With contributions by Dale Weir
Few disagree that EA Sports Fight Night 2004 is the definitive boxing game of our generation. After its arrival in 2004, it was apparent how little the genre had really evolved beyond Nintendo's venerable PunchOut! franchise. Granted there have been some boxing releases that made strides in replicating the sport like Empire Interactive's underrated Victorious Boxers: Ippo's Road to Glory and Electronic Arts' own Knockout Kings series, but thanks to its unprecedented visuals, a brand new control scheme that emphasized use of analog sticks over the traditional face buttons and EA's marketing muscle, Fight Night was the splash of cold water to the boxing game genre. After a
successful debut, Fight Night is back for another… round in the aptly titled Fight Night Round 2. We first met Kudo Tsunoda at a recent EA press event in New York and were impressed by his passion for both his game (as executive producer) and the sport of boxing. We decided to pick his brain about his new game, the boxing game genre and boxing in general.
Tell us about yourself. How did you come to head Fight Night's production?
Really it all started back in 1994 when I was still actively boxing in and around New York City. While fairly successful as a boxer, it was somewhat obvious that my dreams of being a somebody in the fight game were dwindling fast. One of my last fights was against Brian "Bulldog" Hayes who was somewhat of a legend in the local area. I broke my right hand on his hip with an errant punch in the 3rd round and he pretty much beat me to a pulp for the rest of the fight. After the fight, a guy came up to me and asked me how my hand was. I happened to mention that I was angry cause my hand injury was going to severely limit my professional video game playing career. It turned out the guy I was talking to happened to be CFO at a games company and he hooked me up with my first video game job. Eight years later when EA offered me the opportunity to work on their boxing franchise, I could not have been any more thrilled. It was like coming full circle.
Were you joking about the "professional video game playing career?"
At the time I was joking with the guy in the crowd about my pro gaming career. I played a lot of games at the time and was pissed that I was going to miss out playing due to my broken hand. It is just funny that it turned out to be true!!!! But my pro gaming career has gone much better than my boxing career ever would. [laughs]
When you set out to create the Fight Night series, were you looking to create a "simulation?" Was the game made for boxing aficionados or were you shooting more for the "casual" market?
The main thing that frustrated me about every boxing game made before Fight Night was that it really had nothing to do with the sport of boxing. Gameplay in other boxing games was centered around the mindless button mashing that resulted from the rudimentary button punch controls. With Fight Night, we definitely wanted to deliver a game that was true to the sport of boxing. Gameplay is centered around effectively controlling your boxer and fists and using intelligent combat tactics. It is nice when you see somebody like boxing legend Bernard Hopkins playing the game and commenting on how just like real life boxing Fight Night is.
But Fight Night is not a game that can just be enjoyed by fans of boxing. Fight Night is also a great fighting and trash talking game. Unlike other
sports that have complex rule sets that make a game frustrating to play if you don't follow the sport, Fight Night is simple. Hit or be hit. Everybody understands the basic rules. The controls are intuitive and easy to pick up but the gameplay is skill based. Anybody who loves a good fighting game or addictive multi-player action will love Fight Night Round 2!
Victorious Boxers (Hajime No Ippo) on the PlayStation 2 came out of no where and set a new standard in boxing games when it was released. Were you a fan and did it have any impact on the creation of Fight Night?
When we started working on Fight Night, we played every boxing game made going all the way back to the Atari 2600, Victorious Boxers included. I would not say any of the games we played was more or less of an influence then others. All of the games we played provided games a horrific lack of control over their boxer's fists and body in the ring. Defense was always slow and cumbersome to use. This was something we completely fixed in Fight Night with our analog control system.
How did the idea come about to abandon the use of the face buttons for throwing punches in favor of the analog sticks?
When we were doing the design for the original Fight Night, we were spending two hours a day in boxing training and four to six hours a day playing all other boxing games. It was clear to all of us from the training we were doing, how important it was to have great control over your fists in the ring if you want to be a successful boxer. We also realized from playing other games that the basic controls of using a single button press for a punch gave you no control over your fists whatsoever. Once a punch animation started, you could not stop it. So there was no feinting or being able to control the punch. So we really looked to the analog sticks as a way of giving you total control over your fists in the ring.
Compared to EA's other flagship sports titles like Madden and NBA Live as well as the old Knockout Kings series, how does Fight Night compare in terms of sales and popularity?
We were extremely happy to see how well Fight Night was received by consumers and the gaming press this year. Fight Night won four Sports Game of the Year awards and one Most Innovative Game Design of the Year award for 2004. Despite 2004 being the first year of Fight Night's release, it was consistently rated as one of the best sports games from any company. Fight Night also was the #1 seller on PlayStation 2 and Xbox in the month it was released. While Fight Night still has a little ways to go to match Madden sales, Fight Night 2004 was only released on two platforms. Fight Night Round 2, coming out to stores in March, will be on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and for the first time GameCube! We also have added online for Xbox this year so both PlayStation 2 and Xbox has online play now. We approach each version of Fight Night with the passion and creativity we brought to the original making sure each version of the game has truly new and innovative features and improvements. As we continually improve the game, more and more sports fans and people who love fighting games will check out the product.
Do you see the lack of a strong universally recognized heavyweight champion in boxing today a problem for the success of Fight Night?
The true joy of Fight Night is the fun and addictiveness of the gameplay. The game is great to play whether you are licensed boxer or a created boxer that you have made with our new Create-a-Champ system. Fight Night's head to head play cannot be beaten by any game on any console and our AI is amazingly human-like in the way it plays and how it makes decisions in the ring. This game can be enjoyed by anybody who likes sports, fighting games, or fun multiplayer action. Who the heavyweight champion is does not make the game any more or less fun. [laughs]
How have boxers and those that participate in the sport reacted to your game?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive!! All the boxers we have talked to are so happy that a video game has finally captured the essence of the sport and shown so many people how great boxing is. It has opened up the sport of boxing to a whole new group of consumers.
Tell us about the process of licensing a boxer for Fight Night Round 2? Were some boxers eager to be included and others particularly difficult in obtaining?
Everybody we talked to was very excited to be in the game. Since we have to sign each of the boxer's individually, sometimes there are logistical problems to getting people in the game. Some of the boxer's are hard to get in contact with and many have multiple lawyers and agents making it hard to get deals done sometimes. But Fight Night is obviously the best boxing game on the market and we often get calls from boxers trying to get included in our roster.
Was there any boxer that was particularly difficult to capture their essence in the game?
One of the new techniques we used on our boxer models this year allowed us to take high detail photos of the boxers and use that as the basis for their textures in the game. Which is one of the reasons our boxer models look so improved this year. This is obviously not a process we can use for some of the older legends in the game. Pretty much the older the boxers where, the harder it was to find good reference on them in their prime. But thankfully we have some of the best texture artists and modelers in the industry so our legends still look amazingly lifelike in the game.
Which boxers would you have loved to have gotten for Round 2?
I am very happy that we are continually improving and adding boxers to our roster each year. Some of the big additions for Fight Night Round 2 are Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Manny Pacquiao, and Diego Corrales. We always have a good mix of current champs, legends, and big time up and comers. It was too bad we lost Tito Trinidad certainly and would have liked to have Vitali Klitschko.
It seems Mike Tyson and George Foreman will do anything for a buck these days and their names are attached to all kinds of crap-tacular products. Why aren't they in Fight Night or any other decent boxing game?
George Foreman is certainly a very busy man as is Mike Tyson. Both would be great additions to the game. It is just not the easiest necessarily to get a deal done with any of the boxers sometimes. We will keep trying to include them every year.
For the boxers who didn't sign on the dotted line, does it ultimately come down to money?
I wish it was this easy!! Lots of times the logistics of finding out who to talk to about the deals and who has final approval on deals in a boxer's camp is extremely difficult. Most of the issues are just the problems of getting the deal done, not necessarily the money involved.
What exactly happened with the lawsuit with Alexis Arguello? Has there been any ensuing fallout that affects Fight Night?
I am not exactly sure on this one as it occurred before I started working on the product but there are not any fallout affects on Fight Night.
Was there any attempt to license Jack Johnson building off the critically-acclaimed PBS documentary, Unforgivable Blackness by Ken Burns?
Jack Johnson is a great boxer and we would like to have him in the game. But I would not say our interest necessarily increased or decreased due to the Ken Burns film. But I sure did enjoy watching it!!!!
Who do you think are the most exciting fighters in boxing today?
Obviously I have a ton of respect for Bernard Hopkins. He has been pound for pound one of the best fighters for years and you cannot discount (20) successful title defenses. That is just crazy. I also really like watching Winky Wright, Jermain Taylor, and Miguel Cotto fight. There are so many great fight possibilities coming up in the next year or two.
What do you consider to be the fight of 2004 and what matches are you looking forward to in 2005?
Fight of 2004? It is hard to argue with the Trinidad vs Mayorga fight. That sure was a fun one to watch. It was just one of the those fights you could see one hundred times and it would still get you out of your seat because you were so excited. Also, Marquez vs Pacquiao was unbelievable. For 2005 there are so many exciting fight possibilities. Very anxious to see the Wright vs Trinidad fight. Would love to see another round of Hopkins vs Trinidad. Would also love to see Hopkins get it on with Jermain Taylor.
Thanks so much for letting me do this interview!!! Fight Night Round 2 comes out in March for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. Hope you have as much fun playing it as we did making it!!!
We'd like to thank Kudo Tsunoda for taking the time to answer our questions and Peter Nguyen, PR specialist for Electronic Arts, for setting up this interview.
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Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.
Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
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