Canada in Burnaby, B.C., looks great but some will lament the absence of features like Online Team Play on the next-gen versions.
Ramjagsingh cited "technological hurdles" in working on the new consoles but says OTP will be added in a future update.
Still Ramjagsingh says the upgrade in visuals and game play make this the biggest leap in the game from year to year.
The new version features upgraded arena depictions, from scuffed boards and glass to skate marks on the ice. And it boasts 9,000 unique spectator models, meaning the entire lower bowl of an arena can be filled with everything from fans holding signs to those with faces painted.
"We want to get to the point where if you're a season ticket-holder, you can go find your seat in the arena (in the game)," Ramjagsingh said. "And we're almost there right now."
The NBC broadcast package is integrated into the game, featuring Mike (Doc) Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and analyst Ray Ferraro. That includes video of the commentators introducing games with Emrick and Olczyk, not to mention more than 35,000 lines of audio recorded for the game.
It took the broadcasters 13 to 14 sessions, each seven to eight hours, to do it.
Game designers also borrowed from their counterparts at EA's UFC game, although not for the fighting part. Instead they shared technology on improving facial animation.
Player ratings in the game are calculated by a pro scout, with the numbers updated as the season wears on.
"All the players we work with always want to be a little faster, a little stronger. a little quicker as well," Ramjagsingh said. "Everyone wants to be a little bit better than their rating."
Winger Justin Bailey, a second-round draft pick headed to the Buffalo Sabres' camp, reached out to find out his rating, only to lament his defensive number, according to Ramjagsingh. Bailey will have to play a shift in the league before he gets into the game.
Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby boasts the highest rating in NHL 15.
You'd think developers like Ramjagsingh, having designed the game, would be unbeatable. But he admits to losing to Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, considered one of the best NHLers at the hockey video game.
"He plays all the time. He's good."
Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, who took part in the EA event, wasn't surprised at his teammate's gaming prowess.
"Well he's a nerd, so yeah," he said, tongue in cheek.
Ramjagsingh and other designers regularly take on the world's best players online to see what they do with the game, often discovering gamers pull off moves they never thought possible.
"Literally 10-year-old kids light me up," he said.
He may not like losing, but will put up with it for the information he gains from it. Developers also monitor social media closely to find out what their audience is thinking.
"I'll take feedback from anybody because it makes the game better. If you're thinking it, that means someone else out there is thinking it as well," Ramjagsingh said.
Rielly, 20, gives the new NHL title a thumbs-up.
"I love it," said Rielly, a casual gamer who likes to play Call of Duty with Leaf teammates Jake Gardiner and Tyler Bozak.
Playing the virtual Leafs, Rielly was down 4-2 after two periods to Montreal and Habs forward Max Pacioretty at the EA event before they were summoned to a nearby motion capture session.
Wearing his gaming heart on his sleeve, Rielly watched captain Dion Phaneuf cough up the puck on the screen for one Montreal goal before replacing goalie Jonathan Bernier with James Reimer.
The 25-year-old Pacioretty, who scored twice against Rielly in their virtual showdown, was also impressed by the new version.
"It's amazing," he said.
"If my parents walked behind me during a replay of that (game) they would think they're watching a hockey game. It just shows how far video games have come," he added.
Pacioretty's in-game rating was an 89 but he didn't much like his speed number. "Tomorrow, I'll work on my speed," he said.
Patrice Bergeron, the game's cover athlete, and Boston teammate Brad Marchand, both step out of character in ads for NHL 15.
Bergeron offers up a spoken word bit — "NHL 15 is my new endeavour," says Bergeron. "Hold my calls, for like forever" — while Marchand, known as the Little Ball of Hate, sings a song called "I Want to Marry NHL 15."
"I would say the director did a fantastic job," Ramjagsingh said. "We heard from the Bruins and they were amazed we were able to get them out of their shell like that."