Fight Night remains one of this generation's best fighting series. The scores are high and the visuals a benchmark of what these consoles can produce. But this time EA wants to go higher - 90 per cent or higher. In order to achieve that, Peter Moore's men have dreamt up an entirely new and "groundbreaking" mode for Fight Night Champion. Something big must be afoot to warrant a name change from Fight Night Round 5. Eurogamer cornered gameplay producer Brian Hayes to find out more.
Eurogamer: Fight Night Champion isn't called Fight Night Round 5. Why is that?
Brian Hayes: There's myriad reasons: some will become more evident as time moves on. One of the obvious ones is that when they picked up the motif of naming it Round 2, Round 3, Round 4, championship prize fights don't normally go up to around 12, so we knew we were going to have to change it sooner or later if the games kept being successful. It was one of those things we knew had to happen sometime. We'd even thought about doing it for Round 4... It can start to drone on if it's the same name. Like Friday the 13th Part VII, you know, whoop-de-doo-daa. But Freddy versus Jason sounds really cool, right?
Eurogamer: There's no more significance to the name than that?
Brian Hayes: As I said, in months to come, there'll be some more revelations. It's also somewhat related to the new game mode.
Eurogamer: The Champion part of the title: that refers to the new game mode? An RPG-like mode?
Brian Hayes: Like I said, the only thing I'm at liberty to say right now is that there is something new. And as we've probably already said, it is something quite innovative, certainly for an EA Sports title or sports title in general. This approach to a single-player experience hasn't really been tackled. As far as any details, in terms of the design or the mechanics or what it's like, we're staying mum for now. That's the ways the pros do it. Duke [Indrasigamany - senior publicist] just came in and looked at me as if to say I've already said too much.
Eurogamer: It's intriguing! I want to know what it is!
Brian Hayes: [laughs]
Eurogamer: You've mentioned that Fight Night Champion will "break the mould" - does that specifically refer to this game mode or are there other areas you're breaking the mould of?
Brian Hayes: It's certainly one of the ways, but we're not a team that's happy to put all our eggs in one basket. The franchise itself has always been recognised for really pushing the bar graphically, and that's not something we're trying to rest on our laurels on. The game looked fantastic for Round 3, and then nobody thought it could look better for Round 4 but then it did. Probably people think it won't look any better than Round 4 this year, but it's going to. We're always trying to innovate and do things that are ground breaking and blow people's minds. It's one thing the franchise is noted for and we take that seriously.
The new game mode, yeah, that's part of the reason why it's going to be mould breaking and ground breaking, but we're definitely trying to push the bar in other areas as well.
Eurogamer: Are the graphics so good now that you could trick a slightly thick boxer into thinking the game was real?
Brian Hayes: Sorry, did you say slightly sick?
Eurogamer: Slightly thick.
Brian Hayes: You know, I guess it's possible. We've seen it in the past where people sometimes do double-takes when they're walking by the television and be like, "What is that? What fight is this?" Certainly, if we were going to get medical about it, if somebody with the beginning stages of pugilistic dementia might be more prone to falling victim to thinking it's actually a real fight.
Eurogamer: Someone like Ricky Hatton? He can't be very clever.
Brian Hayes: Oh come on, you can't have turned around on him that quickly. He only lost a fight!
Eurogamer: It was a big fight.
Brian Hayes: He would not be able to tell whether or not it was a real fight because he'd be looking at it through a pint glass [laughs].
Eurogamer: This new mode you can't talk about, is it multiplayer or single-player?
Brian Hayes: Boxing is a really tricky sport to add any co-operative or team-based multiplayer to. It is a single-player mode. It's not an online head-to-head. That being said, which is a great segue into other game modes I'm going to do whatever I can to get you off the topic of the new game mode [laughs]. Even though we're taking a big step forward with this new game mode, the online gameplay last year was something that even the development team found tremendously addictive. Between me and another producer we probably racked up 1000 to 1500 fights between us.
Eurogamer: Were you guys the best?
Brian Hayes: Heh! Certainly not. That's unfortunate. We know that probably for the first two weeks or so we're going to be hanging around the top of the heap, but it does not take very long... At the end of the day we still have jobs, and there are people out there that are literally spending eight to 10 hours a day perfecting every nuance of the game and finding out all the tricks. We can hang with almost anybody.
Eurogamer: One thing that impressed me about Fight Night Round 4 was the way the career mode integrated with the online mode. What's Fight Night Champion doing in that area?
Brian Hayes: The online gameplay is an area we know people are still playing. Every time I go to the game, somebody sends me an invite to play: they know who I am and they want to beat me up because I'm the producer or whatever. As with a lot of games, that's the type of mode that keeps people playing the game, keeps the game in their consoles. We definitely want to do as many things as we can to make the online community in the game stronger and more vibrant, and communicate more information to the users about who's online, how to find good matches and all that sort of stuff. As far as details go, we're a little bit tight-lipped right now in terms of what features we're adding and improving and all that sort of stuff. The things that our community felt were missing are the things we're working on, to make it more fun to go online and find someone of a similar skill or playing style. We're making significant efforts [online].
Eurogamer: Similar, then, but tweaked?
Brian Hayes: There are elements of streamlining to make it easier to get there, but then there's also depth by adding more things. A more robust experience in the online experience is certainly something we want to provide.
Eurogamer: EA has been keeping people's games in their consoles via the Project Ten Dollar initiative. How does Fight Night Champion fit with this?
Brian Hayes: To be honest, I have no idea what we're doing with that. I know we're doing something, but that's the other producer's ball.
Eurogamer: Back to the new mode you can't tell me anything about: just how ground breaking will this be for Fight Night as a series? Is it a feature you can't believe you didn't add before? Is it the iPhone of fighting mechanics or the Gizmondo?
Brian Hayes: How groundbreaking is it in relation to Fight Night? It's certainly the most innovative, groundbreaking thing that any Fight Night game or any Knock Out game has done. Even more so, in terms of EA Sports, this approach to a single-player experience is just something that no other EA Sports game has done.
Eurogamer: Will it spread to other EA Sports games?
Brian Hayes: It's possible. Obviously all that will depend on the success, which we hope is going to be very high! [laughs]
It's something that could work in a lot of other sports areas. It works particularly well for us because of the nature of boxing, but it's definitely something you could see other games doing down the road. If that happened that would be a pretty cool thing.
Eurogamer: I can't think what it is. Is it a managerial thing?
Brian Hayes: This is perfect! You're good. I have you going nuts.
Eurogamer: It's not going to turn out to be a dog, is it? That's what Peter Molyneux teased for ages with Fable II.
Brian Hayes: I can verify this: it's not a dog. [laughs]
All I can say to that effect is everybody here is really excited about what we're doing. Everybody here is on the same page in terms of like, "Wow, we've never really done anything like this before." At the same time, as much as they're excited about it, there's a wee bit of nerves. Everybody's working really hard to make sure we're knocking it out of the park.
I'm sure there's going to be some cynics out there that when the game drops someone will say, "This is not a big deal." But I can tell you that everyone here, everyone we've shown the contents to, thinks it's a pretty big deal and is genuinely excited and jazzed to see it.
Eurogamer: The press release mentioned that Fight Night Champion will have the most realistic and the most accessible control system ever. How can you have both at once?
Brian Hayes: The realism of the control system is a bit tricky. Obviously we're not putting you into an infra-red capture suit and you're controlling it that way, because that would cost hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars. More it's about what the control system allows you to do in the game, in terms of creating realistic boxing actions inside the ring. The control system is very user friendly and the benefit is that you can do things in better and more realistic ways.
Eurogamer: How different will it be to Fight Night Round 4?
Brian Hayes: We don't want to give too many details about everything just yet. The one thing I would say to you as someone who has experience of Round 3 and Round 4 is that one thing we wanted to do was make sure we don't throw a big monkey wrench into the gears of your Fight Night gameplay experience. For someone like you and for someone like me it's really an element of... you're probably not really going to notice a significant difference because you're already pretty talented at it. [I'm not -Ed.] But it's about making that same control scheme a little bit more entry-level friendly. Where you will find a difference is the fidelity of control you have over the boxer will be greater.
Eurogamer: Is the career mode of Fight Night Champion tied to this new secret mode?
Brian Hayes: I can talk a little bit about the career mode, just to say that FNR4 had the Legacy mode and Legacy mode is back. There's a significant list of additional features and improvements.
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Eurogamer: What are they?
Brian Hayes: It's going to be quite some time before the game drops and we don't want to let all the cats out of the bag right now.
Eurogamer: What about one little kitten?
Brian Hayes: [laughs] Can I let one little kitten out of the bag? All of the kittens are howling in fear at the bottom of that bag right now. I'm trying to coax them out with snacks but they're not having it.
Suffice to say that Legacy mode will take a step forwards. It's back as that traditional sports single-player experience.
When we say that there's a new innovative single-player experience, that's not something where we're saying... That new thing we're doing is something that is a whole new addition to the game. Everything that you would have expected from a Fight Night Round 5 is still there. The new game mode is something that we're also adding on top of it. It's like when you go to a furniture store and you buy a sofa set and then they give you a 56" plasma screen for free - that's a decent analogy.
Now don't mistake that: I don't want the story to get out that when you buy Fight Night Champion you get a 56" plasma screen.
Eurogamer: But you've just said it.
Brian Hayes: We really need to shut this down. [laughs]
Eurogamer: Is there anything else we don't we know about Fight Night Champion that we should?
Brian Hayes: It's all about the total package. Fight Night is known as... It has always been a consistently high rated game, going from low 80s to the high 80s. And we're expecting and shooting to be a 90-plus Metacritic rated game when this one drops.
Fight Night Champion will be released next year on PS3 and Xbox 360.