Being on top of a genre can can earn developers a bit of a break, but not for those behind NHL 14. As the team behind the best (and only) hockey simulation, EA Sports is taking the praise and awards earned with NHL 13, and getting down to the fine-tuning.

The first developer diary for NHL 14 has now been released, centering on the new Physics Collision system being engineered for this year’s installment. In our review of NHL 13 we mentioned that as the skating and puck-handling improved, the less-refined hitting system would need some work to keep pace. For now, it seems the developers have heard the criticism.

Any hockey fan knows just how important a big open-iced hit can be; not just to get the crowd on their feet, but to take a player out of a rush, out of position, or out of a game entirely. Sadly, for every revolutionary change brought with NHL 13, the hitting still was a portrait constructed of the broadest (not to mention unpredictable) strokes.

NHL 14 Screenshot Bodycheck

The Impact engine constructed for the FIFA series was still working behind the scenes, but too often would a well-executed hit result in a glancing blow, or worse, an awkward shuffle more at home in a crowded concert than an ice rink. According to the above developer diary, the development team has made remedying those occurrences their top priority.

While the longtime fans of the series have by now learned to expect changes in smaller steps, the developer diary does offer a few promising glimpses at the improvements to hitting. First, the aggressing player does prepare themselves for the hit prior to contact – instead of a simple skating animation cutting to contact.

How smoothly those transitions will occur is a total mystery, and could largely determine whether the tweak adds to the realism, or slows down the motion altogether. If it’s the latter, it could make aggressors more susceptible to being deked or simply avoided.

NHL 14 Physics Collision Trailer

Either way, the hitting looks to be one aspect of the core gameplay that will receive some overhauling in the next several years, so hopefully the team will get off to a strong start. Big promises have been made in the past, but if the new Collision Physics engine really can send both players reacting in real time, that will go great lengths in separating NHL 14 from its predecessor.

The next developer diaries will be arriving soon, but what do you think of the hitting changes thus far? High hopes, or keeping expectations in check for now? Leave us your thoughts in the comments, and be sure to stay tuned for more updates.

NHL 14 launches September 10, 2013 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

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