“We tried to get as many mechanics – through the control pad and across motion control – to map to what you’re actually doing. Whether that’s archery, where you’re pulling back the bow and aiming with your left arm, or the shooting events. Swimming is a perfect example, where you’re actually stroking with each of the athlete’s arms as they swim.”
Importantly, while the game does support Kinect and Move, the team were quick to assure us that they weren’t included for the sake of catering to the flavour of the month. Each technology has its own set of events, and the game’s foundation is very much controller-driven gameplay. Motion controls are an added bonus for those that are interested in them.
“We did a whole heap of prototyping early on,” says Franklin. “We wanted to test out what each of the different motion controls could do, and see what really worked and what didn’t work. Things that really worked for the Move were the shooting events – obviously you can aim with precision and you can pull the trigger. Works perfectly. That doesn’t work so well for Kinect, so we didn’t use those. We wanted to play up the strengths of each of the systems. You can use Kinect for the track events, which makes more sense when the controls are mapped to your body and you’re doing the actions. It was all about striking a balance between what worked and didn’t, without hindering the underpinning game, which you play with a pad.”
We’ve had limited time with the Kinect and Move events so far, and some work better than others. Archery is rock solid with Kinect; aiming is steady and flicking your right hand up to fire works well. Table tennis on Move, on the other hand, is a bit unreliable, and nowhere near as fun as it is with a controller. Traditionally controlled events are a mixed bag too. Kayak is really solid, as is javelin and hurdles, and swimming definitely has potential, whereas the cycling/keirin mechanics feels a little too obtuse and trampolining is just too easy. With the June release looming, here’s hoping the team can still make some final tweaks.
The look of London 2012 is suitably professional. The team shot for a broadcast quality feel, but also embraced the advantages that the medium has over a traditional Olympics broadcast. “They have limitations,” says associate art director Dean Ferguson. “You can’t really put cameras in certain places because then another camera is going to see that camera. There can’t be a guy sitting over the top of a pool, but we can do a lot of that. We can get in really close, we can put things underwater and we don’t have to be on a rail, like the cameras that they have. They have some pretty amazing equipment, but we can push it one step further, because it’s all digital and it’s not really there. So we start with that broadcast sort of mentality – it fits and it makes a lot of sense, and then we push it in certain areas and get a bit more personal.”
Showing the strain of physical competition and the emotions of the athletes was also a real focus in delivering on the Olympics as a spectacle. “If you look at weightlifting, for instance,” Ferguson continues, “you can get right in on the face. We played around with that. If you look quite closely when you’ve got a really really heavy weight and you’re straining to get it, your face will go red and you’ll actually have the veins showing up.” There are plenty of subtle touches like these, from sweat maps to bulging muscles, that show that some true care has been put into this title.
Getting the animations right was also a huge undertaking, with the team setting up an enormous motion capture suite to capture a wide variety of athletes doing their thing – including a trampolinist. They even tagged up the players on a volleyball court and did external motion capture.
As you’d expect, for solo players the game is framed around an Olympics mode; working through all the events to try and get your country of choice to the top of the medal tally. There are a variety of other modes, however, including online, which brings us to one of London 2012’s most interesting features. In an attempt to give a little more meaning to online competition, playing online is all about national pride – the fact that each nation is competing to earn the most medals.