Interview with Risto Remes (EHM 2005)

Thanks to the Internet Archive, we have been able to recover an old interview from February 2005 originally published by Rabi Sultan of the now defunct (but legendary) nhlfe.com. Enjoy!

I had a fantastic opportunity to visit the SI Towers in Islington, London and meet up with Risto Remes and the EHM team. Once I finally arrived having I was invited up and met with Risto Remes face to face and showed me around the testing and development labs where NHL EHM 2005 was being put through its paces. Once in the office there was a shelf dedicated to the London Racers, with a signed jersey and a signed picture of Eric Cairns. I had truly arrived in the EHM office. There I met some of the other staff members and then got the opportunity to have a chat with Risto himself.

Marc Duffy recently did an excellent article for The Bootroom featuring the new features of NHL EHM 2005. The SI poll as voted by the fans voted the 2D technical view as the best new feature they are most looking forward to. Out of the seven new features on the poll which one is your favourite?

Marc missed my favourite one out! It was scouting. We feel we got it to a level where it outperforms FM and has much better usability.

What was the most difficult feature that you had in developing NHL EHM 2005?

That would be the 2D Viewer. Our game engine is based on the platform used to develop CM3 so essentially it’s a hybrid that we’ve done a lot of polish and clean up on. The original engine only supported text-based output which means I had to build the 2D Viewer on top of this, and that’s obviously been a big challenge but we’re really pleased with its progress. We’ve got the 2D action updating at about once per second, which differs in comparison to FM 2005’s engine, which updates the football game at around nine times per second and we’ll be aiming to do something similar in the future, but not for this version.

Funnily enough I began developing the 2D Viewer for the first NHL EHM but we took it out because I wasn’t entirely happy with it at the time. Our testers kept urging us to put it in the game but I wanted to bring it up to a better standard before putting it into the game.

What was the most difficult task you had in developing NHL EHM 2005?

The match engine was the most difficult to balance out as we had to make sure that each league would get lifelike scores and that each league would be balanced fairly. For instance the same game engine would have to play out fast paced NHL action all the way down to the British league, junior league and semi-professional league action.

Have you had any thoughts on how to make the new NHL EHM 2005 game one that is good for network gaming?

We’ve worked on improving the network game trying to make it easier to host games. The problem is that a lot of people are used to playing management games online like the original freeware game, where the file sizes are a lot smaller and your manager actions can be emailed to the commissioner who can then load them up to his game and simulate the matches. With the commercial version, there is so much more interaction going on between you and your team and the hockey universe, that capturing it to a file to be processed by a commish through email would be a lot of work and changes to the existing code. And since the easier way to control your team would be to just connect to an online game run by the commish and control your team just like you’d do in a single player game, we have tried to improve this style of network play in the game.

What is the status of the AHL and NCAA rights?

Well first off the NCAA rights for player names are impossible to get. The reason for this is that all the players in that league are amateur players, the NCAA states that they cannot be paid ANY money such as in licensing a player’s name. If the athletes get paid, they would be designated as a professional athlete and lose their amateur status and NCAA eligibility. Even players who go and play in Canadian major junior where players get a small allowance for playing, basically forfeit their NCAA eligibility.

As for other leagues and their licenses, you will have to wait for the official announcements that are to be made. There are a few good surprises and a few new leagues planned so keep your fingers crossed.

Did you ever consider making a stronger financial model that supports ticket price changes, expansions, advertising, sponsorships etc as part of the game?

We wanted to stick to a game that was strictly sports management and so we didn’t introduce any expanded financial model into it. Some German sports games have these features where there is a strong sports influence as well as a financial one but we’d rather have focus on the sport itself and so we are really unlikely to introduce this any time soon.

Would save game files of NHL EHM be compatible with NHL EHM 2005 or vice versa?

No. the content of the save game files have changed too much. There are increased leagues and increased stats which the older game cannot understand. Also in order to bring a save game of NHL EHM onto NHL EHM 2005 there is too much work involved in adding extra details that its not worth for us to implement this.

The game currently is being shipped out on PC & Macintosh formats. Are there any plans to release it on any different formats such as console or PDA/Mobiles?

The engine can be ported over to the Xbox platform as we’ve already released CM3 for the Xbox in the past. It was part of our original plans for NHL EHM but ultimately got killed due to one of our largest European markets (an unspecified country in Scandinavia) refusing to distribute the game due to the large amount of Xbox piracy.

So sadly and somewhat unfortunately, we have to thank piracy for the reason of not seeing NHL EHM or NHL EHM 2005 on the Xbox. If it ever becomes viable in the future, and that includes other platforms, then I’m sure we would be interested in having our games reach a wider audience.

I noticed you still have a publishing arrangement with SEGA, how long is this going to last for?

In February last year, Sports Interactive signed a five-year partnership with SEGA for all studio output. It’s been a fantastic opening year, and long may it continue.

A lot of people have expressed a desire for EHM to team up with SEGA and make their games cross compatible with one another so that EHM games can be played out on NHL2k5 and vice versa. Is this something that you and SI would be interested in?

Well anyone who’s played both would want that to happen but it’s a fantasy thought. It’s never out of the question but someone else would have to do it. The problem we face is that the game would have output problems, we would have to find a way to output the files in such a way that NHL2k5 can read them and vice versa and so a lot of code sharing and work between us and SEGA would need to be done, thus we have no plans to do that with the official game.

There was a rumour that was floating around that some members of the SI Games EHM team helped the ESPN/SEGA NHL2K5 series?

I’m afraid that this is indeed just a rumour; there is no truth in this.

Many people still use the original freeware EHM. Although you have made it obvious on many occasions that you will never release the code itself will you at least be considering future updates?

Probably not. A lot of people have asked but before joining SI I had planned a new EHM project. For instance the EHM build 1.15 is a much quicker game than 1.17 this is due to certain updates and bugs that I fixed and a feature that somebody requested. Simply the game has been stretched to its limit and needs to be completely rewritten, and there is no need for this since NHL EHM has been released. So as of this moment there are no official updates planned.

In your freeware EHM why do goalie prospects not get potential boosts and only skaters do?

That was a long time ago when I coded it, I can’t really remember. But thinking back I must have done it. What you have to remember is that in the game there are almost 10 skaters to a goalie and so for a goalie to get the potential boost will be 10 times less likely. Also the potential boosts were only limited to 2-3 a season in the summer so it should be there, just extremely rare.

Also I noticed that staff attributes don’t change, but do they change in the new series?

In fact they are already in the NHL EHM series, except we noticed that the changes took place a little too quickly (laughs) so for the EHM 2005 game we had to slow them down.

With many hockey fans spread out across North America how was the release and reception of NHL EHM from your point of view?

There were plenty of positives and negatives about our North American release. On one hand we were delighted at how people kept bugging us about the release dates for the game but on the other hand, the North American release lagged a little too far behind the European release date, which was disappointing but out of our hands. After it was out in North America though, we were really happy and pleased with all the positive reviews that we got.

Do you feel that the digital download was successful? Many people had problems so would you be releasing it over digital download again?

EHM wasn’t the first time Sports Interactive had used Digital Download for one of it’s products, but it certainly was the most popular so far. We’re keen to keep exploring this avenue in the future as it served a great purpose for those not based in Europe when NHL EHM was originally released. The issues faced by our customers did not go unnoticed.

Any thoughts of doing an “EHM Classics” where you would use historical rosters?

The problem that I see would be how to do it. First off it wont be done for some time, but if it did the database size would be very large as you would need to store all the players that ever played between say for example 1960 to current. But maybe we could do a one-off game that pits the roster of great teams against others maybe something like the 94 Rangers against the 84 Oilers.

And finally how did you prefer working? On your own when you were your own boss with limited resources coding EHM Freeware or now where you are working for SI with much larger resources but much more responsibilities coding up EHM 2005.

Well I was given full creative control when I got to SI. So there are no footie fanatics breathing down our necks at the office telling us how to do hockey stuff. Plus with all the creative control it’s not too much different from the freeware days just there is so much more work to do. But then you have the resources to do that. This game that we’ve made is just way to much work for one person. The freeware was just about manageable in the 24 hour day. Fortunately we’ve got a great team setup and so I can concentrate in the hockey and let Graeme do the news, GUI and a host of other areas while Phil does the database and Olli/Grant tackle the leagues. If only we could have 48 hours days (laughs).E

archibalduk

Founder and webmaster of The Blue Line