All About Patchezs
Consider this part rant, part open letter to EA Sports Canada.
I have to admit I was fairly disappointed with the lack of progress made on "Be a GM" mode in NHL 11. After how flawed this part of the game turned out to be in NHL 10, I was expecting some major improvements.
But as it turns out, the only thing that's noticeably changed in "Be a GM" this year, unfortunately, is a new Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agent system, which makes what was already an overly-complicated management simulator even harder and more complex.
The problem is that team management like this works great on a PC with a mouse and a keyboard, where you can easily navigate lots of numbers and variables on the fly. Unfortunately, this kind of micromanagement doesn't work quite as well on a console, with just a handful of buttons on your controller available for sifting through tables and tables of data. On the small screen, this level of depth becomes clunky and difficult to wrap your head around.
My biggest source of frustration with "Be a GM" in NHL 10 (aside from occasionally finding myself forever trapped in the AHL for an entire career thanks to some faulty programming and corrupted save files) was how impossibly difficult it was to just complete a trade. Unfortunately it seems nothing's changed in NHL 11.
The trading system introduced in '10 added a complex number of variables to what a team was looking for in an offer. Because of it, a CPU managed team comes to the table with near-impossible standards, meaning the only successful trade is one where you're most certainly getting ripped off. Instead, most trade offers are almost always met with rejection, usually along the lines of "We're not looking for a center", or "We don't need more defensive players." So you might take the hint and offer up an offensively or athletically skilled winger, only to be then told "We're not looking for more veterans like the one you're offering". You quickly find they're asking for something that seems impossibly specific, despite making offers a human player might take a second look at.
For the record, the CPU having standards is all well and good, but the problem is you're not allowed to see what it is they're looking for from the trade negotiation page this information is on a different page called the "trading block". So essentially, be prepared to have a notepad and pen ready to jot down a schema of up to 18 different variables (not even including the status of your relationship with the other team's GM, or your reputation as a manager) before you enter the trade negotiation table. Of course if you don't have the time or the patience to memorize how 30 different teams have set these 18 different variables, it's just a guessing game. Of course, one wrong move and you'll make a poor offer that the CPU deems so bad it's offensive, to the point where it hurts your chances of a successful offer in the future. This means the only way to trade is through trial-and-error, which will inevitably hurt your GM reputation; punishing you rather than rewarding your hard work.
Frustratingly, unlike a real life negotiation (where negotiation, i.e. back and forth dialogue, is the key word), you rarely receive counter offers or even vaguely useful suggestions. The CPU team is simply unable to say to you "We've got this guy in mind, actually" or "We're not interested in anybody in your lineup, so stop trying." Likewise, you're unable to ask "I want this guy. What can I give you for him?" Leaving the guesswork to the CPU could save a lot of time. It would at least eliminate the lengthy hours of trial-and-error offers just to complete a trade that might only incrementally improve your lineup anyway.
The "GM Reputation" scorecard, itself, is complex and otherwise just annoying. It punishes you more often than it rewards you, but otherwise it seems to just be in the way of what you actually care about building a good team and winning the Stanley Cup. Ultimately, it is itself bogged down with too many pages of data, and too many demands of you as a manager, directing you to build your team in a too specific way. It's just not worth the time to try and bother to comprehend the many different goals you need to achieve to do well here.
Even worse, the emphasis here on the "toughness" of your roster is especially annoying, as "tough guys" are otherwise just deadweight in a lineup. Yet, the "reputation" scorecard will punish you for offloading these players in a trade for more skilled shooters or playmakers. It's more than a little counter-intuitive, and doesn't give you much wiggle room for having a different playing ****or strategy in building your team. Not having an arbitrary number of a certain type of player (player "types" themselves an arbitrary designation) sprinkled into your roster can affect your score, even if you think "tough guys" are usually otherwise demonstrably useless.
What I don't understand is that despite all the various "difficulty sliders" you can use to adjust gameplay difficulty, there are no such sliders for making the management backend of the game any easier. It seems as if trade negotiations are on the "Superstar" setting all the time, in that the CPU simply refuses to compromise or provide any assistance. You, as the user, are simply expected to know exactly what it is they're looking for right off the bat, and the CPU refuses to sway from its impossibly high expectations.
So, after all that ranting, how do we fix it?
First off, the simplest answer I've already mentioned: Take the guesswork out of trade negotiations. What I have in mind here is something along the lines of how diplomacy works in the Civilization series. In one version of Civilization, you had an advisor who would suggest things you could offer the CPU that they might like, or could advise you on whether the offer you had drawn up was reasonable. Imagine at least being warned before making an offer the CPU will be offended by. Another useful feature was that you could ask the CPU player outright if they cared to offer something for what you were looking to sell. Using this model, if you want to trade for a specific player, you should be able to ask the CPU "I want this player from you. Is there any way we can make a deal here?" If not, so be it, but let the CPU do the math for you. No more hours of trial-and error.
Secondly, how about a difficulty slider for trade negotiations that could adjust how open CPU players are to your offers, making them more likely to accept, or agree to deals that aren't always as beneficial for them. It'd just be nice if you were able to make a big deal that actually benefits you a little more than the CPU every once and a while. Real life GM's make mistakes sometimes too. Just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This last one may be a bit more lofty a goal, I realize, but EA Sports simply has to address the fact that there is way too much data to mull over in this mode with nothing but a gamepad to navigate it with. Let us consider the fact that you are able to link up your Xbox Live profile with the EA Sports World website. So then why not move the actual micromanagement parts of this game to a platform where they can be more easily handled? Let's give players the option to manage a team from the EA Sports World website, or possibly from an installable software program that bundles with the game.
Yes, it wouldn't make much sense to force players to go back and forth between a computer and their console to use "Be a GM". That's why I wouldn't propose abandoning the option to manage your "Be a GM" file from in-game menus, or maybe even be able to forego the more in-depth management features altogether. I realize it especially wouldn't be fair for players without an internet connection. It's just that having the option to do some of the more complicated management tasks from a PC could greatly improve this game mode's playability for those who do have the capacity to link up their game with a computer. While it would be great if this option came free, it's also possible to create a profit motive here, by making web-based or software-based game management an accessory to the console game itself. Imagine a game like FIFA Manager 11, only for the NHL, and being able to link it up with your "Be a GM" career.
The last goal would admittedly likely require a lot of long nights at EA Sports Canada, which is why I could understand if it were more than a year away, but the first two suggestions shouldn't be that intensive to work towards for the next game.
Regardless of what changes for NHL 12, "Be a GM" mode is currently just too data-heavy to be enjoyable in a console game. While I love the depth and obvious hard work that has gone into it, its actual usability is simply lacking. The only way to improve it now is either to clean it up and reduce the amount of difficult, tedious, time-consuming management work required to do well, or to expand this mode to another platform where those tasks are easier to accomplish.
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