My personal highlight from EA Sports Opening Day event was checking out Fight Night Round 4. As a huge, huge boxing fan, this is, by far, my favorite EA Sports franchise. Wednesday, I went over some of the new features and analyzed them. Yesterday, I caught up with gameplay producer Brian Hayes to get even more info on this hot, hot game.
G4:Brian, Fight Night Round 4 is looking awesome and it's the EA game I want the most in 2009. For those that aren't drinking the same Kool-Aid that I am, what makes Round 4 the best Fight Night yet?
Brian Hayes: Gamers that played Round 3 will have just as much fun Round 4, but they can also look forward to a much more realistic simulation of "the sweet science" -- a simulation of the sweet science unlike any that you've played in a previous boxing game, for sure.
G4: As someone that's sparred in the ring, one new feature I really appreciate is the way getting hit on different parts of the head has different effects -- getting hit on the chin is much worse than getting hit on the forehead. I was wondering if there's a similar effect for body shots.
BH: Yes, there is. The same system we used to add various collision points on the head, we use for the body, as well. Getting hit on the floating rib or a liver shot or getting hit on the solar plexus, that has a bigger effect than getting hit on the abs. As you know, boxers do thousands of sit-ups in camp and that area is well conditioned and they train to absorb those punches, but there are certain spots where you can get hit and there's nothing you can do about it -- it's just going to hurt really bad. We simulate that in the game, as well.
G4: To reach a new level of realism, you're making more of an effort to convey how the height and reach can be used in a fight.
BH: In real life, that just works naturally, right? So that's how it should be in the game. Ever since tall people and short people have been getting in fights, the tug-of-war between outside fighting and inside fighting have existed. And it's obviously been a big part of boxing from day one. So with the new physics-based gameplay-engine and the improved collision detection we have, we're able to create boxers with authentic height and reach proportions and just put them in the ring against each other. They're able to get up close and person, or they can keep their opponent at a distance with their jab. That just adds a great deal of strategic variety to the game, as opposed to most boxing games -- including Round 3 -- which were fought at one distance, and one distance only.
Now, if you're a guy that needs to be on the inside, that uses power hooks and uppercuts, then you need to move your head and get inside. If you're a guy that has long arms and might have more difficulty getting off punches on the inside, you want to stick and move, pump the jab, and throw the big right hand every now and again, but keep the other guy out of range. These are all things you can use to great effect, depending on the skill level of your game and how well you use the boxer that you choose.
G4: Just to be clear with that last point, this isn't an automatic advantage. So if I'm playing as a tall fighter, I have to use the jab effectively in order to control the distance.
BH: Right. Obviously, there are fighters in real life that are tall and have long arms that have shown great proficiency fighting on the inside, but that really comes down to skill. Certainly -- phsyiologically speaking -- still have a disadvantage on the inside. They're able to overcome it because they're technically so good at the sport. So if you're really good at moving your head and throwing punches on the inside, you'll be proficient regardless of your height. At the end of the day, if you're tall and you can hit the other guy without letting him hit you, you're going to come out on the winning side. But if you want to go inside and mix it up, then feel free and go ahead.
G4: When I first learned that you guys were going to pronounce the differences in height and reach, the first fighter I thought about was the late, great Diego "Chico"Corrales. He was tall, but he thrived on the inside.
BH: Yeah, Diego was awesome on the inside. He was one of my favorite fighters of all times -- just an amazing warrior with tremendous spirit. But to be fair, he did have short arms for his height. You gotta give me that.
G4: That's true. He was almost 5' 11" with a 70" reach I think.
BH: He was freakishly tall for his weight class, but his arms were short. So he was almost built to do a little bit of both and he showed an amazing ability to do both, as well. If he wanted to go heavy with his jab and use it, he could, but he was amazing on the inside, as well. Again, that was really more about his willingness and proficiency to mix it up on the inside. And you can tell he spent years in the gym -- sparring, learning how to fight that way. There are other fighters like that, who were really effective on the inside, as well as having height and reach advantages. At the end of the day, if they chose to stick and stay on the outside, dropping big right hands from a range, then a lot of their fights could have been easier. But I'm not complaining, it's great that Diego and those fighters gave us the battles that they did.
G4: As a huge boxing fan, one of the things I've never been happy about is how clinching works in boxing games. I understand that it's all about fun, but I'd love to see a game that could implement clinching in a hit-and-hold way like Ricky Hatton. Of course, the danger is making so realistic that it leads to a John Ruiz stinking-up-the-arena way.
BH: Well, the John Ruiz stinking-up-the-arena way is something that, whether or not we ever want to implement that in a video game....
G4: That's the big fear.
BH: Right, that's the big fear. That's debatable, whether or not you even want to play that. Certainly, not many people enjoy watching it. [Laughs] It's a tricky thing. If this gets out to John Ruiz, he's going to kill me. How our clinching mechanic works is what you're trying to do is stop your opponent from punching you. That's what clinching is in our game. It's wrapping up both your arms around your opponent to prevent them from doing more damage against you. Now, there is a tug-of-war mechanic where if your opponent is trying to push you off and you're trying to hold him, both of you are expending energy, but you can decide how much energy the effort is worth. You can chose to let your opponent hold onto you, so that when the ref breaks it up, you have full stamina, allowing you to start throwing forceful punches again.
The inside fighting that we have in the game really just happens more organically and fluidly since our collision detection allows the boxers to get up close and personal. I've seen numerous times -- not because there's a mechanic for holding one arm or anything like that -- where a fighter will throw a left hook and his arm will become caught around the head or behind the back of the other fighter. This leaves his type temporarily paralyzed, unable to do anything with the left arm, so the opponent can take advantage . Or the other fighter -- while he's holding onto the other guy -- can rip an uppercut on the inside. It's not something that you can really choose to do. Iit's just something that happens organically throughout the course of the fight if you're engaging on the inside. Of course, there's a little pushing and shoving in the gameplay, as well. You see a lot of inside stuff happening without us having to teach all the nitty-gritty, dirty-boxing tactics that take boxers years to learn in the gym. We keep it simple by having it happen organically from the collision system, as opposed to adding complicated controls and modifiers so that you can grab with one arm and hit with the other.
G4: The way the cornermen work now has been totally revamped. How much you can heal and recuperate depends on your performance from the previous round. What does healing have to do with how well your performed? I don't see the connection.
BH: The way I like to think about that is if you did well the previous round, then you're trainer is going to be pretty happy with your performance. He's not going to spend time yelling at you for messing up. That gives him more time to make you feel better, whether it's rubbing down your shoulders, putting ice on your back, giving you a drink -- all the things that help the fighter feel fresher for the next round. On the other hand, if you had a really bad round -- you messed up a lot, got hit a lot, missed a lot of punches, all those kinds of things -- then your trainer is probably going to yell at you for all the things you did wrong.
G4: He's going to go all Teddy Atlas on you!
BH: Right! He won't let you sit on the stool -- all those kinds of things. So that's the philosophy we have. Depending on how well you do in the ring, your trainer will have more time and resources to help you prepare for the next round. If you're messing up, he's going to spend more time slapping you around and yelling at you. If you're doing well then he'll be able to spend more time helping you feel better. Overall, it's a much faster experience than Round 3; you're not going to spend 30 seconds rubbing your fighter's face and spend another 30 seconds watching your opponent rub his fighter's face. Both users are able to work the corner at the same time, get in, get out, and get back to the action.
G4: Round 3 looked phenomenal and Round 4 looks even better. Describe the visual enhancements you were able to make this time around.
BH: Oh wow! The visual enhancements...it's really everything across the board. Obviously, it all starts with the boxers' likenesses -- we always try to knock that out of the park. The boxers all look amazing in Round 4. Their faces are incredibly lifelike. All the textures are highly detailed and high resolution. The bodies are much more realistic. I've said this a couple of time -- the game has the best looking elbows I've ever seen in a game. [Laughs] They don't look like rolled up pieces of paper. The musculature is so impressive and dynamic. It's not just that we have these great boxer models; every model is created with a muscle map, so you actually see muscles flexing and straining in real time. You get a much greater sense of these boxers being alive, reallying battling and straining inside the ring.
And that's just the boxers. The gear in the game is great, too. The gloves and the shorts are some of the best looking I've ever seen. The gear you see on the real boxers and the created boxers looks amazing. The crowd is fully 3D and much more active -- much more involved with the fight. You'll also see cameramen, photographers, security and the judges at ringside. All of them are animated and react to the action in the fight. The whole visual experience comes to life in a much bigger way than Fight Night Round 3.
G4: That's cool about the gear. I already see Everlast in there. What other boxing brands will the game have?
BH: We've been dropping some names on that. Everlast -- the choice of champions -- is in the game. It wouldn't be right without them. You also have other legendary boxing brands like Lonsdale, Grant, and Rival.
G4: Do you have Reyes? A lot of punchers love Cleto Reyes gloves.
BH: Reyes, for some reason, never got back to us. We would have loved to have Reyes in the game. We would have been more than happy to, but we just didn't get the paperwork done. For shoes we have Nike, the Jordan brand, Addidas, and Reebok. We also have some generic brands so we can make some interesting stuff for create-a-boxer mode.
G4: The game's cover has Muhammad Ali vs. Mike Tyson. The Fight Night site had a poll asking fans who would win, but I want to know who you think would win. And there is a right answer to this question!
BH: You're looking at two different eras, but you have Mike Tyson in his prime -- one of the most devastating punchers in heavyweight history, blessed with physical gifts that the heavyweight division hadn't seen before. And that's really one of the things that's similar about Ali and Tyson. Ali's blend of hand speed, hand-eye coordination, footwork, and head movement set the heavyweight division on its head. Nobody knew what to do with it. Nobody had seen anything like that before. Granted, you saw other fighters like Floyd Patterson use the same style, but when Tyson came in, he took that style to the next level. He was just this beast -- this physical specimen -- that could move so fast and hit so hard. And he had great technical gifts.
At the end of the day, Muhammad Ali is the greatest of all time. The people he's been up against and beaten -- it's amazing. If Ali and Tyson fought 100 times, Ali would win the overwhelming majority of those fights. Certainly there could be exceptions; if Joe Frazier put Ali on the deck, then I wouldn't be surprised if Tyson could do it, too. Ultimately, it doesn't come down to physical gifts. It comes down to this special thing that Muhammad Ali had...and that's not to say that it's something that Tyson lacked -- it was just an extraordinary thing that everyone else lacked. There are very few champions that have what Muhammad Ali had and I think that's why he comes out on top the majority of times.
G4: So you hear that readers of TheFeed?!? Both Peter Moore and Brian Hayes said Ali would win. I don't want to hear it anymore!!!