The History of NHL ’94 | Classic Gaming Quarterly


On this episode of Classic Gaming Quarterly,
we take a look at what many consider to be the greatest sports game ever made: NHL ’94. At least in my lifetime, the 1990’s was the
golden age of ice hockey. You still had the Great One Wayne Gretzky,
The Magnificent One Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros and The Legion of Doom, Dominick the Dominator,
The Golden Brett and his infamous toe, The Finnish Flash Teemu Selanne, Mark “The Messiah”
Messier guaranteeing Rangers fans their first cup in 54 years, Patrick Roy, who developed
a hearing problem when his Stanley Cup rings got stuck in his ears, Sergei Fedorov and
the Russian Five, Al MacInnis’ slap shot, and Barry Melrose’s mullet on NHL2Nite. You
also had Jaromir Jagr, who as of the production of this episode, is the only player featured
in NHL ’94 who is still playing in the National Hockey League. Unlike 8-bit ice hockey games like Blades
of Steel and Ice Hockey, for the 16-bit generation Electronic Arts aimed to create a realistic
gameplay experience while still maintaining the fun factor, much as it had with the John
Madden Football series. The original, straightforwardly-named NHL
Hockey was released on the Genesis in 1991. It was developed by Park Place Productions
and programmed by Jim Simmons, a college drop-out whose very first commercial game programming
gig was the original Genesis version of John Madden Football. NHL Hockey was the first
Electronic Arts game to feature the EA Sports branding, and was licensed only by the National
Hockey League, meaning that it included all team names and logos. The game made an attempt
at realistic physics, featured line changes and player fatigue, the home team’s logo at
center ice, and a vertically-scrolling screen that would become a mainstay of the 16-bit
series. This first installment also included fighting, which has always been a part of
hockey, but was a hot-button issue in the early 90’s. When they saw the inclusion
of fighting in the game, the NHL demanded that it be removed or they would not grant
a license for future iterations of the series, but it was too late, as the cartridges were
already being manufactured in Japan. In 1992, NHLPA Hockey ’93 was released on
both the Genesis and Super Nintendo. After the fracas over the original NHL Hockey, the
national hockey league made good on their promise and withheld a license for this game.
This entry in the series was however licensed by the NHL Players Association, meaning that
all player names are present. Fighting was not only carried over from the previous game,
but improved upon by Simmons who, since the development of the original game, had been
hired away from Park Place Productions to work directly for Electronic Arts. NHLPA Hockey ’93’s biggest claim to fame
might be its feature in the 1996 movie Swingers, in which Vince Vaughn’s character famously
makes Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed. “There it is, Mikey. Check it out. His head’s
bleeding. Mikey, check it out, his legs, little Wayne’s legs are shaking.” NHLPA Hockey 93 was a great game, and a significant
step forward from the previous release, but EA Sports head Michael Brook knew that there
was still room for improvement. After the release of NHLPA Hockey ’93, Jim Simmons
was re-assigned to help create EA’s FIFA Soccer franchise. But they wouldn’t have
to look far to find his replacement. Mark Lesser was an MIT graduate who got his
start in the video games industry designing LED-based handheld games for Mattel through
his employer, Rockwell International. Lesser designed Auto Race, which is generally recognized
as the very first completely-electronic handheld game, as well as the iconic and better-known
Mattel Electronic Football. Lesser would go on to work for Parker Brothers,
most-notably developing Frogger II: Threedeep for the Atari 2600. After Parker Brothers,
Lesser went to work at Microsmiths, where he helped program Kings Quest for the Sega
Master System, and Drac’s Night Out which was completed but never released on the NES. After working for a sub-contractor programming
Madden ’93 for the Genesis, Electronic Arts asked him to develop NHL ’94. He accepted
the offer, but there was just one problem. The man who would create one of the most iconic
hockey games ever made knew nothing about the sport. While programming NHL 94 at his home in rural
Maine, Lesser worked closely with University of Maine hockey team head coach Shawn Walsh,
learning as much as he could about the subtle nuances of the sport. NHL ’94 hit store shelves in the fourth
week of September 1993 and was an instant hit among gamers who had been anxiously awaiting
its arrival. EA having finally made peace with the league, the game was now licensed
by both the NHL and NHLPA, meaning that the game retained all player names while bringing
back all team names and logos. NHL 94 added a number of welcome features,
including manual goalie control, flip passes, and most importantly, the one-time shot, which
has been a central feature in the series ever since. You can also check your opponents into
the player benches, and have hats thrown on the ice in your honor if you score a hat trick.
The game supports up to 4 players using EA’s 4-Way Play adapter, allowing you to play co-op
or head-to-head. Unfortunately, it’s still not possible to
play a complete season, which is a disappointment because Madden ’94 did include that feature,
but the game does allow you to play through a complete playoff season, so that’s something.
Playoff progress as well as player stats can be saved to the cartridge’s memory. NHL 94 did make a couple of unwelcome removals.
You could no longer make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed, which was always fun but not central
to the game. But ultimately, to get the NHL license back on the game, EA had no choice
but to remove fighting. As was the case with NHLPA Hockey ’93, each
game is introduced, ESPN-style, by national sports talk radio host Ron Barr, who from
the EA Sports desk, breaks down the matchup highlighting strengths and weaknesses and
the star players on each team. Graphically, the game looks about the same
as the previous entries in the series, which isn’t a bad thing. The players look reasonably
detailed, and there are neat little graphical touches like the reflection of the arena lighting
on the ice surface or the little boy running down to the glass to have a look. The sounds effects are a bit of a mixed bag.
I like the sound the puck makes when it’s being passed or shot, but when it bounces
off the boards it sounds like it’s made of Jell-O.
All of the grunting gets old after a while,
but it’s not the end of the world. Although the previous 2 iterations of the
franchise included organ music, NHL ’94 expanded on it, with the help of then-San
Jose Sharks Organist Dieter Ruehle. Now the Staples Center music director and organist
for both the Lakers and Kings, Ruehle, thanks to years of watching hockey, was able to provide
EA with arena-specific organ songs for every team in the league. This not only added variety
to the music in the game, but also made it feel more authentic to fans of particular
teams. Lastly, as a simple point-of-interest, NHL
’94s game engine was later used to develop 1994’s Mutant League Hockey on the Sega
Genesis. When most people talk about NHL ’94, they’re
usually just referring to the Genesis version of the game. But about a month after the game
was released on the Genesis, EA released NHL 94 for the Super Nintendo. This version was
not developed by Mark Lesser, but rather by EA Canada, previously known as Distinctive
Software. Prior to their acquisition by Electronic Arts,
Distinctive Software developed a number of well-known sports and racing games, mostly
for home computers, including one of my all-time favorite DOS games, Stunts, known to you Europeans
as “4D Driving”. In 1991, Distinctive Software was purchased
by Electronic Arts, becoming EA Canada and primarily, but not exclusively, producing
EA Sports titles. “EA Sports: It’s in the game.” One of their first jobs was to develop NHL
’94 for the Super Nintendo. While the original NHL Hockey was not released
on the Super Nintendo, NHLPA Hockey ’93 was. Unfortunately, EA Sports head Michael
Brook was less-than-satisfied with how that game turned out, so he charged a group of
programers at EA Canada, led by Amory Wong, with porting the Genesis version of NHLPA
’93 over to the Super Nintendo while adding the features that were new to the ’94 edition
of the game. Although the game was a port, it also contained original content including
tile art, and a soundtrack composed by longtime Distinctive Software employee Michael Sokyrka. NHL ’94 on the Super Nintendo contains almost
all of the same features found on the Genesis release, but as you might expect has its own
look and feel. During Ron Barr’s intro segment, all of the player pictures are in color, for
what that’s worth. The sound effects are, to me, much more realistic, although I think
I prefer the organ music on the Genesis. The hits feel harder, although that could just
be a side-effect of the sound effect used, and I could swear that it’s easier to score
in this game. Some NHL ’94 aficionados actually prefer this game to the Genesis release, but in the
interest of remaining neutral, I’ll simply say that I enjoy them both. In general, I
think that Super Nintendo owners got shafted when it came to sports games, but this is
a very respectable port of NHL 94 While the vast majority of hockey fans back
then played NHL ’94 on either the Genesis or Super Nintendo, quite possibly the best
version of the game was released on the Sega CD. NHL ’94 CD was released on the Sega CD in
January of 1994, and was a port of the Genesis game, with a few tweaks and upgrades. The
first thing you can’t help but notice when you start this game up is the full-motion
intro sequence. This might not look great by today’s standards, but in 1994 full-motion
video seemed to be the next big thing. The game setup menu looks exactly the same, but
has an upgraded version of the original NHL ’94 theme song playing in the background.
Once you get past that to the EA Sports desk, you can suddenly hear Ron Barr’s voice. “Welcome to a sold out Colisee de Quebec,
home of the Quebec Nordiques.” Again not a big deal now, but it was a step
up from cartridge-based 16-bit games. Once you start playing the game itself, you’ll
notice more realistic sound effects and crowd noise, and actual organ music rather than
digitized, once again played by Dieter Ruehle. The game looks exactly the same, but at least
in my opinion the gameplay seems to have been slightly tweaked. The game feels at times
faster, the puck has the potential to zip around the ice more quickly, and the hits
even feel harder. Whether or not that’s just a placebo effect from playing on the
Sega CD I don’t know, but NHL ’94 CD brings enough to the table for me to call it the
definitive version of NHL ’94, and is the one that I would recommend picking up if you
already have a Sega CD system. The legacy of NHL ’94 lives on to this day,
most notably through a group of diehard fans at NHL94.com. This site has an active discussion
forum, runs regular online tournaments, and even has members releasing updated ROMs for
the game which include current NHL rosters. In 2013, EA released NHL 14 for the Xbox 360
and Playstation 3. The game includes an “NHL 94 Anniversary Mode”, which is basically an
arcade-style version of NHL 14, but includes the original organ music from the original
game, plus little extras like the 16-bit graphics shown on the scoreboards around the arena,
and the signature blue ice. A few small tweaks can make it feel a bit more authentic, including
turning off the otherwise-excellent commentary by Gary Thorne and Bill Clement, and turning
the arena organ music all the way up. While this is no substitute for the real McCoy,
I had a ton of fun playing it, which is good since I bought the game purely to include
it in this episode. That’s going to do it for this episode of
Classic Gaming Quarterly. If this topic was of particular interest to you, you can read
my full interview with Amory Wong on our website at CGQuarterly.com. I’ll put a direct link
to the interview in the video description. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next
time!

Comments 100

  • On a random Friday night, back in the 90's, I put together a NHL 94 hockey tournament one night. My buddies (10 dudes) got together at my my parents house while they were away on vacation. ( i was about 17 )We set up on two tv's playing NHL 94 on 2 Genesis systems. Everyone was very good and we put $10 bucks each in the pool.. The final game came down to me and my friend at 2am after playing all night lol. He was Chicago, I was New Jersey. It came down to the final game 7.
    After regulation and over time, the game was still tied. We had to re-start a new game, with "next goal wins" …… I will always remember how the game winning goal unfolded lol.
    His player came down the wing w the puck and shot the puck into the zone.(dump and chase) I took control of my goalie to cut off the puck behind the net, but the puck went by my goalie, because the puck was shot so hard. Everything went in slo motion next in my mind. lol.
    His player grab the puck at the blue line and shot it right away. The puck floated in the air. I scrambled to get my goalie back in the net and dove to make the save, but didn't and that was game over. We had alot of fun that night playing NHL 94.

  • Ah man, I miss the Nords and the Whalers.

  • Loved both the Genesis and SNES versions!

  • nothing better than brass bonanza

  • I was a Detroiter once, nice to see that Red Wings shirt

  • I loved this game at the time but there was a move that guaranteed a goal. Bring the puck in the zone and dip behind the goal line and then go out front and move across the goal. The goalie was always too slow and the puck was in the net with ease. My friends and I agreed to never do that or the goal didn't count. Stanley Cup on the SNES has a similar move. Dump the puck in from center ice as you approach the blue line and the puck will go over the goalie's head and in the net. The timing isn't too difficult to master.

  • My childhood, basically. I could still play this game for hours and not get bored.

  • My brother and I played the shit out of this game back in the day, as well as '92 and '93. True masterpiece.

  • The greatest sports game ever made? I'd never even heard of these games. Sensible World of Soccer is obviously the greatest sports game ever made. Ha, ha! Looking up the series it seems in Europe we never got NHL 98. I think by that point Sega Europe had figured out they were releasing the same game every year.

  • The fighting in hockey I never thought would be around. Although not common in hockey these days, from what I saw in the games, they look a lot of fun. Hockey however is not my favorite sport to play (as much as baseball and football) but the fighting in the game is what's gonna make me play the game the most. Definitely will find some time to play that.

  • I'll co sign what CGQ has to say about the Sega CD version. It was truly sublime. I wouldn't ever recommend spending money on a Sega CD, but if you have one NHL 94, and Lunar are both amazing. I think they're the only 2 good games in the whole Sega CD catalogue. The only thing I didn't like about NHL 94 is that all you have to do to score is skate to the corner of the red line and the boards, the skate horizontally across the screen, and shoot while passing the goalie.

  • Great video you got sub fellow wings fan To bad a 25 year streak ended, but With Pavel gone I half expected it.

  • I don't even like the sport or these games, but this is great

  • How many bits was the Sega CD? 24 Bit??

  • loved the hit montage at the end! The Mutant League Hockey was cool, I didn't like the football version though.

  • Dude, it was AWESOME hearing the song when the blues score a goal from this game. Fun video, keep it up

  • Bret Hull Slap Shot BABY. I have no fucking idea about hockey I'm not a fan don't give a shit. But I know I liked Hulls Slap shot in NHL 94

  • Not only is it easier to score in the SNES version but if you take the puck and skate close to the net and circle around the net on either the top or bottom goal I forget which one, the goalie gets stuck and you can literally score every time. it's broken.

  • No respectable gamer thought the SNES version was better than the Genesis. IF anyone actually thought that, chances are they were stuck with the SNES version as a kid and didn't own a Genesis.

  • This game, among with Lakers vs Celtics was two of my all time favourite titles for the Sega Genesis.

  • i think NHL 95 for SNES was way better than NHL 94.

  • 95 was better.

  • LOVE this Game. Played over 100 Matches with the Blackhawks, all won. 🙂 And the Battery still works today!

  • Sergei Fedorov… nice. My classic Wings jersey had to be Stevie Y, though.

  • I f anyone is looking for a similar experience in HD, I play NHL 2k6 and set controls to classic. The dekes and one timers are very similar feeling.

  • great video. brought back a lot of childhood memories

  • You said they took a misstep with NHL 95'? That's funny because NHL 95 was better than 94' in my opinion.

  • I still play the Genesis version of NHL 94 to this day. However, I play it on PC and install updated roster ROMS from nhl94.com. 🙂

  • SNES 94 has better flow and its more fun to play with friends, it has better atmosphere. Its more unpredictable than the Genesis version which makes the gameplay more fun.

  • Sweet jersey!!

  • NHL Hockey for the PC is not just considered to be the PC version of NHL 94, it is the version! Same thing with NHL Hockey 95 for the PC.

  • I love hockey and the NHL, as a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, this version of the game is like a glorious time capsule. We originally had NHLPA 93 and later 95 (which I still have). I didn't have NHL 94, but my cousins did, so I was able to play it.

  • I still play SNES version of nhl 96

  • I was 5 playing this game for hourssssssssss at a time everyday. Literally had endless playability it was so good that my two year old brother would want to play with me only when I played this and sonic so It was the first time I had to use the old unplugged 2nd controller trick

    Edit* please take everything i said about this game and apply it to NHLPA 93. Thanks

  • This is such a great video, why doesn't it have more views?

  • oh the nostalgia.i remember my buddy got the 4 play and we would play 2vs2 sooo much.and each team could only have 2 created players and 1 created goalie.oh the good ole 90s nhl days lol

  • Actually, the NHL was more upset that NHLPA 93 included blood in the game without their knowledge. They weren't upset about the fighting, as fighting was in NHL 97, NHL 98, and NHL 99 all with the NHL license. It was the blood in NHLPA 93 that the NHL did not know about, and they pulled the license.

  • I like the Flyers and Blackhawks.

  • For me the nhl95 for Genesis is the best version. Seems like that many of the upgrades to 94 CD versions went also to the 95 edition.

  • Getting stoned ,skipping high school and playing this game with my buds .good times!

  • I find it way harder to score in the Super Nintendo version. I can't believe it was the opposite for you. I can score 8, 9 goals a game on genesis. Ill be lucky to get 3 or 4 on the SNES. I think the SNES has better sound and color and when genesis gets too easy its nice to challenge myself with the SNES version. Genesis is harder to control your guy but i find myself making prettier plays and scoring in cooler ways on the genesis.

  • Sega Gen sports games i feel were better then SNES games , better sound, better controls

  • Would like to see a NBA Live 95-97 Video like this when you get a chance. 90’s sports game was the golden era for these types of games.

  • I agree 94 blew my mind

  • NHL '96 (for the SNES) is the reason I learned all the player's names.

  • You can also break through the glass sometimes when you shoot.

  • no fighting? that's gay

  • Why hasn't someone made a top down NHL game for 2017 ?

  • Classic Gaming Quarterly this was awesome ! This is why i still have my Genesis today along with NHL 94… So cool how the programmer knew nothing about hockey yet created the best hockey game of all time : ) It's time to get my genesis out of the closet ….. My girl thanks you in advance ..lol

  • E A SPORTS ITS IN THE GAME…. imiss these good times and good friends from the past. sigh getting old. great video though.

  • Loved this game as a kid. Thousand bonus points for that Wings jersey! LGRW!

  • I had a special signature move called " the short stuff". It was basically a flukey manoeuvre that took advantage of a glitch in the game. Regardless, it worked sometimes and when it did it drove my brother crazy. We actually had a fist fight because of it and my father had to break it up. I could not stop laughing every time I used the move and my brother was the victim of it. He had enough and the rest is history.

    This is a beautiful game that makes me nostalgic for the halycon days of my youth.

  • Yep 94 was the best. It was the best sports game at the time

  • I still play this, unfortunately not on console but via emulation. NHL 94 CD rocks on emulation as all NHL 94 games play perfect on my phone. Long live NHL 94. Really disappointed with NHL 14 and it's version of NHL 94 which I though it will be the original cart game or even better the Sega CD version. 😢

  • I did like NHL 94 but NHL 96 was/is the best NHL game for the 16-Bit consoles. NHL 98 was/is the best for the 32-Bit consoles and my ALL TIME favorite NHL game(s) is NHL 2K6 or ESPN Hockey 2K5 or NHL 2K3 – I can't decide (yes, I like the 2K games much more than the games by EA and I miss them very much these days)

  • Picture it.. Chicago…1994
    Me and my Cousin both get NHL 94 for Christmas.
    I'm a SNES guy. He's a Gen guy. I love my 94. It's a totally different game. His was a port over. Same as 93. And goalie control. Which in my opinion was killer

  • Damn just hearing the sounds of this game brings back memories

  • Meh, 2004 is better

  • 10:15 So, the SNES version had a Season Mode?

  • I watch your channel all the time, but I had no idea you were such a big hockey fan!
    Absolutely loved this video.
    Subscribed man.
    I agree with you too by the way. The late 80s and 90s were the pinnacle years of the NHL.
    Are you a Wings fan by the way? Or are you just a big Federov fan? Lol

  • I could never score in this game. its fuckin hard

  • 4:11 The same Rockwell that made the Retro Encabulator?

  • Why did NHL not want fighting in the game when they allow it IRL

  • could u play an entire season on the sega cd version b/c on the PC you could and it saved player stats.

  • Sergei Federov and Steve Yzerman were GODS

  • This was a great game but I preferred NHL 95 for Genesis. It was so much more fluid.

  • 7:08 clear offside missed call

  • This game was an instant classic and it is still much loved today, 25 years later. I was a hockey player as a kid and I remember using my allowance money to get this game for SNES when it first came out. I was 13 years old at the time. I wasted so many hours of my youth playing this game! I actually recently hacked my SNES mini and put the NHL 94 game ROM on it. It sure feels strange playing it on my 65 inch UHD TV, definitely much different than the little 20 inch 1990s box style TV that I played it on as a kid!

  • If I can hear Brass Bonanza and score with Kevin Dineen in the same game I’m sold.

  • what about '96?!

  • Still the best hockey game ever made, in my opinion. Great video! ✌👍

  • many disagree, but I always found the peak to be NHL'93 or NHLPA'93 for the SEGA GENESIS.

    The GAMEPLAY was better and more organic. The 1-timer in '94 honestly I think changed and in some ways ruined the flow and strategy of the game.

  • NO GOAL!! …..FUCK YOU BRETT! greetings from Buffalo ny

  • 2 Words for you. Jeremy Roenick

  • I played the shit out of Nhl 94 on the snes back in the day

  • Federov jesrey eh

  • Bill Clement? The former Ontario Health Minister?

  • NHL 93 and 94 are the best.

  • I see your jersey and understand not wanting to show Roenick any love at the start, but no love for Chelios? Chicago AND Detroit fans can agree he's a badass. For shame!

  • I'm not into hockey or sports in general and even I had this game!

  • You sound like the easports guy lol

  • 94 for SNES was the better game

  • Back when EA actually gave a shit about improving the game…man times have changed…

  • Now I noticed you had finnish sign on your wall 🙂 good video BTW, nhl94 was my favourite too back in the days. Good times 🙂

  • What about Pavel Bure? He was pretty damn awesome.

  • Greatest hockey game of all time. Greatest sports game of all time next to NBA jam. Can't stand the newer sports game's. Love the arcade style sports games. There is a couple indies though that try to capture the old feel. Also I never heard anybody say the SNES version is better?

  • Interesting that the NHL wanted fighting removed from the game early on…

  • You didn't talk about the computer version. That was the best one!
    It had PA announcer, 4 lines and more customizable, and a full-season mode. That was the best!

  • Introduction of the one-timer enough said

  • When he brought up the game for NES Blades of Steel did anybody else besides myself do the introduction of the game and the voice Blades of Steel??

  • [email protected] Barr..They hired a third rate “national sports radio host” that apparently was only found “nationally” on sports radio stations back then that weren’t part of ESPN or CBS Radio Sports and could only be found on the 1500’s of the AM Dial in a handful of cities.

    Always found it stupid they used that unknown dude like people should’ve known who he was or that they claimed he was “nationally known”. Guys like those shrill ass syndicated overnight “Sportsfan Radio Network” losers were more known that that guy. He made JT the Prick look like Jim Rome in comparison. Barr might be the nicest dude in radio for all I know of him but calling him “nationally famous” is like that diner in Elf claiming to have “The World’s Best Coffee”. When you proclaim something like you are “nationally famous” and no one knows of you it becomes more humorous than a real title.

  • This game made me a Blackhawks fan.

  • found it! awesome!

  • Nice Jersey , i live out side of Detroit and grew up playing the NHL ‘94 Sega games . Bring back memories

  • I still have my NHL 94 on Sega CD Sega and SNES

  • I remember the Sega CD version well and if you out it in a CD player the music tracks play

  • I got my sega system n nhl 94 for christmas,fond memories

  • I can't tell you how many hours I spent on this game.

  • NHLPA 93 was fucking awesome!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *