Friday, September 18, 2015

Hell Hath No Fury
Like a Woman Scorned for Sega
NHL16 for the Blackhawks Fan

With the Blackhawks training camp about to kick off, I thought it would be be to put something together that is a little more lighthearted. This place could use some fruity lavender spray, especially with the ever looming dark cloud of law enforcement hovering over a certain asshole franchise player.

I digress, though...

This week, EA Sports released the much anticipated first "full" next gen NHL game, in NHL16, or as I like to call it, "New Hotness". I say "full" game because NHL15, or as I like to call IT "Old and Busted", was technically a full game but was extremely scaled back and the game features were a shell of what previous games were.

EA has admitted that they rushed to get "Old and Busted" out on the next gen platforms, and that is the reason several long time NHL game feature were left out. There were online issues, there were HUT issues but, most importantly for me, there were huge GM mode holes. My biggest gripe was that your prospects didn't generate stats, or even play games. How can players progress if they don't do anything? The answer is that they can't. Furthermore, how are you supposed to gauge players performance to promote them, trade them, or just make an assessment? Off an imaginary arbitrary rating number that EA sports created? I'm sorry, but I treat my GM gameplay more serious than that. To put it bluntly, "Old and Busted" was a wasted opportunity. It just barely held us fans over for those 12 months between '14 and '16, and accomplished nothing more than annoying die hard NHL gamers.

Enough about "Old and Busted". "New Hotness" is here, and it SEEMS like many of the promises that have been mentioned thus far were delivered. I, myself, am a few days into my "New Hotness" experience, and it has been frustrating. I say frustrating because this game is an adjustment. Gameplay is different. The biggest change, in my opinion, is the hitting mechanics. If you are anything like me you were able to dial in the NHL15 hitting, and utterly abuse the feature. It was incredibly easy to completely ragdoll just about anyone and everyone. Some games looked like Mob hit scenes from Goodfellas. There were bodies and equipment strewn about everywhere. The only thing missing was Gretzky's head bleeding. Not so easy in NHL16. Several times, I have tried to steamroll players that were standing still, and my player just misses, like some invisible force field. This isn't to say you cannot hit people, it is just more difficult to line them up.

My second gripe is this thing they have thrown in the GM and Be A Pro modes, and EA calls it "Morale". Don't get me wrong, I understand the concept and what they are trying to do. Teams or players can get temporary ebbs and flows based on their "Morale". The problem with this is that the AI is who decides when these peaks and valleys strike. The AI can make an opponent better, just for the sheer entertainment. For example, I held a team meeting and a dozen players had their "Morale" go up. This is all good and well. I made a conscious move that resulted in a good or bad reaction. Makes total sense, doesn't it? After getting shutout for two straight preseason games, by terrible goalies, I went into St. Louis and dominated them for 40 straight minutes, taking a 3-1 lead into the third period. You read that right, 40 minutes. Two periods. In the third period, magically for no reason other than the fact that I was winning, my team could not cover opposing players, connect on a simple 5 foot pass, or make a breakout pass without putting it directly on the stick of an opponent. The Blues came back and beat me 5-4. I did nothing different than I had in the previous 2 periods, I never do. I am painfully stuck in habits and routines. The AI decided to aid the Blues and penalize my team. This comes off as a bullshit way to allow the AI to give itself an advantage wherever and whenever it seems fit. I'm already not buying this load of crap they are feeding us.

My last gripe will always be a gripe with these games. The rosters. They are always wonky, and always will be. There is no good way around it. People like me know the Blackhawks roster inside and out, but if you asked me to throw together an accurate roster for the Ottawa Senators, I might put together something that has inaccuracies. Think of the EA as a team of LA Kings fans putting together a Carolina Hurricanes roster. They are not as intimate with your team or my team as we might be. They will make some mistakes. To get the rosters truly accurate to the point that it is acceptable to the average super fan of a team, they would need to either consult a member of each team or consult someone that covers the team. Even though, I'd be glad to volunteer my time to assist, they certainly don't want my help. Most people don't, with good reason. This is just the final frontier for EA.

All this said, I like the game, even as much as it has frustrates me. I can run a GM mode and my prospects generate stats. Prospects progress. I'm a happy guy. Thank you EA, for delivering a playable game actually worth owning. As far as the Blackhawks go, if you're OCD like I am, you want the their roster to be as close to real life as possible, before you blow it up and trade for half the Western Conference Allstars and a real #Goaler. Comparing rosters, prospects and unsigned players can be a huge pain in the ass, so I thought I would throw together a little checklist to help Blackhawks fans consolidate. This is what I spent about 4 hours doing on Tuesday afternoon and evening. I know...

Be sure to do all this before you start your GM mode. These are all made, based on the latest roster update, dated 9/9, and saved as a custom roster.

Create players - You will need to create a few player that don't exist. Artemi Panarin (83), Erik Gustafsson (81), Tanner Kero (74), Kyle Baun (72), and Vince Hinostroza (73) are all players that will be important in Blackhawks land, so you should probably add them. These are players that may end up in Blackhawks uniforms in the nxt 24 months, for one reason or another. If not, you have more trade chips. You will have to guess on the granular stats, like i did, but you can find their general vitals online. I make a hypothesis on their ratings, which should not be a stretch at all. If you really want to get more granular, you could add players like Ivan Nalimov, Matt Tomkins, or Robin Press. If you don't think you'll have a need for them, don't bother. There are plenty of Free Agents that can fill open holes.

Acquisitions - You can find defensemen Robin Norell and Carl Dahlstrom in the SWE league. Mark Visentin is a goalie in the Free Agent pool that will get playing time in Rockford. You are more than welcome to add players on PTOs, like Daniel Paille, Tomas Kopecky, Michael Rozsival, Kyle Cumiskey, Lubomir Visnovsky, or Jan Hejda but most aren't worth the effort and will count as $575K against the cap if they are left on the NHL roster. You will need to trade Versteeg and Nordstrom to Carolina for Dennis Robertson (on Charlotte Checkers). The second player, Jake Massie, isn't in the game.

Edit Players - I change the gear on Crawford and Darling to their new black scheme. Tikhonov is rated really low, so I would suggest bumping up his rating just a bit. I have a feeling he is going to be slightly better than the 73 EA gave him. That is average for an AHL player. Other than those few tweaks, I left the ratings alone.

Here are what Crawford and Darling now look like, after my tweaking:

Drop players - Tropp and Morin can certainly be demoted, even though Morin is actually a decent player, in the game. For some insane reason, the EA crew just loves themselves some Shawn Lalonde. I cannot understand why. Shawn Lalonde has not been a part of the Blackhawks organization for two complete seasons, yet when you start your GM mode, there is Shawn Lalonde playing 3rd line defense for the Rockford Icehogs. The Hogs roster had something like 30 players on it already, but he is still there. Since he's a space filler, there isn't much you can do but scratch him, but WHY HIM?

The Unknowns - Three of this year's draft picks, Garrett Knott, Roy Radke, and Joni Tuulola are actually property of the Blackhawks in NHL16, even though you can't initially see them. Once you begin GM mode, Knott and Radke appear under "Contracts/Unsigned Players". Tuulola and Gustav Forsling will also appear on Rockford once you begin.

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