The Unlikely Story Behind One of Gaming's Greatest Sports Titles

NHL 94 was programmed in a cabin in Maine by a guy who knew nothing about hockey.

29 Comments

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Professional hockey game NHL Hockey 94 is considered to be one of the most iconic and influential sports games of all time. So you might be surprised to learn it was developed in a barn in Maine by a man who knew nothing about hockey.

Maine news publication The Bangor Daily News has profiled NHL 94's lead programmer, retired game developer Mark Lesser, offering a fascinating look into his life and career.

No Caption Provided

"I'd never watched a hockey game, I didn't know anything about it," Lesser, an MIT graduate with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, said.

To get up to speed, Lesser took a trip to Electronic Arts' campus in California. Other developers working on the NHL franchise--intense hockey fans--took Lesser to a professional hockey game and taught him more about the sport.

"I didn't know what the heck they were talking about. I just smiled a lot," Lesser recalled.

Armed with this knowledge, Lesser returned to his cabin in Brooklin, Maine to get to work programming what would become NHL 94. It wasn't uncommon back then for a single person to program an entire game, with others working on art and other elements.

NHL 94 turned out to be a breakaway hit, introducing franchise-firsts such as one-timers and goalie control. A sailing slapshot could shatter the glass behind the goal, something never before seen in the NHL series.

Lesser, now 66, developed NHL follow-ups through 1999. His final game for EA was a motocross title released in 2000. He is now retired, living in his coastal Surry home overlooking Union River Bay.

NHL 94 is so beloved that 2013's NHL 14 included an "NHL 94 Anniversary" throwback mode that brought the look and feel of the SNES/Genesis game to modern consoles.

The full story is a fascinating read and is well worth your time if you're interested in video game history.

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Avatar image for xcollector
xcollector

The moral of the story is because he knew very little about hockey he was more interested in making a fun game than an NHL game. Current EA is all about licensing deals and signing athletes for box covers first, the gameplay comes second.

Avatar image for colbster
colbster

They haven't improved the game since.

Avatar image for b1ank
B1ank

"It wasn't uncommon back then for a single person to program an entire game, with others working on art and other elements."


I find it funny and sad that this has to be explained

Avatar image for Sw1tched
Sw1tched

Geez ... even playing against other people i never score less that 10 goals. Against the computer, i would score 15+. I even won without a goalie for the entire game 18-16. I have that game and evidence on VHS lol.

Avatar image for DrunkenPunk800
DrunkenPunk800

No, NHLPA 93 was in Swingers. I honestly prefer that game to 94, as it had blood.

Avatar image for ChunkyDrawers
ChunkyDrawers

NHL 94...the amount of time we spent on that! Best hockey game ever.

Avatar image for Expane
Expane

The one-timer lead to a lot of fistfights. So much cheese with that shot.

Avatar image for Pyrosa
Pyrosa

Get your story straight, people: Was it a CABIN or a BARN?
(Title doesn't reconcile w/1st paragraph.)

Avatar image for Ziehn
Ziehn

<< LINK REMOVED >> I say it was an Igloo!! :P


Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Jeremy Roenick!

Avatar image for Furwings
Furwings

16-Bit NHL games:


(1) NHL Hockey: Winner = Genesis (wasn't on SNES)

(2) NHLPA Hockey '93: Winner = Genesis was FAR superior to the terrible SNES port - I was so disappointed that I sold my Genesis for an SNES thinking the hockey game would be just as good - boy was I wrong! :(

(3) NHL '94: Winner = SNES had new & better player models, new animations, better audio and better skating control

(4) NHL '95: Winner = Genesis - was better mainly due to the SNES having white goal posts on the nets and the top net having NO crossbar?! WT F?! that bugged me sooooo much lol!

(5) NHL '96: Winner = SNES - only cause 2Unlimited's Get Ready For This sounded much better with the SNES's superior sound chip.

(6) NHL '97: Winner = Tie - pretty much cookie-cutter of '96 with a roster update

(7) NHL '98: Winner = Tie - same as '97 - by this time pretty much everyone had moved onto PS1, Saturn and N64.

Avatar image for northArrow
northArrow

As a Mainer I'm offended. How did this guy know nothing about hockey?

Avatar image for deactivated-58d01419269d7

<< LINK REMOVED >> Because he's a programmer with education and class. ;p

Avatar image for Furwings
Furwings

16-Bit NHL games:


(1) NHL Hockey: Winner = Genesis (wasn't on SNES)


(2) NHLPA Hockey '93: Winner = Genesis was FAR superior to the terrible SNES port - I was so disappointed that I sold my Genesis for an SNES thinking the hockey game would be just as good - boy was I wrong! :(


(3) NHL '94: Winner = SNES had new & better player models, new animations, better audio and tighter skating control


(4) NHL '95: Winner = Genesis - was better mainly due to the SNES having white goal posts on the nets and the top net having NO crossbar?! WTF?! that bugged me sooooo much lol!


(5) NHL '96: Winner = SNES - only cause 2Unlimited's Get Ready For This sounded much better with the SNES's superior sound chip.


(6) NHL '97: Winner = Tie - pretty much cookie-cutter of '96 with a roster update


(7) NHL '98: Winner = Tie - same as '97 - by this time pretty much everyone had moved onto PS1, Saturn and N64.

Avatar image for sargentpsgamer
sargentpsgamer

I miss when sports games were more about fun and not trying to be so realistic all the time. I think it was 1999 that was about the hits? You could totally lay out a player and it was so thrilling. Today they just bump into each other, or fall, there is no "crunch" feeling with it because they want it all to be "realistic" all the time.


It'd be awesome to have 94's style with todays visuals.

Avatar image for Furwings
Furwings

I prefer the SNES version of NHL '94 as it had all new character models and new animations. Plus the skating was tighter as players didn't slip around so much like they all had dull skate blades like the Genesis version. NHLPA '93 sucked bigtime on SNES, it was the choppy as hell, the sounds cut out, it had less features/options than the Genesis version etc. But EA redeemed themselves with '94 for SNES.

Avatar image for ExoticCharm
ExoticCharm

Now I want to hear a story about whoever the programmer was that made "Golf" on NES. I wonder if he went insane from constantly listening to that sound effect when your ball was in the air.

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pork7

Strange, it looks JUST like HNL 93.

Avatar image for ChunkyDrawers
ChunkyDrawers

<< LINK REMOVED >> NHL 93 was awful

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DrunkenPunk800

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> It was the same basic game, but NHLPA 93 had blood.

Avatar image for Kezzy123
Kezzy123

The main issue with the current NHL games is not that people dont know anything about hockey, its that the devs including rammer "THINK" They know all about hockey.


Fire those incompetents and hire people who know nothing and they will not make half the critical mistakes rammer is making.


Also EA


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shreddyz

This takes me back. Thanks GS

Avatar image for Xristophoros
Xristophoros

that's a cool story. i played hundreds of hours of nhl '94. that was THE sports game back in the day. good times. once you figured out the exploits it was pretty easy to score.... those wrap around goals and one timers...

Avatar image for hermitkiller
HermitKiller

Oh I remember those days. My buddy had Sega Megadrive and everyone wanted to borrow it because of NHL 94.

Avatar image for da_chub
da_chub

have to agree this was the best hockey game ever. played countless hours of this.

Avatar image for jonath01
jonath01

<< LINK REMOVED >> My record was 64-0, with 64 goals with Brett Hull's slap shot! ;-)

Avatar image for coop36
coop36

Never played this honestly. Mutant League Hockey on Genesis was a blast though.

Avatar image for Whiskey3romeo
Whiskey3romeo

I thought all EA sports were made by people who don't know anything about the sport.