NHL Eastside Hockey Manager will be released in Europe on July 2nd, developer Sports Interactive announced today, and will be made available both at retail and via digital distribution online. The developer and publisher Sega also plan to roll (or perhaps skate) the game to market in the Czech Republic in August, with a North American release planned for September.
Before then, there's a chance to play the finished article for half a season thanks to a newly released 84MB playable demo, available from Eurofiles today.
Despite ice hockey's relative obscurity in the UK compared to football, SI boss Miles Jacobson maintains that its appeal will stretch beyond the bounds of those faithful to the sport. "It's a remarkably detailed and exceptionally playable game which we're confident is going to become a 'must have' title for hockey fans and management gamers the world over," he said of the game.
Jacobson also believes EHM will help build SI's profile outside its traditional fan base. "It's a very important release for us, as it's our first foray away from football, and our first attempt to crack the US and Canadian markets," he told Eurogamer, reflecting on the project's completion. "We're being realistic though, and aren't expecting miracles overnight, but it's not often that a publisher actually asks for more time to market and PR a game before release, hence the different release dates for Europe and the US, so the release is very exciting for us."
The game has been in development at Sports Interactive since July 2002, when Risto 'Riz' Remes, the man behind the original Eastside freeware game, joined the company at its London office. Officially endorsed by both the NHL and NHLPA, it features 18 playable leagues from 12 countries, including multiple leagues from North America, the UK, Finland and Sweden, and boasts the same meticulous attention to detail - and indeed base technology - that has fuelled the developer's Championship Manager football series for so many years.
That means 250 playable teams, a database of some 15,000 players, a detailed transfer system and a match engine that simulates the action on the rink complete with live commentary and per-period and post-match statistical analysis.
More details of NHL EHM's online distribution model should be announced in the next few days, and we'll have more coverage of the game in the near future.