You may notice during your first game of NHL 19, especially if you played 18, that you’re getting a lot of tripping penalties…
Poke checking is broken in NHL 19?!!? NO, it’s FIXED! Is it perfect? Probably not, but it can still be tuned by EA.
In NHL 18, playing defense for most players was pretty much a combination of positioning and spamming poke-check. If you used the AI to your advantage you would let them do the dirty work in the corners, and you could take it easy covering the slot, and spamming poke check if the puck got near you – this is what was called “skillzoning”… at least I think it was… the definition of skillzoning seemed to vary depending how angry the person was ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Anyways, the problem there was two-fold, letting AI grind in the corners was more effective than a human doing it and spamming poke check was far too effective with little to no punishment – this post focuses on the latter.
Poke Checking Improvements
What has changed with poke-checking? Fortunately, the NHL Dev team has explained it to us in detail – shoutout to Ben Ross, the EA Sports NHL Gameplay Producer, for taking the time to share this info.
You can read the full explanation on their forums if you like, but I’ll paste the important bits here along with some of my own commentary on each. The quoted parts are from the EA NHL dev team.
We improved our collision detection of the stick on the offensive players body, their stick and the puck itself. This is probably the biggest change regardless of what we do with penalties that makes pokes from behind less effective.
We added variables to make sure we were rewarding smart defense and conditions that simulate what would take place if we had a more physically accurate stick on stick or stick on body solve.
Pokechecks from that front where your stick blade just hits a skate will not cause a trip. We have the ability to widen or decrease that angle. Pokechecks from any other angle where the blade hits the skate will cause a trip.
Pokechecks where the shaft of your stick hits a leg will cause a trip again, we could tune angles for this but right now, it will cause a trip from any angle.
What I really like about all of the above additions is that EA will have more control in adjusting poke check penalties via tuners, instead of needing a full patch.
Tuner = updating variables in the game and does not require new code or removing existing code, so does not need to go through the update approval process with Microsoft and Sony. I’d imagine it involves less QA on EA’s end as well.
Patch = Does require code changes. Likely involves much more QA time and needs approval by Microsoft and Sony (aka takes a lot longer than a tuner to implement!)
That is my unofficial explanation of the two, but you get the idea. If something can be fixed by a tuner then it is MUCH more likely it will get fixed during the NHL 19 lifespan than if it requires a patch.
If you are using manual Defensive Skill Stick and you swipe your stick through both legs, the player will trip.
If you are using manual Defensive Skill Stick and you swipe your stick through one leg from the outside inwards, we don’t cause a trip if you correct yourself and stop. However, if you swipe from between the legs outwards on one leg, the player will trip.
These above DSS conditions allow players to manually reach at pucks and correct if they have gone too far to show self-control but if you are careless and swipe through both legs or are getting in between a players legs, you are punished.
I really like that they allow some leeway here for accidental mistakes, but if you go too far, then you are punished, as you should be.
Remember you can also hold out the right stick first or right away as you are pressing poke to go directly to that angle for more control (we are also looking to improve this blend to make this even more viable)
This is an important point and could be especially useful for beginners who are just getting used to poke-checking. Using the right analog stick to pre-aim your poke check _away_ from the player to ensure you don’t get a tripping penalty and then you can adjust relative to your starting point – keeping in mind that if you do swipe through both legs, you will be penalized. Using this method avoids any possibility of starting your poke-check between the opponent’s legs and swiping outwards, which would be an automatic penalty even if only swiping through one leg.
Also if you let go of DSS and start to blend out, it won’t cause a trip so if you catch yourself and let go early enough, you can save yourself a tripping call and if you are going for a poke check and it is going to cause a penalty, you can actually react quickly and pull away with your right stick to pull the stick away from the players legs.
We also made an improvement to the tracking during poke-checks that last year was benefiting weaker players and punishing more skilled players. The tracking after you pressed poke-check would track the puck even if it drastically changed direction. So if a smart player saw a puck out exposed and started to poke, but then the offensive player drew it back to protect it, the stick would then swing and possibly make contact with the puck carriers leg causing a trip when it should just have been a miss. Or conversely, it may help a player get a poke they didn’t deserve but tracking a puck that was moved that the defensive player didn’t anticipate. To fix this, we now track the puck position relative to the movement of the puck carrier from the time of the poke. This means that if the puck carrier then protects the puck after that frame that the poke will now just miss into open space rather than swing through the puck carriers leg and it also means that a player that just randomly hits poke won’t be able to get assistance to hit a puck that then changes direction after that. You will now be rewarded timing your pokes based on knowing the current and upcoming vulnerability of the puck relative to its current movement.
Another great improvement! A lot of NHL 18 players may not have realized this was the cause of many of their tripping penalties. The tracking improvements EA has implemented here should reduce the number of undeserved penalties taken by defenseman trying to stop their opponent’s zone entry. In 18, a common offensive zone entry tactic was to gain the blueline and then hold the back behind you to avoid it getting poked – the defender could have pressed poke-check right before the puck was pulled back and would still end up going straight into the player’s legs due to the auto-tracking. There was no way to avoid it! In NHL 19, this shouldn’t happen.
Getting puck first or stick on stick contact to free the puck before your stick then hits a leg should negate the stick from causing a trip. There are edge cases that players have run into that we are looking at that will need code to fix but overall this is working and we will continue to improve it to reach the original intent. This means you can still be quite aggressive from any angle if you feel you will at least get the puck carriers stick first.
If your stick collides with a players leg geometry, even if we don’t trigger a trip, we will disable that sticks ability to cause stick on stick or stick on puck contact. This simulates the fact that the defensive players stick should not have been able to get to the puck as it would have been blocked from getting there by that collision.
Finally, it is our intention with both DSS and regular pokes to not count the blend out as an aggressive stick action, and it should not cause a trip. There are cases that we are seeing in the Beta where this is the case, and it isn’t intended so we are looking to see what can be improved there for more consistency as well.
Fixes for NHL 19 Launch
EA Sports has already shared that they’ve added some further fixes based on the beta feedback, let’s take a look at what has been done.
- Improvements to collision volumes to more accurately detect incidental stick on stick or stick on body contact
- Fixed some cases where the defensive player could contact the puck after their stick went through the puck carrier’s geometry
- Fixes to conditions where the blend out of a poke check was still causing trips
The below fixes will require a day one patch update, 1.1.0.
- Fixed cases where poke checks were tripping a player after getting puck first
- Fixes to accuracy of poke checks on stationary/slow moving loose pucks
- Fixed a case where players were not being tripped after consecutive pokes
- Various additional poke check targeting fixes
Not much to add there, Ben had already alluded to many of those fixes coming in the original poke-checking improvements above during the beta, nice to know they will be in there for launch.
NHL 19 Pokechecking Controls
Since we’ve been mentioning poke-checking and DSS poke-checking, I just wanted to provide a quick reminder of the difference and how to do each one.
A regular poke check is what everyone who played pre-NHL 18 will remember well, simply pressing the RB(R1 on PS4) button, or mashing it as many did in 18.
Defensive Skill Stick(DSS) poke-checking is a little different and was introduced in 18, but is present in NHL 19 as well and works in the same fashion.
If you hold down RB, then it will activate your defensive skill stick positioning. While the DSS is activated you can click down on R3 to poke check, but it’s not required as you also have full control of your stick to swipe it around and make contact with the puck. Pressing R3 while in DSS does auto-track though, so it’s a good way to reset your stick on the puck – just make sure your stick doesn’t need to go through any legs to get there!
What to do Instead?
Okay so you can’t spam poke-check, now what?
Get this… there are other defensive tools besides poke-check. wut? Yeah I know, it blew my face off too, but it’s true!
- Poke-check from behind or even back left or right … basically guaranteed penalty now
- Spam poke-check from anywhere – will be very easy for your opponent to draw a penalty by skating into your poke checking
- Wait until you at least get side by side with the player before you poke check AND keep in mind where the puck is – if your stick needs to go through legs to reach the puck then don’t poke-check!
- Use your body and positioning to angle players away from dangerous areas
- Hit to bump players off the puck in-close, no need to take a run at them, just enough to bump them off the puck is fine
- Stick lift when at mid-range with a good angle, I suspect we’ll see more stick lifting now
- Poke-check at longer range or when you have a good angle… aka don’t need to cross legs to get to the puck
Those are just some quick tips, I’ll be taking a more in-depth look at playing defense after release and I’ve had time to really dig into it!
How to Report an Issue
It’s important to keep in mind that poke-checks can still be tuned after launch! And I expect they will be. If anything, the above just shows how complex one mechanic of the game can be. The big takeaway should be that EA now has more control than ever to tune it.
Here are the steps for reporting poke-check issues:
- Record a clip! Very important, without being able to see what happened it is unlikely anything will come of it
- If possible, watch the trip in the slow-motion replay, are you sure it wasn’t deserved?
- Still convinced it shouldn’t have been a penalty? Send it to any of the GameChangers! (see video below)
Let’s end off with another quote from the NHL Dev team’s forum post:
From looking at the [NHL 19 beta] data, returning NHL 18 veterans are actually more likely to trip players than new players to the game. This could obviously be that new players are using poke check less but it could also mean that using poke check more aggressively was a learned behavior that the previous game allowed and that people need to adapt to new conditions that may be better for the overall balance of the game.
I very much agree with the bolded text above. People need to adapt! Sometimes it
gets feels worse before it gets better. Remember when everyone was complaining about poke-checks being overpowered? They were, and it did force everyone to abuse it. Now the solution is here so you will need to re-learn how to be in full control of your poke-checks, otherwise, you’ll find yourself sitting in the penalty box all game.
That’s it! Pumped for NHL 19 and I’ll see you all in the penalty box at launch.