"There is no position in sport as noble as goaltending." - Vladislav Tretiak, goaltender for the Soviet Union national team (1968-1984)
The goalie: the last line of defense. The last man standing. A goalie is on the ice for the entire game, he doesn't rotate based on shifts and more than any other player the success of the team is tied to his performance. A hot goalie can win a game, can win a playoff series and even a Stanley Cup.
With the EA SPORTS NHL 13 development team spending more time working on the AI this year than the three previous years combined it was clear that our goaltenders were going to need to step up their game. Our players are faster, smarter and have more tools for putting the puck into the net than in any of our previous games, so the goalies needed to be better.
Goalies React to All Potential Scoring Threats
The first major improvement in NHL 13's goaltenders is that like the other players on the ice they've received an A.I. boost with EA SPORTS Hockey I.Q.
This means that unlike previous years their focus is not solely on the puck. Now aware of every player on the ice the goalie anticipates plays, reads the intention of the puck carrier and other potential scoring threats, and can adjust his tactics accordingly.
If a player walks in alone, they will commit 100 percent to the shooter but once there is more traffic in the zone or a player is coming in on a 2 on 0 or 2 on 1, the goalie has much more to worry about and you will see them react differently, sometimes cheating more to the shot or the pass depending on the situation or how their defender handles the play.
Complete Limb Movement
These Hockey IQ improvements to the goaltending AI in NHL 13 come in conjunction with changes to the way that goalies can move their bodies. Goalies now have complete limb independence, meaning that unlike previous years each other their arms and legs can be moved independently from their body. Thus if a goalie has already committed an animation, they are not locked in it. Goalies can adjust their limbs freely at any point in time. For example, they can reach their glove hand up for a deflected puck or kick out their leg to stop a slap pass.
This individual control over their limbs will come into play to allow them to do whatever they can to get in front of a puck rather than just making a specific save animation. They may not always catch the puck with their glove hand if they aren't able to react fast enough, but they will still work to get their trapper/arm in front of the pucks trajectory to make the save.
Improved Desperation Saves
Goalies understand when their net is wide open and have the ability to act with more desperation. If they can't square up to a shot in time, you will see them lunge to open parts of the net to try and take away scoring chances as best as possible.
A goalie can anticipate a one timer on a cross ice pass, dive across to an open side of the net before the shot is even fired, then recognize that the shot is going high and reach up from their current motion with their glove or even their stick if that is all that they can do to get a piece of the puck.
In the picture above you see the netminder reacting to the pass from Daniel Sedin and moving across his crease in the first picture. In the picture below you see him adjusting his stick mid motion so that he lifts it to make the save, an example of complete limb movement.
The combination of the next generation AI included in EA SPORTS Hockey I.Q. and the goaltender's ability to move their limbs independently makes for some amazing saves.
Fluid & Flexible Goaltenders
Shortly after New Jersey Devil's goaltender Martin Brodeur made an amazing 'scorpion-like' save during the NHL playoffs, kicking his skate up from behind him to stop the puck, NHL 13 gameplay producer Ben Ross called the rest of the team over to his desk to show them a replay of a goalie making a shockingly similar save. While there's not an explicit animation for that in the game, the goalie still pulled off the save because of the control it had over each of his limbs. Saves like those are now able to happen organically and look fantastic, capturing the drama of the desperation save.
The addition of Complete Limb Movement means that there is essentially an infinite number of unique animations in the game, creating the opportunity to see a save you've never seen before on any given play.
The first shows how the save is typically made, the second shows the goalie raising his glove to stop the puck even while he's stretched across the ice and the third shows him with his glove down on the ice.
Caption: Desperation Save
Caption: Free-range of motion of the limb
Caption: Complete Limb Movement
User Controlled Goalies - Anticipation
Human controlled goalies have the same access to the near infinite range of saves that the computer can draw from.
A major criticism of the goalie control in last year's game was that using the right stick to make a save committed the goalie to that save. Last year, it was too easy for offensive players to draw a goalie into committing to a save then firing the puck into the open net.
This year the right stick is used to anticipate a save, allowing the human controlled goalie to prepare for a shot without committing to the save and moving out of position. If the player guesses right they are that much more likely to make the save. Guessing wrong still leaves the goalie with a chance to make a save, but they're going to be an instant slower which could be costly.
Once committed to a save human controlled goalies will still have the ability to adjust and correct, using their individual limb control to raise a blocker or kick out a pad to make that amazing save.
The poke-check ability has also been improved for human controlled goalies in NHL 13, making it more accurate and increasing the chance that the player controlled goalie will end up with the puck.
Goalies in NHL 13
A goalie is vital to the success of a team. A good goalie can lift a team to the next level, while a bad goalie means that your team may be basement dwellers.
In EA SPORTS NHL 13 we wanted to make sure that the goalies were improved along with the rest of the team. With EA SPORTS Hockey IQ and Complete Limb Movement we've been able to make the goalies the dependable back stoppers that they're meant to be.
They're the last man standing, the final protection against a goal and this year in they're going to be even better than ever before.