Fight Night Round 2 (working title) Q&A
We grill EA Chicago on its upcoming follow-up to the awesome Fight Night 2004.
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Electronic Arts reinvented its approach to the boxing genre with its newly minted Fight Night franchise earlier this year. The unique and engaging title used an innovative control scheme to put a whole new spin on how you play a boxing game, and it offered you plenty of opportunity to show off your skills with online play on the PlayStation 2. Not content to rest on its laurels, the Fight Night team at EA's Chicago development studios are working on following up that impressive debut with the recently announced but tentatively titled Fight Night Round 2. We caught up with executive producer Kudo Tsunoda and grilled him on what to expect from the upcoming game.
GameSpot: What did you learn from last year's game?
Kudo Tsunoda: The first thing was how fun the sport of boxing is to participate in and watch. While I have always been a big boxing fan, we learned so much about the sport working on Fight Night 2004. It is the ultimate head-to-head sport, and the fights have so much more drama than your normal basketball or baseball game. I was also very excited about our ability to give gamers much better control over their in-the-ring character than other boxing or fighting games have delivered in the past. The "total punch control" system was a breakthrough in analog character control. For Fight Night Round 2, we have expanded this system to give you full control of your boxer in the ring using the analog sticks, as opposed to just the control over your punches.
GS: Did you expect such a positive response?
KT: Well, you never really know until you see all the reviews and whether people are excited and picking up the game. But I will say this much: We had a blast playing the game all through development. It is one of the few games I have worked on where we were all avid players even after the game shipped. With the amount of control you have over your character, and the depth of boxing tactics that evolve from the controls, the number of approaches you can develop while playing is endless. Even though we all worked on the game, there were still tons of new things we could learn while playing. This type of evolving, skill-based gameplay is what keeps games fun. So we really hoped people would appreciate the game like we did, but still, you never know for sure.
GS: How did you approach this year's game?
KT: Our approach for Fight Night Round 2 was simple: Do not be satisfied with just iterating on the previous game. Innovate in the areas of boxer control, gameplay, and graphics. Make a game that delivers to fans of the Fight Night franchise software that builds on last year's game, but also delivers innovation and an exponentially higher level of fun. As big a jump as it was from the old Knockout Kings series to Fight Night 2004, we have made an even a bigger jump in quality from Fight Night 2004 to Fight Night Round 2. I am really excited for people to be able to play the game and see all the fun new features we have added since last year.
GS: The total punch control system worked beautifully. Will you be changing it at all?
KT: Like with most things in the game, we have kept the great parts of Fight Night 2004 and built on them. Total punch control gave you analog control over your punches. But we did not do as good a job of giving you total control over you boxer. There were things that you could not do with last year's control setup that limited the fun factor in the game. First of all, you could not in any way control the power of your punches in Fight Night 2004. This is a critical element of boxing--choosing on each punch whether to throw a quick, light punch or a slower, more-powerful punch. With the new "EA Sports haymaker" system, you can now add extra power to your hooks and uppercuts and try for a one-punch KO. The more power you add to the punch, the easier it is to defend or counter.
You'll also have a lot better analog control over you boxer in Fight Night Round 2. In last year's game, you could not move any of your boxer's body parts simultaneously with others. If you wanted to throw a punch, you had to stop moving. If you wanted to block an incoming punch, you had to plant your feet on the canvas. You could not move your feet and hands at the same time. In actual fights, footwork is used to set up your punches and as your primary means of defense. Boxing tactics like "stick and move" involve punching and moving, which, again, is something we could not do in last year's game. So, in short, you'll still have total control over your punches in Fight Night Round 2, but you'll have a lot more control over your boxer, and the power of your punches, all through the analog sticks.
GS: Last year, players--even those competing online--had the ability to choose between using the buttons or the analog sticks to throw punches. What were the team's thoughts on how this worked out? Will it be changed in the new game at all?
KT: With any new control system, there are concerns about people wanting to use the new controls over the old way people are used to. We could have just eliminated button-press punches altogether, forcing people to use the analog punch system. But from a design-philosophy point of view, I think the goal should be to make a feature so fun and exciting to use that people use it, as opposed to forcing people to use it by locking other things, like button-press punching, out of the game. With Fight Night 2004, I played a ton online. We also did extensive research, talking to people who play the game. What we found was that people enjoyed playing with the analog sticks and used total punch control almost exclusively in single-player games. But when it came to head-to-head or online fights, if one person used button-press punches, then their opponent tended to as well, the main complaint being that you could put together combos faster using the buttons. In Fight Night Round 2, we have added a fast analog combo system, so you can now throw combos faster with the analog stick then you can with the buttons. Also, with the addition of the all-analog EA Sports haymaker system, the analog punch controls will not only feel better, but they'll also be a far superior system.
GS: If it's in the game, that doesn't necessarily mean it's in the game, as was proven by the lack of clinching in Fight Night 2004. Will we see the addition of clinching this year, even if its default setting is off?
KT: Clinching was one of the elements definitely missing from Fight Night 2004, and I am glad to say that this has been fixed for Fight Night Round 2. You are able to clinch via a simple control mechanism anytime during the fight. Clinching will give extra energy and health to the boxer who clinched. While you can clinch anytime, if you try to just walk up to the other boxer and clinch him, you will get hit. It is best to try to avoid or block a punch and then clinch. Clinching is extremely fun and gives defensive-minded fighters an extra tactic to master, so it will default to "on."
GS: The balance of the licensed fighters in Fight Night 2004 was extremely realistic, but the created boxers were more like supermen. Will the balance of the created boxers be changed in any way in the new game?
KT: With last year's created boxers, you could max out any character rating, no matter what weight class you were in. So a heavyweight could move just as fast as a featherweight, and a featherweight could punch just as hard as a heavyweight. This is what lead to the supermen characters you described. For Fight Night Round 2, each of the weight classes has different minimums and maximums for each rating category. So the fastest a heavyweight will no longer be as fast as a smaller boxer. The smallest boxer cannot punch like a heavyweight. There is a balance of plusses and minuses for each weight class, just like with real-life boxers.
GS: Will cuts, corner men, and influences outside the ring be an element for players to deal with this year?
KT: I am so glad you asked. One of our big features this year is the "EA Sports cut man." Not only does the cut man influence a fight, but you are actually able to take control of the cut man in between rounds and work on your boxer's face to reduce swelling and stop cuts. In Fight Night Round 2, there will be TKOs and fights stopped due to damage. Damage, especially around your eyes, also greatly affects your ability to see punches coming at you from that side. Your ability to reduce damage as the EA Sports cut man influences your boxer's ability to win the fight. Plus, the money you earn winning fights can now be used to customize your corner team. You can hire trainers and cut men who are specialists in certain areas of training or damage control.
GS: Will you still include 15-round fights as a possibility, or will you be keeping it real at 12?
KT: This is for sure a yes. While 12-round fights are the longest they let fights go in actual boxing, 15-round fights were the norm when some of our licensed boxers were fighting. Plus, this is entirely controllable by the person playing the game. Why not let people play how they want?
GS: The lineup of fighters featured in Fight Night 2004 was impressive. How many of the fighters featured in the first game will be returning?
KT: All the boxers from Fight Night 2004 have returned but two. We have also added six new boxers for Fight Night Round 2. Our goal was to add some big new champions, as well as some good up-and-comers. New boxers for Fight Night Round 2 include Floyd Mayweather Jr., Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Manny Pacquiao, Diego Corrales, and Juan Lazcano.
GS: Can you give us the lineup? If not, can you give us a hint as to how successful the team was in addressing some of the more noticeable absences in Fight Night 2004, like De la Hoya and Vargas?
KT: I obviously have the utmost respect for both Oscar de la Hoya and Fernando Vargas. But they're not fighting very much currently, so we decided to add boxers who are fighting more regularly and are more up-and-comers.
GS: Did you guys secure more historical fighters, like Foreman, Hearns, and Chavez?
KT: Again, definitely good fighters mentioned here. Just wanted to focus more on current fighters as we already have a large stable of legend boxers.
GS: The realistic look of the fighters and physics engine in Fight Night 2004 went a long way toward making the game convincing. How will you be changing the graphics and presentation?
KT: Obviously, having a graphically realistic presentation is important to any sports game. This is especially true in a boxing game, as unlike in football or basketball, where the camera is far away from athletes, in boxing the camera is up close and personal all the time. We have made quantum-leap improvements to our boxer models this year. We doubled the texture resolution on our boxers, as well as the number of polys it takes to make them. Instead of having artists paint textures of the boxers to put on the models, we have developed a new technology that allows us to take pictures of the boxers and strap them right onto the models in game so the boxers look just like their real-life counterparts.
We have also been able to implement a lot of graphical techniques on current-gen consoles that people think cannot be done until the next-gen platforms come out. For instance, our boxers have full upper body muscle animation and breathing effects. Also, our rudimentary cloth animation and physics now apply to things like tassels on the shorts and shoes, as well as each part of the boxer's body. Incredible sweat drops and sweat sheen, as well as an unbelievably real damage system, have been added to the game. Overall, we have the most realistic character models ever seen in a current-gen game.
GS: Will Big Tigger be returning as the announcer? If not, who'll be taking his place?
KT: [Laughs.] Just for the record, I want to say that I was the design genius who decided to put a hip-hop video DJ in Fight Night 2004. Working with Big Tigger was awesome, and it is too bad we will not be working with him in this year's game. But certainly, it is clear that a realistic boxing commentator and announcer make more sense for Fight Night Round 2. This year, we have Joe Tessitore as our commentator. Joe T. does the commentary for ESPN and has a lot of boxing credibility and knowledge. So, don't worry boxing fans, I will not mess this up again this year.
GS: Many fight fans would agree that no one delivers a better boxing telecast than the folks at HBO. Did you ever think about licensing their look and talent for this game?
KT: HBO, Showtime, and ESPN all do a good presentation of boxing. But instead of giving gamers the view of boxing through the TV screen like you get with a show like HBO's, we have given people who play the game a ringside seat to the action. Fight Night Round 2's presentation is more like you are actually at the fight than just watching it on TV. Most of our "broadcast elements," like replays and camera angles, were done with more cinematic flair than what you see on TV. Unfortunately, the view you get of a fight on TV is restricted, due to the nature of the sport. For instance, all the camera angles are taken from cameras outside the ring. Unlike on TV, we can get our cameras in the ring and get as close to the boxers as we want, from any angle. The presentation of Fight Night Round 2 is far more personal and in your face then anything a TV show could do. Our presentation is better than that of any TV channel. So we did not want to limit what we could do by copying something on TV.
GS: What modes will we see in Fight Night Round 2?
KT: For Fight Night Round 2 we have a much wider variety of game modes and minigames. We obviously still have our career mode, although it has a lot more depth this time around. We also have a one-fight exhibition mode that allows you to fight one-on-one against any boxer. Online will be a big game mode again this year. I am happy to say Fight Night Round 2 will be online for the Xbox and the PS2. Plus, we have a couple of new modes: hard hits and my gym. Hard hits is basically a "prison rules" mode. The rules were taken from a prison boxing league we discovered. There are no timed rounds, like in more-regulated boxing. You keep fighting until somebody gets knocked down. If the boxer gets up from the knockdown, it is the end of the round and you get a round break. You keep fighting until there is a knockout. In the my gym mode, you are able to practice in any of our training minigames. Then we also have other new minigames that help you develop your skills, but more than anything are fun breaks from just fighting.
GS: The career mode in Fight Night 2004 was fairly simple. Can you tell us how you'll be changing it?
KT: We have added a lot more depth and user-controllable options to the career mode. Also, the money you earn will allow you to purchase items that actually affect your career and help you in the ring. First of all, we have added an amateur mode to your career. You can now work on your skills, in the ring, without worrying about it hurting you in the long run. You will also be wearing head gear so you don't have to worry about any permanent damage. Plus, the training sessions are based more on learning core game skills than affecting your ratings. Just like in a real boxer's amateur career, you can turn pro when you are ready. Once you go pro, you are able to customize your training regimen and corner team for each fight.
Also, unlike in the previous game, in which specific training games were forced upon you by the game, this year you can customize your training for each upcoming opponent, increasing the ratings and attributes you think are important for your next fight. You can also use your money to get better trainers and cut men during your career. Overall, you have a lot more customization and control over every aspect of your career, choosing who you are fighting, when you are fighting them, the training you do, your corner team, your ring entrances, and so on.
My favorite addition to our career mode is how your body changes over the course of your career. In Fight Night Round 2, training does not just affect your ratings--it actually affects your body. If you lift weights in training, you boxer's body dynamically morphs to being more muscular. If you want to lose weight, you can work on your hand and foot speed to get rid of unwanted pounds. As you get older, your body starts to add fat and gets out of shape faster. This all ties in to being able to change weight classes as well.
GS: Will you be able to move up or down in weight to take on other fighters or even the champions of other weight classes?
KT: Yes, you will. You'll be able to move both up and down in weight over the course of your career.
GS: Will the game's career mode and online mode be tied together at all this year?
KT: The same basic format for your single-player career mode exists online. Online, each weight class has rankings, and you will need to fight your way up from the bottom of the rankings, just like in your single-player career.
GS: How will the economic system work in the new game?
KT: The money system in Fight Night Round 2 means money can actually be spent on things that help you in the ring. Again, you can pay better trainers and cut men to work with your boxer. Plus, each of the items you can buy in the store will have an effect on your in-the-ring abilities.
GS: The online mode in Fight Night 2004 is the reason we still play the game almost daily. How will you be changing it up for the new game?
KT: The biggest addition is adding Xbox Live so all PS2 and Xbox users can now play online. It truly was a shame that last year's game could not be played online by Xbox gamers. We're very happy we were able to rectify this for Fight Night Round 2.
GS: How will the changes affect created fighters? Will we be able to see the names of other players' creations?
KT: The biggest change is not allowing created fighters to come in at 100 percent on all ratings. As I said before, even created boxers have limitations, dictated by their weight class, so the created boxers are not all maxed-out supermen.
GS: The online mode last year didn't do anything in the way of tournaments or trying to set it up so that there were true champions of each weight class. Will you be adding these abilities, such as being able to schedule fights against other online opponents? Possibly adding mandatory matches for fighters in the top 10?
KT: We found that most people would not really use a tournament function online, as it is hard to get everyone to show up for a tournament at the same time. So we focused our online efforts on improving the ranking systems and giving people the ability to win a title in their weight class online. We will still allow cross-weight-class fights as well, but they will not count toward your regular rankings.
GS: At one point the rankings seemed to get a little wonky, with folks stacking up a seemingly impossible number of legit victories as soon as the game was shipped. Were there instances of people inflating wins by beating friends over and over? If so, how will you be combating this in the next game?
KT: It definitely is tough online to stop all possible methods of cheating without limiting the experience for people who are trying to play fair. But we have added a bunch of new anticheating measures based on last year's play patterns.
GS: When Fight Night 2004 first shipped and players started showing up online, were the initial results of online play in line with what the team expected?
KT: We are very happy with the online play for Fight Night 2004. Especially since it was our first online boxing product, and so there wasn't a built-up base of customers already. But Fight Night is the perfect game for online play, and there was a huge response. I fought a bunch online myself, and it was great to see the thousands of different boxing styles and tactics people used. Many of them were new even to me.
GS: What was the story behind the online crash bug, and why was it something that was never corrected?
KT: Surprisingly, the bug was not found by any first- or third-party testing. But I can assure you, it is fixed for the new game!
GS: What platforms will the new game be available for? Will there be any major differences between the various versions?
KT: Fight Night Round 2 will be on the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube. Its release date is March 2005. And yes, we have some platform-specific goodies for everybody.
GS: What display and audio settings are you supporting?
KT: Dolby Pro Logic II on the PS2, Dolby Digital and 480p on the Xbox, and Dolby Pro Logic II and 480p on the GC.
GS: Thanks for your time.