NHL 23 developers on Frostbite engine, crossplay matchmaking, and the state of gameplay – Interview

NHL 23 is right around the corner, so we spoke to two lead developers on the state of the franchise.

Image via EA Sports

NHL 23 is officially on the docket for this fall, and this will be the second installment of the franchise on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Last year’s entry in the franchise was a stark contrast from previous games, thanks to a new gameplay engine and additions like customizable rating loadouts in EASHL and roster sharing. Players are likely wondering what this year’s installment has to offer. We spoke to two development leads of the NHL franchise, Clement Kwong and Michael Ingelhart, about NHL 23, and they let us know all changes that are skating up the ice for 2022.

From Ignite to Frostbite, Part II

Image via EA Sports

One of the significant changes for the NHL franchise last year was a brand new gameplay engine, albeit one that was quite familiar to those who regularly play EA sports games. The EA NHL franchise migrated over from the Ignite engine — the one that had been the foundation for the older Xbox One/PS4 NHL games — to Frostbite, the system that is used by the FIFA and Madden franchises.

Related: Will NHL 23 be available for the PC?

This is Year 2 of the NHL franchise within the Frostbite engine, and NHL 23 producer Clement Kwong noted that the team has shifted its priority list a bit. Last year, Kwong said that between the change of generations and engines, the primary focus was on ensuring that the gameplay was good and running perfectly, all without losing any of the key features that were in the old generation of consoles.

For NHL 23, a large part of the focus from the development team was on expanding. This let the team showcase new features like crowd awareness and fine-tune the experience and presentation. NHL 23 will feature new Stanley Cup presentation sequences, snow from the ice piling up on the boards, shadowing improvements, and audience changes that will make the crowd much more cognizant of the action on the ice. For example, crowds can now show their approval or disdain toward a stale power play while also cheering loudly after the home team’s goaltender makes a breakaway save.

Things like this may seem small on paper, but this does portend that the team has made a life-like experience a priority. And per the developers, this sentiment remains true with what the team has to offer with changes to the gameplay.

Gameplay gets a clean shot

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As far as gameplay changes go, EA Sports has made several new additions, much of which are related to young Ducks star Trevor Zegras, the game’s co-cover athlete. Throughout his first full season, Zegras made some incredible plays, like his lacrosse-style goal against the Canadiens, to his wild pass against the Sabres that got the hockey world talking for days.

In somewhat of an appropriate addition, NHL 23 will feature hundreds of new desperation shooting and last chance animations, per creative director Mike Ingelhart. Additionally, new goaltender animations will be included.

Ingelhart stated in our discussion that with these new mechanics comes programming designed to integrate human error into NHL 23. This human error equation ensures that not one way of scoring or playing the game becomes the “OP” style needed to win games. “We really played with that human error [of players] a lot to get it to the right level,” Ingelhart added. And as far as the animations go, the NHL 23 creative director noted that these last chance shooting animations, along with the new saves, will be a part of a much larger vision for the gameplay. That vision is that the development team wants to ensure that there is a substantial amount of variability so that one game does not feel too similar to the next matchup.

New additions on the back end

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NHL 23, for the first time in the franchise’s history, will also include cross-platform matchmaking for both Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) and EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL). This new addition will come as part of a post-launch update in November 2022 and will allow users from the same generation of consoles to match up with one another in online action. When asked about potential upgrades and the future of cross-platform play for the NHL franchise, Kwong said that the team has a roadmap and will listen to the community for future upgrades, such as the ability to buy and trade HUT cards from users on different platforms.

Franchise Mode will get upgrades, as well. Last year saw a boon with the addition of roster sharing, which had been highly requested from the NHL community for quite some time. 2022 will see more concrete features being added to Franchise Mode itself.

NHL 23 will feature the ability to customize strategies even more than in the past. Users can now tinker with the lines, including power play configurations, to ensure players are exactly where they want them to be on the ice. Additionally, Custom Franchise will see players have the ability to customize the number of teams in a league, the number of games in a season, how many teams make the playoffs, and even components like the salary cap ceiling.

All of this is part of a buildup that the development team has worked on over the past years, including the addition of roster sharing, per Kwong. Ingelhart added that these new additions will give cohorts of players all sorts of creative control of their save files. These changes, per Ingelhart, will also allow users to maximize their time on NHL 23 and Franchise Mode. For example, players who are only interested in creating a season with a limited number of games to fit in a tight schedule can do just that. Or, if a player wants to only go up in a season against their squad’s most hated rivals, that user would be free to do just that.

NHL 23 is scheduled to be released on October 14. Those who order the premium X-Factor Edition will receive three days of early access beginning on October 11, while EA Play subscribers can begin a trial version of NHL 23 starting on that date.