Beijing 2008 with Warren Leigh
In case you've been living in a cave, or some remote part of Devon for the last year or so, you'll know that the Beijing Olympics are all set for this summer. A game was inevitable, then, but will it be any good? We grilled Warren Leigh, Producer on Beijing 2008 at Sega Europe, to try and fathom the answer to that question.
Thanks for speaking to us. How important is this game to you? Do you feel a weight of expectation given the scale of the event itself?
You’re right, the event list is big and the expectation is high, but weight comes mainly from the illustrious history of Olympic and other athletic games. You can go back to Summer Olympics on the Amiga, Track ‘n’ Field on the chip shop arcade (as I remember it) and Hyper Sports; add to the memories of such classics and the Official license and yeah, it’s hugely important for us to get this right.
Personally, I love these games and have been working hard, along with Eurocom, for the past 2 years to make this the best Olympic game ever.
How many individual events are covering by Beijing 2008?
I think we’re up to 38 events in the game, but to be honest it’s not the shear number of events that have driven us throughout the project. There are 2 other major additions to the offering this time around; Olympic Games mode and the online offering.
Are any events omitted, and if so, why were they excluded?
We thought long and hard about the event selection, and yes there are some that have been excluded, mainly for technical reasons. If you think the challenge with a title like this to include as broad a range of Olympic Games content as possible, whilst retaining the most quality in every event you produce, you have to eliminate the events where other games have exceeded, or set a really high bench mark in a single sport title. I speaking about events like Football, Baseball, Boxing etc … I mean we don’t have the time to produce a football game as good as FIFA or Pro-Evo, or a Boxing game as good as Fight Night, whilst also producing a huge number of other events.
Having said that though, I think some of the content we have chosen shows we didn’t shy away from all challenges.
Have you looked at Olympic videogames of the past? Did you derive any inspiration, or did they instead persuade you to do things differently?
When you announce an Olympic Games project people immediately think of the button bashing, stick waggling experiences of the past, and love it or hate it there are a huge amount of people who still love this type of game, and I’m one of them. However, we do understand that out there, there are a similarly huge number of people screaming for the reinvention of such games. In the early days of the project there were some heated ‘discussion’ about this, as we attempted to formulate a plan and design goals for the mechanics that would be used in the event designs. We came to the following conclusion; there should be both, button bashing / stick waggling and reinvention!
We took events that have previously played out very similarly like the 100m track and the 100m Butterfly and we decided to evolve the 100m track to include a launch mechanic, but effectively leave the bulk of the play as either button bashing or stick waggling (giving the 2 play systems equal balance to allow the player to chose their play style), and then with the 100m Butterfly we decided to revolutionize by using the analog sticks to give the mechanics a fresh new play style.
What opportunities does next-generation hardware offer? Are there any differences between the platforms?
The biggest difference is the power of the modern day machines and as these games only really come around every 4 years it’s amazing the graphic difference between this year's offering and Athens 2004. With the new online features as well the offering this time around will be a drastic improvement from the last.
There no differences between the platforms apart from the shape of the pad.
Online multiplayer fun. Any plans?
The ‘friendly’ banter that surround the multiplayer aspect of these games was always highly apparent on those long evenings with a bunch of mates sat around the TV playing these games. Now with online and the community that comes with the modern consoles you can extend those nights to every night whether you’re home alone or not. With Voice chat you can sledge, or motivate you’re opponent to your hearts content; not exactly within the Olympic Spirit sometimes, but then gamers have rarely been directly comparable to the elite athletes we send out to represent our countries at the Olympic Games.
How do you hope to capture the unique excitement of the Games?
Our single player core experience has been based on major design goals from Sega; to attempt to extend the challenge of the game, and not just produce a collection of what could be considered mini-games. Our Olympic Games mode takes you through the 15 days of the Beijing Olympics 2008, from the selection of your team members to Qualify for the events finals, developing your team stats and attributes throughout the days and crescendoing on finals day where you’ll attempt to take your country to the top of the Medals Table. This really does add a great deal of depth to the game and builds the excitement, capturing that one-chance of glory feeling.
It’s proving a real hit with all surrounding the project, and for those not good enough to win the ultimate goal there’s always the knowledge that it’s the taking part that counts and you’ve done your country proud.
Does the number of events concern you, how do you avoid dumbing down and over-simplifying?
Some events are simple, but some are more complex. Some nice new features like the 100m launch mechanic are simple, but add depth. All in all I’m happy with the balance, and the overall feel of the game. If you’re after a simple adrenaline rush; it’s here. If you’re after a complex challenge; it’s here. It doesn’t concern me, I embellish both those factors and hope that this title can deliver all, as it’s probably one of the only sports game genres that can.
What's your favourite element of the new title?
The ‘In the Zone’ feature has to be one of my favorite additions, taking you ‘inside the athletes mind’ or should I just simply say close to the action. By being able to slow the mechanics, you can really concentrate on each individual motion; this allows new gamers a chance to compete in the events where the controls may require some advanced hand eye coordination, whilst also offering something to the experience gaming Olympiad; a chance to hone those skills and go for that World Record. It’s not something that’s offered to the player every time, and we’re careful where this is available, in fact it’s a bit of a tactical decision offered to the player whether to save it or use it.
Lastly, does a license of this scale inhibit your ability to make daring design decisions?
I have to say the people at both the IOC and the ISM (our License holders) have proven themselves to be budding gamers, and their knowledge of the current gaming market has been a joy to work alongside. There’s been very little we haven’t be able to do, and where they did have restrictions, we’ve been allowed to be creative in a solution. So no …nothing has stopped us from making what will be the best Olympic Games game ever!
Thanks for your time!