Q&A: Beijing 2008: The Official Game

Eurocom producer on selecting events for Beijing 2008: The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games, innovating with control schemes, and more.


With the release of Beijing 2008: The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games just weeks away, we caught up with producer Warren Leigh to find out what armchair athletes can expect from the latest video game rendition of one of the world's oldest sporting events.

GameSpot AU: How many Olympic sports will be playable in the final game?

Warren Leigh: Thirty-eight events in total. All the classic track and field events are all still in there--the 100m, 200m, long jump, high jump, and throwing events. We've then got the swimming events, like the 50m freestyle, 100m butterfly, and backstroke. There's diving as well. There are also gym events, such as rings, floor exercises, the vault, and more. Then we have some unique events, which require their own different mechanics, such as judo, cycling, and table tennis.

Beijing Olympics will feature 38 events.
Beijing Olympics will feature 38 events.

GS AU: So how did you decide which events to include and which ones to drop?

WL: There was big discussion in the first six months of development about what should go into the game. The first thing we ruled out was team sport events. From a programming side and a development side, the AI for team sport events takes far too long. When you're trying to get a whole breadth of events from the Olympics in, you only get so much time to work on each event. From there, we made a decision that we wouldn't go head-to-head with anything that already had a decent single-player thing out there. What we were trying to do was offer people a chance to play a lot of sports that were good to play but maybe you wouldn't pay for in a fully equipped title. Certainly, I know table tennis has been done, but there's little that we would go up against in things like cycling.

GS AU: Did you consider doing team events games as a completely online experience with real players?

WL: You mean team sports, like something like Libero Grande? I've never been keen on those games, to be honest. Playing that type of method, I tend to find that people stand around a lot, they don't get interactive with the game, and you feel removed from the action. They push people to one side for a long time before you get your 30 seconds to do something. My idea of online is to get people together and have fun all at the same time.

GS AU: How many nations will be featured?

WL: We've made a core of 32 teams, mainly due to the number of characters we had to produce for the whole game. If you consider our 38 events, some of them can share models--100m and 200m can share, for example. But shot put can't share with 100m; swimming can't share, and more. So once we have 32 countries in 38 events, if you start doing the multiplying you realise we've got a lot of models to create. And on top of that, there are officials and other people you see onscreen. So we had to make cuts. We think we've got a good breadth of countries and we've included all the important nations.

GS AU: What can you tell us about the control schemes being used in the different events? In what ways are you trying to innovate?

WL: I played a lot of the track and field games in the past, and we never really wanted to go too far away from that, mainly because we loved it so much. But we also knew we had to do something different because people are calling for a revolution. So with the 100m, for example, there's not only the button mashing, but also the stick wagging. So first of all, there we give people two options on how to play the game. We then looked at the 100m and saw the fact that the launch has never really been included. We prototyped a few launch mechanics, some of which were timed button presses, but the thing that really hit us was [what] we call the rev mechanic. It's like trying to keep a car under the red line and not wheel spinning at the start. It's really come together well in focus testing. What we're finding in QA at the moment is when you've got an eight-player online match ready to go, there are usually three or four false starts in the game, but that just adds to the tension because you can see everyone trying to get the best start.

When we looked at swimming, we thought we couldn't just button bash, so we took it as our area to innovate and to show people that we can do something different. Mainly that includes matching the onscreen animations to the analog stick, stroking it in a swim-stroke style. There's also a button press to turn at the end of the pool. It's really quite a nice motion--it's not as fast and frantic as button bashing, but you certainly have to keep a smooth and steady circular motion going to succeed.

Hammer's another one we tried to innovate in. Hammer in the old track and field games, I remember, was button mashing--this time we're using analog sticks again, but you have to rotate to match the swing and circular motion of the hammer. The closer you match the motion, the more power you build up.

GS AU: Given your focus on control innovation, why isn't there a Wii version of this game coming out?

WL: The idea of this was to offer up something a little bit more adult-orientated, and certainly to try to use the power of the next-gen graphics. We knew we had Mario and Sonic coming along, and that was certainly destined for the Wii and perfect for that audience. So we didn't want to compete directly, and we decided to make a breakaway and find something unique with the next-gen consoles.

GS AU: Here's one out of left field: Why do you think there's never been a Paralympics game?

WL: It was discussed for this game, but again, the only problem was with the amount of extra animations we had to include building another lot of events. I really think it's only down to timing.

GS AU: What about online for this game? How difficult has it been implementing that for so many events?

Some of the new control schemes include having to rhythmically turn control sticks.
Some of the new control schemes include having to rhythmically turn control sticks.

WL: It's been tough. Having 38 events is effectively building 38 online games--it really is. When you consider we have turn-based events, like the high jump, then there are competitive events, like the 100m, and then we have tournament-based events, like table tennis and judo--you've got three quite different ways of playing the game. But they all work fantastically well. Online has added quite a lot to it--as I said with the 100m online before, there's a real feeling now that the other athletes aren't just robots, they're not just AI--it's a fantastically different experience that's a lot more competitive.

GS AU: Finally, we've seen Jackie Chan being used quite a lot in advertisements and promotions for the Beijing Olympics. Any chance we'll see him in the final game?

WL: I'd love to have Jackie Chan in the game, but unfortunately not. He'd be amazing though.

GS AU: Warren Leigh, thanks for your time.

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