The Beauty of Hockey Simulation

There are two things I’ve always loved to do. Follow sports and tell stories. From an early age — as soon as I could walk, really — I was playing sports, watching them on TV, and using my imagination to create worlds of my own. I loved playing the early console games: your early Maddens, the NHL 94 type games, Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball and so on. I played them so much that I wore out the cartridges. At some point though, there was something about the lure of text-based simulation games — PC sports, really — that drew me away from the standard console fare.

While my friends were spending their junior high years trying to score 90-points-per-game in Madden or breaking the 200 point barrier in NBA Live, I was hard at work on meticulously crafting my own worlds in text based simulations or even on paper. I was always searching for a perfect balance between realism and the way I thought things should be. I kept detailed paper logs of extracurricular things that happened — steroids scandals and accidental deaths, coach firings and shocking-but-realistic player movements. I made all the personnel changes that I felt were obvious for every real life team to make. Then, I took it further. I created my own leagues in my own worlds. I drew out maps of imaginary bodies of water and land, constructed towns with their own key imports and exports, their own population and financials. I created fairy tale super hero players and villains. Gave names to the biggest stars (Andrew McAnders remains the greatest cornerback in MSFL history).

Before long, I was only really playing console games for something to do. I was only doing it because it was what everybody else did: drop $60 on the latest roster update and game feature retread and get bored with it in two weeks. And then I’d go right back to my simulation worlds. As games have gotten more advanced, the amount of work I’ve had to do on paper has decreased. I’ve had to keep track of far fewer things in my ‘world’ then before. More of it is now done by the games themselves.

Over time, Out of the Park Developments and their tremendous line of  OOTP Baseball games have come to be the peak of this, for me. I’ve lost, seemingly, days of my life in my own world, where I create the rules and watch these tiny pictures of men… these complicated arrangement of 1’s and 0’s live their artificial lives out through the example I’ve set. I’ve attempted (and failed) to take the Cubs to a World Series victory. I restored the Yankees to dominance in 2007 when it seemed as though their dynasty was finally over. And currently, I’m embroiled in a wonderful campaign with the Seattle Mariners, in the year 2018. In 2016 we lost Game 7 of the ALCS to the Cleveland Indians, and then in 2017 fell to the Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series in six games. Can we return to the Series and claim the trophy before the window on our carefully built roster closes? Can we do so before our owner becomes frustrated with us and we are forced to move on to other shores? Time will tell.

And that’s the beauty of the simulation to me. The story is all inclusive, totally expansive, and whatever I want it to be. I’ve played, by hand, over 1,000 games in this Seattle Mariners dynasty alone. The story is rich. I have a personal connection with so many of the characters now. When I traded my (on paper) team Captain, SS Dustin Ackley, in the 2017 off-season, I felt a legitimate sense of remorse. The emotion was real because to me, the story was.  And if the real Dustin Ackley never becomes more than a mediocre infielder on a middling team, so what? The Dustin Ackley I know — the Dustin Ackley of my world, is a captain and a hero.

What OOTP brought to baseball games, hockey has missed for several years. Sports Interactive’s release of Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is the closest we’ve come to the type of open-ended game I expect from a strong sim. But it was clunky, riddled with bugs and not very intuitive to a user who wanted to tell an expansive story over lots of years. There was tons of micromanaging.

As hockey has, for about a decade now, been the sport with which I have the strongest connection and by which I find the most illuminating stories, you can imagine then that I’ve been fairly disappointed that no one has stepped up to create a game of OOTP’s scope for hockey. And then, swooping down from the clouds came OOTP in the spring of 2012 to announce their next creation: Franchise Hockey Manager. If, in your head, you imagine me dancing through my house to parade music when I heard this news, you wouldn’t be far off.

Finally, a chance to create my own world in Hockey, as I’ve always wanted. Now, Franchise Hockey Manager won’t be out for a few more months and so who knows exactly how great it will be, but when you are talking about the absolute class of the sports sim industry, you don’t look much further then the guys at OOTP and this has left me very excited.

So what will I be doing at GM Games? Well, as you may have guessed, I’ll be writing a lot of hockey simulations, particularly Franchise Hockey Manager. Aside from just a standard review, I hope to immerse you in a user’s true experience with the game once it comes out.

Matthew is a 25-year-old writer, sports fan, pop culture fan, aspiring humorist and professional comic book super hero living in Austin, Texas. He's lived in Texas for his entire life except for when he hasn't. Actually, he moved to Texas with his wife in 2010 from Ohio; a mystical fairyland filled with corn husk and giant German people. It was there that he attended university, studied the great books of the Western World and received several highly priced lectures from esteemed speakers on the greatness of Cedar Point Amusement Park and the Buckeye nut. And before that he lived in Jamestown, New York where it is very cold and there is lots of snow and poor people and literally no other things. They have two dogs, Dylan and Peanut. They both poop, eat lots of food, cost lots of money, and occasionally vomit on everything.