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More ideas on how to improve EA Sports NHL franchise

The game is still a hockey player’s fantasy come true, but there’s still plenty of room to improve.

NHL Board of Governors Meeting Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

To wrap up the Video Game theme across SB Nation this week on PensBurgh, I figured I may as well give my two cents on a few ways EA Sports can appease their faithful, such as myself, and introduce several new wrinkles to an already fun game.

I’d be lying if I said I was impressed with how the game has changed the last several years, or lack thereof when it comes to simulation modes. The recent versions of the game have been excellent when it comes to a number of online modes. There’s a plethora of different ways for everyone to find an opponent online. But even still there’s still plenty to be desired on that front as well. PensBurgh’s Garrett elaborated on that a few days ago with his ideas on how to improve the game.

Here’s a few ideas on how to improve the game for the people who prefer to focus on the simulation aspect of the game, and offline modes.

Add a “The Life” simulation

EA Sports has already introduced this feature across several of it’s sports franchises. It has had it’s pros and cons, but if you’re interested in playing a game to keep you busy and entertained with or without internet access, what better way than to create a player and choose a specific role and be able to grow your player from a wide-eyed rookie to a legendary captain with a Hall of Fame worthy career?

The “Be a Pro” mode already exists in the NHL franchise, but has largely been the same for several years and is need of an overhaul. Being able to create a player to a specific mold should be the main focus. Currently the gameplay is the same whether you’re a playmaking forward looking to finesse your way around or opponent or an enforcer defensemen looking to inflict pain on whichever victims happen to be on the same ice surface as you on the other team. They could create an in-game experience for each specific type of player and have added bonuses and demerits for each attribute that coincides with each prototype, depending on how you perform game-to-game and also year-to-year.

You can start off in the junior system similar to the way “Be a Pro” mode currently is, and be able to play your way to becoming a top draft pick or an undrafted free agent depending on how you perform. But now you should be able to control every story line with each scenario 100% up to the user where every choice has a consequence. Isn’t that the point of video games?

Re-Invent the goalie mode

This is one aspect of the game that has never really improved or been focused on throughout it’s development. Whether you play online or offline, a good goalie can make or break a team. But playing goalie is one of the hardest things to do in the game. It takes hours and hours of practice just to be any good at the position. Believe me, I tried. It usually didn’t end well. I’m not saying that EA should make it impossible to score against user goalies, but there’s definitely ways to improve the gameplay when you’re the man between the pipes.

The current setup makes it entirely up to the user to be in the right place without much room for error, even though hockey is one of the fastest sports already before adding the AI element of a video game, making it very hard to be in the right position with the speed of the user goalies also being very slow. Simplifying the position would probably be the easiest way for EA Sports to improve game play and entice players to want to play in net. An equal balance of AI and user elements could re-invent the position and make it much easier to play and also much more fun to play one of the most difficult positions in a sports video game.

Add a “Key Moment” simulation mode

I’m not much of an NFL fan these days, but I’m still a very big Madden fan. I don’t buy it religiously every year like I do for the NHL series, but I have played my fair share of Madden throughout the last several years. One of my favorite features of the game is simulating through games and being prompted once ‘key moments’ or specific scenarios in a game to swing momentum one way or the other.

My favorite way to play the NHL series is to sim the first two periods and only play the 3rd period in franchise mode. That way it removes a lot of the repetition of playing the same opponent for 20+ minutes straight. It also gives me a different scenario nearly every game, whether playing with the lead, coming from behind or being tied with the opponent. It’s fast paced and definitely can get interesting depending on the scenario.

If EA Sports were to introduce a similar feature in the NHL franchise similar to the Madden simulation “key moment” simulation, I think it would go a very long way for the overall gameplay. They could offer the feature in the “Be a Pro” mode or any of the offline seasons or franchise modes to cut down the time required to play games, and make it easier to complete seasons without spending hundreds of hours to finish one year.

More in-depth franchise mode

I’m a big fan of the franchise mode like I said above. My favorite thing to do each year a new version of the game is released is to pick a team and move them to a new city and see how successful I can be building from the ground up, whether as a new franchise or moving an existing team.

For as great and in-depth as the current game is, there’s still a lot to be desired when it comes to creating your own team. The logos have largely been the same forever and the list of available team names sometimes doesn’t even match up with the pre-created logos to choose from.

There’s hundreds of current options, but a more coordinated effort doesn’t seem like much to ask for. Several other sports games such as the 2K series have a much more vast and almost unbelievable amount of created team options available. EA Sports is very capable of equaling or surpassing their competitors when it comes to creating your own team. It’s been long overdue.

With how far video games have come the last ten years, it’s about time for EA to step up to the plate and actually make a big change to the same game that has been coming out for years. But even if they don’t, chances are I’m buying NHL 21 anyway, which is probably why EA hasn’t felt the need to make such bold changes in the first place.