Olympics games tend to be easy to dismiss. After all, aren’t they invariably just mash-happy mini-game collections that rely on the strength of their license? Well, SEGA Studios Australia has set out to change that impression with its London 2012 game.
“We wanted to remove that brute force kind of approach for this game, and put the control back into people’s hands,” says gameplay designer Cade Franklin, of the past emphasis on button mashing gameplay. “These Olympic athletes are not just physically strong, but there’s an amazing amount of technique that they bring to their sports. We wanted to bring some of that to the game… and make it a bit more dynamic.”
It’s an admirable goal, especially for a title that’s tackling 49 events across 13 different sports – from diving and swimming, to archery, athletics, gymnastics and weightlifting, and on to table tennis, kayak, cycling and volleyball. And let’s not forget implementing Kinect and Move functionality for a host of events, too.
The thinking seems to be paying off, however. Hurdles are more about timing than anything else: tapping the run button steadily to keep the athlete at the optimal speed, while pushing forward at the right moment to vault each hurdle just so. Javelin also riffs on this mechanic: players tap the A/X button to hit the optimal speed during the run-up before timing when they pull back on the left analogue stick, before flicking it forward to let fly. There’s a lot to take into account – throwing at the optimal angle, getting close to the foul line and flicking directly up to ensure the javelin flies dead straight. These are mechanics that require some skill and timing. Same goes for kayak, which demands a deft touch steering downstream and turning hard to power against the current through the upstream gates.
Another criticism levelled at Olympics games-past is a lack of personality. London 2012 is tackling this in a number of ways. There’s dynamic commentary throughout, for one, which makes a huge difference. Smaller touches like the spectacle of the opening ceremony and the saturated colour palette also help lift the game. Importantly, the team has also been able to get away from a strict adherence to the rules. Small tweaks have been made in many of the events to make them more ‘gamey’, but the title also introduces Party Play events, which have some fun with the rules of existing events for a more arcade-like experience.
“In Archery Blitz,” Franklin tells us, “you’re shooting at a target with a time limit, but you’ve got unlimited arrows that you keep hurtling at the target and there are bonus icons on the targets, so you can go for tens all the time or you can get the +25 points, +50 points, and multipliers. The other cool thing with it is the multiplayer aspect, because if you can hit the other player’s player icon you actually deduct points from them. So it’s still all the same mechanics that you’re used to from the archery, but it’s really making it into more of a ‘game’. It’s less regimented.”
Part and parcel of the game design is putting the player in the Olympics. “We wanted players to really be the athlete rather than a spectator,” Franklin explains. “You are behind them, you’re over their shoulder, you’re participating. You’ll notice, for instance, that the cameras are behind the athletes in the swimming events. Instead of being someone sitting up in the back row looking over the whole thing you’re actually behind the athlete. You feel them launch off the blocks, dive into the water and go under, and the noise is kind of muffled and you can’t hear the crowd, then you erupt out and they’re cheering! And the feeling is – yeah! I did that! You get that feeling coming across through the gameplay.