I kind of feel bad. I know I bought NHL 13 legally. It's mine, and I can do whatever I want with it. But this game is the legacy of a video game franchise that has spanned over 20 years. It means a whole lot to a whole lot of people. An army of programmers, producers and artists worked tirelessly to uphold their standards of quality and put together the best damned hockey video game they could.
And I broke it. I don't just mean that in the "the game quit on me and froze" sense, which it did. I mean that in the "the game completely shat the bed and started making headless players" sense.
But we'll get to that.
I fooled around with this game in the first place because I feel that hockey goalies are inherently lazy, because they never have to skate anywhere, and they wear so much padding that they could lie down for a nap pretty much anywhere on the planet and it would be SUPER comfortable. They just get to stand there with their water bottle and football helmet (?) while their teammates carry all the water.
I decided it was time to make goalies more accountable. I tried my best to identify the best goalie in the NHL, and eventually settled on Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. I assumed control of the franchise, released every skater on the team, and replaced them with the Miami Heat.
This, of course, meant creating each player from scratch, and I want to clarify that I was not trying to transfer the Heat's talent over to hockey (making Dwyane Wade a great shooter, etc.). I made them all just about as terrible as I possibly could, because they would probably be terrible in real life. I created all 18 members of the 2012-13 Heat and assigned them the lowest possible rating in almost everything -- puck control, shooting, passing, awareness, you name it.
The only exception: giving Wade and LeBron James perfect 100/100 ratings in the "poise" (whatever the game means by that) and "endurance" categories, because they really are troopers, and because the idea of a player having superhuman poise while being overwhelmingly sucky was really, really funny to me.
I painstakingly recreated each player as best I could, complete with appropriate height/weight and jersey numbers. As you can see, the game kept jimmying with the latter over the course of the Rangers' 2012-13 season. It also kept calling up players from the AHL and dressing them on the NHL's roster without my permission.
It was as though the game felt bad for Lundqvist and felt a duty to alleviate his pain however it could. Honest to God, it was like NHL 13 was startled into sentience by my abject, selfish foolishness. "Don't do this," it implicitly pleaded with me when it kept asking me to edit Chris Andersen and Rashard Lewis out of the lines. When I failed to listen, the game heroically started to covertly feed half-decent players into my roster, just to give Lundqvist some sort of break. "NOPE," I said, "NO GOOD PLAYERS. I INSIST ON THIS."
It was cruel. I am cruel.
In the season opener, the Rangers fell to the L.A. Kings by a score of 18-0. LeBron and the Rangers managed only nine shots on goal the entire game, leaving poor Mr. Lundqvist to carry the team nearly all by himself. And he tried. Lord, how he tried. And Lord, how he failed.
I feel it's important to make it clear that I did not play this game. I set my controller to "neutral" and allowed the game to play itself. Meaning, Chris Bosh did this completely of his own accord:
Was that a pass? Surely not, because no teammate was really even in that quadrant of the rink. Was it a shot? Surely not, because no player would try to shoot from center ice with his opponents in position like that.
(UPDATE: Commenter ShaanCC and others have pointed out that this is basically "dumping the puck," a common practice.)
I think the game was beginning to lose its grasp of its artificial sanity. NHL 13 was not made for such awful nightmares. It was made to deliver a fun and realistic experience for hockey fans who truly respect and love the sport. The game felt sorrow, and it could only take so much of this nonsense before its sorrow gave way to hopelessness and, eventually, delirium. "Advance the puck up the rink and find an open shot" devolved into, "PUCK???!? HAVE PUCK. SHOOT!!!"
That was by no means an isolated occurrence. It happened the entire game.
LeBron was just one of many Rangers who would skate halfway up the ice and slap-shot the puck into absolutely nowhere, and for no apparent purpose.
What once was a competent and well-designed AI was now a sputtering geyser of binary code, flailing at the puck as though it was some sort of involuntarily response buried deep within. Norris Cole tried to pass here.
I am so sorry, Norris Cole. I am so sorry, game.
Horrors beget horrors. I could only inflict so much catastrophe upon NHL 13 until the poor thing reacted in kind. At some point in the third period, I began to notice something strange.
A blue line started to occasionally streak across the screen. I chalked it up to some sort of exaggerated rendering bug, ignored it, and kept watching.
But then it kept showing up.
Do you see it? On the right, coming from the bench? It darts around, as though it's ... scanning, looking. What it was, or what it was looking for, I could not say.
Eventually, curiosity got the better of me. I went to instant replay to take a closer look, and what I found terrified me to the bone.
I rolled the tape back and forth dozens of times. This ... this thing, this No. 0, appeared on the bench out of thin air. Occasionally, the blue streak would pour from the cavity where its head was supposed to be, surveilling as perhaps its eyes would.
There was no No. 0 on the Rangers. Of this, I was positive. I had pored over the entire roster, dumping and adding and double-checking and triple-checking the men on the bench. The box score showed that No. 0 was on the ice for 22 seconds. It did not give him a name, only a period.
I had taught the game horror, and so it was only natural that it would produce horrors of its own. It made this headless monster out of fear, of confusion, of hatred. I had built this game a Hell, and it gifted me a demon.
These were NHL 13's dying throes. After the game, I went to the calendar and set about auto-simulating the rest of the season. Two months in, the game froze, so I reset the Xbox and tried again. Once again, it locked it up. I tried this five times, and every time, in the clearest possible terms, the game told me, "no more."
When it locked up for the fifth time, I took one last screencap, and said goodbye.
You can make out some of the losses on the calendar. The final scores the game did spit out were not nearly as dreadful as the 18-0 drubbing in the season opener, but they were all losses, and shutout losses at that. The Heat are terrible at hockey, and goalies are very important. To learn these lessons, this game paid a terrible, terrible price.
It deserved so much better. I am so sorry.