Fight Night is the upcoming boxing game that represents Electronic Arts' newest take on boxing. The original game offers a very different experience from EA's previous entries in the genre--the Knockout Kings franchise--and attempts to address issues fans had with that long-running series. Fight Night is quite different from its predecessor and is looking quite promising. We had the chance to talk to the game's senior producer, industry vet Kudo Tsunoda, about what the new game has to offer.
GameSpot: As far as gameplay goes, is it more sim or arcade?
Kudo Tsunoda: Being as this is an EA Sports title, the gameplay definitely trends toward providing gamers with a true boxing experience. You will not see things in the game that are completely unrealistic or way over-the-top. That being said, the number one rule we used in setting the balance here was to always provide people with the most fun gameplay possible. There are elements of the sport of boxing that we amped up or toned down when it made the game more fun. Fight Night 2004 is the kind of game that does not really need to be classified as a straight sim or arcade-style game. The game is just damn fun to play.
GS: Can you explain the control scheme to us, and explain how it differs from the previous games? Why head in this direction?
KT: The controls are one of the biggest improvements in this year's game. If you look at any boxing game ever made, going all the way back to the Atari 2600, one thing was the same in every game: how you threw punches. It has always been "push a button and a punch animation plays." This style of punching gives the player no control over their fists whatsoever. Plus, it has always led to very repetitive, nonskill-based gameplay. In all other boxing games, players run to the middle of the ring and sit there hitting punch buttons as fast as they can. There is no skill to winning a fight--besides who can hit the buttons the fastest. This is something we have gone completely away from in Fight Night 2004. Our new control scheme, Total Punch Control, gives players total control of their fists using the analog sticks. Instead of just pushing a button and watching an animation play, you can actually control your fists onscreen with the analog sticks. When you throw punches, you can see your fist onscreen making the exact same motion that you, the player, are making with the analog stick. Besides being very easy to pick up and play, Total Punch Control has changed boxing gameplay from mindless button mashing to using skill and gameplay experience to land punches cleanly. Total Punch Control has completely revolutionized how boxing games are played.
GS: What punches, specifically, are in the game?
KT: All of the basic punches are in for sure: straight lefts and rights, left and right hooks, and then left and right uppercuts. We also have a wide range of signature punches and illegal punches as well. No matter what, there is always a fun and easy way to lay some hurt on you opponent.
GS: Did they use a physics system to get the collision right?
KT: Yes, we developed an all new physics system specifically for this game. Our knockdown physics system not only got the collision right, but it totally eliminated any pre-canned animations from our knockdowns. Just like in real life, you can knock a guy down a thousand times, and you will get a thousand unique knockdown reactions. I hate how in all other boxing games you can knock guys down with totally different punches--that come from completely different angles--and get the exact same knockdown reaction. In Fight Night 2004, all the knockdowns use physics based on the type of punch, the location of the punch, the angle of the punch, the power of the punch, and how the two boxer bodies were moving at the time of the knockdown. Plus, the knockdowns are just sick. You see your opponent's legs buckle and see him lose control over his entire body. If you can pin your opponent up against the ropes, you can continually pummel him as he is defenseless and on the way down. You really have to see the knockdowns in-game to get a full appreciation of how cool they are. They make your fists feel incredibly powerful.
GS: Is the animation hand-drawn or motion-captured
KT: All of the non-physics-based character movements were done using motion capture. There are so many subtleties of how the human body moves while boxing that we really wanted to use motion capture to make sure that translated through to the game. All of the punches and character movements were done with motion capture. We even used motion capture to get all of our boxer facial movements and reactions. This includes the deformities of boxer's faces when they get hit by punches--all motion capture in Fight Night. Trust me, the talent we used for this was really pleased when they found out that we wanted to put them in the mocap (motion-capture) gear and then punch them in the face repeatedly. But there really was no other way to capture what happens to the human face when it is traumatized by a crushing impact. While this was incredibly complicated to do, when you see a boxer's face completely deform under the weight of a punch, you will know it was worth it.
GS: What about the damage system? Is it based on a real-world system? Are there abrasions and bruises?
KT: Correctly portraying the physical impact of the sport of boxing was a key element of the game to us. In most games, you don't really get a sense of the damage that the punches do to a boxer, and we wanted that to come through in the game. Besides the facial mocap, you will also get to see boxer's faces bruise, swell, and cut during the game. The level of graphic realism here is stunning. We custom-made the damaged look for each of the boxers, so it looks extremely natural. The damage is especially cool when you create your own boxer and take him in to the ring. You can make a boxer that looks like you, fight with him, and then see your face getting all beaten up. This is extremely fun when playing multiplayer with friends. [There's] a lot of trash talking.
But the thing I like most about our damage system is that it is not just a graphical part of the game. Your damage affects the gameplay. For instance, if your opponent gets cut on the left eye, then he will not be able to react to punches aimed at that side of the face as quickly as he is used to. So you can target specific areas of your opponent's face and work them. You see some swelling or bleeding starting and you can repeatedly fire punches into that blind spot and do some serious damage.
GS: Do you have onscreen indicators for health and stamina?
KT: Being aware of your health and energy levels are a key part of boxing successfully. We convey these different boxer states graphically in the game by changing the appearance of your boxer. If you health is down, you look beat up. If your energy is low, your boxer has more tired-looking animations. But we also put onscreen indicators that tell you exactly what your health and energy levels are. These can be turned on or off in the game for whatever the player prefers.
GS: Are their flash knockdowns and knockouts?
KT: I am so happy you asked that question!!! Why yes, there are flash knockdowns and knockouts in the game. These are such a big part of the drama of boxing. A fight can swing at any time with one punch, so you have to keep your guard up. Boxers can be losing an entire fight and then, with one punch, be right back in it or even win. But the flash knockdowns are not arbitrarily done. It is all based on each boxer's power, ability to take a punch, current health, current energy, and a bunch of other factors. In any case, it is a very cool element of Fight Night 2004.
GS: Which fighters are in it? How did you settle on the roster?
KT: There are (32) real-life boxers in the game, which is (18) more than in previous versions of EA Sports boxing titles. We wanted to have a full list of current champions, legends, and a nice complement of up-and-coming boxers. Some of the up-and-comers might not yet be household names, but they are people who will be the stars of the sport in years to come. Our career mode has (6) weight classes you can fight in, so we needed to have boxers from every weight class. Big names you would recognize in the game include Roy Jones Jr., Lennox Lewis, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, James Toney, Evander Holyfield, Bernard Hopkins, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta, Arturo Gatti, Micky Ward, Shane Moseley, Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, the Marquez brothers...and the list goes on and on.
GS: Does the fighter balance reflect their real-life counterparts?
KT: For certain. Each boxer has a style, a tactic, and a huge set of ratings that are customized based on how that particular boxer fights in real life. As the saying goes, "Styles make a fight." And you can really tell when you are fighting with or against any of these boxers what their strengths and weaknesses are. Being able to recognize these and exploit them is an instrumental part of winning the big fights.
GS: Which fighters, if any, had insight into the development of the game. If they did, to what extent?
KT: While most of the boxers had some influence on the game, our cover person, Roy Jones Jr., has influenced the game the most. Roy Jones Jr. is the best boxer in the world right now, and his fighting style and insights really led to us building a game that puts such an emphasis on game-playing skill, as opposed to nonstop button mashing. The great thing about Roy Jones Jr. is that he brings a lot more to the table than just his boxing. His whole attitude and lifestyle have been major influences on the game as well. The presentation of the game is a lot more "in your face" than how you see other boxing games done. This comes straight from the way Roy Jones Jr. is in real life.
GS: Can you use whatever you earn to improve your fighter? If so, do you actually train in a minigame-styled "thing"?
KT: Before every fight in our career mode, you play a training minigame. These games not only teach you the skills you need to survive in the ring, but they allow you to build up and customize your boxer's ratings and attributes. There are four different minigames to play, and each one earns you boxer ratings points depending on how you do. By allocating the different ratings points, you can customize your boxer's ratings to match whatever type of fighting style you like to fight with. Besides training, you earn prize money for each fight. This money can be used to purchase anything from unique signature punches to choreographing your own ring entrance with an entourage and pyrotechnics.
GS: Is the scoring system based on real-world judging? For example, the 10-point must system? Are points displayed in between rounds, or are you left to wonder if you'll get the decision?
KT: Yup! We are using a 10-point must system. There are (3) judges, and each one scores the fight based on different criteria. We don't display the scorecards during the fight, but you can easily see how many punches each boxer has landed and how many knockdowns there have been in our punch stat screen. You can access the punch stats at anytime during gameplay. So while you do not know the exact scores, you can get a pretty good idea of how the fight is going. Besides, this sets up some nice drama for the decision announced at the end.
GS: Does the game allow for bad judging?
KT: Well, hopefully not "bad" judging, but certainly each of the different judges scores the fight differently. You end up getting a good range of scores from the judges in the fights. One thing I have found from playing the game a lot is that anytime somebody loses a decision on the judges scorecards, they feel it is "bad" judging.
GS: Was the clinch put back in?
KT: Nope. No clinching. We had it in the game, and it did not focus-test well at all. People were finding that it slowed the game down and caused them aggravation.
GS: Can the fight be stopped by a cut or a corner?
KT: Certainly you can throw in the towel on your own boxer at anytime, but we do not stop the fight for cuts or any other reason besides knockout and disqualification--especially since the cuts and damage affect your ability to defend yourself. We just found it was much more rewarding to be able to finish somebody off in the game by pummeling them into submission rather than having some arbitrary stoppage of the fight. Plus, you get to see a couple more of those cool knockdowns I was talking about earlier.
GS: What will the online play offer?
KT: We are very excited about the online portion of the game, as this is the first boxing game that offers online gameplay. Out of all the sports games that offer online play, boxing is by far the sport that translates the best to online gaming. The great thing about our online is that you can take your created boxer online and fight with that character. So you can build a model that looks like you--or how you would like to look--and use that as your online avatar. Unlike other games, where you are basically playing against a team of characters that has nothing to do with the human opponent you are playing, in Fight Night 2004 you can see exactly who you are fighting against, as well as talk a bunch of online trash.
GS: Will there be any online tourney action or just one-on-one play?
KT: Well, professional boxing is not really a tournament-based sport. So instead of doing tournaments, we have set up all the same weight classes online that you have in the game. So, just like in our single-player career mode, you can build a boxer, take him online, and fight your way up the rankings until you can become champion of your division. It basically works the exact same way as boxing does in real life.
GS: Will there be online stats or a world champions online with a ranking system?
KT: Besides all of the rankings and being able to fight for a championship, we are storing every conceivable boxing stat online as well. We focused on making the online stats things that really show the measure of how good a fighter you are, as opposed to things you can just tally up purposely to increase a stat ranking while still losing the fight.
GS: What can you tell us about the soundtrack?
KT: It is predominantly hip-hop-based, with such great artists as P. Diddy, Cee-Lo, [there's a great M.O.P. track], and a wide variety of others. Each of the songs adds to the overall gritty atmosphere and presentation of the game while having a unique flow and feel of its own. We wanted to have a good variety of music, as the tracks are one of the elements of our customizable ring entrances. So, hopefully, we have songs on there that everyone will be happy to make a big entrance with. Hey, everybody should have their own theme music.
GS: Who provides the announcing and play-by-play?
KT: This is an area where we kind of went a bit away from traditional boxing presentation. If you look at the people who do play-by-play for big time fights, it is generally old guys in tuxedos, as opposed to people with vibrant voices and personalities. For the play-by-play, we hooked up with Big Tigger, a hip-hop artist and radio DJ who has his own show on the BET network. He is really into boxing and did a great job with all of the voice-over work. He is also a hidden character you can unlock and fight with in the game!
Thanks for giving me a chance to talk about EA Sports Fight Night 2004 on your Web site. We are so excited about the game. This is the boxing title people have been waiting on for years. Any boxing fan will be thrilled to finally have a boxing game that really shows off the sport. But besides boxing fans, this game is the ultimate sports title for anybody who likes head-to-head competition or fighting games. I hope you all enjoy playing it as much as I have enjoyed working on it.
GS: Thanks for your time.