SASKATOON – The iconic video game NHL ’94 continues to be enjoyed by fans more than two decades later and is the subject of a documentary film currently being made. A tournament was held in Saskatoon this past weekend to help figure out why.
The ice hockey game by EA Sports has attracted the attention of one fan who’s making it his mission to find out what continues to make it so popular.
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“It’s all about this legend, this lore of this video game. You know 30-something year old guys, you mention NHL ’94 and they get weak in the knees so I’m out trying to figure out why that is,” documentary filmmaker Mikey McBryan said.
Retro video game fans and players gathered at The Canadian Brewhouse sports bar and restaurant on Jan. 16 for the competition showcasing the game.
McBryan, from Yellowknife, N.W.T, said the Saskatoon area is a perfect venue due to a concentration of highly-skilled NHL ’94 players.
“Saskatoon, for some weird anomaly reason, has some of the best players in the world just within a five-mile radius of this place,” McBryan said.
“I’ve travelled to New York City, Toronto, Arizona, Vancouver and I can’t find as many good players as I can right here in the Prairies. You know this is where NHL players are made, this is where NHL ’94 players are made as well.”
Tournament organizer Darrell Sampson said McBryan sent out a note online to fellow gamers a year ago and he told him he’d put on a tournament. There were about 12 competitors in 2015 and this year had 32.
“The game itself … I mean we just love playing it and it just became sort of an icon for sports video games, it’s been voted the best hockey game, video game of all time, so we’re high school kids back then we just played it a ton and we still play it today, so we’re just big kids at heart I guess,” Sampson said.
“There were two previous versions of the game, ’92 and ’93, this one here sort of added all the features that the other ones didn’t have, it’s the first one to come out with one-timers, it was the first one to come out with manual goalies and was actually the first game where the NHL and NHLPA agreed that they can put their logos and the players in the game.”
The “King of ’94 WEST” tournament was split between Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo versions of the game with 16 players in each bracket. The winners took home $200 and a trophy.
Sampson says NHL ’94 is still special to him and fellow enthusiasts today.
“We don’t play for the graphics, it’s not about that at all. Actually the playing value is actually a lot of fun, it’s very simple, the controls are very simple and maybe I’m just a simple guy and maybe that’s why I like it,” Sampson said with a smile.
“The younger generation, if they came in and they saw these screens, they’d probably laugh because they’d be like ‘who are all these pixelated guys that you’re playing.’ They’re used to NHL 16 … where the graphics are a lot better.”
McBryan mentioned that one gamer even flew in from Sacramento, Calif. to play in the tournament in Saskatchewan for some “mystifying” reason. With the documentary, he intends to figure out the allure the game still has and report back to the rest of Canadians.
“It’s quite a big story. It goes all the way from California to New York City to the Northwest Territories, this is a North American story and I’ve been tracking it for about a year now. I got about two more weeks of filming and this [tournament] is part of the ending to see who’s one of the best players in the world,” McBryan said.
The upcoming documentary will be named “Pixelated Heroes.” Editing will take place over the next six months and people can expect to watch the mystery unfurl in the spring of 2017.
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