First things first: Check out the first trailer of 2K Sports' latest hockey game, NHL 2K10:
As you puck fans will recognize, the above trailer features a pretty spot-on recreation of Alexander Ovechkin's ridiculous goal scored against the Phoenix Coyotes back in 2006--a once-in-a-decade shot that seems comprised of equal parts amazing skill, blind luck, and the blessings of the Benevolent Hockey Gods. As it turns out, however, you just might be able to recreate Ovy's goal, or at least come up with one close to it, in NHL 2K10. And you won't even need to dedicate an offering to the spirit of Maurice Richard to do it.
A new animation feature in the game, known simply as stumble shots, will assist you on creating your own spectacular highlights. As 2K10 producer Ben Bishop told me earlier today, the idea of stumble shots came directly out of fan frustration with last year's game. "One of the things that came up last year is that some people would get frustrated when they were trying to take a shot [while] getting bumped or checked. A lot of times that would end up cancelling you out of that action, so you'd be pressing the "shoot" button and wondering why you didn't get a shot off."
Stumble shots, as a result, let your player take a shot even when he's being jostled, pushed, checked, or--like Ovechkin--put on his back. "If you're getting bumped or pushed or checked and you're in the midst of taking a shot, then your player will perform a stumble shot animation," Bishop said.
No, this doesn't mean that you'll be scoring eighty goals a season while sliding towards the boards on your rear end. And, no, it doesn't mean that your third-line defenseman is going to be putting slapshots in the twine while standing on his head. In fact, as Bishop put it, the stumble shot animations have been designed to be infrequent and available only to players with a high enough skill level. As he put it, "It's not like [stumble shots are] happening five or ten times per game. It's a little bit more of a rare type of thing. It's not something you're going to see all of the time, and it definitely depends on the skill of the player taking the shot, but it's something that adds a fun extra twist to gameplay."
Speaking of player skill, there is no "stumble shot" player rating to determine who will excel at these kinds of off-kilter shots--instead a player's success rating depends on several factors, including player ratings like creativity and agility, his position on the ice and speed of approach, and of course, the position of the defenders in his way.
Players can expect more contact in NHL 2K10--in addition to the stumble shots, Bishop said the development team has worked on improving incidental contact between players--so if you've got two players chasing down a puck in the corner, they'll be bumping and jostling trying to gain position on one another. Bishop said the team has also focused on making backwards skating more precise and smooth, as well as giving players better stick-handling options. All in all, there's several hundred new animations in the game, according to Bishop, and all of them are aimed at making 2K10 a more complete hockey experience.
"It adds a little bit more of an organic feel to the game; I know our NBA game is very good at that, making little things happen sometimes in the background, not necessarily right on the [ball]. Just having guys interact more and you know feel like they are more part of the environment."
Graphical improvements, like new player models with better hair and facial features will complement the smaller details such as authentic equipment--look closely at the trailer and you'll see the gold laces on Ovechkin's skates.
While the 360 and PS3 version will be the home for many hockey fans, 2K doesn't want fans to forget about the Wii version of NHL 2K10 as well. Last year's debut on the Wii managed to sell more copies than the 360, PS3, PS2 versions combined, despite not having features like online play. That's set to change this year--the game will not only include improved character models and animation upgrades (like stumble shots and incidental contact), but will also include a full suite of online options as well, allowing players to participate in online leagues and tournaments as well as take their created teams online.
Most importantly, NHL 2K10's more superficial upgrades will be accompanied by AI improvements; Bishop specifically mentioned things like better positioning, players looking for open space to make passes, and better puck movement all around. As Bishop puts it, NHL 2K10 represents a return what made older version of the NHL 2K series so successful. "We really wanted to go back to our simulation roots. Last year, we had more of an easy pick-up and-play control scheme and we really wanted to make the game fun and accessible to any type of user. We certainly don't want to move away from that goal this year but… we've spent a lot of time making sure it plays a better game of hockey."
There's still more to learn about NHL 2K10 and, next Friday, I'll be bringing you an exclusive hands-on with all versions of the game, so stay tuned.