Exclusive Interview With EA Sports On Fight Night Champion

Boxing fans rejoice! The latest instalment of EA’s phenomenal boxing series, Fight Night Champion, is just around the corner. Known for offering astonishing realism and hands down the best boxing experience that gamers can have, the Fight Night series has really raised the bar.

With Fight Night Champion, EA is going all out. Aside from offering the all new story based Champion mode, the game will boast over 50 fighters, a brand new reworked control scheme, an exciting new feature called Online Gyms and more. Fight Night Champion hopes to offer gamers the ultimate boxing experience and from everything we’ve seen so far, it looks like they’ll deliver.

In anticipation of the game, we decided to sit down with Jazz Brousseau, assistant producer on the title. Check out the interview below.

We Got This Covered: Can you introduce yourself to the readers?

Jazz Brousseau: Jazz Brousseau, Assistant Producer. Although some people have mistaken me for either Blake Harrison from the Inbetweeners or a nondescript benchwarmer from the Vancouver Grizzlies.

WGTC: For fans unfamiliar with the series, how would you describe it?

JB: The ultimate boxing experience for fans of past and present.

WGTC: So you must be very excited about the all new champion mode, tell us about it.

JB: Even though there are many people that stand on the periphery of boxing, we think everyone can relate to the emotions that boxing evokes. Rocky, Raging Bull and, more recently, The Fighter, are all great examples of visceral and raw stories told through the eyes of the underdog. That’s what Champion Mode is about—bringing those narratives and that cinematic experience into Fight Night. It’s the biggest thing we’ve done with the franchise so far and something that hasn’t been done before in simulation sports games, so we’re really proud what the team accomplished.

WGTC: What other game modes can players expect to see?

JB: We didn’t pull any punches for Champion, so fans can expect to see a new and improved Legacy Mode, Create Boxer and Online World Championships alongside Champion Mode. On top of all that, we’ve added Online High Scores – which aims to bridge the gap between our offline and online users – and yet another brand new mode we’re calling Online Gyms. Online Gyms follows the same mentality behind the clubs and leagues modes you’d see from NHL and FIFA, so it’s an opportunity for like-minded players to play against each other in their own gym and for competitive gamers to build elite gyms that will challenge other gyms for regional belts, awards and, most importantly, bragging rights.

WGTC: Tell us a bit more about how training has been improved.

JB: We’ve added a few more training games into the mix this year to bring the grand total up to 10. As you can expect, we’ve also tweaked some of the games that are making a return from Round 4. The big difference this year is that we’re not going to be force you to play games you don’t like or aren’t good at for Legacy Mode. If you find a training game you’re awesome at, you can stick with it without being penalized in any of your stats. For those that need a little incentive to experiment, Online High Scores will track your score for each training game and let you know how you stack up against friends and foes alike.

WGTC: How many fighters will the game have and who are some of the highlights?

JB: With over 50 licensed fighters, there is a lot of recognizable talent in the roster, so choosing just a few to highlight isn’t easy. Legends like Ali, Tyson, Foreman, and Frazier are making a return alongside the current generation of stars, such as Pacquiao, Cotto, Mosley and the Klitschkos. We’re also really excited to have some brand new additions from Round 4, like WBA Heavyweight Champion, David Haye, former WBC and IBF Light Heavyweight Champion, Chad Dawson, and “The King of the 4-Rounders”, Eric “Butterbean” Esch.

WGTC: What are the main differences between this and Fight Night Round 4?

JB: We always want to be recognized for the achievements everyone typically associates with Fight Night, such as exhilarating gameplay and exceptional visuals. These are the pillars that the series is known for and we strive to improve on that with every iteration. Fight Night Champion is the first EA Sports game to deliver a more mature-oriented experience and the addition of Champion Mode is another first for EA Sports also. The pillars of the franchise remain the same.

WGTC: What do you have planned for the online arena this time around?

JB: As I mentioned before, Online Gyms is our big go-to feature for the online space. We’ve also include a lobby system, which was a much-requested addition. Brand new to the series is Online High Scores, which is basically a game within a game—we track a number of records, stats, and accomplishments for both offline and online and offer up this information in a leaderboard format. As well, we have in-game push notifications, which will let you know when your record is broken, when an Online World Championship champion comes online, and when belts change hands, just to name a few of the messages you might receive. Last but not least, we’ve made some changes to the ever-popular Online World Championships game mode, such as breaking up the belts into regional belts and removing the leveling system. This time around, created boxers are going to start from scratch. Players will earn XP for their online boxers, which can then be used to unlock abilities and level up offensive and defensive skills.

WGTC: Have you implemented any features to ensure that the online field is balanced and fair?

JB: We took a cue from NHL and have Tuner Sets this year. We’ll be in a much better position to address feedback as it comes up. We did a test run of Tuner Sets with the demo and it went pretty smoothly, so we’re really happy about that.

WGTC: What about the controls, what have you done to make them more realistic and accessible?

JB: I’ll quote Lead Designer, Brian Hayes, for this one: “The previous incarnation of analog punching, Total Punch Control, was a really solid design (and I’m proud to say that I was the first person to actually draw it up on paper back on Fight Night 2004). But ultimately, it worked better on paper and sound bites than it worked in your hands. It’s responsible for a lot of calloused thumbs and a lot of controllers worn down to the bare plastic sticks. Furthermore, the physiology of the human thumb and the layout of the modern controller meant that it was fundamentally harder to throw punches with the boxer’s right hand than it was with his left.

We decided to remove the need for complex manipulation of the analog stick to throw punches. Every punch is thrown by simply flicking the stick to the left or right at different angles. As you move from 12 to 6 o’clock on the stick, you move through a variety of punch types. There are twice as many punches available with FPSC compared to TPC. It’s easier on your thumbs, its kinder to your controller and there are a lot more punches you can throw. However, if you just don’t like using the sticks, button controls are in the game too.”

The only thing Brian didn’t mention here is that analog punching and button controls exist on the same default controller configuration, so you can jump back and forth between the two if you need to.

WGTC: You’re known for having stunning motion capture in your games, tell us a bit about how you get that.

JB: That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked because now I get to rep the Vancouver born, Darcy Hinds! Darcy is an amateur boxer that’s won silver and bronze medals on the national stage, as well as five golden gloves. We had him come in and do mocap for us over the course of a few days. The process itself was really intensive, as we had Darcy punching pretty much non-stop for 6 hours a day. Style is such a personal thing and I imagine the excitement of being asked to emulate superstars like Pacquiao wears thin pretty quickly when we need to capture several hundred punch animations in such a short period of time. He was a good sport about it though and very professional to work with.

WGTC: Would you ever consider implementing Move or Kinect into the game?

JB: We’ve talked about introducing motion control technology into the game a number of times, but it’s not something you can just port into the game and expect to work flawlessly. To be fair, there are definitely opportunities to capitalize on Move and Kinect and pairing it with boxing certainly seems like it would be a no-brainer, but the fact is that we would need to build the game from the ground up with motion control in mind. I think a lot of people would be surprised by how strenuous and exhausting it is to throw 30-40 punches for a round, let alone for 12 rounds.

WGTC: What was the biggest challenge faced while making the game?

JB: Hands down, building Champion Mode was our biggest challenge. Writing scripts, hiring actors, booking locations, filming, motion capturing, animating, lip-syncing, sound mixing… the list goes on and on and on. It was an incredibly ambitious goal to shoot for and was really more like making a movie then making a video game. That we were able to deliver a 4- to 6-hour experience at the quality we have is a testament to the tremendous effort and talent of everyone on our team.

WGTC: How has community input helped the game? Which suggestions did you take most seriously?

JB: After Fight Night Round 4 was launched, we received a 30-page single-spaced email that had community-collected suggestions for everything in the game, which helped get some perspective of where we were and where we needed to go. I mean, these are the guys that live and breathe Fight Night and – to speak to how serious we take them – we flew a half-dozen or so members to our Burnaby studio to help us figure out if we were on the right track. And it wasn’t like we sat around all day shootin’ the breeze—they put in full 10- to 12-hour shifts over the course of a few days to hammer the game and let us know what they really thought. For them, it was real work and, for us, it was invaluable feedback.

WGTC: What significant improvements have been made from Fight Night Round 4?

JB: The core gameplay is definitely where fans will see the biggest improvements. With the inclusion of stepping punches, lunging punches, power punches and fatigue punches, there is much more variety in the punch animations over Fight Night Round 4. We’ve also added some new stun states, flash knockdowns and flash knockouts. We completely re-worked how stamina functions in the game and have made stamina region specific—if you’re throwing right hooks the entire fight, you’re going to notice its speed, power and overall effectiveness dwindle. I briefly mentioned our all-new XP system and I think this is one of our most exciting improvements. There is a even more measurable difference between boxer styles over previous iterations.

WGTC: What can you tell us about DLC?

JB: Haha, we actually can’t tell you anything. It’s a big secret. I can tell you that it’s coming and it’s going to be bloody awesome (hint: that was a hint).

WGTC: We’ve read that Fight Night Champion will be grittier, how so?

JB: The story of Champion Mode is pretty dark and is a theme that we don’t think many people would normally associate with an EA Sports game. A benefit of doing this cinematic experience is that we were able to really up the ante in terms of how far we could go with the visual representation of physical damage. Boxing can be a brutal sport and, in the past, we’ve been somewhat hand-cuffed by how thick we could pour the realism on. It’s not over the top or exaggerated, but it’s definitely the bloodiest, most swollen Fight Night yet.

WGTC: Anything else you’d like to tell the readers?

JB: Fight Night Champion will be available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on March 1, 2011.

WGTC: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! We look forward to playing the game.