March 5, 2013 - It has arrived. After much anticipation in the simulation community, the release of Franchise Hockey Manager Beta Edition is available for purchase. The idea behind the beta release and not a full copy is so hockey sim community users help test and work out the kinks. All this needs to get sorted before an official release at the start of the 2014 National Hockey League season.
Copies have been selling quickly and the official link can be found here on General Manager Games. Purchase Here.
As per OOTP Developments, this is what can be expected
The tentative playable list for now is NHL, AHL, ECHL, KHL, DEL, Elitserien, SM-Liiga, WHL, OHL, QMJHL, and the top two levels in the UK. There are 3-4 other leagues that are fairly close, probably no more than a month or so away, and about 6 that will be longer-term projects (and that last group will grow). Of the playable leagues, the most at-risk ones are the CHL leagues; they're a package deal because of the Memorial Cup, but the player ratings in a couple of them may be a little more incomplete than the other playable leagues right now. I'd prefer to keep them playable, but if I look at them this weekend and decide one or more isn't in a useable state (or at least in one that I can get useable with a late night or two), they could get pulled temporarily.
What's playable is largely determined by the amount of work researchers have been able to get done. We're not excluding leagues because we think they're worse or less significant than the ones we have working right now; it's just a matter of getting the research complete enough.
Team and league data is mostly finished; player data varies widely by league. There aren't a lot of specific attributes set in the database at the moment; instead, a template/target ability system is used to generate realistic attributes for the players. This is a deliberate decision on my part; I don't want a repeat of the EHM problem where huge numbers of players had very haphazard-looking collections of attributes because only a handful of them were actually completed. So the database work is being done in a way that prioritizes setting some basic parameters for the players first that will ensure a fairly realistic set of attributes (e.g., defensive centres get good defensive ratings, nobody has NHL-level speed but no acceleration at all, etc.), and then the fine details get filled in later. In most cases, that fine-tuning work is just beginning; some leagues are a little farther ahead in that regard.
Player histories outside the NHL are mainly nonexistent; I'm hoping we can reach an agreement with one of the big database sites to use their information, rather than going through the nightmare of entering it all manually.
The accuracy of rules implementation varies widely from league to league. Some things (e.g., the AHL developent rule) are approximated or abstracted right now, others (some of the more unique KHL roster rules) aren't implemented at all. It's a little too broad a topic to detail league-by-league, but we're trying to get things as realistic as possible within the constraints of the game (which includes the need to keep things fairly modular so customization remains possible, as opposed to doing a bunch of behind-the-scenes hardcoding.)
Rosters will be as up-to-date as we can get them for the playable leagues. The unplayable ones will range from accurate (where researchers are currently assigned) to about a year out of date (unassigned leagues, which are mainly low-level ones - the bottom end of the minors, Junior A, and leagues in most lesser European hockey powers.)
Non-playing staff aren't done as thoroughly as the players. In the best case, they exist and have the correct names; in the worst, they're not there at all and will be replaced by randomly-generated staff. Their undeveloped state is partly intentional - they can have a significant effect on player development, so for the moment we need dependably neutral values for them while we make sure the development model works properly.
The AI is OK at a few things right now, mediocre at many others, and just plain bad in places. It can choose lineups and build lines reasonably well and has a crude but effective grasp of tactics, but isn't that great at managing its roster. Not terrible, it just signs some strange contracts, tends to bungle the re-signing of its own players, and likes to collect and hoard starting goalies.
The trading AI in particular is very much a work in progress. We try different things, sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse. It wasn't that awful a couple of weeks ago, but in the last few builds...well, on a scale of Mike Milbury to Sam Pollock, right now it's at Rejean Houle.
Very good in places, but there are still some issues; at the moment, scoring has been too low in the last few builds and we're trying to figure out why (as I write this, we think we've found the problem - an issue with mysteriously inflated goalie ratings - but haven't implemented and tested a fix yet.)
The nature of the ratings will lead to a few noticeable stats oddities; PIM distribution is one that comes to mind - the NHL and a couple of other leagues should be OK in this regard at the start of the game, but the solution (a specific attribute setting) will take a while to implement across the rest of the database.
Tracking of advanced stats (Corsi etc.) isn't incorporated yet ("real-time stats" - hits, takeaways, etc. - are, though.)
Placeholder graphics for team/league logos and player faces, of course. Hopefully there'll be some community solutions to that quickly. We've added a way to have team logos change over the years for historical play, but it doesn't appear to be working properly right now.
The look of the game won't be unfamiliar to anyone who's played OOTP. Functionally, there are aspects that have a ways to go: columns that don't sort right, screens that require too much clicking to arrange the right way, that sort of thing.
The in-game interface (where you can actually watch a game's play-by-play) is very rudimentary at the moment; the play-by-play text is being worked on but right now all you'll get is a short notice of whatever event (shot, turnover, goal, etc.) has just occurred. It also seems to have a couple of nasty crash bugs that can hit at the end of the game.
Stability and crash fixing are priorities this week, but we won't get everything fixed. Some testers are reporting a lot more instability than others, and we're still trying to figure out the reasons. For most people, it's possible to let the game run hands-off for multiple seasons without it crashing.
Speed-wise, it's similar to OOTP, probably a little slower if you had the same number of teams and leagues running. It's not ever going to be a game where you can run a season in 30 seconds and build yourself a 30-year league history while you have lunch, but as a general rule you'll be looking at minutes to run a hands-off season, not hours. Historical mode in particular flies by, since game only has to deal with the NHL (Right now, leagues can't be turned off in modern mode; all the playable ones are active, which tends to slow things down. We'll try to make them selectable soon so you can pare your game down to just a league or two being playable.) The first version of the beta will be one of the slowest ones you'll see; it should get better from there.
No Mac beta version to start with; sorry, there are just too many other things to be done right now. We still want to have one, and will let you know when we have more news on that front.
Lots to talk about here. First off, Historical mode isn't going to have a great deal of flexibility in its setup to begin with. That'll improve as we go along, but to start with the setup options will be limited.
For the players, you'll have to let player ratings be recalculated annually (rather than using the same player development model used in the modern mode); players will always retire at the correct time (after their last real-life active season in organized hockey) rather than having the option of letting them choose their own time to retire; and the draft is giving us enough problems right now that it may be taken out pending repairs if we can't get it straightened out by the weekend (which would only leave you the options of either having players assigned to their historical teams automatically, or appearing as free agents.) The draft problems extend to expansion drafts; at the moment, expansion teams have to fill out their rosters with free agents.
As with the modern mode, it won't be possible to set up a fictional league at the moment. You may be able to change some team names, but that will likely cause problems unless you change absolutely nothing but the name.
Inclusion of the WHA is still undecided, but at this point it's probably not going to happen by Monday. Very soon, though, I hope. (And the WHA players will all be available, regardless.)
Right now, the database has ratings for every player who was active in 1947, and every player who debuted in the NHL and WHA between then and 1978-79 (I'm actually partly done with 79-80 and I think I can squeeze in another year or two before Monday if there are no fires for me to put out elsewhere.) So you can get three decades of play in if you start right at the beginning. You could probably play a little into the 80's, but the player supply will dry up. I'm hoping to add at least a couple of new years per week during the beta.
No historical coaching/management staff yet, and don't think there will be in this year's game. That said, I've been thinking about how to handle that lately and it seems like a good longer-term possibility. No historical arenas yet, either; that should be coming in this version, but the modern ones (or randomly-generated ones, in some cases) are used right now.
All dollar figures in historical years will be in 2013 US$. We'll switch over to the OOTP method of historically-correct figures eventually, but right now it's better to have a single frame of reference for testing - it makes it a lot easier to evaluate the contracts the AI is offering, for example, if it's all in modern amounts.
I'm reasonably happy with the way the historical aging/development model seems to be working, but it hasn't had a lot of testing. Having more people looking at it will definitely be useful.
There appear to be some significant issues with the AI's roster handling in historical games; Malte's trying to get those under control right now. There's a weird tendency for the AI to not offer its best players new contracts when their old ones run out and just leave them on their protected lists, where they own the rights but the guy can't play.
We've had to shut off a lot of the league customization features for the sake of short-term stability. They'll come back, but for now you'll largely be limited to playing the preset leagues in their default format. Obviously, we want to make it a lot less restrictive, but that needs to be handled in a controlled way rather than throwing it all in at once and then trying to untangle the problems that result.
No functionality at all at the moment, and I can't make any promises yet about a timeline for when it'll happen; that'll depend on what the workload looks like in the coming months - it's going to need a big, dedicated chunk of time to do properly.
Same story. Not in now, we want to add it but can't say for sure when it's coming.
Here are the most recent screenprints from the beta release.
KHL standings in mid-season:
Contract screen for Ryan O'Reilly, showing his new deal:
Rick Nash's career history screen:
Draft log after the 2013 draft