I have been reading more and more posts here on Scorum about eSports and the games that people have loved playing over the years. I have particularly enjoyed @bayareasportsfan's quest to beat Mike Tyson again. These posts have inspired me to look back at my youth and the many (too many to count) hours evaporated in my bedroom or in my friend's basement playing sports video games. Now, we played a lot of different video games but the majority of the time you would find us playing hockey. It was a passion unlike no other.
It started with the release of the first of the EA NHL series. It was back in 1992 when we started investing a big chunk of our youth into the quest to become the best hockey player our fingers could make us. The first version of the NHL series was so much fun. At the time the graphics were fantastic compared to what we had played in the past. We had loved our time playing classics like Blades of Steel but this game really set the bar at the time for gameplay. We were able to actually move our players around more freely and in circular motions. The controllers allowed us to actually make moves and gave a real sense of control over the players. The first NHL game was not licensed by the players association so the player didn't have any names but we were huge hockey fans and we knew who the players were. The numbers were all we needed.
We were a competitive bunch of guys and it didn't take us long to make the games more meaningful and add new elements to the game. In the first edition of the series, there was just the simple gameplay and although we were having a lot of fun with the game as it was, we wanted more. We wanted to play tournaments and mini seasons against each other. We wanted to keep track of point to determine who was the best scorer among us. We wanted bragging rights! There were about 6 of us who got together regularly and we decided to create a schedule and keep track of stats. Hours and days melted away while we ploughed through game after game to declare the champion of the group. Arguments were had and many a time a controller almost fell victim to the anger of a scorned gamer.
Keeping stats, in the beginning, was fairly easy because the lines didn't change. You basically had your starting lineup and we only had to track a handful of players from each team. We would keep a tally chart or goals, assists, points and of course fights. As the game advanced over the next few years, so advanced our passion. Our little league would get more exciting and the competition was fierce. We all had our favourite teams that we liked to play with and then there were teams that some people tried to ban from the seasons because they were "too good". One of my buddies would even complain that the game was rigged and bullshit. The is code for "I suck and can't beat you guys" as you might already know. Oh, the hours of fun mocking each other after winning.
The release of NHL '94 was a huge moment for us. It was the first time that both the NHL and the NHLPA both licensed the game and so we had both player names and teams. The game also tracked stats for each game so we could collect our stats at the end of a game. Then there was the biggest addition ever, the one-timer!!! This was an epic addition. It took playmaking in the game to a whole new level and the wow factor for goals went way up. It would sometimes become comical to watch how hard we tried to set up a one-timer in the game. You could spend forever circling around in the zone waiting for your sniper to get open on the other side of the net. Imagine the frustration on the receiving end of that goal. LOL "I knocked him off the puck three times and he kept going! This is bullshit!!" LOL
This gameplay tells the whole story. Lining someone up in the trolly tracks and laying a devastating hit was just as much fun as scoring on that one-timer. Goals came early and often in this game and our players racked up some serious points. Players like Bure, Roenick and Lemieux got incredible numbers in our tournaments and leagues. They were the most loved and hated players depending on what side of the game equation you were on.
These NHL games have provided so many memories and represent such an important time in both my gaming history and the development of the sports game industry. The NHL franchise games have evolved immensely over the years and have become incredibly realistic. The addition of seasons and career modes and creating your own player have created a level of engagement that brings the gamer right down to ice level. The characters look so much like the real players now and the gameplay almost looks real. I don't play the game anymore because time doesn't permit that much freedom in my life at the moment but I will always remember those days were time stood still and weekends disappeared while I played my way to NHL glory and bragging rights with the boys until the next season.