But as a defenseman, Makar also understands what it’s like to endure that kind of pressure during an opponent’s offensive onslaught.
“When we get buzzing on our team and can get some good pressure, [defenders] just start getting tired and then you just start exposing different seams and stuff like that,” he said. “And when you’re put on the press and you’re in your own zone, it definitely isn’t fun. You’re kind of just trying to stay alive out there and live for another second.”
In a sense, that makes Makar the perfect cover athlete for NHL 24, the latest edition of EA Sports’ blockbuster hockey video game series that drops in early October. If there’s one overriding theme to NHL 24, it’s a test of stamina, particularly in those moments when one team is surging and another team is surviving.
“It’s a very true part of hockey,” Makar said.
The new Exhaust Engine in NHL 24 rewards extended attack zone time and is made up of two different systems.
The Sustained Pressure System is measured by a meter on the ice in the attacking zone. The more pressure created, the more “adrenaline effect” for the attacking team, which will see its passing speed and accuracy increase. Conversely, defensive skaters start getting heavy legs, and their stamina depletes faster as the offensive pressure increases. It’s called the Pinned Effect, and it challenges a defensive team to change tactics in order to defend its own goal and attempt to clear the zone.
Mike Inglehart, senior design director at EA Sports and one of the architects of NHL 24, said the Exhaust Engine brings more realism in the game.
“There’s always a loud cry for gameplay to be different, refreshed and new. But the game has a good foundation,” Inglehart said. “So what we tried to do was look for missing components of the hockey story we watch every night that aren’t embodied in our gameplay.”
The aspect they focused on for this edition: momentum. Those elongated shifts in which one team is on the attack and the other team is on its heels, desperately trying to clear the zone or get a stoppage.
“That expectation that you feel your team is on the brink of scoring. Or on the reverse side, your team is hemmed in and you’re on the edge of your seat hoping they can survive and not let that other team light the lamp,” Inglehart said. “We wanted to bring in a change to the ebb and flow of the game. Change how you think about the game, because now you have to build the pressure.”
Makar said he can sense when offensive zone pressure is boiling over in an NHL game.
“It might not be [defenders] getting more tired. If you’re buzzing out there, the energy just kind of comes up inside of us and we just start roaming around. That’s when we play our best hockey, when everybody is positioned all around the offensive zone,” he said. “It’ll be cool to see that in NHL 24 If it’s like more of a tactic now to stay in the O zone and pass it around rather than just driving the net at every chance.”
The Avalanche defenseman said these enhancements mimic what happens on the ice in the NHL.
“I’m sure it’ll make a lot of people mad if you’re in the zone for a minute or so and everybody’s starting to get tired and you can’t even do anything in the game,” Makar said. “But it’s similar to real life.”
Inglehart said the game makers were careful not to make NHL 24 just a “sustained pressure game” by ensuring the system didn’t create an insurmountable advantage.
“The boost is there and you can feel it, but it doesn’t tip the scales. It’s not something that can’t be defended,” he said.
There’s also a goalie fatigue system, designed to create more ways for the puck to go into the net. As the offensive pressure builds, the goalie gets worn down. They leave more parts of the net open, encouraging shots from more angles. But it also increases the chances for goalies to make spectacular, desperation saves.
“What makes the highlights at the end of the night are those improbable saves. When you have shooters looking up to the hockey heavens wondering how that [shot] didn’t go in,” Inglehart said. “Goalies will be broken down over time, but they’ll definitely have their heroic moments.”
Here’s a look at some of the other significant changes in this year’s game:
The game has overhauled its checking technology in order to make physical play more tactical.
“Poke-checking has long been the biggest defensive weapon, almost to a detriment, because people have often called it the ‘poke-checking game’ on defense,” Inglehart said.
Defenders can now quickly shove skaters to try and separate them from the puck, with a lower chance of earning a penalty for it than on a hit.
But the hitting isn’t going anywhere: NHL 24 has a new checking system where one pulls the right joystick back on the controller to load up the weight of a player and then pushes up to deliver a hit that saps the stamina of its target. There are also hip checks along the boards, hits that send opponents onto the benches and hits that shatter the rink glass.
“If we’re gonna have things like body checking in the game, the question is what utility that that brings the player,” Inglehart said. “When we looked at 23, you could hit players, but there was no real impact on the game. It didn’t have a relationship to the stamina. If you’ve ever taken a big hit in real life, it affects a lot of things and you’re usually picking yourself up off the ice and are typically out of the play.”
Stamina being a theme for this edition of NHL, the checking system “created a direct relationship between hitting and stamina,” Inglehart said.
NHL 24 has a new vision passing system that incorporates the distance between two players into the accuracy and speed of the pass. There’s also now one-touch passing so teams can better break out of their own zone.
Goalie Instinct System
For those users that like to control the goalie, we have good news: Your actions will no longer leave a gaping net open, into which your opponent pumps pucks. There’s a new tethered control system that allows the goalie to slide back and forth and then auto-return back to the center of the crease.
“I think seasoned players who play goalie understand how everything works. But if you’re just coming in and want to play that position in the game, there was a lot of responsibility for bringing the goalie back into a center position in the net,” Inglehart said. “You don’t want to put so much responsibility on the player that they can’t have fun.”
There’s also a new optional “game within the game” called the Instinct System. Goalies can now “guess” where the next shot will target. A successful guess increases the chances for a save; an unsuccessful guess increases the probability for a goal.
“If you’re very tired with our fatigue system, maybe you’re just rolling with the instinct at that point, because you’re already gassed,” Inglehart said.
In its never-ending quest for realism, EA Sports has added a critical new aspect to its crowd noise library: Fans will now scream “shoooooot!” during the game, such as near the end of a power play.
“We made good strides with the crowds last year, but we were missing some of the nuanced moments,” Inglehart said. “With the shoot thing … look, you don’t wanna pressure the team into shooting because it’s not always the best time to shoot. But you go to any game, it’s authentically hockey.”
There’s also now a surge in crowd noise during odd-man rushes and more attention paid to what the crowd does during stoppages late in games — Inglehart calls them “hype up moments” where the crowd tries to energize the team.
Dynamic digital boards
The NHL debuted digitally enhanced dasher boards last season, essentially overwriting the advertising displayed inside the arena with digital ads for the viewers watching on TV. But that technology offers other opportunities beyond an animated SUV driving around the corner boards during play: They could allow for everything from real-time stats to tailored goal-celebrations during the game as well.
Inglehart’s team first saw the digital board technology before NHL 23 was released. In incorporating them into the latest edition, the producers saw them as a way to present information to the user without having to break the flow of action.
“So if a hit is thrown, just showing you the hit totals quickly,” he said. “It wasn’t distracting.”
They’re also going to use the boards for goal celebrations in NHL 24, partly inspired by the way the NHL used those boards during the 2023 All-Star Game.
Sometimes, things that happen in video games can lead to real-life innovations — witness the camera use in NFL games that gives a Madden-like view of the offense breaking its huddle. Could NHL 24 inspire the way the NHL uses its digital boards?
“In a game, we’re able to bring things to life a little bit quicker because it’s a virtual world and you’re not dealing with real life complexities,” Inglehart said. “But our hope is that maybe they see stuff in our product that does inspire the real game.”