EA Sports in the spotlight
Created in 1993, the EA Sports label has been responsible for an entire range of authentic sports games, spawning the ludicrously popular FIFA franchise as well as the definitive golf game in Tiger Woods PGA Tour. Also responsible for the Fight Night boxing series, NBA Live basketball games and NHL ice hockey titles, the EA Sports range continues to represent the peak of fully licensed, highly accurate and incredibly realistic sports games with annual iterations of their core brands.
This year sees the EA Sports range expand with two completely new games and the return of one that's been on a three-year hiatus. We popped over to EA's offices in Guildford to talk to Oliver Hughes, Senior Product Manager for EA Sports about their 2010 line-up and what we can expect from this year's newcomers as well as the usual big hitters.
So, Grand Slam Tennis is your first tennis game for the Wii?
Yes, it's actually the first tennis game EA have made in about 20 years, I believe.
And what was the biggest challenge in bringing the game to the Wii?
Well, firstly it's brand new so we had to develop it from ground zero and we're not just developing a game, we've also got to license all the players, license all the menus, license all the tournaments and also we have to market it from ground zero, as there's no legacy to lean on. It's always challenging to do stuff that's new, but it's also an opportunity. I think that we've gone through the dev cycle and it's been great fun. The Wii has made it really cool for us because it lends itself perfectly to tennis, but the things I've mentioned were the sorts of challenges (we faced).
How tough do you think it was for the dev team to get the physics and nuances of tennis just right for the Wii?
I don't make the game so I don't really know about that, but I would say that making a game for the Wii, it must be natural. You swing a racket, you swing it with your arm, so I'm sure it was quite complex getting it right and making sure the control system works correctly, but I actually think the guys have done a good job. The team who worked on it managed to make the control really sensitive with or without MotionPlus and they've managed to build a load of authentic tennis movements into it. I'm sure there were a lot of challenges in doing it, but I think they've done a great job.
Do you know how the developers got the most out of the MotionPlus peripheral?
Again, I'm not sure. I'd imagine that the Wii MotionPlus presented both opportunities and issues. It was new, so they didn't know about it while at the same time, there may have been things that they wanted to do with the standard WiiMote that they couldn't before, and now they can with MotionPlus. So, I'm assuming there were challenges and opportunities, but like anything new it might take time to get it right. I think from what I've seen and what I've played they've done a pretty good job with it.
Are there any plans to introduce MotionPlus into any of the other EA Sports brands?
We've announced Tiger Woods and Grand Slam Tennis and I'm pretty sure Sega announced their Virtua Tennis game and there's Wii Sports Resort that I think are the only four games at the moment that have been announced will be supporting Wii MotionPlus. I'm sure other people will follow suit. I'm sure we'll do it with other games; I just don't know what they are.
Coming back to Grand Slam Tennis specifically, what was the reason for adopting such a distinctive art style?
What we wanted to do with the art style was make a game that's fun, accessible and authentic. The first thing that we had to get right was the gameplay. That had to be nailed. It had to be a fun game to play or people wouldn't come back and play it. Second thing was licensing all of the players and venues, and the third part was making sure it looked and played authentically. I think that the players in the game look like the players in real life. They're very recognisable; their playing styles are very identifiable, unique and authentic. The graphic style is very fun and very suitable for the Wii platform.
Would you say that it appeals to the broadest audience possible?
Yeah. It appeals to the nature of the platform and the capabilities of the platform. We didn't try and bog down the processors trying to produce high fidelity graphics. We'd rather the processing power went on the gameplay so we went with a graphical style that was fun and accessible.
As a rare venture into tennis for EA, are there any plans to expand the franchise across all available platforms?
When we originally announced the game back in Leipzig last year, we did say then that it would also be out on PS3 and 360, just not at the same time. They'll probably be out later in the year.
Are these versions going to adopt a more realistic style than the Wii game?
It'd be wise to assume that they'll conform to the standard EA Sports style of play.
Talking of realism, how important is it to have all of the proper licenses and one hundred-percent authenticity in an EA Sports game?
I think it's really important. It's one of the key pillars of what EA Sports stand for. All of our games have licensed content, licensed people, licensed venues, licensed tournaments and that's what makes us number one in our industry, I think.
If I said to you, 'let's play a tennis game,' and you ask me if it's got Federer, Nadal and I say no, but they've got Joe Bloggs and Joe Bloggs' sister, you wouldn't bother. You wouldn't want to play as Joe Bloggs' sister! So, yeah I think it's important and it's what people want.