The NHL regular season kicks off tonight. It's an exciting day for lifelong hockey fans like me (and PCG editor Tyler Wilde, whose San Jose Sharks I respect and fear). But as a PC gamer, it's also a bit melancholy—each October marks another year without an NHL game on PC.
Some desperate players still mod NHL 09, the last game in the series to release on Windows. In their name, and in the name of every PC gamer with a fondness for sick toe-drags, chirping, and going top shelf, here's a plea: we need a hockey game on PC not because hockey's popular, but because the sport itself is a perfect fit for our gaming platform.
The demographics match
Hockey is an international sport (I learned of the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation while researching this story), but its biggest followings are in Sweden, Germany, Finland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Switzerland, as well as the US and Canada. With the exception of South Korea (soccer) China (basketball), these are also among the areas where PC gaming is thriving. There's no doubt that an hockey game, even one that lacks the NHL license, would be enthusiastically received on PC.
Hockey fits so well on PC for the same reason high-fidelity racing games do: they're both celebrations of speed. Hockey is the fastest mainstream team sport. A speedy forward might skate 28 mph. At the annual skills competition preceding the all-star game, the hardest slapshots in the world move the puck over 100 mph. That velocity makes hockey uniquely suited for the PC, home of 144Hz+, adaptive refresh rate displays, and the graphics cards that can achieve those framerates.
A physics showcase
Modern sports games continue to strive for greater simulation of physics. FIFA in particular keeps making a big deal about its fancy ball dynamics. Hockey has a natural advantage here, and the sport would be a marvelous technical showcase for engine tech and GPUs. Ice degradation, friction simulation, the flexibility of the boards, puck dynamics, plexiglass destructibility, hell, the whipping stick-bend of an Ovechkin wrister would be a wonderful detail to see on PC. The dream would be playing an outdoor stadium game with your team, and having to strategically plan around weather conditions like wind. There's dozens of these little enhancements EA could bring to the table on PC, especially on Frostbite.
It could actually work on mouse and keyboard
Sports games are comfortable on a gamepad, but unlike basketball or football, one could conceive a control scheme where stickhandling is assigned to the mouse. It's unlikely EA would add mouse-based stick control, but an independent studio might. It's already been explored in Hockey?, a free first-person hockey game.
Seriously, every other sport is on PC
All FIFA games since 1995 have released on Windows. The NBA 2K series has had us covered since 2008 (and continues to be excellent, even when we're playing it wrong). Baseball fans don't have it great, but they at least have a few options on PC. Cricket, tennis, fishing, cycling, rugby and golf are all available in different flavors. And although we may not have Madden, there's at least unlicensed alternatives like Axis Football and VR toys like Quarterback SNAP.