10 Things You Should Know About Blades of Steel

Thirty years ago, hockey video game Blades of Steel was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The game has stuck around, with several sequels and re-releases, as well as embedding itself into hockey culture, over the next three decades. 

Created by video game company Konami, Blades of Steel was originally a coin-operated arcade game released in 1987. It was ported to the NES in 1988, various home computers in 1990 and the Game Boy in 1991. But 30 years later, it is the Nintendo version that is best-remembered. Blades of Steel came out in a simpler time. It was just realistic enough to be cool, but easy enough that anyone could learn to play it in five minutes. Blades of Steel for the NES had fast-paced five-on-five action, some play-by-play narration and even fighting — and fighting had consequences, as the winner of the fight would get a power play, while the loser would literally get dragged to the penalty box. 

In celebration of the game’s 30th anniversary, here are 10 things that you should know about Blades of Steel

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Interview: Michael J. Sokyrka, NHL ’94 Music Composer

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for The Hockey News about NHL ’94 for the video game’s 25th anniversary. One of the people that I interviewed was Michael J. Sokyrka, who composed much of the music for the different versions of NHL ’94. We had a great conversation, but because of the sheer amount of information that I had to cover, as well as space limitations of a magazine, I was only able to quote Mr. Sokyrka once in my article. So, I decided to publish our conversation here, as it gives a fascinating look at how video game music — and specifically the music for NHL ’94 — was made back in the early 1990s. 

Sokyrka is a musician and a music teacher. One day, he transcribed some blues riffs for two young students to learn, which impressed their father, Rick Friesen — who happened to work for a company in Vancouver called Distinctive Software. The company needed someone with Sokyrka’s talents to make music for video games. Sokyrka took the job, and several years later the company was purchased by Electronic Arts and became EA Canada. NHL ’94 was the first of several hockey video games that Sokyrka worked on. 

Sal Barry: Had you worked with computers much prior to joining Distinctive Software? 

Michael J. Sokyrka: I had zero computer experience at the time. The first time I saw a mouse, I thought I had to speak into it. Everybody [at Distinctive Software] seemed to be having a good time. I was hired on the spot. I walked out of there thinking, what have I done, I just took on a job, and I got my teaching studio, how am I going to handle all of this? Needless to say, for the first seven years or so, I worked two jobs. I’d start my day at Distinctive Software at 7 a.m., and then teach piano lessons, and my day would finish usually around midnight. Then on the weekends, I was gigging.

SB: Are you a hockey fan?

MJS: I’ve always been a hockey fan. Continue reading “Interview: Michael J. Sokyrka, NHL ’94 Music Composer”

Interview: Jeremy Roenick on NHL ’94

NOTE: This interview with Jeremy Roenick was originally published in the October 2013 issue of Beckett Hockey Magazine. Because very few of you probably saw it, and it was five years ago, I am reprinting it here, just in time for the 25th Anniversary of NHL ’94. 

Jeremy Roenick electrified crowds during his 20 seasons in the NHL with his hard-nosed, high-scoring style of play. He reached the 50-goal plateau three times and was the third American-born player to score over 500 career goals. When he retired in 2009, Roenick scored  513 goals and 703 assists in 1363 games. A year later, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and is currently a studio analyst for NHL games broadcast on NBC.

Yet, to a generation of hockey fans, Roenick is perhaps better known as being one of the best-ever video game characters to grace a TV screen. NHL ’94, released in fall of 1993 and currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, is considered the best video game from the classic gaming era. In the game, which used the names and attributes of real NHL players, Roenick was nearly unstoppable. His great speed and agility, along with one of the hardest and most accurate shots, make J.R. the biggest offensive threat in NHL ’94.

In the Genesis version of the game, a programming mistake — known as the “weight bug” — made lightweight players actually more difficult to knock down while also making them hit harder. This resulted in Roenick being a total wrecking ball in NHL ’94, with a better mix of offensive skills than Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky.

Movie-goers would also learn about Roenick in the 1996 film Swingers, starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. In a memorable scene, the  characters are playing NHL ’94 (although the cutaway shots of the game are actually from Electronic Arts’ previous hockey game, NHLPA Hockey ’93). When accused of playing unfairly, Vaughn’s character Trent replies “Y’know, it’s not so much me as Roenick; he’s good.” This cemented Roenick’s status as a pop culture icon and a video game legend.

Recently, Roenick talked with Beckett Hockey about his video game notoriety, games he played growing up, and what it’s like to be a cover athlete.

Sal Barry: The video game NHL ’94 celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. I’m sure you remember that game.

Jeremy Roenick: I do. Very, very well. The NHL ’94 game is the one topic that is mentioned to me most often to me in my lifetime. Continue reading “Interview: Jeremy Roenick on NHL ’94”

Gamers’ fondest memories of NHL ’94

Face-Off

The classic-era video game NHL ’94 celebrates its 20th anniversary this season, and remains as popular as ever. Originally released for Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega CD and PC computers, NHL ’94 is still enjoyed by gamers today. This year’s release by Electronic Arts, NHL ’14, even included an “NHL ’94 Mode” that let’s players experience the run-and-gun style of the old game.

But some gamers still seek out the old-school, pixelated experience. Using emulation software, many play head-to-head via the internet in online leagues hosted by the website NHL94.com. Several of these gamers who still live and breathe NHL ’94 today share their fondest memories of the game. Continue reading “Gamers’ fondest memories of NHL ’94”

Some Video Games Are NOT for Kids

The last week has been a steady mix of hanging out with friends–including an awesome New Year’s Eve party (thanks, Phil)–and the usual boring “teacher stuff” I do to get prepared for the semester (which started Tuesday). Yes, friends and work are my excuses for not blogging the past 6 days.

Anyway, I found this brochure, starring Patrick Sharp and Bryan Campbell to warn you that…

“Some video games are for kids. Some aren’t.”

That’s right, kids…the Blackhawks are here to warn your parents about the new Call of Duty game.  Perhaps you’d rather play something less violent, like NHL ’12 instead? Continue reading “Some Video Games Are NOT for Kids”

Jonathan Toews on "NHL ’11" cover

A few days ago, this image started circulating around the internet:

Yep, from the looks of it, Stanley Cup MVP Jonathan Toews will grace the cover of “NHL ’11”. This is the second year in a row that a Chicago Blackhawks player will be on the cover of the popular hockey video game. For those who don’t follow the Blackhawks or video games, Patrick Kane was on the cover of “NHL ’10”. (Picture here)

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Video Olympics for the Atari 2600

Early hockey video game is really Pong with great box art

Atari 2600 Video Olympics - box frontSometimes we forget how far video games have come. Those old enough to remember when Wayne Gretzky played for the Oilers probably got their start playing video games on the Atari 2600 – with games like Space Invaders, Combat, Surround and Video Olympics. Continue reading “Video Olympics for the Atari 2600”