Vancouver Canucks: Video Game All Stars
Being the guy who creates the player ratings in sports video games must be an extremely arduous job. Attaching a number to Chris Tanev’s toughness for example is a decision nobody should ever have to make.
Most of the time they get it right and the player’s skill level in the game is comparable to their skill level in real life. But sometimes video game developers can’t quite reconcile an athlete’s tangible abilities with their virtual skillset, or their strength is perfectly suited to the flawed gameplay, and you end up with Video Game All Stars, guys who are decent in real life, but incredible on consoles.
The formula is pretty simple: undersized guy with great wheels gets gifted a 95 in the Speed skill category and has an immediate advantage in the game because success in most console hockey is dependent on beating guys to pucks and to the net. All a player’s flaws are hidden because the game is played in roughly the same style as a Tyke scrimmage with nearly every player on the ice chasing after the puck.
Three of the biggest current examples of this phenomenon play for the Vancouver Canucks.
The worst offender of them all is Mason Raymond. The streaky winger with blazing speed has shown flashes of the player he can be this year, but for the most part he is a guy with a top-six skillset who disappears for long stretches then teases you by lighting it up in short bursts. Not the case for his virtual iteration, who is so much speedier than his peers it is an immediate difference maker.
When I heard the Canucks had dealt for Derek Roy I actually let out a little whoop. That’s how excited I was to be acquiring a guy who has cracked 30 goals once and is a centre who is listed at a generous 5’9″ and 185 lbs. Probably because I judge hockey players so much in real life by their performance in video games, and Derek Roy is a straight stud in video games. Take a look at any franchise I constructed from NHL ‘o6 to NHL ’10 and Derek Roy is the second-line centre who skates circles around guys and breaks 90 every season.
Alex Burrows is another guy who goes from very good jack of all trades in real life, to a top-10 scorer and All Star in video games. The fact developers also rightly give him some decent toughness ratings helps for those rare occasions when the result of a puck battle relies on anything more than button mashing or luck.
His linemates, the Sedins funnily suffer from the reverse problem. Their real-life skill set, almost completely devoid of speed is accurately reflected in their video game versions, making them a fraction as effective because the pinpoint passing accuracy and cerebral style of game doesn’t really translate at all in to the virtual world. They look like they are skating in mud and get knocked of the puck easily and in general, setting up in the offensive zone and lulling the opponent to sleep by passing the puck back and forth 17 times before slipping a neat pass back door isn’t how you score in a video game.
Very good players are probably more tactful, but any casual player pretty much employs the same stategy: Break out pass to a streaking forward who is cheating out by the blueline even though you’re being inundated, and if he can’t beat the defenseman to the outside and go straight to the net you curl back, or try to hit a trailer for a one-timer. Those rare occasions where you do set up in the offensive zone usually end up with a centering pass being broken up or a shot from the point being blocked. So generally, the faster the better.
The modern version of the game and its increased realness has limited this problem somewhat, as there is no more turbo buttons and goals are scored in more varied and belivable ways, but this isn’t a new phenomenon.
Jason King was a borderline NHL player at best with decent wheels and hands who had a torrid start to the 03-04 season playing alongside the Sedins, which must have coincided with that year’s game development period. The result is a lifetime AHL player being a dangerous asset in that year’s EA release. I couldn’t find his rating from that year but any Canucks fan who rolled with King will tell you that he was a sniper in NHL ’04.
In doing a bit of digging around I also came across another Canucks who dominated virtual puck, and this time it was a legitimate conspiracy that resulted in his inflated rating. Cliff Ronning, #2 on my all-time favourite Canuck list (hot on the heels of Marty Gelinas) was given a 99 speed rating in NHL ’93. He explained in an interview with Puck Daddy why there may have been some funny business involved in creating his virtual counterpart. A good listen.
Maybe I’m biased and just noticing Vancouver speedsters in the various versions of hockey vids. Maybe it’s not a Canucks thing but just a product of how video game hockey works, rewarding speed above all else. Either way, the Canucks would be even more of a threat to take home Lord Stanley this seaon if their fleet-footed forwards were as dangerous in real life as they are on XBox.