With over 300 changes being made to the existing formula with NHL 12, the latest in EA Sports‘ hockey franchise, it’s looking like even long-time fans will have a serious challenge ahead of them. Die-hard fans generally leave their less-seasoned opponents in the dust when it comes to the video game versions of their favorite sport, but if the newest developer diaries for NHL 12 are anything to go by, they’re going to be learning how to play the game all over again.

We got the chance to play NHL 12 at E3, but even though it was clear how much more improved the physics of the game were, the sheer number of tweaks and new mechanics that the development team has added just can’t be appreciated at first glance.

The last developer diary explained how the computer-controlled players will be smarter with NHL 12, and now EA has released two new videos showing how even more realism is being brought to the hockey franchise. We’ll let you watch the trailers for yourself, but for those of you who have been with the series for more than a few years, it looks like NHL 12 could be the evolutionary leap that we’ve been waiting for.

It’s one thing to hear the developers claim that goalies will be brought into the action, without the invisible walls that had kept them removed from the intensity of the game’s contact. But to actually see the new ways that screening, bumping, or flat-out demolishing an opponent’s netminder will change the pace of a game is better than nay explanation. Take a look:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EgdYEPUcq8

Most fans may immediately be looking forward to running their most hated goaltenders, but given the track record of the development team, their promise to dish out penalties to overzealous players should be taken seriously. Being able to establish your players in front of, or even up against an opposing goalie may make the new physics of stronger players that much more of a game-changer. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to where your players are in relation to the crease and defenders have a whole new reason to tweak your strategies.

Being able to force a puck through a goaltender is a great bonus, but for many players, getting through the defense is where their net-crashing strategies run into a hitch. If there was one aspect of past NHL games that would make the unrealistic nature of the game obvious, it was the hitting close to the net. The best players in the world, the strongest skaters, and the biggest power forwards could all be knocked off the puck with a simple hip-check. Just one bump, and the player would immediately become more focused on staying upright than offense.

With NHL 12‘s new balance control, all that is a thing of the past. Take a look at the new and improved balance of the league’s strongest skaters:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jc1VY7C-91o

Aside from adding a bit more realism to the hitting and skating of the game – a constant challenge the developers seem happy to face – the new balance system could end up giving an offensive boost to the best skaters in the game. It would be a welcome change to see strong-footed and determined players being able to pose as much of a risk as accurate shooters or fast skaters.

Who knows, with the new changes being made, we might be close to seeing the game’s grinders and shift-disturbers actually be as useful and effective as their real-world counterparts.

Are you newcomers eager to see how these improvements could level the playing field? Are you fans of the series excited to learn the new mechanics, or do you wish the developers weren’t making so many drastic additions at once? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

NHL 12 will be released for the Xbox 360 and PS3 on September 13, 2011.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

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