EA’s NHL 99, back when I used to buy the yearly release of the NHL series, suckered me in pretty well with this promise:
In NHL 99, Marc Crawford sat down with the development team and helped divide expansive checking ratings. Using this system, certain players will have an easier time moving the opposition to a certain side, while offensive forwards will be better neutral-ice checkers. Also, Marc Crawford guest stars in a brand new feature: Marc Crawford Coaching Drills. Here, you will be able to practice checking, passing, odd-man rushes, and other hockey fundamentals.
That’s right, the one, the only Marc Crawford sat down with the game developers for NHL 99 and made sure they got things right. At the time Crawford was the brightest star in the coaching galaxy. He had taken over the Nordiques in the strike shortened season and proceeded to lead them to not just a Stanley Cup, but being one of the elite teams of the era in the West. Although in retrospect some might point out that the team was absolutely stacked beyond belief and in Crawford’s 12 seasons since leading the Avs to back to back 100 point seasons he has only gotten beyond the first round once.
So it kinda sucked after a handful of games I had figured out the system. Which unsurprisingly has been the system in almost every NHL related game. First off, shooting is almost always useless. You will almost never score a goal with a slap shot unless the goalie is awful. Or if the CPU was desperately trying to make the game close. The other big thing is that it was never worth it to throw a check, the AI always dodged checks and took advantage. But every stick poke would knock pucks loose.
The AI was so bad that 3 days after I bought it I was able to defeat Team Canada with Team Italy on the hardest mode 5-2. That also included me out shooting Team canada 62-11 in a game that had 5 minute periods. The game was so awful that the only thing which was fun was playing the Olympics as Team Italy and winning them the gold. Otherwise since the NHL teams are so close (having almost all ratings between 70-90) that stickpoking, never checking and one timers was always the key to victory. I remember being disgusted just a week or two after buying it. The AI sucked and apparently having Marc Crawford (who wasn’t coaching at the time) didn’t help.
Thankfully it seems like places are less and less likely to bring in a big name to “help” develop a game. Madden hasn’t had anything to do with the Madden series in about 20 years now. Even his big addition was kind of idiotic. He complained that it wasn’t football without 11 players. Apparently he couldn’t wrap his big fat head around the idea that processors at the time couldn’t handle creating that many sprites. Personally I think some of the best football games are the ones that cut down the number of players on the field. I used to love the NFL Blitz games.
I always remember though reading through the manual and cursing at every image of Marc Crawford in it for fooling me into buying a crappy game. I was already uneasy about NHL 99, but I figured the brilliant Marc Crawford had to have helped fix some of the problems. In the end he probably just got a check, hung out and got treated like a superstar by the NHL 99 team and added almost nothing to the actual game.