Gamers are famous for the question "what if?" What if they could mix their favorite two games, or do a specifically popular title in a different way? Hobbyists sometimes spend hours discussing this idea, as they turn popular franchises like Battlefield 1942 into everything from Star Wars to pirates. Yet aside from some fun, very little ever comes of most these scenarios, especially not when your "what if" scenario would involve several large corporations and upwards of fifteen licenses. But, that is just what Sports Interactive and developer Risto Remes accomplished with the birth of NHL Eastside Hockey Manager (NHL EHM) a few years ago. Now in its second edition, NHL EHM is the only major hockey-themed game in the popular sports management market. Born out of a longtime niche desire to adapt the wildly successful soccer simulation, Championship Manager, for hockey, Remes began developing the original Eastside Hockey Manager in his Finland apartment as a hobby. Several years and a move to England later, Risto Remes heads up the development of the fully licensed hockey title at Sports Interactive, alongside those who originally inspired him.
Although the last place you would expect to find a hockey management game is England, that is just what is going on at Sports Interactive as they work on the annually updated franchise. Published by SEGA, the sophomore edition of the franchise was launched in Europe earlier this year, while a heavily modified version - complete with the new rules of the NHL collective bargaining agreement - slides into North American stores this fall. A third incarnation is due out for the 2006 - 2007 NHL season.
NHL EHM places the player in the role of general manager of one of a plethora of North American or European hockey teams. As the GM, the player must hire staff, manage a budget, trade players, negotiate contracts and - in some leagues - draft prospects for the future. Moreover, the GM is also responsible for the on-ice tactics, player training regimens, and lineups. Appropriately, a game born out of a "what if" actually allows gamers to play out their own fantasy "what if" scenarios.
So just how did this crazy dream ever make it to market? Simple: Risto Remes was a person with a dream. Inspired by Championship Manager from Sports Interactive and Hockey League Simulator 2 from Bethesda Softworks, he and some friends from their native Helsinki, Finland began development on their game. He set out to fill a void: A game with the depth of Championship Manager, but done for the sport he loves - hockey. From this, the freeware project Eastside Hockey Manager was born and gained a cult internet following. In one of those rare cases where a hobbyist gets a break as a professional, the very company that inspired him offered him a job in the summer of 2002 to begin development on an adaptation of their engine for a hockey title.
"Most sports management games work fundamentally in quite a similar way if you simplify the areas of the game," said Remes. "In a way, we used the existing code base as a skeleton, rewriting most of the muscles ... then adding a couple of whole new body parts with new bones and muscles ... and later on doing some cosmetic surgery to bring the interface looks to a new level."